The cars from early in our lifetimes can be hugely influential things. The cars we learn to love at a tender age can chart our automotive course as we mature. Likewise, those we hate as youngsters can do the same. We have by now become familiar with the first car which the Niedermeyer family came to own when coming to America in 1960: A baby blue 1954 Ford Customline V8/Ford-O-Matic sedan. I have never found that car’s doppelganger, but came across this one which is close but so much better in many respects. What kind of an effect might this 2 door ’54 Mainline have had on our favorite automotive website’s founder? Let us contemplate the ways.
We have read bits and pieces about the Niedermeyer family’s 1954 Ford sedan here (and here) (and I guess here, too). The fact that the car has not merited its own chapter in our founder’s Auto Biography tells us all we need to know about the impression it made on the car-obsessed young lad from Austria. A 1960 Pontiac Bonneville it was most assuredly not.
In Paul’s telling, the ’54 was sluggish, not easy to start in the cold and dull as dishwater to a young boy who was mesmerized by the beautiful designs then in General Motors showrooms (and in his neighborhood). His first job at a Ford dealer in 1971 seemed to finish the job that the old ’54 started in making Henry’s last name synonymous with the things found on the bottom shelves of life’s cupboard. It would take many years (and an old yellow pickup truck) before Ford would finally find some forgiveness from and redemption with CC’s founder.
But what if Ernst Niedermeyer had been presented with a different 1954 Ford that fateful day in 1960. This one, for example. The possibilities are worth contemplating. We know that the ’54 in Paul’s history was a Customline – the middle line, neither high nor low. We know that Paul has demonstrated a fondness for base level, no-nonsense strippers. No, not that kind. I’m talking about the clean bottom-of-the-ladder model that shows off the car’s basic shape without the distraction of all that extra trim. Like this one.
We also know that Paul carries a torch for the 2 door sedan. The 4 door is a good utilitarian car but is also usually the most common body style offered. A 2 door sedan, though, has all the room coupled with better proportions and cleaner lines. Plus it was seen so much less frequently.
The Niedermeyer ’54 came was equipped with the sluggish second-gear-start Ford-O-Matic, Ford’s first stab at automatic shifting. How might life have been different with a 3 speed/overdrive. I am actually not sure if the subject car has the Borg-Warner overdrive that Paul has become so fond of in his F-100 (a close look at the pictures suggests that it does not) , but indulge me here. Might not the mechanical symphony of the B-W overdrive have had a significant effect on our fledgling car nut?
And then there is the elephant in the room: that cursed Ford Y block V8. The V8 engine had been synomynous with Ford for two generations by the time the aging ’54 came into the Niedermeyer family driveway. But the 1954 Y block effectively stopped Ford’s performance reputation cold, something made quite clear when the Chevrolet V8 hit the market the following year. Although the new Ford V8 gave reliable service (when properly maintained), things were different where Firestone met asphalt. It was the new Chevy 265 that became the engine with all the street cred while the Ford Y block was able to make little more than excuses when hot blooded teens raced their fathers’ cars from the stoplights. Young Paul knew that the family Ford was a slug, and there was nothing to do but shrug it off and move on.
But what if the Niedermeyer ’54 had been equipped with Ford’s most excellent 223 cid (3.7L) inline six? Introduced in 1952, the overhead valve six may have been the best new Ford engine design since the Model A. It was a design that would reliably power Ford cars and trucks until a newer, bigger six replaced it in 1965. Was the fact that the six could nearly keep up with the V8 a testament to the quality of the six’s design or a rap on that of the V8? Probably some of both given that the six was only sixteen cubic inches and fifteen (rated) horsepower short of its V8 sibling.
We cannot really say if a change in color would have made much of a difference. Baby blue vs. mint green? There is a lot of green in Oregon, but in a political sense there is a lot of blue as well. So let’s call a draw on the color.
Might we speculate a bit on what might have happened had this car been brought into our leader’s family on that fateful day instead of the one that actually came to live there? Tricky business, that. However, let me make a stab at it. Young Paul would likely have developed a respect for an old Ford, one that put on no airs and did not claim to be anything other than what it was – a good, honest car. It was not flashy or fast, but it had never pretended to be. Who would not love, or at least respect such a car?
It has certainly been beloved by the original owners and their family, as evidenced by the way it was kept. There are not many cars that intrigue me to the point of following them to see if I can catch up to them. I was leaving work one fine Miata day (a weather condition that most of you would call “warm and sunny”) when I spied this fascinating car turn left ahead of me. It was heading into a neighborhood that I knew, so perhaps it lived there? Several turns later it pulled into a driveway.
I parked and introduced myself. The driver is actually the brother of the owner, and told me a bit of this Ford’s story. His grandparents bought this Ford new in 1954 and it remained in the family until their grandfather passed away. At that time the car was given to one brother while the man I spoke to got cash roughly in proportion to the value of the old Ford. The brother who got the car has kept it ever since, while the man I spoke with has the enviable job of helping his brother keep this and several other cars exercised. I was told that other than some good cleanup and detailing this car is all original and that the miles indicated on the odo (54,303) are actual.
What might have happened if cars ordered by a dealer in Indiana and a dealer in Iowa had been switched at birth, with their first owners swapping from blue Customline automatic to green Mainline stick and vise versa? I will not go so far as to say that that Paul would be managing a hedge fund and contemplating a run for the Senate because of a simple change in the family’s first car. In my own crystal ball I can hazily make out a young Paul moving up the ladder at Towson Ford from the Pinto-abusing lot boy to general manager and eventually owner? A gated community in the suburbs of Baltimore with an F-150 King Ranch in the garage (with a Mustang GT convertible for Stephanie right next to it) is a long way from Eugene Oregon in more ways than one. Of course, my crystal ball has been acting up a little lately, so perhaps a 1960 swap of 1954 Fords might not have had quite this much of an effect. But it would surely have been beloved. As for the sorry experience with those new LTDs in 1971? Sorry, but the best 1954 Ford in the entire world couldn’t undo that.
1953 Ford Crestline Victoria (Paul Niedermeyer)