By Joshua Elzey
Not often does one get the whole story of a surviving hot rod from the ‘60s era! This tale began with Al Morini as he was starting high school around 1959 and instantly gravitated to the older hot rod fellas. Within a couple years, Al got his license and soon obtained the stock 1956 Ford Customline which was quickly painted 1956 Chevy Sierra Gold and white by Smith Vocational (later the ‘56 was painted by Mike Sanky out of Northampton, Massachusetts). Al was eventually nicknamed “Ahab,” which led to his friend Jerry Bouchard drawing a little pigmy on both sides of the car.
Soon Al started modifying the car, and since he lived near the Ed’s Auto Parts junk yard, that was an easy feat. He obtained a ‘58 T-bird 352 that needed rebuilt, along with a new 1962 3-speed, plus rare 1956 Mercury station wagon taillights. Several broken rear ends later, Al used a 1947 Chevy ¾ ton truck 8-lug to solve the problem, while up front an I-beam axle from a ’57 Ford F100 was used. Al then towed the car to Lebanon Valley Drags with his dad’s 1951 Buick. After several more mishaps, Al installed a used 406 boat motor and a brand new 4-speed transmission, using an aluminum flywheel from the local dealership. Al then built headers, making use of a Dragfast box you could buy from the local speed shops at the time. Al would take the caps off to run straight exhaust while cruising and a lot of people learned the hard way not to touch the header boxes while asking what they were. The gasser did 12.8 at the drags in 1964, running B/ and C/Gas which was fast back then.
The first time Pete Keyser saw Al drive by was during a stroll in front of the Amherst College fraternity houses. Pete was 16 at the time. Pete had heard about Al as he was one of the guys to go looking for when wanting a good race. Pete first experienced this with a ‘41 Willys using a small Chrysler motor.
In 1966, Al got married and sold the car locally. It changed hands a few more times and then “Rattlesnake” Ray Basara took it home. He then had the whole car stripped in preparation for modifications, but lightning struck a barn nearby causing a fire, blistering the paint and warping some metal. The Ford was then sandblasted (with the glass still in it) before he finally got discouraged with the project, resulting in the Customline sitting in the New England natural elements for 30 years.
Al and Pete knew of its resting place, but were getting the “not for sale” response. Ray eventually agreed to turn it over for 500 bucks one day, and Pete nearly broke his wrist trying to get to his wallet. The car was pretty well rotted down to the frame, but Pete did get the 406 motor and everything with it including the ‘57 I-beam and original frame, which were salvageable.
First on the agenda was contacting Al to get old images of the Ford to help with the restoration. Next was replacing the cracked 406. Pete chose a desirable 428. The 428 engine was built and dynoed by Donnie Wood of Rad’s. He used the stock hydraulic cam and non-adjustable push rods, making it fairly maintenance free, but providing just over 400 horse and nearly 550 lb.-ft. of torque.
While the frame was mostly decent, the same couldn’t be said about the body, so it was repaired using panels from several other donors. Another F700 truck scoop was found to top the glass nose as well as NOS Mercury taillights. The Dragfast box had to be fabricated from scratch since it was no longer available. Pete re-chromed parts on the front end such as the grille, and the original truck rear-end was updated. The 4-speed transmission and shifter just needed a mild rebuild to be useable. The gasser’s homemade traction bars and leaf springs were bolted solid to provide no spring action so it would hook and go. The only item left at this point was painting the infamous “Ahab,” which friend Rick was able to re-apply.
The restoration took 12 years to finish. The car that influenced many in the hot rod scene during the ‘60s is still identified as Al’s from local people’s memories.
Owner: Peter Keyser
Builder: Owner & Mike O’Connell (Mike’s Speed Shop)
Vehicle: 1956 Ford Customline
Body Mods: Fiberglass nose (fenders & hood); F700 truck scoop
Paint: 1956 Chevy Sierra Gold & white
Engine: Ford 428
tranny: 4-speed w/Hurst shifter
Intake: Weiand 2×4 intake w/Holley 650 CFM carbs
Ignition: Dual point
Exhaust: Dragfast headers, duals w/glass packs (side exit)
Rear End: 1947 Chevy truck w/5.14 gears
Suspension: F- Homemade leaf spring, 1957 Ford F100 I-beam axle;
R- Homemade leaf with
Wheels: F- 15×6 Radir Tri-Rib
R- 15×6 steel
Tires: F- 6.70-15 BF Goodrich/Coker WW
R- 7-50-15 BF Goodrich/Coker WW
Seats: F- 1947 Chevy panel truck
Upholstery: White vinyl
Taillights: 1956 Mercury station wagon