Cars

Re-creating a 1957 F-Code Ford Custom race car ready for the street

Steve Wilson has cranked out his fair share of noteworthy cars and a bunch of them were 1957 Fords.

“I’ve done a ton of cars over the years in this garage. Nine or ten of them were ’57 Fords,” he says. But the metallic green beauty with the supercharged Y-block V-8 that now sits in that garage is clearly his favorite.

“This is what they called an F-Code car … or a `short trunk car’. The factory built 251 of these as race cars. They took everything off of them that they could. There were no bumper guards, no arm rests, no sun visors. The dashes on a lot of them were deleted clear out,” Wilson said.

The goal was to get the shorter wheelbase Custom 300 bodies as light as possible and combine that with a belt-driven McCullough supercharger on top of the 312-cubic-inch V-8 engine, which produced a factory-rated 300 horsepower.

The F-Code cars tipped the scales at nearly 1,000 pounds lighter than the street models, Wilson said.

“Ford was winning big time. They had everybody out-horsepowered. And then in the middle of the season, NASCAR said, `No power adders, one V-8 engine and one four-barrel carb,’” Wilson explained. “Ford had a ton of money in that program and they got clear out of racing.”

“They built a little over 3,200 F-Code cars in total, but most of them were in Thunderbirds,” he said.

The F-code setup was also available as a dealer-installed package, where the McCullough supercharger was added at the dealership. That’s what Wilson was looking to replicate when he bought his Ford Custom 300 in the late 1980s from a friend, Vaden Duarte, for only $900 minus a running engine.

He located a correct engine block in Arizona and found the entire McCullough supercharger setup in New Hampshire.

“It took three years to piece it all together,” said Wilson, who acknowledges this car is a clone, not an original F-Code sedan.

But he says the engine is authentic right down to the correct rods, pistons and the Iskendarian camshaft.

“An Isky cam cost about $18 in 1957 … this one, which came in a kit, was $630,” he noted.

Wilson sent the supercharger to John Erb in Carson City, Nev., to have it rebuilt to better-than-new standards. As delivered, ’57 F-Code cars produced 4-1/2 to 6 pounds of boost. This one is capable of 11 pounds of boost - enough to crush the brass floats in a stock Ford carburetor.

He estimates the engine now produces somewhere between 325 and 350 horsepower. In an effort to put all that power to the ground, he had a special set of recapped drag slicks built for the car. They provided so much traction that he sheared off the rear axles on his first hard launch, necessitating a complete rebuild of the 9-inch Ford Positraction rear end.

It now runs a tamer set of 3:50 differential gears, which combined with the 1995 Mustang World Class 5-speed overdrive transmission, allows Wilson and his wife, Kathy, to cruise at freeway speeds easily. Even so, the car only logs about 10 mpg on road trips.

Four years ago, Wilson undertook a complete frame-up restoration of the F-Code Ford. It received a color change from red and white to a solid 1957 Pontiac Limefire Green Poly, applied by Jeff Chansler of Stafford.

Jerry Johnson of JJ Upholstery in Hutchinson stitched up a slick black high-grade vinyl tuck-and-roll interior for the rebuild. Wilson installed a Vintage Air air conditioning setup, hiding the compressor out of sight to retain the original look of the engine bay. The car also was treated to lots of sound deadening and insulation, making it so air-tight that it’s impossible to close the doors without rolling down a window.

And he installed the same set of 15-inch ET gray spoke mag wheels that had graced one of his earlier Fords.

“I bought those wheels new in 1965, for $322, caps, lug nuts and all,” Wilson recalled. They mount 185/65R15 Uniroyal Tiger Paws in the front and P245/60R15BF Goodrich TA’s in the rear.

Wilson also dug out his old Sun tachometer from his earlier drag racing days and mounted it atop the dash, with several vintage gauges from earlier ’57s installed in an under-dash panel.

“I’ve got 18 pieces on this car that were on my car when I was 18, and that’s kinda cool,” Steve Wilson says. And he’s the first to admit that he feels about 18 years old when he slips behind the wheel of his cool, cloned F-Code Ford.

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