When we last left our hero he was young.
Now, not so much. Indeed the years have not been kind, and the big 5-0 has come and gone. Middle Age. Like the Middle Ages it’s named for, it’s a time of toil, dwindling resources, plague and Inquisitions. But our hero, having managed to come through youth with all this digits intact, has managed to find a modicum of stability, punctuated with a wee bit of mild “success” in his chosen career. Time to reward himself, he felt, time for a car to be proud of, something to make the neighbors jealous and their kids’ mouths gape open when he glided by, oozing bling-bling.
For my hard workin’ old man that car was a Cadillac. An ’84 metallic brown Coupe de Ville to be exact. New off the lot, leather seats, fuel computer, a little electric motor that pulled the trunk closed. I can still smell the victory of a life well lived that was that car. Ahhhh. I loved that car more than I did Mork’s girlfriend Mindy.
So what to choose to celebrate orbiting the sun fourish dozen times? A Beemer? Some Mercedes Benz product? Maybe a 345siQRX34 or some such. Was Teutonic in the air that Summer? Perhaps a Caddy of my own? Perhaps one of the CTSCVCS-VX5/2 models.
Nah, those cars are BORING. (i.e. reliable, safe, normal)
How about a rusty-crusty 72’ Ford three quarter ton with bias-ply tires leftover from the Carter Administration era? Will that do?
You betcha! Now you’re talking my language.
We were out scootering one Sunday in summer 2012, no not Harley’s, and yes, 49cc scooters, when we rounded a bend and I saw him sitting there for sale. Holy Crapsolee Batman, a bumpside Ford! Millenia of powerful evolutionary instinct took over, and I immediately veered off the road to look over the beast. First glance was promisingly tantalizing, no major dents, all the chrome trim, no broken glass, and what looked like original two-tone paint. “By ye gods, can this be my dream truck?” I wondered, and then two things clinched the sale for me, the price, $1,750, and the AC vents hanging under the dash.
This baby has factory AC!
It’s going to be mine!!! Now mind you, I’d been acquainted with this rig for all of two minutes. If that. But I’d already decided to buy it. I looked over sheepishly at la esposa, but she had that charming smile she gets when I’m being stupid about cars. She never puts the brakes on any of my automotive failures and lets me run wild; “buy it” is her usual refrain. This is a problem. Usually the spouse performs a significant duty by being the check and balance on car-mania, “No, your’e not buying that piece of junk, we are getting a Honda CR-V in moonlight mica schist taupe”. Alas, I just get carte blanche on absurd old car purchases.
At this point it was time to get the owner. He ambled down, Baby Boomerish fellow, friendly sort, claimed he was the second owner and the truck had been in his possession for 17 years. He opened the door, out wafted that wonderful, wonderful scent of Old Car™. Is there a finer odor, nay there be not. In our moderne parlance this pickup was a “survivor”, 40 years of fairly mellow treatment had left it dulled and dimmed but still whole, still proud. Let’s take stock:
Paint was original, and was the classic Ford “Wimbledon White” and “Sequoia Brown”. The brown was a faint metallic, and the white creamy. This was a “Sport/Custom” trim level, which meant it was nearly as fancy as the Queen’s Range Rover, including full leather interior, sat nav and radio, adaptive cruise control and a first edition of the Beatles White Album under the seat.
Oh, not really. It really meant that it was sorta kinda nicer than a “Custom” trim level. Maybe. Here’s how that worked back in the day:
“Custom” meant it was not, and was as bare as a stripper pole.
“Sport/Custom” meant it was neither.
“XLT” meant fake plastic woodgrain on the dash.
“Ranger” meant a thin slab of cheap aluminum trim on the tailgate.
However, one option that did mean something was “Camper Special”. Not only was this a 3/4-ton F-250 but it also had a few various doodads, including a tranny oil cooler and enormous mirrors that could pick up radio Havana on a good night, to make hauling about a slide in camper a tad easier. Recall the slide in the camper fad of the ’60s/’70s? No? Guess you had to be there.
The engine was a member of the legendary “FE” family, the pickup 360 cubic inch with a 2bbl carb with 215 horses gross. (Millions of these 360 engines are now fulfilling their ultimate, and best, destiny of being breakwaters for the harbor in Bahia de Caraquez) Backing it up was the good ol’ boy C-6 trans, and it had power steering, brakes, factory trans oil cooler, dual fuel tanks and under-dash, dealer-installed factory AC.
12,000 miles showed on the odometer, probably 112,000.
So it was loaded baby cakes, Top O’ The Line, and you can see why within 120 seconds I decided to buy this sweet sweet hauler before one of you wandered by and snatched it up. (I know how you people are)
And AC!! And it was all there, and a belt was hooked up to it. Could it work? Nah. Owner said it needed the “expansion valve” replaced. What, it doesn’t “need a can of freon” like all the plinkers on Craigslist say?
Time for the test drive. I sat in the seat, crunchy with age, pressed the blade key home to the slot on the dash to the left (!) of the steering wheel, gave it two pumps of the pedal, one to set the choke and an extra to please ye Ford gods, and bam, it fired right up! I mean that beauty fired instantly, hardly even heard the starter grind. Yup, I got a good one.
We headed out on the road. I gave it gas and it damn near died, “Got a problem with the accel pump” the owner assured me. Okay, no prob, feather it, and we get going and it’s THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP as we roll, the whole rig shaking as the ancient bias ply tires work to return to round and cast off their flat bottoms after sitting since Y2K actually meant something.
Hilarious. I’m grinning like a fool. I know now where Ross Perot’s “Giant Sucking Sound” went after he lost the election, right under the dash of this F-250. Clearly a main vacuum hose is busily trying to evacuate the Earth’s atmosphere down there. That might account for the drivability issues that are best described as “unwillingly coming back from the dead”. The first stop sign comes up, I press the brake pedal and nothing much happens. Oh, well, it does shudder and jerk from side to side, swaying like a rowboat in a gale, but it doesn’t really slow down much. I press harder and it begins to lose speed, I press with all my weight and it actually shudders to a stop and dies.
But it fires right back up. Dang what a great truck!
We limp back and I start the time-honored traditional, and utterly pointless, horse trading that is buying a car. He asks for $1,750, which means, natch, that I offer a grand even. He of course counters with what he really wanted all along, $1,250, and I agree. Simple, silly, sold!
We shook on it in that “word is my bond” way of men of the car world, a little ritual I always enjoy, and I came back the next day with the cash in hand. First order of business is to coax this dinosaur home, which was about seven miles away. Would it make it? Maybe. Frankly I wasn’t sure, and that’s what makes it all so fun, eh? Who in the world wants to drive a vehicle that they know in their heart of hearts is actually going to get where they set out to go? And be comfortable and safe on the way?
I don’t get some people.
The drive home is similar to wrangling a very unhappy whale down the freeway, but I’m gleeful, like a boy at Christmas who just got both the Red Ryder and the plastic army helmet. Get home and I pop the hood to admire my very own V-8, and notice that the top of the manifold is kinda soaked with gasoline, it’s sitting in puddles and stuff. Uh, that’s not good. Quick exam finds that the vent port for the accelerator pump has gas spewing out of it. Hmm.
I avoid telling this to the wife.
A trip to the local O’Reilly’s for a carb kit is instructive, and I learn the first of many zen-like life lessons with the truck. So here they go:
Life Lesson #1: Parts will be available for the ’72 Ford until right after hell freezes over.
Yeah, they got one, a carb rebuild kit with accelerator pump for a product made decades before the surly kid at the counter was born. In fact, during my entire two years of ownership of the rig I can drive to O’Reilly and get 90% of whatever parts I need right then or later that day. Now that’s crazy, I can’t even get a new battery for my cordless phone made five years ago, but if you need a set of brake shoe springs for a 72’ F-250 front drums, yeah, they got those, $11.95 please. Next customer!
Toss in Dennis Carpenter’s shop and LMC Truck, where they remake all the other parts that O’Reilly’s can’t find on their dusty magical shelves, and you can basically buy every single thing you need to keep a 1972 Ford pickup running until the solar system dies from entropy. This brings me to:
Life Lesson # 2: A monkey with a screwdriver can keep a 72’ Ford running.
Not only can you get every part you need, you can easily install them. Example, I once needed a tiny little spring for the throttle return, it snapped one day when it decided it wanted to die rather than haul my carcass to work again. Within minutes of going to the parts store I had the exact one in hand, and it was installed in seconds. If you can turn a wrench you can eventually fix almost anything on this truck. I’m no uber-smartie mechanic, but not one time did I ever take Rex to anyone to fix anything, did it all myself and it was all remarkably easy. If greasy.
Back to our story.
Time for the traditional first oil change, waxing, and naming ceremony. The “oil” that came forth from the crankcase when I, like Moses of old, struck with it my staff, had long ago given up actually being oil and was a living creature made mostly of sludge. The wax job was a bust as it was going to need serious buffer work with compound, decades of living here near “FresYes” will do that to your skin, and the naming was a complete and simple success, I dub thee “Rex”, king of the road.
Now what was to be Rex’s fate? Leave it in survivor condition as I bought it? Driving it occasionally to the dump or feed store? Full bore restoration into some sort of garage queen? No, it was to be my daily driver, commute car, run to the store car, head to dinner and a movie car, and I was going to fix it up, but leave it as original as possible as I sorta like that vibe.
After I fixed the accel pump diaphragm, simple, you just lift the carb top off and sing the Hallelujah Chorus three times while waving your magic wand over it, I drove Rex to work the next day. I came rolling into the parking lot, thumpin’ and clankin’, I’d forgot how noisy these old bumpsides were, and I parked, quite deliberately I might add, right next to a coworker’s brand-new Mercedes LXHGTSK35908723.9bis on the one side and a brand new Toyota Tepid on the other. Yeah, it was a little hot in that cab, since it was August in God’s Personal Crock Pot, aka Central California, but that was OK. Oh did I mention that not only was it hot because the AC failed to respond to turning the knob to “On”, but the heater was always on because the valve wouldn’t shut off?
But good golly I was happy driving Rex about. Beatific. Once I fixed up the few minor problems Rex had, like the Giant Sucking Sound, the lack of brakes, the gas leak on the engine, the brake drum springs all breaking, the wheel cylinders all leaking, the transmission rear seal leaking, the valve cover gaskets leaking, the radiator leaking, the gas tank filler hoses leaking, replaced the bias ply tires with radials, replaced the heater core and control valve, the dash cover, the door panels, the floor mat, fixed the rusty bed, recovered the seat, replaced the tailgate, fixed the gas gauge, and a few minor other things, it was a great truck!
I fixed the AC, by the way. Did it myself, drove over to O’Reillys and asked for an expansion valve for a 72’ Ford with the under-dash, dealer-installed AC, and sure enough the gal walked back and grabbed it off the shelf for me! I think it was 79 bucks, one of the pricer items I did. Easy install, in fact everything was an easy install because, just like the rest of the ’70s, it was pretty much all hanging out in the open.
Now what to fill that AC system with, since R-12 had long gone the way of the Dodo? Ever heard of “Enviro-Safe”? No? Look it up some night.
And I machine polished the holy bejeezus out of that paint, and by golly if it didn’t shine right up! No silly clearcoat to get in the way of bringing the luster back.
Many a Saturday was spent enjoyably prowling the local Pick-A-Part looking for this or that for Rex. That’s how I got the tailpipe, among other things. In the interest of not being a total organ donor I added three-point seatbelts and headrests, and I removed the in-cab bomb, er uh, gas tank, and relied solely on the under-bed tank after replacing all the hoses. Now let me ask a simple question, why would anyone think that the ideal place for a bomb, er, uh, gas tank, was behind the drivers seat? Our ancestors were made of sterner stuff indeed.
For two years Rex was my faithful chariot, and only twice did he leave me on the side of the road. Once when the aforementioned throttle return spring snapped, luckily that was right in front of the house, and one other time when the coil wire came off (easy fix as well).
By now, summer 2014, after a helluva lot of work, Rex had become a minor local celebrity, was looking mighty darn good, and running smooth with great AC and fine looks. Of course that meant it was time to sell it because it had now become BORING.
Life Lesson # 3: Son, a man’s gotta know his limitations.
Mine is long-term car commitment. After a bit I just grow bored with my wheels, and have to go looking for the next (weird) thing. More than 20 vehicles have graced the driveway, and you’ll search in vain for rhyme and reason. ’60 Chevy Bel Air? Sure. ’69 VW Baja Bug? Of course. ’77 Toyota Corona Wagon? Why not? ’92 Ford F-250 460 V-8 Supercab long bed? Yeah, OK. 95′ Honda Civic EX coupe, the classic JDM tyte ricer? Cool. Closest I’ve ever come to a “normal” car was the ’08 Honda Accord, yes a cursed plinker-mobile, until you noticed the third pedal on the floorboard.
Rex was an easy sale, as purty as he was by now, his coat shiny and sleek and nose leather all warm and moist. At my wife’s strong urging I sold him for $4,000 instead of giving him away for 1K like I figured was traditional with me. Which, after counting up the receipts for all the things I fixed, meant I actually made a small profit, if you discount gas and running fees. My first and only vehicle I’ve sold that I did not totally lose my shirt on, perhaps the old dog learned a new trick after all.
Been eyeing mid-’60s Caddys now on Craigslist, fine, fine rides, or perhaps a rough WW2 Jeep. Hmm.