Modern Rodding FEATURE
The Other Tri-Five title
Ford is Also Known for its ’55-57 Designs
By Brian BrennanPhotography by Wes Allison

t’s been called the Golden Era of automotive design, and this is especially true in the eyes of hot rodders everywhere. The Tri-Five era, 1955-57, has achieved “favorable status” among hot rodders with the major Detroit OEMs. There can be no doubt about the Bowtie contribution, and what about the Buick and Olds of that era? But let’s not forget about Ford and their influence on the period, especially the ’56 Ford Crown Victoria.

red orange '56 Ford
We are going to look at one amazing effort on behalf of SoCal hot rodder Joe Gregorio. His ’56 Ford Crown Vic built at Wheeler’s Speed Shop (Huntington Beach, California), under the care of owner Bryan Wheeler, is an amazing representation of what can be done with a Blue Oval from this period. Surprisingly the approach to this build was: We have a Ford 427 SOHC motor and it needs a home. Maybe not the conventional method to begin a project but a line we’ve heard plenty of times: “Have engine, need project.”

So, Joe finds himself with one of the Holy Grails of V-8s and Wheeler is itching to build. The idea was something other than a Galaxie and smaller, but still a full frame car, and what pops up but this ’56 Ford Crown Vic. We mentioned the Ford 427 SOHC V-8, referred to as a “cammer” as the starting point. But a little more on the cammer. Originally intended to be used in NASCAR racing it was outlawed because it was “too good.” But it did go on to have a great history in drag racing. You are looking at a two-valve, single-overhead cam conversion on the Ford FE V-8 originally displacing 427 inches. Initially designed with cast-iron heads, aluminum versions would become available from the factory. What makes the SOHC (pronounced “sock”) V-8 so cool, especially for Ford hot rods, is the unique head design and accompanying valve covers. Beneath all this distinction resides a roller chain cam drive­—all 6 feet of timing chain! While there are inherent timing issues, the fact remains, it is one impressive motor and ideally suited for our world of “badass” hot rods.

speedometer in a '56 Ford
The cammer that you see before is based on a fresh Robert Pond Motorsports aluminum block and complementing heads. The famous Ed Pink Racing Engines shop built the 700-plus horsepower motor. If this isn’t impressive enough, how about those unique valve covers followed by the Borla Throttle Body Induction System. The fuel system is based on individual throttle bodies, which create the one runner per cylinder induction all sitting on a Borla intake. It uses 58mm throttles and can be tuned for cold starts to maintain street driveable characteristics. The good-looking custom air cleaners and stacks were dialed up by EVOD Industries. Feeding the “beast” is a ’15 GM ZL1 module fuel pump with a VaporWorx controller. The electronics are handled by the proven Holley Dominator ECU functioning through a custom distributor-less ignition system that features “stock” plug wires working through LS coil packs. The standard fare these days is a serpentine belt system and this one is a custom-made component through the efforts of Wheeler’s Speed Shop and EVOD Industries. Getting the spent gases out of this cammer is a Wheeler’s fabricated exhaust system. The stainless steel system features 2-inch headers that dump into the 2-3/4-inch exhaust tubing, which eventually runs through a pair of Borla exhausts.
interior in a '56 Ford
air vents in a '56 Ford
trunk in a '56 Ford
The body while stock in appearance does feature a freshly hammered firewall, inner fenders, core support and radiator, fan shroud, and a complete floorboard. There is a riser built into the floorboard that works with the ’64 Ford T-bird bucket seats. Continuing, there are more examples of Wheeler’s Speed Shop fabrication skills in the custom rear wheeltubs and trunk panels. Exterior-wise something subtle, such as the replacement of the stock door handles that are replaced with ’56 T-bird door handles and finger pockets, is a nice touch. There are GM latches that work in unison with the door handles to open the doors. The bodywork was all conducted by Alan Palmer who also applied the Axalta Wheeler’s Hot Rod Red, a custom mix. From here all the Crown Vic’s appropriately prepared brightwork handled by Sherm’s Custom Plating was utilized.

Residing indoors is the freshly produced lower dash and instrument cluster machined by Leading Edge Machine and Design (LEMD) that now houses Dakota Digital F-100 RTX instruments and a Vintage Air A/C system. Also linked to the lower dash is a Flaming River tilt steering column topped with a custom-fabricated wheel machined by EVOD and then leather wrapped. The wiring is based on an American Autowire harness positioned by Wheeler’s linking all the hot rod’s electrics.

'56 Ford
under the hood of a '56 Ford
Earlier we mentioned ’64 T-bird buckets. The stitchwork for these buckets and the stock ’56 Crown Vic rear bench seat fell to Gabe’s Street Rods Custom Interiors in a coffee-colored leather and brown square-weave carpeting. All the door panels and headliner are also in the coffee-colored leather and part of Gabe’s handiwork.

All this amazing craftsmanship rests on an Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) full chassis featuring AME IFS, rack-and-pinion steering, and Wilwood drop spindles. In back an AME 9-inch with a Currie centersection running 3.70 limited-slip gearing, Strange 31-spline axles, and an AME triangulated four-bar rolls into service.

under the hood of a '56 Ford
close up of engine in a '56 Ford
close up in a '56 Ford
At the corners there are a full complement of QA1 double-adjustable coilover shocks, Wilwood disc brakes with 14-inch rotors, six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in the rear. Operating the brake system is a dual reservoir master cylinder and electric power brake compilation. Wheeler’s fabricated the underdash mounting and pedal assembly. The rolling stock is made up of EVOD Industries custom one-off wheels (8×19 and 10×20) wrapped in P Zero rubber, measuring 235/45R19 and 275/45R20.

The Golden Era of design for Detroit is often acknowledged to be the Tri-Five era, 1955-57. We agree, especially those of us in the world of hot rodding, this was truly a great era to find our next project.

'56 Ford taillight
close up of windows on a '56 Ford
close up a tire on a '56 Ford
red orange '56 Ford
Modern Rodding
VOLUME 4 • ISSUE 30 • 2023