Tom Shaw
October 1, 2008

The 4.6L V-8 uses a light alloy block and heads, runs 9.9:1 compression, and is rated at 280 hp at 5,750 rpm. That's on the tame side, but Don really wasn't after rocket-ship acceleration. Instead, he wanted a car that had ample power, but also had top-notch driveability, and was easily capable of long, effortless road trips when the road beckoned.

So they elected to skip the hop-ups and use a factory computer. Extra effort was made in the engine's appearance, as the cam covers were plated and the intake was finished in red. Firewall plates cover the back of the engine compartment, helping to create a very clean engine bay. Don even took some of the work on himself, moving the Mark VIII fuel pump into the Ranchero's fuel tank.

The driving experience is a dream, as the classic '57 Ford benefits greatly from the updated driveline and suspension. No longer does the Ranchero follow every rut in the road thanks to skinny bias-ply tires, nor does it take forever to change direction, or get going under its own steam thanks to a lo-po engine. Instead, "it now rides, corners, and accelerates like a modern-day sports car-it's got plenty of power, yet I can get 24 mpg out of it," relates Don.

The engine's running manners are flawless, and because the drivetrain doesn't depart from the factory calibration, its operation is just as smooth as if it were still powering a Lincoln. That's worlds better than the old, original 190hp 272-cid Y-block engine.

Big, wide whitewall radials are mounted on T-Bird wire wheels, making an unmistakable premium statement. Steering is quick and precise thanks to a modern rack-and-pinion system, and an ABS Power Brakes booster applies boost using electrical current. The center of gravity is lowered thanks to a 2-inch drop in the front spindles.

Inside, the modernization continues with the Mark VIII's electrically adjusted leather bucket seats, and center console adapted to the '57's cab. A modern stereo fills the original dash location, while a Vintage Air A/C system keeps the cab cool and comfy through underdash outlets. The dash is padded, and twin spotlights are operated through interior handles. An ididit steering column mounts a LeCarra steering wheel wrapped in matching leather. Custom door panels integrate modern power window switches, though old-timers may recall that power windows were a factory option on the '57 Fords.

The body was kept mostly stock, though there is a vinyl bed cover. Don came up with some N.O.S. gold-anodized side trim, a signature piece found on the flanks of '57 Fords. Ford called its red/white color scheme Flame Red and Colonial White.

There's no denying the sensory impact of the finished product. The refurbed Ranchero works on all levels. Most classic Ford buffs agree that '57 was one of Ford's best styling years ever.

Ranchero Time Line
December, 1957: Ranchero Debuts
1960: Ranchero based on compact Falcon
1967: Ranchero moved to intermediate Fairlane
1968: Redesigned Fairlane/Ranchero introduced
1970: Fairlane/Ranchero redesigned again, 429 available
1972: Torino/Ranchero redesigned
1977: Last major redesign
1979: Ranchero production ends

They didn't need focus groups to tell them whether they had the styling right. Stylists had instincts; just let them work. There's more creative expression in the Ford crest on the tailgate than a whole container ship full of imports. They didn't have a lot of government regulations to work around; they just made the best designs they could think of. And if engineers had modern engines back then, you can bet they'd have built 'em just like Don Lett's retro Ranchero.

The Details
Don Lett's '57 Ranchero

Engine
'98 Lincoln MK VIII donor
281 ci/4.6-liter
Teksid aluminum block
Aluminum heads, 4 valves per cylinder
280 hp at 5,750 rpm

Transmission
4R70W four-speed automatic overdrive

Rearend
9-inch
31-spline axles
3.00 gears

Exhaust
Stock 4.6 manifolds
Custom 2 1/2-inch diameter exhaust
Walker Dynomax mufflers