Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
March 5, 2013
Photos By: Mike Slade

There's an obvious argument about which car provided more of itself to this amalgamation of automotive art, but there's no doubt that the end result is stunningly superb.

George Bickel Sr. of Apex, North Carolina, claims to have owned more than 90 '56 Fords, this one in particular tallying 96.

"I acquired my very first '56 Ford in 1957 right after the '58 models came out," George recalls. "As a 17-year-old high school student, I sold the '54 Mercury I had fixed up, and borrowed the balance with my father's co-signature." It took three part-time jobs for George to cover the $40 monthly note, as well as provide for the hot rod modifications that were sure to come. George started with glass-pack mufflers, Mercury fender skirts and Mercury station wagon taillightsthe latter was a cheap upgrade back in the day, but as George told us, costs quite a mint now.

As you might deduce from the massive total of cars that George has on record, the cars have come and gone, and it was time for that to change. George started planning a Ford Victoria project; something that he would keep for the long run. He started collecting items for the build, including the now-hard-to-get Mercury wagon taillights, Mercury door chrome, cruiser skirts, and spinner hubcaps. According to George's plan, the '56 would be equipped with a 312ci Y-block, three-speed overdrive transmission, lake pipes, skirts, and a Lincoln Continental kit. However, in 2006, George put together a '66 Ford F-100 and utilized a wrecked '00 Ford SVT Lightning for many of the trucks components.

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"That proved to me that it was the best way to build what is referred to as a retro-engineered vehicle, thus my plans for the Victoria changed dramatically," says George.

George began by purchasing a suitable '56 Ford from a local guy that has provided George with a number of these cars over the years. Then, he began searching for a late-model Mercury Marauder to scavenge parts from. It would offer a full-frame chassis as well as a potent drivetrain. After nearly a year of bidding on salvageable wrecks, George still was not able to bring home the right vehicle. A call from his salvage dealer, however, informed George that he had just taken possession of a wrecked '07 Mustang, and not just any standard issue 'Stang, but one that had been dealer-modified with a Roushcharger supercharger at that.

"It was a light rollover with 17,000 miles on it," says George, who jetted down to his local Ford dealer with a tape measure to see how the '07 Mustang measured up to the '56 Ford. After deciding it looked good, George told them it needed to be driveable, so he had them replace the right front suspension and wheel and then they dropped it off to George so the transplant could begin.

After deciding that the late-model dash could be retrofitted with just a bit of modification, George stripped off and sold any usable body parts from the 'Stang to recoup some money. A great deal of comparing things and sizing things up led George to have Fatman Fabrications install one of its independent front suspensions on the '56 chassis.

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With the front end set, George turned his attention to the Mustang's 8.8 rearend. He needed to chop it down as it was much wider than he had anticipated, however, George had never attempted this before.

"My research led me to Strange Engineering and a gentleman named Mr. Ed, who not only provided all of the necessary parts to do the job, including new axles, but also convinced me that I could do the job myself," George told us. "He made it sound so easy that I had to at least try." Having been down the fabrication road with his F-100, George was able to properly narrow the housing, as well as relocate the shock, Panhard bar, and antisway bar mounts.

Narrowing a rearend housing sounds simple compared to what was next. George intended to use the Mustang's rear three-link suspension, and so went about fabricating brackets to mount the lower control arms to the '56's chassis. Pockets for the coil springs were next, as was a custom crossmember that the shocks and upper control arm could be fastened to.

Next up were the engine and transmission. Again, here, the rearend mods seem easy. Using a pair of 5.0 engine mounts from an earlier Mustang allowed the Three-Valve to rest comfortably in the Fatman front subframe, while the transmission required a new crossmember to support it. George also fabricated a crossmember to which he mounted the '07 Mustang's center-mount driveshaft bearingthat's right, George used the Mustang's original two-piece driveshaft. The Mustang's exhaust system pretty much fit as well, with the exception of having to relocate the mufflers.

George utilized the '56's core support and mounted a custom-fabricated, four-row aluminum radiator that matched up to the Three-Valve's hoses. The aforementioned muffler relocation was due to the custom gas tank that invaded their space. While he couldn't use the Mustang's saddle-style gas tank, George intended to use its pump and sending unit. That required a 9-inch-deep gas tank, which led to a 26-gallon capacity. The pump and sending unit work perfectly with the factory computer and instruments, however the added weight forced a change to a stiffer rear spring and the addition of air bags to further compensate. As George puts it, the additional weight makes up for the fact that George did not install the antilock brakes/traction controlit was simply too ugly to put under the hood according to George. You'll also note from the photos that George relocated the filler tube from behind the license plate to behind the driver-side taillight.

With the chassis now complete, George turned his attention to the Ford's body. Setting it down on the chassis presented a number of interference issues that George would have to sort out. The first of those was the firewall, which was moved 4 inches rearward to accommodate the supercharger and its plumbing. George then grafted parts from the Mustang's firewall onto the '56's so he could bolt up the pedals, steering shaft, and brake booster. Similarly, the Mustang gave up its transmission tunnel so George could weld it onto the floor of the '56. This allowed him to mount the Mustang's console, shifter, and emergency brake in their "stock locations. The Mustang also gave up its wiper motor, though George had to fabricate custom arms to use the '56's wipers.

Next on the list was the electrical system. This was going to be George's least favorite part to tackle, but was made much easier with some help.

"I had carefully removed the wiring harness from the Mustang, marked each connector, and purchased the wiring manual from Ford. I was surprised to find the wiring consisted of one complete harness, and when removed, it filled a very large tote, George recalls. "Thankfully, a friend called and asked if he could bring a friend of his to see the project. As luck would have it, this friend happened to be Bob Gault, a master technician and shop foreman from a large local Ford dealership. Bob looked at what was intimidating me, laughed, and said that was the easy stuff.' I told him that he just became my new best friend. George says Bob was right and that it was easy, at least with Bob on board.

"Without his expertise, the project probably would still not be completed.

George also found upholsterer, Tim Dean, who agreed to work on the car at George's place, and while the rest of the guys kept making progress on other parts of the car.

"Working together with Tim, we were able to combine ideas and resolve any issues with the interior. The finished job speaks to his skills and creativity, notes George.

Believe it or not, the Mustang's entire wiring harness was used and hooks up to the factory wiper motor, fuel pump and sender, as well as the Mustang's Shaker 500 sound system. The harness was modified to connect to the '56's lighting sockets, and a couple of the door speaker wires needed to be lengthened. The factory harness even provides power to the power door solenoids. George simply hits the unlock button on the factory key fob and it pops his door open since the handles have been shaved. As George put it, the wiring and computer still think they reside in the '07 Mustang.

This experiment in retro-engineering, as George likes to call it, has been an obvious success. The '56 rides and drives better than ever thanks to the healthy infusion of late-model technology. What's even better is that George developed great friendships with those that were involved. Bob Gault, Brent and Bubba from Fatman Fabrications, Tommy Boyette, Mike and Carrie from Pittsboro Ford, Mike Bartolo and Craig Barker from Roush Performance, and even Modified Mustangs & Fords tech editor, Mark Houlahan, all offered some kind of assistance that enabled George to complete his project. Now, George and his wife, Ella, get to cruise in style and comfort. That is until George starts his next project. About six months into this build, he came across that wrecked Marauder he was looking for and bought it. Will it become '56 Ford number 97?

The Details
George Bickel Sr's '56 Ford Fairlane Victoria

Engine
Stock 4.6L modular three-valve V-8
Stock Internals
Eaton M90-based Roushcharger supercharger
Roush Air-to-Water intercooler
435 hp

Transmission
Stock Ford 5R55S five-speed automatic
Stock Ford torque converter and flexplate

Rearend
Stock Ford 8.8, narrowed 4.5 inches per side
Strange C-clip eliminators and axles
Traction-Lok differential
3.31 gears

Exhaust
Stock Ford manifolds
Stock Ford H-pipe with catalytic converters

Suspension Front: Fatman Fabrications IFS with coilover shocks
Rear: '07 Mustang GT three-link with Fatman Fabrications-modified adjustable Panhard bar, antisway bar, coil springs, and airbags

Brakes Front: Fatman Fabrications disc, 11-inch rotors single-piston calipers
Rear: '07 Ford Mustang disc, 11.8-inch rotors, single-piston calipers

Wheels
Front: '07 Mustang GT Bullitt-style, 17x8
Rear: '07 Mustang GT Bullitt-style, 17x8

Tires
Front: Falken Azenis PT722, P235/55VR17
Rear: Falken Azenis PT722, P235/55VR17

Interior
'07 Mustang dashboard, console, wiring, and Shaker 500 sound system; modified '07 Mustang seats upholstered by Tim Dean (Clayton, NC) in Lipstick Red; Ford Racing Cobra Jet airbag delete cover

Exterior
Painted by the owner with PPG basecoat/clearcoat Scarlet Red over Sparkle Silver, '55 Oldsmobile headlights, custom Pony-style grille, Mercury Montclair side trim, '56 Mercury wagon taillights, '56 Ford Thunderbird hoodscoop, 4.6L badges