RANCHERO HOMBRE – CUSSO BILL’S 1957 FORD RANCHERO

Cusso Bill creates a mild custom that’s outside the square…

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO, FEATURED CRUZIN #221

Hombre…’A man, especially one of a particular type,’ is the most common meaning that continued to pop up when searching the gospel of Google. While the meaning is a befitting description of Bill Noach, better known as Cusso Bill, common is a word that should never share the same ink when discussing Bill, let alone in the same sentence. 

Since his teenage years serving his apprenticeship as a fitter machinist, Bill was destined to live his life with fast cars and fuel intoxicated fun.   

“My first car was a ‘56 Customline and I guess I cut my teeth working on and rebuilding them,” he recalls. 

A while back we were privileged to tour Bill’s current workshop and car collection located along the stunning coastline of Port Stephens. Not only did he open all doors, cabinets and toolboxes, he also let us dig deep into the psyche of his infatuation for the Y-block Ford V8 engine – a vintage mill that in its heyday was the hot set up for many car guys who progressed from Henry’s flathead V8. 

In recent years, vintage engines of all makes have enjoyed resurgence with the traditional rodding crowd and the Y-block is topping the charts once again. Aficionados of Ford’s first overhead valve V8 like Ted Eaton, Tim McMaster and John Mummert in the USA have been leading the comeback charge, supplying high horsepower engines and new aftermarket bolt-on go fast goodies that our racing pioneers could only dream of. Keith Cornell of the Rolling Bones Hot Rod shop currently holds the world record (unofficial) timing slip for a Y-block with a 188.563 mph pass in his 1932 Ford coupe at the Bonneville salt lakes in Utah. Incidentally Keith’s engine was built by Eaton using Mummert aluminium heads amongst a host of other improvements for the vintage motor. 

While Bill is abreast of all the incredible achievements in speed extracted from his preferred engine choice during recent years, the challenge of pursuing extra horses from the outdated internal combustion engine had never waned throughout his lifelong love affair with the humble Customline and lineage of vehicles that Ford produced in the same vein.   

Back when he was learning the trade, he experimented by designing and crafting triple and four carb intakes for the then new Y-block. Widening wheels and modifying tail shafts for foreign orders and personal projects in between regular duty was all in a day’s work…so to speak!  

“It was the early days before computers and cable TV,” Cusso explains. “It was the thing to do. We’d go to Castlereagh (drag strip) and try a different manifold, jets or whatever changed with new technology. I met all my friends there; guys like Nugget, Eric Johnson and Paul Foley. We all ran together with me racing Cussos, then a ‘69 Mach 1 Mustang and a 12 second Phase III Falcon.”

After many years playing with cars in the Sydney area, Bill migrated north and continued his automotive ways. A classic car kinda guy through organic evolution, hot rods were never his bag until settling in his new location. 

“I wasn’t into hot rods until I moved up the coast,” he explains. “I had my Sunliner but people were becoming disrespectful of classic cars. I knocked around with Webby (Tony Webster) and felt in my element and thought why not build a hot rod around a set of headers I had hanging on the wall. That was my purple A coupe and after enjoying some fun with that, I built the silver one.”

Now to put things into perspective, Cusso Bill has been hunting early iron and Y-block parts since the early 60s, so you can imagine the stash that has accumulated over the years. He’s still got the Sunliner, the purple Model A coupe and few others, but a hankering for a ’57 Ranchero continued to occupy his thoughts. Now equipped with 20th century shopping technology (circa 1994), he located a suitable example in the USA that piqued his interest enough to hit the ‘Buy Now’ button.  

Fabled as a drag strip survivor competing with a 292 topped with a dealer-fitted VS57 (Variable Speed) McCullock Supercharger, the forlorn commercial had been neglected for some time, held up in storage. The story goes that the car was in a panel shop or similar and had been sitting for over two decades until it was auctioned off amongst other items to recoup outstanding money. The seller that Bill purchased it from advertised the car and the motor separately. From supplied photos, Bill could ascertain that the motor installed had run a blower in the past and was equipped with large heads, but all the choice parts were long gone. An early tach attached to the column and tattered Santa Anna Raceway decal gave credibility to the history of the vehicle. Not keen to shell out more coin for the stripped out engine, Bill did the deal to include a stock 292 tossed into the beat up cargo bed instead.  

“I use to import cars many years ago and got out of that game when I felt it wasn’t necessary, so shipping it to Sydney wasn’t a problem,” Bill quips.  

The original plan back in ’94 was to restore the Ranchero to its former glory, finished in factory colours of Meadow Mist Green and White, but halfway through the resto Bill had a change of heart. 

“I thought that if I restore it, I’d have the same old problem that people are going to swing and hang off it. I have this rationale that people won’t touch a Harley Davidson but they might a Honda. They’re inclined to touch a classic car but not a custom. As weird as that may sound, I have found that it tends to be true. Once I started (to customise) I just followed my nose.” 

Bill openly admits that he had never owned a mild custom but has been involved with other people’s projects over the years. His first order of resurrection was removal of the existing paintwork.  

“It was painted with house paint or something that had set like concrete,” he recalls with bitterness. 

Once relieved of its decaying exterior, Bill addressed minor rust repairs to a panel in the back and one floor pan, remarking that for its age it was in really good nick. With an odometer reading of just 35,000 miles, the Ranchero purchase proved to be a solid investment, albeit the cargo tray that had seen plenty of payload action. 

“The tray was a bit beat up but that’s what they were used for,” justifies Bill. 

As the customiser seized the reins from the restorer, things began to get interesting with a tube grille and cruiser skirts ordered from the USA and skulls began to appear in unusual places.

“I shaved the door handles and installed skulls to operate modified door locks,” adds Bill. “From then on I just used them where I thought they worked, like the third brake light where the original wagon tailgate key lock was.”

Apparently Ford used the station wagon component that was reskinned for the Ranchero. A simple badge was then fastened to cover the factory lock. 

Always thinking outside the square, Bill spent the best part of five years completing his mild custom creation, tackling almost all jobs on his own. From bodywork to paint, rebuilt lowered suspension and brakes to installing a fresh 292 Y-block pieced together by his own hands, the only outsourced element of the Ranchero rebirth was upholstery. 

“I did everything else except for the trim and I’d like to acknowledge Mitch and Craig from Newcastle Auto Trim for a great job, along with Dale Murphy Auto Repairs for advice along the way.”

At the end of our photoshoot, Bill quips that that he’s getting too old for any more builds of this scale. Moments later we round the corner of his workshop where he excitedly shows me his current hot rod roadster project while oozing enthusiasm of a proud parent with their newborn. Incidentally, it’s left of centre and out of the box as well!

Thankfully there are a few more builds in the creative mind of Cusso Bill, Y-block powered all the way of course.


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