Let’s say it’s the late 1950s and you need a car. However, you want a new car, and you only have about $2000 to spend. You shop around and discover, perhaps by watching a Ford TV commercial, that “FORD is the lowest-priced of the low priced three!” Depending on whether the year is 1957 or 1958, let’s see what you got for your money if you wanted “basic transportation”–a full-size, 6-passenger 4-door sedan.
Here’s what actor, singer, and TV cornball Tennessee Ernie Ford has to say (bless his pea pickin’ heart):
“It’s priced lower than the 1957 Custom 300!” Tennessee Ernie conveniently fails to mention that, in the Ford hierarchy of models, the Custom 300 was above the plain Custom in ’57, but is now the lowest-priced model among the ’58s. Confusing, I know. But still, it is a fact that in 1958, the Custom 300 4-door had a base price of $2119, versus $2155 for the comparable Chevrolet Delray, and $2134 for the Plymouth Plaza. So the “lowest price” claim still holds true.
HISTORY OF THE CARS THEMSELVES:
This 1957 Ford Custom is a splendid example owned by Steve Schmidt of Wyckoff, NJ. According to Steve, the car started life in the midwest, but found its way to the used car lot of Gary-Allen Chevrolet in Englewood, NJ a year later.
It was purchased by Mr. & Mrs. Wellington A. Wilkinson of East Rutherford around February of 1959, and was driven until the husband died in 1970.
The car sat in the garage until the widow decided the garage needed a new roof. She offered the roofer the car in exchange for the roof job. The roofer did some restoration on his new “purchase” but then the car sat for a long time. It was sold to someone else, and it really needed help by this time. It was offered for sale again, and when Steve spotted it, he states that “I felt like I needed to save this car.” Steve bought it in December 2017 and finished the restoration, with the goal of “keeping it as original as possible.”
This 1958 Custom 300 was purchased new by Louis Galtieri (1899-1996) at B. J. Werner Ford in Garfield, NJ. Mr. Galtieri owned the BeauCraft Accident-Proof Stair Tread Co., and this was a company car. For reasons that remain unknown, he kept this car for many years, and passed it on to his son Joseph Galtieri (1927-2016). Joseph went to Harvard, and there is a Harvard decal on the rear window.
This car is currently owned by Stephen Pellegrino, who like Steve Schmidt, is committed to keeping the car as original as possible.
Your CC reporter has only driven the ’58, but it is assumed that the driving characteristics of both cars are approximately equal. The engine (started with the aid of a hand choke) gives some roar on acceleration, but is rather quiet at normal cruising speeds. However, the contemporary Chevy 6 cylinder is smoother and quieter than this engine. The Fordomatic transmission normally starts in 2nd, with one upshift to 3rd. Low speed torque is good. “Master Guide” power steering, combined with “new Magic Circle Steering” gives light and easy handling, with almost no lean on fast turns. The combination of easy handling and the mechanical sounding engine give almost a European impression.
The ’57-’58 Fords were considered quite low in profile, but there is still an upright seating position, and you don’t feel as if you are sitting on the floor, unlike the ultra-low slung monsters yet to come. The ride, while not cushiony, gives a satisfying level firmness. Visibility is good, but overhead traffic lights are hard to see because the windshield height is comparatively short. I like the view over the hood, with its power dome and gunsight ornaments on the front fender tops, which actually aid in guiding the car down the road. Overall, this is a really solid, roomy car that is easy to drive and live with day-in and day-out.
As the blue and white ’57 drove out of the parking lot onto the main road, I was struck by how sharp and clean and graceful it looked. The low-priced car buyer of that time still got a solidly built, neat looking car that was full-sized and dignified in every way. In later years, such buyers would be purchasing cynically shrunken, cheesy machines–like the Pinto.
Furthermore, the fact that these two examples survived to the present day is something of a miracle itself. Were it not for the odd set of circumstances that preserved them, these would have been crushed years ago. They were also serious rusters, which did not add to longevity. Ford built 192,775 Customs in 1957 and 340,871 Custom 300s in 1958. If 1% survive, that’s about five thousand cars, and even that seems optimistic. I’m thinking 1/10th of 1%. When was the last time you saw one?