Jerry Heasley
February 9, 2012

To say the truth bluntly, a '56 Ford is not exactly the norm to build into a big-dollar, no-holds barred restomod to win on the national scene. And yet this '56 Sunliner, transformed into the Suncammer, is the 2011 Ridler Award winner.

When we came across it in June 2011, the Suncammer was parked in a prime spot amongst other show cars inside the lobby of the Southern Hills Marriott Hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The occasion was Jim Wicks' Mid-America Ford & Shelby annual show. The scene was odd. People were gawking at a '50s fullsized Ford surrounded by gorgeous Shelbys and Mustangs. One man told me this '56 was "a smaller version" of a '56 Ford and no body panel was stock. Another person attending the show said he heard the owner had invested more than $700,000.

This author found out later that both statements were not quite accurate, but they showed that this car really attracted interest--everybody was curious.

What we did know was this car was the "Suncammer." The show sign said so as did the gauges. The Cammer part was obvious, as the power came from a 427 SOHC (Cammer) motor. Of course, Ford called its convertibles by the name "Sunliner" in 1956, and thus the custom name Suncammer.

Stock '56 Fords are not exactly sleek. They are upright and boxy. The '57 Ford is more popular, however, car owner Bruce Ricks remembers grade school days when a buddy's mom drove a '56 convertible. He always liked that car. His previous build was another boxy Detroit slice of Americana, a '55 Chevy two-door sedan.

"We did not win with the '55. We were pretty disappointed with that. I guess we were wanting to build a better car," Bruce admitted.

The other half of the build-team is Steve Cook, present for our shoot late one evening in Oklahoma. He owns "Steve Cook Creations" in Oklahoma City. Bruce owns the '56 and credits Cook with the build, however, in the grand scheme, Steve is "the artist" and Bruce is "the mechanic."

Painted a custom gray and accented by nickel-plated trim (no chrome or billet), the '56 appeared like a painting. We wanted to know if the body panels were all custom and wondered about the 427 Cammer big-block racing engine under the hood. Bruce said they wanted to build a cross between a concept car and a race car. They kept the vintage look of a '56, but "went crazy" with the looks and performance.

"That's why it's got the quick-change rearend and the big engine. We wanted a race car theme. They actually raced 1956 Ford convertibles in NASCAR," Bruce noted. In the theme of a restomod, Bruce tried his best to keep the vintage '56 look. He said, "We didn't want to ruin the overall look of the car by hacking it all up so nobody would recognize it."

Steve Cook likes to describe the build as a pinch here and a pinch there, like his wife cooks. The '56 was not totally resized, as one spectator at Tulsa suggested (Bruce also chuckled at the $700,000 price estimate). However, the OEM doors will not fit this convertible--ditto for OEM front fenders. Rear quarters, however, will fit. Instead of saying what body parts they did change, Steve said, "All we didn't change was from the rear taillight to the center of the rear wheel.

"We took 4 inches out of the front to get the front smaller than the back, to kind of make it aero, to streamline it. The changes are in such small places that it is hard to figure out what we did," says Steve. In this transformation, the front is taller than stock. Of course, the overall body is lower than stock. The effect accentuates the boxy design with more of a rocket look. The Ford personnel viewing the car at the Detroit Autorama told Bruce they might have beat Chevrolet sales in 1956 if they had used this sportier style. Still, body parts are Ford save for the headlight buckets--Steve made them with the OEM dimensions in steel so he could weld them to the front fenders to get rid of the seam.

They built the whole front clip of the car and changed everything--the grille and the wheel openings (smaller and tighter). They took out the vent windows from the door to manipulate the A-pillars and changed the shape "to give some motion" to the car. They chopped the body about 13/4-inch. They changed the wheel openings in the back and raised the body.

Bruce credits Steve with the color selection, a custom silver. The paint has to do with the race car theme.

"Ford, early on, used silver in a lot of its race cars," Bruce said. Instead of chrome, Steve worked with John Wright (Custom Chrome in Grafton, Ohio) to plate the trim in two-tone nickel. This car actually has no chrome on the outside. The surfaces are either nickel-plated or painted. Bruce says the nickel is, "a lot softer without the real white look."

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The 427 "Cammer" was Bruce's idea of the ultimate or quintessential Ford engine. The Cammer also fit well with the race car theme. After all, Ford never installed the SOHC motor in a production vehicle. These engines were made for racing.

This car really makes a statement with the hood open. Right away it's easy to notice the lack of a distributor poking up from the top. Bruce chose a flathead distributor to mate to the cog on the overhead cam. After all, he had to have room for the custom aluminum intake and carburetors, which essentially are a pair of inline-fours sourced from the '69-'70 Boss 302 Mustang.

Underneath, the chassis originates with a set of Art Morrison framerails, built to specifications. Steve installed a Mustang II front suspension and fabricated a four-link to secure the rearend. He and Bruce worked with RideTech to tune the suspension with the company's Shockwave air suspension. RideTech's "Shockwave" mounts like a conventional coilover and replaces both the shock absorber and the coil spring.

Inside, the look is ultra clean with a simple padded dash, and gauges easily visible through a custom two-spoke steering wheel. Every instrument is there--oil pressure, water temperature, speedometer, tachometer, volts, and fuel level.

In the center of the Classic Instruments' gauges is the name Bruce gave the restomod--Suncammer. The name's not the norm and neither is the car.

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The Details

Bruce and Judy Ricks' '56 Ford Sunliner Convertible
Built by Steve Cooke Creations, Oklahoma City, OK

Engine

  • Original Ford 427 SOHC "Cammer"
  • One-off cast aluminum intake manifold
  • Dual Ford Autolite inline four-barrel carburetors
  • Custom radiator with built-in EMP electric water pumps

Transmission

  • Tremec TKO-500

Rearend

  • Tiger Quick Change, 3.73 gears

Brakes

  • Front: Baer disc, six-piston calipers, custom machined 14-inch rotors
  • Rear: Baer disc, six-piston calipers, custom machined 16-inch rotors

Wheels

  • Front: Schott Performance Wheels, custom billet aluminum, 18x8
  • Rear: Schott Performance Wheels, custom billet aluminum, 20x11

Tires

  • Front: Pirelli P Zero Rosso, P225/40ZR18
  • Rear: Pirelli P Zero Rosso, P295/40ZR20

Chassis

  • Modified Art Morrison Enterprises with longer wheelbase

Suspension

  • Front: Art Morrison Mustang II-style, RideTech Shockwave air suspension
  • Rear: Custom four-link with Panhard bar, RideTech Shockwave air suspension
  • RideTech Ride Pro e3

Exterior

  • Body wedge channeled 33⁄4 inches, new firewall moved back 21⁄2 inches and shaped around engine, reshaped grille opening, custom built grille, custom air intake and park lights built into the grille, custom front and rear bumpers with tucked ends, wheel openings reworked (made smaller and reshaped), A-pillar leaned back 2 inches at the top, bottom moved forward and chopped 15⁄8-inch, all spot welds and pinch welds removed, complete new custom floors and bracing, outside door handles removed, recontoured convertible top, doors sectioned, widened and inner structures reworked, vent windows removed, complete new rear wheeltubs, license tag lowers out of new filler panel, hood lowered 5⁄8-inch, front fenders lowered 11⁄2-inches and repeaked, hood ornament removed, hood front edge reworked, hood latch moved from center to custom pivot bar, hood under bracing changed and made inner metal support/closer, custom one-piece taillights, spine added to trunk, full belly pan, custom side trim, nickel-plated trim, dupont Hot Hues custom mix basecoat and clearcoat.

Interior

  • Fabricated by gabe's street rods custom upholstery; classic instruments gauges; dash reworked, filled, smoothed, and reveal extended; custom trim added to dash; steering column mount and column changed; custom steering wheel (handmade); custom instrument panel; custom front and rear seats covered in leather; nickel-plated handmade brass interior trim; custom handmade top with liner and glass rear window; Special Thanks: Frazier Mfg.; Millwerks Machining Inc.; Paul Precision Machine; Baer, Inc; Josh Mishler

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