1961 Ford Ranch Wagon – Cruisin’ Farm Country
Story and photos by David Fetherston
The 1961 Ford Ranch Wagon makes a bitchin’ cruiser. We found one we think you will really like.
We’ve all heard the story: It was parked in a garage just around the corner for the past 30 years, when some guy turned up to snag it, and it was gone! Well, Don Hardy was that guy; so now you know the first chapter.
This rare, two-door, 1961 Ford Ranch Wagon was parked in a garage not four blocks from his shop, Don Hardy Race Cars in Floydada, Texas.
Donald had heard about the wagon for 15 years, but it wasn’t until a few years back, that he got a hankering for a project with a long top—something a little unusual, but good looking. When he asked around, he found out the wagon was still there, but there were others who were also interested in acquiring this piece of history.
To his surprise and luck, it turned out not to be a four door, but a rare two-door, which made it even cooler. A deal was quickly struck before anyone else could haul it out of town.
The wagon had been last tagged in 1967 after being purchased by the first owner in Amarillo in 1961. Luckily enough, once the wagon was equipped with a new battery, fresh oil, and gas it fired right up! Don got it back to the shop and tinkered with it until it ran smoothly. He then lowered it, put on a set of wheels and started driving it.
Thankfully, the wagon was in really great shape as it had been nearly all its life in the dry air of west Texas and in storage out of the sun for the past 40 years. It had only a bit of rust in the tailgate and the lower rear quarter. Apart from those minor flaws, the body was factory straight and everything was there.
The frame was cleaned, aligned and strengthened for an Air-Ride setup. At this point, Donald also added Baer rear disc brakes to the axle and set it back in place with de-arched springs and Air-Ride air bags. The front end was rebuilt using the Ford IFS components with dropped ’71 Mustang spindles and Baer disc brakes.
Next, the body was tackled by Joey at Little Feet Racing in Fritch, Texas. Joey worked over every inch of the metal before Donald moved it on to Mark Warrick at Soncy Road Body Shop in Amarillo, for final body prep and its new coat of PPG Desert Gold . The only major exterior rework was done to the bumpers. These were shaved and smoothed.
To make the wagon sit right with its new suspension, Donald added a set of American Racing 18-inch wheels Torq Thrust M – sevens on the front and eights on the rear. These he capped with BF Goodrich 225/45/18 for the front and 245/40/18 for the rear.
As you might gather, Donald is a bit of a traditionalist, so the dash remained all stock, though totally rebuilt, refurbished or replaced with OEM original pieces. The same goes for the steering wheel and column.
The seating is all done in Ford factory materials concurrent with OEM parts and colors for 1961, including the Ford brown loop-pile carpet.
The seating surfaces have two tones, one of which is solid beige vinyl and the other, a finely ribbed two-toned fabric section set in three pieces for the front seat and four for the rear. The seat kick moldings are all OEM and are painted per Ford color charts.
The other significant interior problem was the headliner. It was just cardboard! But that became the inspiration for Donald. With the help of his buddy, who owned an instant print shop, they made a new headliner by copying the old pattern on the cardboard and then created a giant new digital file for the new artwork. This new pattern file was then printed out on heavy paper that they bonded to flat waterproof cardboard. The new headliner was then cut to shape using the original headliner as the template. Other interior changes and updates include a completely fresh Pioneer sound system by Total Mobil Audio with eight 6” mid-range speakers, three 10-inch subwoofers, and a power amp.
For a Chevy guy, Donald certainly became well acquainted with the classic Ford Performance hardware. The power train is all Ford, centered in a rebuilt 312ci, 1957 Thunderbird Y-block V8, which now runs 317ci.
The heads are ’57 Thunderbirds, which were prepared with 1.92-inch intake, 1.510 stainless exhaust valves, and lightly reworked for clean ports and smooth gas flow. The valve train is also lightly reworked using a mild-grind Comp Cams solid lifter cam and stock Ford Y-block parts.
The Egge pistons run 10-to-1 and the engine was balanced and assembled for durability. It features a ’61 Ford 5-quart pan, an intake setup with an Edelbrock 2/4 manifold, and two 500cfm Edelbrock Performer carburetors topped with K&N air cleaners . Ignition is provided off a stock Ford distributor.
The exhaust is simple, clean, and all new. It features a custom layout that is set for improved ground clearance starting with stock Thunderbird manifolds. These lead to a ceramic-coated 2.5-inch dual exhaust system with a pair of sweet-toned, Flowmaster Super 44 mufflers.
With all that said, just look how well this engine went together! It’s beautifully clean, highly detailed, and runs like Swiss watch.
Power is shot out to the 9-inch rear axle via a Ford T-5 five-speed transmission running a surprising clutch assembly. Donald wanted a heavy-duty clutch, so for simplicity, he re-machined the flywheel drilling it to accept a 454 GM truck pressure plate and clutch disc. It works like a charm using the stock Y-block manual transmission bell housing with a T-5 adaptor plate, the ’61 clutch linkage, and a Hurst shifter.
When it comes to classic cruising wagons, Donald Hardy’s ’61 Ranch Wagon certainly is a trick Ford piece. It’s so smooth that it can just glide on by without too much fuss, nevertheless a prize piece. It exemplifies Donald Hardy, always Mr. Low Key, just hanging low and staying cool.