Ron Cherry: A truly memorable Starliner
July 20, 2018
Ever since he was a high school freshman, Dave Rawcliffe had liked the '60 Ford Starliner's styling, its unique scalloped hood, fender-line bright trim and flat tail fins with a streamlined fastback.
Although he'd owned many awesomely cool cars over the years, he'd never owned a Starliner. So he started looking for one and eventually saw a Starliner on eBay about 10 years ago that sounded promising.
The ad said that it was in good condition, with the original drive train and paint. It had the optional higher performance 300 horsepower 352 cubic inch engine and Cruise-O-Matic auto trans. The car was back in North Carolina and the pictures looked good, so he bought it without flying back to see it. When it arrived, he got a few surprises.
"He told me it was the original paint and it wasn't. The body was supposed to be good, but you could poke holes in it with a screwdriver," Dave said. "I'd been watching for Starliners for quite a while, but it was hard to find a decent one. I thought I'd finally found one, but I didn't. I recommend that anyone go and look before buying."
When life gives you lemons …
However, Dave decided to turn adversity into opportunity. He had the technology. He could make it better than it ever was. Better, stronger, faster. (But not bionic.)
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He pulled the car completely apart, cleaned the frame, welded up the holes, repaired the rust, including rebuilding the rusted-out radiator support, and completely rebuilt the suspension.
For the front, he used air bags to give it a variable rake. For stopping, he changed to four wheel disc brakes and went for an electric power steering gear box. He overhauled the rearend with 3.70:1 posi gears. He found a 428 cubic inch engine and had it built with a roller cam, roller rockers, aluminum heads, MSD ignition with a Holley computer and Hilborn fuel injection.
As far as why he used a race-type injection system for street, he simply said, "I like the look of it."
With a Billet serpentine belt system, all the firewall holes smoothed and the wiring hidden in the fender wells, the Starliner turned out very impressive under the hood. Instead of keeping an auto trans, Dave opted for a Tremac 6-speed manual.
"I wanted to shift gears," he said.
He found a clutch and brake pedal assembly on eBay for only $60, showing there are some good deals on the auction site.
When it came to paint and interior colors, Dave deferred to wife Sheila. She chose red for the exterior color. Maaco in Rancho Cordova painted it. Maacos are independently operated and that one specialized in hot rod work. Rechroming steel parts like the bumpers was the easy part.
"There are three other kinds of metal on the car, aluminum, stainless steel and pot metal," Dave said. " I had to get all the stainless and aluminum carefully pounded smooth and polished."
Then he had all new glass put in, except for the one-year-only rear window. Try finding it on the internet. Fortunately, it was in decent shape. For wheels, he chose 17 inch Billets with Nitto wide-whitewall tires.
Inside, Dave had Roman's Upholstery in Auburn do his magic, including covering the original seats in leather. Sheila chose the red and white colors. He also did the trunk, hiding everything, including the rear-mounted battery and air bag pump, behind upholstered panels, the center one with "Starliner" embroidered in script.
Dave found an updated radio with Bluetooth that fit the original hole in the dash. For gauges, he used Dakota digital analogs that fit perfectly and replaced the clock with a tach. On an ididit tilt column, Dave mounted a Con2R custom-made steering wheel with "Starliner" scripted on the horn button.
"You don't want to know what it cost," he said.
Vintage Air provided a modern heater-AC unit.
After 10 years of on and off work, Dave's Starliner in on the road. There have been a few speed bumps along the way. One was a head gasket in his fresh engine blew after only 500 miles.
"I found one of the head bolts only torqued to 30 pounds," he said. "It's a major job to take off that injection to pull a head, so I replaced both head gaskets to be safe."
Although he says that "it still needs some tweaking," the car looks and sounds great.
The first time for the completed Starliner at Cars and Coffee, which happens from 8 until 10 in the morning every Saturday at the K-mart parking lot off McKnight, was May 19 of this year.
For me it was very special. My sister, Donna, was visiting from Idaho. She's been a car person all her life and her second car, the first one she chose alone, was a 1960 Ford Starliner, red, with a white hardtop.
As she wandered through the cars, talking about how much she was reminded of high school, she spotted Dave's Starliner. She was so excited she almost fainted. I think it was the highlight of her whole trip.
For her, as for Dave, the Starliner was and is a truly memorable car.
Ron Cherry's books are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His latest book, "The St. Christopher Murders," is the second in the Father Bruce mystery series and opens with a dead body found at the Fourth of July parade in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City. For more about him and his writing, check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.