Story and photos by Joe Greeves

While a lot of car guys claim that “old guys rule,” others let their rides do the talking. Just ask Gary Wolcott, who has been building cars since his teens, and is now in his golden years. Early on, his projects consisted of mild customizing and de-chroming, but soon expanded to upgraded horsepower and engine conversions. But he didn’t do any serious body mods until about 20 years ago, self-taught and learning through trial and error.

Chopping the tops on a ’49 Chevy pickup and a ’48 Caddy Sedanette turned out well, followed by a modified ’32 Ford roadster and ’39 Lincoln Zephyr coupe. While those rides were fun, he always wanted to do an old-school lead sled and was specifically intrigued with the idea of a sectioned Ford Shoebox.

When it was time to begin in earnest, he found a funky 1951 Vicky hardtop in North Carolina and hauled it to his home in Seffner, Florida. He felt it was better to start out with something rough in case he ruined it. But as evident in the photos, there was no need to worry.

“After four years and a lot of mistakes, it didn’t turn out too bad,” Gary says — but with one qualification: “For a backyard, first-attempt section job.”

In fact, sectioning was just one of many metalworking techniques that he applied to the Ford. The process actually began by creating a firm foundation. The Z’d and notched S-10 subframe uses the factory front end, and incorporates a four-bar suspension in the rear. Chevy Blazer disc brakes handle stopping chores, while the Goodyear air bags on all four corners provide an altitude adjustment. Even though the air suspension brought the old ‘Box down, removing 4 inches from the top and 5.5 inches from the body brought it down even more.

With an eye toward establishing the correct long and low proportions, he shortened the roof 10 inches, and the three-piece Vicky rear window was replaced with metal and glass from a coupe. He also extended the rear deck and modified the rear quarter panels to accommodate ’56 Olds tail lights, accented with ’52 Ford trim.

Up front, Gary lengthened the front fenders 3.5 inches and fitted them with frenched ’53 Mercury headlight rings. After rounding the hood corners, he designed a smooth, Mercury-style grille shell with a ’54 Chevy front bumper override used as the center bar. Both ends are protected with ’49 and ’50 Ford bumpers, with a ’55 Pontiac rear bumper override used out back. Exhaust tips exit through the rear bumper.

A few final exterior touches include shaving the door handles, fabricating flush-mounted fender skirts that hide the rear tires, and applying ’55 Chevy 210 side trim as a style line. The car rolls on Chevy Blazer 7 x 50 rims, wrapped in 70-Series Diamond Back whitewalls and highlighted with ’53 Caddy hubcaps.  

While the staggering number of body modifications would challenge a full-time professional, Gary’s backyard build was just hitting its stride over a four-year period. The black leather and vinyl interior sports a custom fiberglass headliner along with a modified ’55 Olds dash with AutoMeter gauges. He sourced the seats from an ’02 Trans Am, separated by a custom-made fiberglass center console that waterfalls from the rear seats to the dash.

The cut-down’55 Chevy steering wheel actuates a modified rack and pinion, also from a ’55 Chevy. Creature comforts inside include power windows, Vintage Air, and a Custom Autosound radio.

Motive power and paint were the final steps, with Gary choosing an GM LS1 V8, supplying plenty of beans in stock form. While a Blue Oval engine was his initial choice, he discovered that the Ford mill was too tall for the sectioned engine compartment. And Gary has a soft spot for the General’s mechanicals since, “They are plentiful, reasonably priced, and hold up well,” he feels.

Power from the LS1 flows through a 4L60E transmission with a tall Lokar shifter. For the appropriate performance rumble, Gary custom fabricated exhaust manifolds and the system is quieted (almost) by a set of Smithy’s Glasspacks.

The final step was paint and Gary sprayed the car himself (who else?), choosing PPG Light Metallic Pewter.

Has the car been a success? Judging by the fact that it was a Goodguys Builders Choice and a George Barris Best of Show, we’d say that’s affirmative. Is Gary eager to build another award-winning custom? Well, yes and no.

“My next project is a ’51 Studebaker Business Coupe with a new Ford Coyote motor. The only body modification is the installation of a ’50 Ford dash. I think I’ve had my fill of metal fabrication for a while.” After all, he sure doesn’t have to prove that old guys rule.