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Inspiration Strikes: Gary Hoffman’s 1957 Ford Del Rio

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Inspiration can strike suddenly like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky. Just ask Gary Hoffman.

Gary’s been building and customizing hot rods for over 40 years. He’s well known on his local scene for his super-clean resto work and paint expertise, especially his 1961 AMC Rambler American convertible. He knows what he likes, and he knows that rushing through projects is not the path to perfection.

One day in 1991, at a car show in Columbus, Ohio, Gary noticed two entirely unrelated cars in different parts of the show. One was a 1941 Bentley Mark V with a two-tone green paint scheme. The other was a disassembled 1957 Del Rio—Ford’s “sport wagon” response to the Chevy Nomad. The Del Rio was a California car in primer with all the body work already done.

That’s when the “Eureka!” moment happened. “I was thinking about a project for my upcoming retirement, something different like a wagon. I thought the Del Rio would fit that bill, and it would look good with those Bentley colors,” Gary says.

A cagey car trader, Gary kept an eye on the disassembled Del Rio for years, before finally acquiring it in 2001. He thought he’d have nothing but time in his retirement, but other projects kept getting in the way. It wasn’t until 2009 that motivation showed up, and that motivation had a name: Greg Hoffman, Gary’s son.

You may remember Greg from his own extraordinary project car, a 1966 Ford Mustang. “I helped Greg with a few things on his Mustang, mostly the paint,” Gary says. “And since he lives nearby, I could always call him up to lend a hand with my previous cars. Then, he got this idea for us to park our two Fords together at shows, so he lit a fire under me.”

The exterior was in great shape, but putting all that heavy metal back together turned out to be quite a challenge, so Gary called his son over quite a bit. Thing is, when Greg would come by, he’d lend more than just a hand. He’d lend a few opinions, too.

“I’d finish up with a part of the car, and it looked good enough for me, then Greg would come over and tell me it didn’t look right.” Gary says. “He wouldn’t let it go until I did it his way and he was happy.”

Reluctantly, Gary admits, “He was usually right.”

All the pestering drove Gary to make the Del Rio uniquely his, starting by renovating the two-piece rear tailgate to power open. Emblems, hood, and door handles were shaved, but the rest of the trim was carefully restored—especially the gold-anodized rolled aluminum side accents—to maintain that distinctive Del Rio look.

Inside, Gary made great use of the generous space for some subtle modifications. “I hid the A/C under the dash, which meant I had to move the wiper motors—plenty of room for all of that!” He hid all the controls under the dash lip, and then filled it in and smoothed it out.

Under the hood resides a 1969 351 Windsor engine, equipped with a Lunati Voodoo camshaft, an Edelbrock 600 cfm electric choke carburetor with the glossy EnduraShine finish, and a few other trick elements. The result: an engine with the perfect blend of power, cruising comfort, efficiency, and a jewel-like gleam. After all, this is no trailer queen—Gary built it to drive!

Once Gary wrapped the Del Rio in that Bentley-inspired two-tone paint job (with the light Alpine Green and darker Verdant Green), the father-and-son Ford show was ready to roll. Immediately, they got a great response, but folks kept asking: which came first—Gary’s green Ford, or Greg’s?

“We get asked that a lot. Truth is, we each came up with our ideas separately around the same time,” Gary says. Indeed, side-by-side, the cars are clearly on different palettes.

Like Greg, Gary refuses to trailer his car to shows. “I worked to make the ride nice, so I’m gonna enjoy it,” Gary says. So far, he’s averaged about 2,000 miles a year, with only one incident: a deer strike just a few weeks before we took these photos. Fortunately, the wagon looks show-ready, thanks to a lot of help from his friends (and some extra pestering from Greg).

Story By: Derek J. Manke
Photography By: Todd Biss
Art Direction By: Barbara Williamson-Dungey

FAST SPECS

Chassis

Frame: Stock
Suspension: Stock leaf springs, 2" lowering blocks rear, air shocks
Rear Axle: Stock 28-spline axles, Ford 9" rear end, stock 3.65 ring-and-pinion
Brakes: Granada disc brakes front, stock drum brakes rear
Wheels and Tires: American Racing Chrome Hopster wheels (16" x 7" front and rear), with Kumho Ecsta Supra tires (225 x 50ZR front, 245 x 50ZR rear)

Engine and Transmission

Engine: Ford 351W
Cylinder Heads: 1969 stock heads
Valvetrain: Lunati Voodoo camshaft (.213"/.219" @ .050", .483" intake/.499" exhaust lift), stock roller lifters, stock pushrods, billet valve covers with billet breathers
Induction: Polished aluminum manifold, Edelbrock 600 cfm electric choke carburetor with EnduraShine finish, K&N air cleaner, Summit mechanical fuel pump
Ignition and Electrical: MSD Pro-Billet vacuum advance distributor, PerTronix Flame Thrower coil, Tuff Stuff alternator, Haywire wiring harness
Exhaust: Stock 1966 Mustang headers, 2 1/4" aluminized tubing, Thrush mufflers
Other Items: March billet pulleys, Gotta Show hoses
Transmission: Ford AOD (from 1988 Mustang 5.0)
Shifter: Gennie floor shifter

Exterior

Body: 1957 Ford Del Rio
Custom Features: Restored trim package; shaved tailgate, door handles, hood, and all emblems; filled cowl panel and firewall
Paint: BASF Alpine Green (light) and Verdant Green (dark), Martin Senour clear coat
Body Work and Paint By: Gary Hoffman

Interior

Front Seats: 1999 Chrysler LHS heated power seats
Rear Seats: Stock
Upholstery: Light parchment Endurasoft vinyl
Upholstery By: Bob Evans Custom Auto Upholstery
Carpet: Green nylon loop
Dash: Modified with billet gauge cluster by Glenn Hatcher
Gauges: Dolphin Instruments & Gauges

Special Thanks

My wife Joan; my sons Gary II, Greg, and Kenny; Glenn Hatcher; Brent Watkins; Mike Wolverton; Jim Kornokopich of H&K Towing; and Dave Taylor

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