Tom Pagano is, by every sense of the word, a rodder...but by no means is he your everyday, run-of-the-mill rodder, though. The Northern Californian has been building cars as a hobbyist for over 35 years, but it wasn't until the last few years that he decided to quit his 9-to-5 job and pursue building hot rods and customs as his main gig (Pagano Rod & Custom in Rancho Cordova, Ca). Once word got out that he was taking on a major project, the '59 Ford Ranch Wagon, the response from fellow rodders and industry folk was overwhelming, which says a thing or two about his credibility. Actually, the wagon was at first just going to get a quick once-over, mild custom job and get turned. But the more Tom thought about it, he figured this might be the perfect platform for him to perform some of his creative magic-and it's a damn good thing he chose the latter!
Pagano started out by ridding the wagon of its undesirables, slowly replacing bits and pieces with the unique custom additions you see here. With hours of planning and even more in execution, Tom (with help from Dave O'Connel at Wizard Fabrication) transformed the sheetmetal into a sleek, flowing design. The front end was revitalized with a '58 T-Bird grille surround and bumper (each narrowed 2 inches), massaged headlight housings with '01 Volvo lights, and a peaked and reworked hood. The top was chopped a couple inches, with the windshield still stock (ancient custom secret!), flush-fit side glass, and removed B-pillars. And out back, handmade taillights were fit into housings, while a '61 Impala rear bumper was trimmed to nestle between a rolled pan and shaved hatch (also with flush glass). Of course all of this exhaustive effort couldn't get just any ordinary paint job, and this is the part Tom finds most interesting.
Through his travels, Pagano came in contact with Hi-Tech Environmental Products, which just happened to be using a new mineral extract from volcanic ash-yep, that's right...good old Mount St. Helens smoke powder! According to Tom, "The mineral adds a unique optical element to paints and coating materials, increasing depth, clarity, and brilliance. With the aid of Harvey Hugg at the Color Design Studio in Detroit, Hi-Tech was able to come up with the brilliant candy-like red and beige hues used on the wagon (colors that will show up on various Lexus and Toyota production vehicles in 2004). Pagano teamed up with NorCal's Henry's Street Rods to apply the experimental paint, including ghost flames along the beltline, then had Mike Cline finish it up with traditional-style pinstriping. A set of 17-inch Bonspeed wheels with BFGoodrich Comp Z/R radials and brightwork by Specialized Metal Finishing complete the exterior package, and quite nicely at that.
Beneath the bounty of body mods lies an airbag-equipped chassis complete with a narrowed 9-inch rearend, Granda disc brake kit up front, and a Saginaw 605 power steering conversion. A '64 T-Bird graciously donated its 390ci FE engine and C6 automatic. The trans is primarily stock, but the V-8 was redone with a Ford Racing Performance cam and pistons, a Demon 625-cfm carb, MSD ignition, and a MagnaFlow exhaust system with Ford Racing headers. The ordinary onlooker, though, would never really know that, as Tom fabricated a custom intake cover that, with the smoothed firewall and custom fenderwells by Wizard, create a discrete and sanitary engine bay.
Before Pagano could really test his explorative endeavor, he made a stop by Howdy Ledbetter's shop in Fremont, California, for the full-custom Alante upholstery to cover his hand-fabricated interior. Bucket seats from a Mitsubishi Eclipse are each separated by custom center consoles, while an ididit column was used to mount a one-off steering wheel. The dash and front console, both fitted with VDO instrumentation, feature unique English Hare Wood inserts with grain that varies in depth depending on the amount of available light-pretty much like the paint.
Tom says that the most challenging part of the wagon's construction was designing and engineering everything to work together while maintaining a clean and simple look. In other words, he explored his imagination, taking an ordinary wagon and creating a full-custom without going overboard in any department.