I had been storing some cars at my house for my friend for several years, most notably his Ford pickup under our trees. One day he shows up in a gray 1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria and informs me that he wants to give it to me. “Why?” I ask, “do you really just want me to store it for you?” “No”; he said it was for all the times I had helped him out. Ok, I thought, but I really had no use for such a machine. But I didn’t want to refuse his “generosity” so I took the car. Along with it he also gave me a cheap and gaudy ring that he bought from a street vendor in Southern California.
I soon learned that the title to the car was with the ex-wife of his former boss in a small town just a ways out. Hmm. I thought, I wonder how he came to “own” this car.
According to him I merely need go and ask for the title from her. So I drove out and found with some difficulty the mobile home she was living in. Upon introducing myself and explaining what my friend had said she simply said; “Well damn him; he still owes me fifteen dollars, but if you get me a box of cigarettes I will give you the title”. So after a trip to the store and one box of cigarettes later the title was in my hands.
Now of course that title was open and signed off on by some person that was not any of the four of us involved in its future so far. But luckily (or not) everything panned out at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
( Matlock-mobile )
The car itself was gray with some peeling clear coat. It had the ubiquitous 302 V8 and AOD transmission, and the tires were bad, but it was actually fairly straight otherwise, and the interior was pretty nice. However, Panthers are not really my thing. Neither are any large American cars from the seventies through now really (I must admit that there are a few exceptions, most notably Mercury Marauder, late Caprices, and Cadillac Fleetwoods).
Now, going from VW Rabbits and gnarly trucks to a big American sedan is a bit of a change. What the %^&$ is this, fake wood? The seats felt like Lazy Boy recliners, the handling was non-existent; it wallowed around bends, ducking and bobbing at every corner. And at highway speeds it floated like kids playing on a water bed. Oh, and of course there was the power steering that was so overpowered and vague that one really aimed with it more than steered.
I drove the car around a little bit until the tags expired and then parked it. I was used to cars that were peppy and/or efficient. This was a whole different kind of beast, something Ben Matlock or Barnaby Jones might drive, not me. But my friend David and his wife who were in college and had two children had just had their VW bus breakdown on them. So I told them they could use the LTD as long as they needed but that it would need tires and tags.
David drove it around on the bad tires for quite awhile until they blew up. So he was forced to buy tires for it. Personally I didn’t care if I ever saw the car again, but one day I was car-less for some reason so I asked if I could borrow it back for a few days.
When I returned it to them, David asked me if I had smoked in it. I told him that I had not, but that if I had wanted to I would have, since it was my car. He became quite irritated and started babbling about landlords and bosses and hypocrites. Suddenly I was the petty-bourgeois and he was the oppressed proletariat. I said, look why don’t you just buy the car, I’ll sell it to you cheap. No, he didn’t want to own such a beast; can’t say I blame him. So we parted ways, the car still in his possession.
Ater about six months the LTD quit running on them. So I went and tried to fix it, but by the time I got to it, it was running all on it’s own accord. They got another car and I got the LTD back. However David never let me forget that he put new tires on it.
I drove it around a little, but then it shut down on me one cold night and I quite driving it. I did trace the problem down to the ignition module. Those years of Ford used the TFI (Thick Film Integrated) system which is notoriously fragile. But I never did fix it, and I really didn’t care. So it sat on the farm for several years until I got tired of it and sold it to a scrapper for next to nothing. It never was really my type of car.
I once asked my friend Bill why I liked small cars so much. He said it was because I valued efficiency. And he was right. The new world ideal ushered in by the vast expanses of open land and endless resources of the Americas changed our definition of well-off. At least in the USA it’s all about conspicuous consumption. The biggest, most un-used lawn, the fountain that pours forth untouched water all day, the vast living room with but a few pieces of furniture. And the cars, oh yes, the cars. Bigger, more comfortable, more powerful. You can’t even buy a small truck now. What is called compact now is what was called mid-sized a few years ago. So yes, I value efficiency, at least in a car.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain appeal in a piece of big American iron with a big engine that does big stuff. After all, one of my current cars is a one-ton, four-wheel-drive van with a 350 crate motor and a four barrel carburetor in it. But it can haul twelve people, pull a trailer, carry a couple of canoes on the roof rack, and do it all off-road. A car on the other hand, is a simple device meant to carry 2-5 people in comfort from one point to another. With such simple requirements it seems efficiency would be at the top of the list when shopping for one.
But to each his own, and my own is not really in the Panther or B body realm. Since my brief fling with the LTD ended, I have not owned another large American car. Instead I got a more efficient, more classic American car, that made me appreciate the true je ne sais quoi of American iron. But that’s for next time.