(our newest Saturday COAL series starts today) I’ve had a lifelong love affair with cars, and spent everyday dreaming of being able to drive. My parents told me that when I was very little, if I was fussy, or if mom needed to set me somewhere safe while she cleaned, the would set me in front of the front door and let me look out the glass storm door at the cars as they passed. Apparently that’s all it took to keep me occupied for hours. I think I was probably around 12 when I first started trying to convince my parents to let me buy some old car I found for sale here and there.
In fact, there was a somewhat strange family that lived down the street from the house I grew up in, that always had a nice assortment of brougham-tastic cars. The husband/father told me he would sell me any one of his 3 cars for only $500. I had the choice of a 1977 Ford Granada sedan that always smelled like gas when you got close to it, a 1976 Mercury Marquis Brougham 2 door, or a 1973 Chevy Impala. I wanted the Mercury. It was in very nice shape and was just so big that it seemed almost comical.
I had the money from working after school everyday taking care of a neighbors dog. $2 a day, $10 per week, for probably 3-4 years. They never did let me get one of those prizes I found.
From the time I was around 11-13 a lot of my afternoons were spent out at horse barns because my sister rode horses and had lessons to take and horses to feed and care for. At one of the places where she kept her horse, the guy that owned the house and barn was a bit of a car collector. He was a very nice guy and would let me look at whatever he was driving at the time and tell me all about it. He came home in a triple black 1969 Mercury Cougar convertible with a 351 and 4 speed.
I fell in love with the car and he actually told me that he would sell it to me for $5000! I have no idea what he actually paid for the car, it looked to be in about perfect condition, but to my young ears, I heard a price and I was going to make it mine! It took me until I was 15, but I saved my money and one day I was just about there, I think I had $4800 or so and I decided that the next time I saw him, I’d let him know that I was about ready to buy it from him. Just in time for my 16th birthday too! Well, the very next time I saw him, I told him, and he told me that he had just sold it the prior weekend and bought an Austin Healey! I was so upset and crushed by this news that I didn’t even want to look at that stupid little Austin. Looking back on it, its probably better it happened this way than for me to have come up to him with my $5000 expecting to get a $25,000 car for it!
Fast forward to the fall of 1994, I was 15 years old and approaching the day I had been waiting for all my life. I would often go with my dad to his office if he had to work on the weekend, and I really enjoyed doing whatever it was I would do there while he worked. But one Saturday was different. He asked me if I would want to go to the office with him and practice driving a manual transmission truck around the parking lot while he worked. Of course I felt like I had hit the jackpot and was so excited I couldn’t hardly wait to get there. Dad got the keys to a little Ford Ranger. A 6 cylinder, 5 speed work truck. The parking lot was rather large and made a complete circle around the buildings and also branched off in a few places. It had a couple hills for practicing taking off from a stop too. My dad took me around a couple times, explained the basics of driving a manual, and then left me to it. I felt the excitement of every Christmas morning and birthday all rolled into one time that day. From then on, I went with him to work every chance I got. While I drove the Ranger the most, I also got to drive a few of the F-150 work trucks they had, and my favorite, a 1988 F-250 Diesel 5 speed.
On one of these weekends, I believe it was in November, my dad took me around back and there sat 7 or 8 of the F-150’s all lined up. He told me that the company had just bought replacements for them all and asked if I would like to buy one as my first vehicle. This was it! My time had finally arrived! I was going to get my very own car! Of course I told him I wanted to, and he told me to pick one out and that I could have it for $900. Pretty awesome price for what I got too. I spent the day driving them all around and settled on “my truck”. Granted, they were all almost identical, but I knew the one I wanted. It was a 1987 2wd regular cab long bed. It had a 302 and a 4 speed manual. I think it had right at 150k miles on it at the time. I suppose it was a custom, but it didn’t even have the custom badges. What it did have was working air conditioning, and a crappy AM/FM radio. It was a faded tan color, has steel wheels, and a tan bench seat.
In the months leading up to my 16th birthday, my parents let me spend some of my money on it. The first thing we did was have it painted black. Door jambs, inside the bed, behind the bed, everywhere was changed to black. This completely transformed the look of the truck and made it look a whole lot better. Then came some new wheels. Just a set of chrome truck wheels with 10 circles in each wheel. It’s hard to say what made a bigger difference in the appearance of the truck, the paint or the wheels. But with those two things done, it really started to look like a pretty nice truck.
My 16th birthday came on a Sunday so naturally the Department of Drivers Services was closed, and they were always closed on Monday’s as well. But on Tuesday March 14th I finally got my drivers license. I was a freshman in high school, and one of the few people in my class that had a drivers license. This made me the driver for everyone and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Sure, only 3-4 could fit in the cab, but I had a full 8′ bed for everyone to pile in! In fact, I once received 9 traffic tickets at one time while leaving school. One ticket per kid in the bed of the truck that was under 18! Over the next 2 years I continued to customize the truck and add thing, take away things, and just change things to make it how I wanted it. I ordered a nice set of black captain chairs with a flip down armrest/3rd seat, I got black carpet, a really nice Kenwood CD player, amplifier, and small subwoofer. I had the windows tinted, added a sliding rear window, and went through countless mufflers/exhaust systems trying to get the perfect sound (which I finally was able to achieve several years later). I pulled high school parade floats with that truck, had my first real kiss in that truck, made several stupid decisions in that truck, and loved all of it.
For the most part it was a very reliable vehicle and carried me and my friends on quite a few out of state trips for spring break and summer vacations. The few things I really remember having trouble with, were pretty easy for me to fix myself. It had a very sensitive fuel cut off switch or inertia switch that fooled me a couple of times. If you set the parking break hard, when your released the brake it would swing up with a lot of force. That caused the switch to trip more than once. The first time it happened, I thought the fuel pump had gone out, but eventually found it was just the switch. Another problem I had was when the original alternator went out, I bought a replacement from NAPA. We didn’t have an Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts with their lifetime warranties near my house so all my stuff came from NAPA. The alternators only had like a 6 month warranty, and I swear I think they had an internal clock in them and would last no longer than 7-8 months. I went through 4 or 5 of those before I finally bought one from the Ford dealership and as far as I know, that one is still on the truck. The first major problem I had with the truck was when the gears in the rear end tore up. But that was really an easy fix. I just bought a whole rear axle from a junk yard truck and swapped it out in a half day in my driveway.
In 1998 I was a senior in high school and I got the car buying fever again. There was no way I was going to part with this truck, but I wanted something else to drive too. I was going to be going to college the next year in south Georgia and I figured maybe I needed some thing more practical to make the 3.5 hour drive from school to home once every two months or so. This was the excuse I was going to use anyway to convince my parents that I needed a second car. I had been working at an oil change place since my freshman year of high school and had some money saved up. I fell in love with a certain type of car, and the hunt was on. I really wish I had some pictures of the truck, but before cellphones came along with cameras in them, I didn’t really take any pictures of anything.
This is not the end of the story for my F-150, it continues on for a while and will be revisited in some of my future posts. Next week, I’ll share the story of my next COAL, it was a real doozy.