As my father could have told you, I never was very good at listening to advice. I really appreciate all the great suggestions and tips in response to my quandary as to how to replace our poor old dying Forester. There’s 163 comments so far, and all of them good ones. So what do I do? Sit down and carefully mull them over with Stephanie? Not me.
Just this very afternoon of New Year’s Eve, I was heading to Lane Forest Products in Old Yeller’ to dump another load of of clippings from our annual winter garden pruning and clean-up, when I saw this divine 1972 LTD sitting at the curb, in triple green, no less! I could literally feel my heart skip a few beats…if it had been a ’71, I would have probably lost it, jumped the curb and hit a tree. Those of you who have been around for a while know my deep and abiding affection for these cars, especially the ’71. My love paean to it is here.
Its owner was just finishing up wiping it down after a wash, and the late-afternoon sun glistened and sparkled on its delicious contours and creases, dazzling me. I almost got killed crossing the street in a trance, oblivious to the traffic on busy W. 13th. As soon as I got to the other side, Jerry, its owner, approached me and said “I know who you are! The Curbside Classic guy!” Now that’s a first. Usually folks think I’m trying to steal their car when I start skulking around it with a camera. I knew this was going to be an auspicious encounter.
Jerry told me he’d snagged this cream puff from the St. Vincent dePaul lot just a week or so ago. Who would donate such a historic gem? It wasn’t running right, but that was soon fixed by re-arranging the plug wires on the proper spark plugs. Fords have a thing about liking the right firing order.
As Jerry opened the front door, I couldn’t help but tell him what this meant to me, to see the inside of one of these LTDs for the first time since I quit my job as a Ford lot boy and ran away from home in 1971. I had lots of seat time in 1971 LTDs back then, driving them ever-so gently around the various storage lots of Towson Ford to the distant body shop, and when I needed a set of wheels after hours. I was literally overcome with emotion at the sight of that distinctive brocade pattern, in green no less.
As I reached out and ran my fingers over that pattern, I was engulfed in a vivid memory from August of 1971. I had “borrowed” one of the many green LTDs from Towson Ford’s storage lot for the weekend, and three girls in my neighborhood all piled into the front seat next to me. Try doing that in your BMW 2002! We drove out to the Gunpowder River, up near the Pennsylvania line, and all went skinny dipping for the first time ever. And when the girl sitting right next to me raised her legs up a bit to get out of the Ford in her very short cut-offs, I could just barely make out the imprint of that brocade pattern on the back of her soft thigh. Sigh…my old eyes would never be able to see that kind of detail nowadays…
As I slid across that splendid sofa and positioned myself behind the wheel, I was flooded with other memories of that very long night. It may seem hard to imagine that any memories could leave a deeper impression than one’s first skinny dip with three high school girls while under the influence of hallucinogens, but the driving experience of one of these “Total Performance” Fords was undoubtedly the only one that could, especially in my heightened state.
The way that big LTD crisply zigged and zagged through all the endless tight curves on the little narrow country roads out to the Gunpowder, way up in Northern Baltimore County; this was simply the ultimate driving experience. Ford had learned from its successful racing efforts at the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans, and applied them diligently to even its most pedestrian cars, especially the suspensions.
Every little input of that fine steering wheel was met with instant response, and the feedback through its hard and narrow rim was absolutely linear, as if the wheel was alive in my hands. I could feel every little goose-bump, pore, mole, and hair follicle on the sinewy curves of the sun-warmed pavement through my finger tips. And a gentle fondle of my bare big toe on the round raised rubber button on the center of that brake pedal was enough to elicit all the response one could want from the hyper-sensitive boosted brakes, and more.
Memory-sensory overload continued as I now rubbed my fingers over the skin of that distinctive textured vinyl on the dashboard. They just don’t make that stuff anymore, sadly. And this baby is only showing 2512 miles on the odometer; why it’s barely broken in, although the ones I drove back then got the special “Fast Break-in Procedure”. Not exactly according to Ford’s recommendations, but a secret procedure passed on orally from lot boy to lot boy.
I was so wanting to capture the magic sparkling the low sun was creating on the Ford’s dashboard vinyl, but my camera didn’t seem to be seeing quite what I was. I remember sitting for hours later that magical night in 1971, sitting behind the wheel and staring at the dash, parked at the little Quaker Meeting House, wide awake from the effects of what I had ingested earlier that evening, and dazzled by the infinite profundity of that texture, while my cohorts snoozed, spread out on the Ford’s big twin beds. The guys at Ford who must have spent weeks hand-tooling the dies for those vinyl molds were in my deep thoughts that long wakeful night, just sitting there behind the wheel, waiting for daylight.
I pondered: maybe it wasn’t too late for me to go back and finish high school, and get a job with Ford tooling the original patterns for their vinyl dashes and roofs, and eventually work my way up to hand-carving heraldic crests for their emblems. The Great Brougham Epoch was such a boon to Old World Craftsmanship, reviving skills that would otherwise have long died out.
Of course, that applied to all the fine woodworkers at Ford too, never mind the tailors and upholsterers. As I was sitting there now, it was becoming obvious to Jerry that I was having a rather serious episode, engulfed in a flood of powerful memories and emotions, tears welling up. He decided I might be under the influence of some off-gassing from the vinyl and all, seeing how virginal it still looked, and that it might be best if I got some fresh air. His lure was the engine. “You want to hear it run?”
What kind of question is that? I was almost afraid to ask what was under that long beaked hood, for fear it might just be the wee little 351 V8.
My fears were unfounded as Jerry raised the helicopter landing pad-sized hood, and the mighty Ford-blue M-Code 400 greeted my misted-over eyes. Don’t let its 172 hp hp rating fool you; that was just to con the insurance companies. This was nothing less than a mildly disguised racing engine, a de-stroked high-revving version of the side-oiler 427 as used in Ford’s Le Mans-winning Mark IVs. What endless black strips of rubber I used to leave on York Road, as the secondaries on its giant Holley double-pumper four barrel carb kicked in at around 5,000 rpm, for the final heady rush to its screaming 7,000 rpm redline. I was the luckiest seventeen year-old in America!
Jerry started it up, and it purred as smooth as a Nissan Leaf. By now my knees were already a bit shaky from this encounter with the dream car of my youth, when Jerry spoke the words I would never have dreamed to hear:
“You wanna’ buy it? I was just cleaning it up before putting it up for sale. My partner is pretty steamed at me for buying it, seeing as we’re saving up for a house down payment”. And we’ve got the Toyota wagon there in the driveway. Your timing was perfect, and it kinda seems like you really need this LTD a lot more than I do”.
“Yes!! We desperately need a new car, and I’ve been racking my mind about it. And this is just the perfect answer to all our needs. Yes!”
I was just imagining Stephanie’s excitement when she would see what I brought home for her. She sews and quilts, and is a lover of fine fabrics, and the brocade upholstery in green would undoubtedly bowl her over. The trunk would be big enough for her nursery starts, straw bales, and our son’s big dog. I did wonder if the the AM radio can be rigged up for her iPod.
One of our criteria was for a quiet car for long road trips, and the Ford is certainly unbeatable in that regard. Stephanie wants a car that will handle with aplomb the many high-speed curves of I-5 and the other highways as they wend their way through the mountains out here. And one that is fun to just drive. Bingo! I’m already imagining drifting it through the tight curves of gravel forest roads when we go hiking in the woods. Having spent my youth watching all those tv cop shows, I knew that there was a reason they obviously preferred big Fords and Mercuries to catch the bad guys in their sissy Porsches and Ferraris.
We were supposed to fly out to Iowa on New Year’s Day for a wedding on Saturday, but after Jerry and I shook hands, I decided to rush home, surprise Stephanie, throw our bags in the trunk, and drive out instead. With Ford’s legendary reliability in the seventies, I’m not even going to bother to have it checked out first. And I’m certainly not worried about the salt on the roads out there blemishing this indestructible baby. So I won’t be able to respond to your comments for a few days, but I know you all will approve of my choice. Sometimes you just have to act, and not over-think things. Especially when the answer is so utterly obvious.