Reviving Yesterdays - Robert's 1957 Ford

The motivation for buying an older car - any older car - varies, but many times I’ll hear stories from people who have a certain older car because that’s what they either had in days gone by, or wanted to have in days gone by. Such is the story of Robert Lee and his 1957 Ford Custom 300 coupe. 

Before Robert’s wife was his wife the two of them would tool around Southern California in his 1957 Ford Custom 300 coupe. As life moved on, that car was sold and became just a memory but a fond one so on a hot August day in 1998 it turns out that Robert found himself on his way to pick up another 1957 Ford Custom 300 coupe from a guy who had his advertised in an older car book. 

Unlike Robert’s original ’57 Ford, this one was pretty rough but from the outside looking in it appeared that the guy had spent some time in the engine compartment making things even better than right with some high performance bits. The car came home with Robert and he began making it the way he wanted it to be. 

And what did Robert Lee want his ’57 Ford to be? “Sort of a multi purpose vehicle,” he says. A car he can take to the beach on weekend days with surf boards in the trunk for some fun on the waves. But he also wanted something nice enough to take to car shows, which is where I ran into him. Oh, and then there’s the track. You see, Robert Lee likes to see just how quickly this car can go in a quarter mile. Robert’s ’57 Ford truly is a multi purpose vehicle. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. 

As the car was getting to be where Robert wanted it, it started to show signs that the previous owner wasn’t so meticulous about putting things together and in 2001 the engine simply quit as he was tooling down the boulevard. That’s when he felt it was time for a big change. 

So, he bought a Ford 351 Windsor motor and started changing parts. “The block, the crank and the valves are about the only Ford parts left in the engine,” said Robert. So what are the other parts, then? Edelbrock Performer RPM series. And then there is the electric exhaust cutouts, Flowmaster exhaust and much, more.

“I’m getting about 340 horsepower to the rear end on the dyno,” smiled Robert. And there will be no more of the silliness of the car conking out at 35 miles per hour. “It’s a good solid car that can hold the horsepower. It’s a fun car to drive.” And drive it he does. In fact, he even takes it to the strip now and again just to see how fast he can get down the line. The result? About 95-98 in the quarter mile. 

“It was fun getting back on the strip - I felt like a teenager again!” 

A Bit of History

1957 was a big year for the Ford brand with a completely new model for that year that was lower and much more stylish than the model it replaced. Ford was very excited about this new model but also knew they had to compete with General Motors’ new cars for 1957 which were also supposed to be all new. Unfortunately, the engineering challenges at the General left them with restyled 1956 model cars whereas Ford was one step ahead. 

Sales of the new Fords was strong but GM still had momentum and a very good looking lineup as well. Ford sold 1,653,068 compared to Chevrolet’s 1,555,316 which represented the third year of declining sales for Chevy but a big increase for Ford of over 200,000 units. In addition, Ford had something revolutionary in 1957 - the first retractable hardtop in the form of the Skyliner. These were good times to be a Ford dealer, or a customer with all the significant improvements Ford made in their new-for-1957 models. 

One of the fun things about owning an older car is looking up the history of that machine, and Robert Lee has. By tracing the serial number of the vehicle he figured out that it was one of the last cars to roll down the Long Beach assembly line in 1957, so it’s very much a local car.

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