Testa-Mint – Ken Stek’s ’57 Ranch Wagon Affirms That “Lost Cause” Field Cars Can Become Show-Winning Cruisers
It’s always smart to start a custom or hot rod project with the cleanest, most complete and rust-free vehicle possible, but we admire those ambitious craftsmen who can drag a rusty, cast-off field car home and transform it into a show-worthy cruiser. That’s where the roots of hot rodding come from.
Ken Stek is one of those guys. He’s been building hot rods for 60 years and doesn’t shy away from major projects at his Ottumwa, Iowa shop, Stek-lo Rodz Shop. Ken has always liked ’57 Fords, so when he spied the remains of this Ranch Wagon in the fence row of a farm pasture while parts hunting with a friend, he saw potential where most others saw junk.
“Nobody in their right mind would have started a project like that,” Ken says. “I opened the driver’s door and saw nothing but frame rails, grass, and racoon droppings.” All the critical two-door wagon parts were there, however. “I could see the vision of this car coming back to life and saving it from being crushed,” Ken says.
Rebuilding the body was no easy feat. Ken and coworker Steve Garrett had to fabricate new floors and rockers and fix years of damage. They also corrected the excess gap found at the rear of all ’57 Ford two-door wagon doors (caused by Ford using two-door sedan doors), incorporated a modern hood latch, and refined all other door and tailgate gaps. Steve then completed the bodywork and prepped the car for color – more on that in a minute.
The Ford frame received equal attention. Ken built a new front suspension using the crossmember and lower control arms from a Fox-platform Thunderbird, Chrysler lower ball joints, and aftermarket Mustang II-style drop spindles. upper control arms, and disc brakes. The 9-inch rearend was suspended using leaf springs augmented with RideTech air springs to fine tune ride height. Wheelsmith 15×7-inch wheels and Diamondback Classic whitewall radials got things rolling.
Ken bought a 2008 Mustang GT parts car as a drivetrain donor and successfully incorporated the fuel-injected 4.6-liter V8, 5R55 overdrive automatic transmission, plus the Mustang computer, wiring harness, radiator, and other support parts. “The whole idea was minimum maintenance and serviceability,” Ken says. The proof of concept came with a trouble-free maiden voyage from Iowa to Tennessee for the 2021 Goodguys BASF Nashville Nationals just days after the wagon was completed.
Ken says most of his projects get dash swaps, and in this case he sliced and diced a ’64 Galaxie dash to make it look at home – narrowing it side to side, extending it front to rear, relocating the glove box, and building custom ends. It was then fitted with Dakota Digital gauges and custom vents for the Vintage Air system. Ken designed the custom console to look like an OEM offering and went to extraordinary lengths to build the ribbed insert to mimic the panel under the instrument cluster on the dash.
The custom CON2R steering wheel is what set the car’s color combination in motion. Ken’s wife Lisa chose the sage green and winter white colors for it as the project was getting started, so Ken had Brett Watertor of Accurate Auto Trim find matching material for covering the ’97 Lincoln front seats and custom-built rear seats. He also had Steve Garrett match those same hues for the PPG paint covering the body.
The completed ranch wagon fulfills Ken’s vision for the car to look like what Ford might have built if current technology was available back in 1957. “I wanted the outside of the car to look like Grandma might have drove it to church last Sunday, with a weak set of springs – or if she had three heavy-duty gals with her,” Ken says with a chuckle.
“I tried my damndest to not have anything look out of place,” Ken continues. “There’s a lot to be said for subtle.”
Photos by John Jackson