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Crown jewel: Detail man has a Ford that turns heads

SALISBURY — As you might guess, Don Stickler is a stickler for details.

He can tell you most everything about his glass-top 1956 Ford Crown Victoria. It has factory air-conditioning; power steering, brakes and windows; dual spotlights with mirrors; a glovebox light; e-brake light; a day/night rearview mirror; rear-seat speaker; wide whitewall tires; rocket panel moldings; and seat belts.

This Crown Victoria was a top-of-the-line car for its day, actually produced under the Fairlane model name. It’s a thing of beauty in its peacock blue and white and gleaming chrome.

“You know chrome don’t get you home, but it sure looks pretty on the road,” says Stickler, 79, who has a saying for just about any situation.

Stickler has logged 29,000 road miles on the Crown Victoria after spending 15 years restoring it from the frame up. He bought it 33 years ago from a guy in Madison, Wisconsin. He paid $7,000, even though it was a rust bucket.

“I’ve been offered over $100,000 for it,” Stickler says today, “but it’s not for sale.”

Beyond Stickler’s detailed restoration — remember, he’s a stickler for details — this car is special among enthusiasts because it has the lowest serial number known to exist for the glass-top model of Crown Victoria, of which only 603 were made in 1956.

It was the first glass-top Crown Victoria to come off an assembly line on Sept. 6, 1955, in Chicago. Stickler says its production code No. 14 means it was the 14th car shipped that first week when the 1956 Fairlanes were produced.

Its look and history probably had a lot to do with the Crown Victoria’s winning first-place in its category (early cars 1900 to 1965) at the All-Ford Show last Saturday at the N.C. Transportation Museum.

Stickler holds his first-place trophy proudly outside a seven-bay garage he took three years to build himself. His Rowan County place is where many 1956 Fords — and particularly Crown Victorias — come to be reborn, eventually.

“When Lady Bird Johnson was in the White House,” he says, “she had the clunker law passed, and a lot of older cars got crushed.

“Instead of crushing the cars I had, I bought five semi-truck trailers. I put shelves in them and parted out 40 cars, put parts in containers, marked them and had them transported from Ohio to North Carolina.”

Stickler is a native of Ohio who moved to Rowan County about 22 years ago when he retired. Virginia, his wife of 55 years, is originally from Kannapolis.

“By saving the parts,” Stickler says, “I have been able to help many Ford people get their cars on the road.”

He has supplied several parts for patterns to Dennis Carpenter’s operation near Charlotte Motor Speedway — things such as 1956 Ford grilles, 1955 grilles, 1956 parking light housings and hood birds, like the one on his 1956 Crown Victoria.

The irony in Stickler’s life crops up when you learn this devoted Ford man worked more than 26 years at a GM assembly plant.

“I had a Ford before I went to GM,” he says, as though that’s explanation enough.

Stickler’s love and nostalgia for 1956 Fords in particular began not long after he got out of the Navy in 1960. He paid his way through trade school, took up welding and mechanics, and even though he’s officially retired, he has been working on something ever since.

His trade school led him to a job in Akron, Ohio, rebuilding generators and starters. He ended up living with a Mennonite family, which included two boys who had bought a 1956 Crown Victoria.

Their father did not approve of the purchase because he thought the car had too much chrome. While making changes to their Crown Vic, the boys were welding a fender skirt bracket when it caught fire, burning out the interior.

Stickler ended up buying that Crown Victoria for $150 and set off on the restoration of his first one, with more to follow.

“It’s the car with a crowning touch,” Stickler says.

Today, he’s a member of the Crown Victoria Association, which has 2,700 members worldwide, and he attends the national conventions whenever he can. He emphasizes that he drives there.

“If you see my car on a trailer, call 911,” Stickler says, “because someone has stolen it. They were made to drive.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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