California native George Shields may just have the loudest car in the entire Sacramento region. But dig deeper under the hood of his beautiful ’56 Ford Custom and you’ll find what may also be the most unique vehicle around, as well.
The Gasser-style ’56 is powered by a rather rare Boss 429 Hemi with Arias-Root Hemi heads, measuring 665 cubic inches. On his preferred Sunoco 110, the engine dyno’ed at 1,065 horsepower naturally-aspirated, and the car has been down the 1/4-mile in 10 seconds flat in its very limited use as a racing machine.
“A fella’ in Kansas built the car, and a guy out of Missouri built the motor. It was sold to a guy in Tennessee and then I bought it from him,” the 72-year-old Shields shares. “My son had sent me a picture of this car two of three years before I bought it, and he said this was the best-looking Ford he’d ever seen stance-wise. I told him, ‘I think you’re right.’ I was buying one of Tony Christian’s 57 Chevrolets from this guy in Tennessee and asked him if he happened to have a ’56 Ford gasser. He said, ‘yeah, I’ve got that car.’ So I flew back to Tennessee and bought the red ’57 and this ’56 from him.”
The car is an original, all-steel 1956 Ford Custom, from bumper to bumper, in practically show-winning condition. There is likewise a full factory-look interior inside. Underneath, a 4-link has been fitted to the frame, and Shields added Competition Engineering wheelie bars for looks.
The 429 is backed up by a Ford C4 transmission that transfers power out to a 9-inch Ford rearend.
Perhaps even more unique than the 1960s/70’s era block and cylinder heads, though, are the carburetors that sit atop it all.
“Back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, when everybody was doing Trans Am racing with the Boss 302, they were all running cross-ram manifolds with two four-barrels that were staggered. Trans Am outlawed those carburetors, so Ford went and built an inline Autolite carburetor that was two four-barrels in a row. Those were outlawed by Trans Am, then by NHRA and NASCAR. There were about 350 to 400 of these built — there were large and small ones. I’ve got four of them, and a buddy of mine has one,” Shields tells us.
Where did he get these unique carburetors, you might ask? That, too, is a good story.
“We’d been looking for them for years, because they’re just so rare. We found four of them listed for sale by Pro Stock racer racer Warren Johnson, and I bought all four of them. Two of them are on this ’56, and I’ve got the blown Pro Street ’57 I’m going to put one on, and then my son is running a blown 427 ’55 with a Lenco that we may put one on. When I called Warren, he talked to me for a good half-hour about them. I think he was going to run them on one of his cars and then NHRA outlawed them, so the set of these carburetors I have on this car now had never been used.” It’s definitely cool to think these rare parts had sat for essentially half a century untouched.
When Shields bought the ’56 it had two four-barrels on it with a Hogan’s intake manifold, so he took the two fours and the intake manifold off and had a plate made to run two of the 1,425 cfm Autolite carburetors. A set of stacks complete the racey look, and a dry sump oiling system keeps it all running nice the smooth.
Shields had a set of custom zoomie headers built for the car, and in the state with perhaps the tightest vehicle exhaust regulations in the nation, drives it on the open road that way with all the confidence and bravado of a fella’ who grew up in a time when loud cars weren’t illegal, but an American right of passage.
“Here’s the deal. When you pass policemen in the summertime, they have earbuds in, and they have their windows rolled up with the air-conditioning on. In the winter, they have their earbuds in and the windows rolled up with the heater going. Nobody really bothers me. I’ve been driving cars like this for 30 years. When a cop goes by, if I see them coming, I just let up and coast. If they pulled me over, I would shut the electric fuel pump off and act like I couldn’t start the car. That’s my plan if anybody complains about the noise. Just tell them I have to call a tow truck, and hope I get out of there without a ticket,” he says with a sly laugh.
Shields hesitates to say whether he and his son will make some laps to discover the capabilities of the car. He only shares that, “we probably will, but once you go 12 seconds, they make you go through tech,” alluding to the fact that a tech inspector may take issues with some things they would find on this car, that could very well run in the nines.
“My drag racing career ended when my life insurance agent found out I was drag racing,” he adds. “I was drag racing, scuba diving, and parachuting, and they don’t want to insure you if you’re doing anything like that, and I have a large family, so I gave up the racing. My son’s kind of a gearhead now, and I’ve got three grandsons by him and they’re all gearheads, so it’s just something you get in your blood.”
Shields says in closing, “It’s just a really trick car, and the motor is really unique.”