The 1957 Mercury-engined 1956 Ford Crown Victoria
Part Two –
Want to read Part One? – Click HERE.
When we last left off, the M-335 V-8 was installed in the Crown Victoria and all the running gear was hooked up. The first run up of the engine happened on the day before Christmas eve, so little happened until after the Holiday. My gift from my parents that year was a floor shift conversion kit from a company called Ansen and $25 in cash.
On the school holidays between Christmas and New Years day of 1961, I fitted the hood, cut a neat hole in the floor, and after a bit of struggle, fit the floor shifter. I also removed the column shifter. A tachometer and auxiliary gauges had already been fitted, so I was ready to go. I should also mention that before the 368 was installed I had installed a set of 4 chrome reverse wheels which, because of their width, allowed the fitment of larger tires (forget low profile. those tires were 6 years away). By the way, it was considered that Atlas Bucron tires had the best traction as they had the softest rubber compound. Mine were 7.75 x 15 on 5.5″ wide rims.
Two weeks after the Holidays, and on a clear, almost warm Friday night, I was ready to cruise. My friend and I jumped into the Crown and off we went. Now understand, I had spent the time previous “trying out” how the 368 affected acceleration and let me tell you, for the time it was a beast. Still with only an “open” rear, that only lets one wheel get the power, the car could not be launched from a standstill with out tons of smoke and noise. But at about a 5-10 mph roll, it was awesome. On the 2nd gear shift, it would spin the tires!
On that Friday, we were not so much looking for action as enjoying the ride, but as we turned onto the highway, we heard the sound of a hot car accelerating behind us. As we turned, alongside drew a car we knew – on with a “reputation”. It was a local guy, with a 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne 2-door, running a 348 CID 320 HP V-8.
He knew about the lowly 312 in the Crown and he thought he was teasing us. My buddy said: “what are you going to do?” I was nervous, but my reply was: “Here’s when we find out . . .”
The Chevy went to accelerate away, and as he did so, I pulled back into 2nd, and nailed the Crown. It was in the 368’s perfect sweet spot, about 3000 RPM. The twin 4-barrels opened, and we were gone – right past the 348, already pulling hard. We both hit 3rd, and the Crown was . . . ahead by two car lengths!
We both slowed, after all, we were at about 80 mph at that point. As I looked over, there was confusion on the driver and his passenger’s face. Had they picked the wrong speed? You could tell that they wanted a rematch and were determined to vindicate the Chevy’s reputation.
At about 10 MPH, they looked over and it was our turn to hit it and see what would happen. Well, suffice it to say that we pulled the 348 in each gear, both of us shifting at about 5000 and that was it. At the end, were ahead by at least 3 car lengths and I knew there was even more on the top end, but I was scared and let off. The Crown was a beast!
“What did you do?” was their question when we pulled alongside. “A little work on her”, was my smug reply. One of the things my buddy and I had agreed to was to not tell people about the transplant right away because we didn’t want to be disappointed with the car’s performance after all that work. But just then we realized we had a “sleeper”; that is, a car that looks like it has a lot less in performance potential than the car actually would have. We knew that if the car won a few races, we would have to tell all, but for now, we’d let it speak for itself.
For those of you that may not know, back then street racing like the one I just described was a culture. I know in my later years how dangerous it was, but back then we didn’t think twice about it. I was what you did each time you climbed on board. Was it smart? No. Did it happen each and every day? Yup.
Our original destination was the local hamburger joint where all the local street racers hug out. We pulled in and parked. Of course, the Chevy parked alongside. The driver was incredulous. “I’ve never lost to a Ford, ever. What’s in that thing?”
I popped the hood. Now as I said before, the 368 looks much like a Ford 312 to the casual observer, but of course, the two 4-barrels were not usually in place, though the Mercury and later Ford 312s could receive a pair of the smaller “teapot” Holleys, so named because their float chambers were above the inlets. They had less flow capacity, but regardless, it was a known manifold. The Chevy guys and some other curious onlookers assumed that what was what we had done – add a two 4-barrel manifold and some “hotter” carbs.
There was a lot of head shaking and muttering, but no one concluded that we had made an M-335 transplant. They assumed that the “M-335” on the valve covers meant we had bored and stoked the 312 to 335 CID, something that was possible, but not on any street 312.
In the coming weeks, our “wins” came over a 333 HP 60 Pontiac auto trans, a “Sonoramic” 1959 Plymouth, a modified ’58 Ford 352 CID, and some others I don’t remember, but we ran into a snag in early March. There was a ’57 Chevy with a transplanted 1959 348 CID 320 HP single 4-barrel. The results went to the Chevy, but it came because that car was running a 4-speed, and that transmission let the 348 stay in a better rev band, plus it had Posi-traction which helped it get better traction off the line.
The cure was not as simple as I originally thought. First, Ford’s “Equa-Lock” was ultra-rare for the 8 inch rear, but, I still had the 9 inch rear from the Mercury. Unfortunately, it was 3″ wider. The Mercury rear was taken to our local speed shop along with my original Ford Rear (for reference) and the 9 inch was shortened and the spring perches relocated. It had 3.89:1 rear gears and Equa-lock, and of course, it was much sturdier.
The transmission was another expensive matter. Ford had announced their 4-speed for the 391 CID FE block at that time, but boy was it expensive and hard to source! As I might have mentioned, my part-time job was parts hunter and floor sweeper for the local Ford dealership. On the fortunate side, they had a race program, running a 401 HP car in drag racing, so they were well aware of the transmission.
But the price was over $300, and though they would give me the employee discount I was still looking at $275, not to mention the floor shifter. I asked my dad if I could tap my college fund for the transmission. His answer was that I could if I promised to only race the car at the drag strip, grudge night or otherwise. I made that promise, with the back side thought that I would, after meeting up with that ’57 Chevy. The transmission was purchased, there was some bell housing machine work to install it, the driveshaft had to be modified, for the third time, as it had been modified when the 9″ rear was installed.
Funny thing, the 1957 Chevy never materialized in my search for a rematch. I later found out the car had originally been stolen prior to the 348 install. The drivers were caught and the car was impounded. It was later stripped of the 348 drive train in the impound yard! Of course, I had a few stop light encounters in the next months, but I did take the car to the drag strip. Given the 4-speed and even without the inspectors knowing the engine was transplanted, I ended up in modified or gas classes where we had some fun, but the car wasn’t really set up for that. The most fun we had was on “grudge nights” where it was “run what ya brung” and you could choose off your competitors. I honed my starting line skills and had a lot of wins, but the horizon was starting to change.
I made a camshaft change, and added real custom headers in 1962, but the car was a street racer, not a drag car, and even at that, it was becoming obsolete. Too many big block (over 400 CID) Chevys, Mopars, Pontiacs, and Fords were prowling, and the Crown could take some of them on, but while plenty quick, mostly it was just not fast enough.
When college dawned for me in the fall of 1962, I decided that the car was just too finicky to be used as a daily driver. I removed the 4-speed and sold the Crown to an Army sergeant who was moving to Texas. I never saw the car again, and in later years, I could never find it. It became a piece of my personal history.
Its replacement was a 1960 Ford Starliner with the 352 CID 360 HP V-8. Of course, that car didn’t stay “stock” for long, but that’s a whole different story . . . .
Want to read Part One? Click HERE.