Tom Shaw
October 1, 2008

You gotta love the '50s: cheap gas, cool old round-top Coke machines and jukeboxes, and some of the best Fords ever were available new for just a few thousand bucks.

One of those great '57 Fords was a new model called the Ranchero, a unique hybrid blending a heavy-duty station wagon chassis, and a passenger car cab and front end, with a cargo bed in the rear. Ford had been building F-1 pickup trucks since 1948, but those were conventional trucks. This new Ranchero shared not only the handsome styling with the big Ford, but its engine options, too. Ford offered it in two models for '57.

Model MSRP Production
66A Ranchero Custom $2,173 15,277
66B Base Ranchero $2,064 6,428

Model 66B was your basic rig, light on trim and goodies, while model 66A dressed things up a bit with more elaborate trim and color choices. Statistics show that buyers preferred their Rancheros with some gingerbread by a margin of over 2 to 1.

Don Lett, a retired electronics businessman from Dallas, likes his classic Fords with modern running gear. In the '90s, he had Time Machines in Hudson, Florida, build an early Merc cruiser with Lincoln Mark VIII running gear. The project was a big hit, so when Don decided to add a classic Ranchero to his fleet, he naturally turned back to Time Machines, which specializes in these types of advanced conversions and has displayed many finished projects at the internationally attended SEMA show in Las Vegas.

Don's plans called for a first-year Ranchero body, powered by LincolnMark VIII running gear, just like his earlier Merc, and some suspension updates to give the car an aggressive stance with an improved ride. Don got busy looking and found a dry, well-preserved '57 body that would serve as a starting point.

"It was a really solid car," recalls Time Machines' leader, Mike Staveski. "From our perspective, it was about as rust-free as you can get."

Dismantling and removal of the old stuff was the first order of business. The front suspension and feeble, old drum brakes were pulled off, along with the original steering box, control arms, spindles, and coil springs.

In their place went a modern power-assisted rack-and-pinion system, eliminating lots of hiding places for loose steering and the slow ratio of the factory turning system.

"We added a Mustang II-style frontend from Fatman Fabrications, which really opened everything up," Mike told us. The Fatman suspension points weld to the factory frame and Time Machines' skilled fabricators created mounts for the new engine and transmission.

Offering up its parts for the project was a '98 Lincoln Mark VIII. Mike has swapped his share of Ford modular motors and says that getting the engine to sit where it's supposed to is usually the toughest task. "The biggest thing is getting them in-it's a very wide motor," he said. Fortunately, the '57's engine bay is huge, and with the new suspension and steering there was even more room.

Mike went with the Mark VIII's factory 4R70W automatic trans, which was plenty strong enough and already mated to the 32-valve late-model V-8 engine. Factory engineers do extensive driveability testing, and keeping the engine and trans together as a unit meant that the Ford fuel mapping and calibration would transfer intact.

Under the bed, the rearend is a stock Ford 9-inch with tall, 3.00 highway gears, and 31-spline axles-one of the toughest rearends ever used in a passenger car.