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Story by John Urrey
If you’re ever in the vicinity of the Texas-Oklahoma border and see a classic two-door Ford pass you, we can tell you now that the color you can’t put your finger on is Ice Mint Pearl. The 69 year-old gentleman behind the wheel is Mr. Bob Gross of Bonham, Texas. The car is a 1956 Ford Customline called Mint Condition and no, he won’t beg your pardon for passing you. The Customline was unveiled in 1955. It was built atop the ‘52 Ford undercarriage but brought with it several new engine styles including a 3.7 liter “Mileage Maker” straight six, a 4.5 liter Y-block V8 and the T-bird V8 which boasted 193 horsepower. The 1956 model, like Bob’s, was equipped with a widened grill and a new 12-volt electrical system. The ‘56 models also offered safety “options” like seat belt and padded dashboards at extra cost.
Bob has owned the car since 2006 when he found it on the internet and traveled to Garland, Texas to see it. Speaking of the unusual paint scheme Gross said, “When I first saw it on the internet I thought it looked like a girls car. When you get up close and see it in person you appreciate the paint job. It didn’t take me long to get it once I saw it.” Bob, who has lived in Bonham since 1999, said the paint was done by Arlen Fulks out of Rockwall, Texas and the pin stripping was completed by James Crawford in Garland Texas. The darker green stripe down the center of the trunk and hood and surrounding the headlight cowlings is Winter Mist. Gross has done extensive work under the hood. “When I first got the car it had the original 272, 2-barrel engine. I put in a 351 Windsor 5.8 with a C-6 tranny and a Mustang II front suspension with 2-inch drop spindles and a couple of Flowmasters.”
The engine has a chrome master-cylinder and the rack and pinion steering that came from the Mustang II. The radiator has been replaced and the engine is chromed out. Recently Bob installed a chrome Edelbrock intake and an Edelbrock 750 carburetor. The car came with a three-speed on the column shift but Gross changed it to an automatic on the floor. He installed a Flaming River stainless steel column and a new steering wheel as well as a 23 Lokar shifter with a chrome hand grenade knob. The dash is pinstriped and new chrome gauges by Dolphin were recently added. Mint Condition boasts a Pioneer sound system with CD player as well as a Nissan console over the floor shift that is painted light green to match the interior. Two tweeters are housed on the sides of the console and the woofers (12-inch) are in the trunk facing upward through the material in the rear window (Bob didn’t want to cut a hole in the in the mint green and white fabric). The seats are green and white leather.
Bob installed an automatic cable running from the trunk to the interior so the trunk can be opened from inside the car. Originally it was routed underneath the rear bumper but Gross reckoned that was a security problem and rerouted it. In the trunk is a chrome air bag tank. The sides of the trunk are lined with identical material that matches the interior and the trunk lid is lined with green carpet. “I don’t know why they (the previous owners) put carpet in there,” said Gross. Mint Condition rides on 15-inch Torq Thrust rims with wide whitewall tires bearing mint green dice valve stem covers. The car features 1959 Buick taillights and a billet grill made for a Nissan Armada.
Gross customized it, made the two side pieces by hand and had them painted Mint. A chrome mirror on each side plus two dummy spotlights, also chrome, give the ride vintage authenticity as spotlights on cars were popular in the 1950s. There are only chrome brackets were the windshield wipers would normally be. “It gives it a more sleek look”. The bumpers are also tucked in, green neon is installed under the car and it even has a light mint-colored tint on the windows. The air bag system has a 6 to 8 inch range of movement in front and rear. Minimum height is 2 inches from the ground and only slightly higher at the rear wheel. Bob, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1960 to ‘64, has always loved American automobiles.
“I used to know every style of car and the difference between each year”, he said. Speaking of his ‘56 he added, “When mine came off the assembly line I was 16 years old and driving a ‘47 ford with twin Smitty mufflers and grey primer” Later in life Bob was involved in nuclear radiation tests in the Pacific Ocean. According to Gross his ship fired a small nuclear warhead and he was 4000 yards from the resulting blast. He said the Navy never told the crew the warhead was nuclear or that it would explode so close to them and believes they did it in order to study the affects of radiation on the sailors. During his enlistment he visited Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. He remembers standing watch in the dry dock when he heard that Kennedy had been shot. The news had special significance for Gross since he had grown up in Dallas.
As the years went by Bob began acquiring automobiles. In the 1980s he tinkered around with a 1978 Chevy Blazer. Currently he owns a white ’97 Cadillac with a blue top that will soon become a low-rider with 14-inch wire wheels. He also owns a pristine 2000 Lincoln Town Car Regency, a 2002 Ford Expedition, Eddie Bauer edition with 22-inch chrome rims and he recently helped his wife procure a Chrysler Sebring convertible. Unlike some car collectors however, Bob’s vehicles are meant to be used. He said he drives Mint Condition quite a bit and does not trailer it to shows. “I have never bought a car according to the gas mileage and I have never figured my gas mileage,” said Gross, who claims he buys cars according to looks and power and adds that his Customline “…will go”. Gross is a member of the nationwide Boulevard Aces Car Club with which he has been involved since July of 2009.
As for Mint Condition, it won best of show at the Torres Empire show in Mesquite, Texas last year and has won several other trophies. Bob plans to keep taking it to shows. He said the only custom work left to do is to get VintageAir a/c for. He also hopes to soon get hold of a 1936 or ‘37 or early 1940s Chevy sedan and lower it.