Y block-powered 1961 Ford Ranch wagon

Two doors, eight cylinders and five forward speeds - Texan perfection!

Photographers: Dave Fetherson

IT IS a damn shame that Australia didn’t get any homegrown two-door wagons. Ford could have easily done it with its early Falcons, since such a thing already existed in the US. But no doubt the economies of scale and the conservative tastes of Aussie motorists meant it was never to be.

This article was first published in the October 2020 issue of Street Machine

Which is probably why many Down Under car pervs today have a bit of a thing for the two-door longroof. Maybe it is the allure of forbidden fruit? While they look impractical to Aussie eyes, two-door wagons often served as a budget offering for many US brands in the 50s and 60s. But these days, they are among the more desirable of the litter, with their long coupe doors and even longer rear quarters.

Don Hardy from Don Hardy Race Cars in Floydada, Texas, built this stunning example of the breed a decade or so ago – specifically, a ’61 Ford Ranch Wagon, the last of the Blue Oval’s full-size, two-door ’goons. Not only is the ’61 perfectly slammed and subtle, but it is also running a très-cool 312 Ford Y-block mill, backed by a T5 five-speed. What’s not to love?

Don himself is the second-generation Don at Don Hardy Racy Cars. His old man was racing a B/Gas ’32 Ford in the very early 60s and eventually parlayed his hobby into a thriving business, turning out scores of Funny Cars in the late 60s and early 70s before moving on to building cutting-edge Pro Stockers. Customers included such storied names as Sox & Martin, John Mazmanian, Don Nicholson and Bob Glidden – the latter of whom won five NHRA Pro Stock Championships in Don’s creations. Don also pioneered a small-block conversion kit for the little Chev Vega that remained popular for decades.

In the 80s, Don pivoted into making super-efficient irrigation motors for agriculture, but is still involved in the race business, which is today headed by Don Jr, who turns out stunningly appointed V8 donks of all types for a discerning clientele. Check them out on Instagram @donhardyracecars, but be careful not to drool on your phone! The elder Hardy is still swinging spanners at the age of 80, has a collection of some 40 cars, and even has a Floydada street named after him.

And the Ranch Wagon? That was found locally in Floydada, a little town in West Texas that is home to just a few thousand souls and a lot of pumpkins. The wagon was last registered in 1967, and, after a long hibernation in storage out of the Texas sun, only needed a new battery, fresh oil and some petrol to fire right up! Don did the sensible thing: a set of rims, an attitude adjustment and then hit the road.

The bug soon bit and the ’61 was treated to an extensive restoration. Only a little rust needed repairing before the body was straightened, prepped and treated to a killer paintjob in PPG Desert Gold. The bodywork remained stock, though the giant bumpers were shaved and smoothed.

The ’61 came with a 292 Y-block from factory, so Don stuck with tradition and built up a peppy Thunderbird 312ci version. It’s got more than enough herbs for fun cruising and looks the part too, with twin Edelbrock 500cfm carbs, ribbed T-bird rocker covers and Thunderbird headers.

Introduced in 1954, the Y-block was the Blue Oval’s OHV replacement for the venerable flathead. Don’s version is a 312-cuber, dressed up with traditional hot rod goodies

While a slushbox would have been the sensible choice behind such an engine in this particular car, Don instead opted for a five-speed manual, operated by the eternally stylish Hurst shifter.

Inside, the Ranch Wagon was restored to within an inch of its life, including the super-cool split front bench seat. The hardest detail was the hoodlining. In its wisdom, Ford used printed cardboard in the ’61 wagons, rather than the eminently more sensible option of vinyl. An OEM replacement was not to be found, so Don teamed up with a mate who owned a print shop and got crafty. The lads copied the old pattern onto cardboard, made a digital file and pumped out sections on a large inkjet printer using archival inks. Once they had enough, the heavy paper was bonded to fresh waterproof cardboard, then cut to suit. The job took six months, but you can’t put a price on perfection.

Every square inch of the wagon’s interior has been restored to factory specs, with the exceptions of the Hurst floor shifter and the audio system with the head unit concealed in the glovebox. Dig that split bench seat!

Since then, Don and the wagon have tackled Hot Rod’s epic Power Tour event without a hiccup, making new friends wherever they went. Since then, the Hardys have built plenty of cars between them, but perhaps their most ambitious is a 1953 Studebaker destined for action at Bonneville Speed Week. The aim: 230mph with small-block Chev power!


Colour: PPG Desert Gold

Engine: Ford 312ci Y-block
Intake: Edelbrock
Carbs: Dual Edelbrock 500cfm
Heads: ’57 Thunderbird
Pistons: Egge 10:1
Cam: Comp Cams solid
Crank: Forged

’Box: T5 five-speed, Hurst shifter
Clutch: GM 454
Diff: 9in, 3.9:1 gears

Front suspension: ’71 Mustang spindles, dropped coils, conventional shocks
Rear suspension: Re-arched leaf springs, conventional shocks
Brakes: Baer 13in rotors, two-piston calipers (f & r)

Rims: Torq Thrust II; 18×7 (f), 20×8 (r)
Rubber: BFGoodrich; 225/45 (f), 245/40 (r)