One of my favorite weekend activities over the past few years has been participation in what I call “Exploration Saturdays”. My partner and I decided that Chicago is much too big and interesting to spend each and every weekend doing the same exact things in the same exact order. Familiarity can be both a blessing and a curse. From our neighborhood next to Lake Michigan, there’s basically only a semi-circle’s worth of radii from which to trek out, making our choice of direction a little easier, I suppose. Two weekends ago, we found ourselves in Wicker Park, an area that had, decades ago, been a low-rent district until an adventurous demographic of arts-minded people started to move there in the ’90s, slowing changing its character from blighted and a bit scary, to eclectic, edgy and cool. It was in the Wicker Park of about five years ago that I spotted our featured car.
My experience of that afternoon trip to Wicker Park from just a couple of weeks ago was somewhat bittersweet. While there are still many interesting clothing and resale shops, bars, restaurants and other interesting storefronts in the area, much of the quirky character – the flavors for which I had come to love this neighborhood – seems to have packed up and left. In place of once-stalwart options like greasy fast food joints and diners at which one could order fried Twinkies (which I did once and loved it), now we have Starbucks, Potbelly subs, and the only Taco Bell that serves alcohol probably in the world. The general look and feel of Wicker Park has changed, even since 2013, when I took these pictures.
The automotive landscape has also changed, even since then. Recently, Edward Snitkoff had written a great post about Ford’s recent announcement that they are discontinuing availability of all but just two passenger cars in the United States (the Mustang and a Focus-based crossover), and there was lots of great dialogue and discussion that ensued. Friends, acquaintances, and bona fide knowledgeable car experts have made intelligent, fact-based points about how Fords’ near-complete focus on light trucks and SUVs makes total and complete sense from the standpoint of profitability. Companies have to make money. I just simply will never care as much about a truck or SUV, no matter how practical, as I will a “regular” private passenger car.
A purpose-built hauler could be well-styled. Capable, with four-/all-wheel drive and decent gas mileage. With a cargo area large enough to swallow a complete bedroom set for a medium-sized condominium. With easy ingress and egress and perhaps room for six in a pinch. My left brain would admire all of these things. However, I’m convinced that it is my emotional right brain that responds, almost exclusively, to all things automotive where my car fandom is concerned, and much like a few other innate personal preferences that I can’t explain, I simply like cars better than trucks. I always have. That’s my orientation.
Lest anyone take this for an anti- truck or SUV rant, I just want to be clear that these are simply my feelings on this Ford announcement, and yes, I am upset. I understand that just because I like (or don’t like) something doesn’t mean that everyone else has to feel the same way. I get that different people like different kinds of vehicles for different reasons and can feel very passionately about both those types of vehicles and the reasons they like them. I guess it feels to me almost like by discontinuing most of their passenger cars, Ford is telling me there’s something wrong with car-centric people like myself. I basically grew up being told, with dubious degrees of lasting success, who and what I’m supposed to like, so perhaps that’s a big part of the reason I have such a problem with this.
Let’s now look at this beautiful, red ’63 1/2 Galaxie 500, one of about 134,000 produced for the model year. This was the second-most popular individual model of Ford’s entire ’63 range, with only the Galaxie 500 four-door sedan selling more copies, at about 206,000 units. With about 662,700 two- and four-door models, and an additional 127,100 longroofs sold, the particular configuration of our featured car accounted for a healthy 17% of full-size Ford sales that year. Total Ford production for ’63 was around a million and a half. This sporty, sloping roofline, introduced in mid-model year on the 500 and 500 XL, was an immediate hit, soon overtaking the more upright, formal-roofed two-door in sales. This example, given its shiny, toy-like condition might be powered by a 271-hp 289-V8, which would have provided a reasonable amount of scoot in this 3,800-pound car.
There’s not one single thing I’d change about this example – not even its aftermarket wheels. I’ve written briefly about a different Galaxie spotted in traffic before (a ’62), and I’ll state again that the celestial connotations of its name seem to fit the ’63’s dynamic lines, rakish roofline and tastefully executed chrome accents. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be gazing at pictures of a two-door, once-mainstream Ford and think that not only would this body style be nearly extinct, but also the Ford passenger car in general. This is coming from a kid who grew up in the ’80s, in an automotive landscape chock full of Tauruses, Escorts, Tempos, Probes and Thunderbirds. While writing this post, I realized there hasn’t been a mainstream, non-Mustang, two-door Ford passenger car available in the U.S. since the 2010 Focus.
Old habits and preferences die hard, including my longstanding idea that cars should always be the norm. I may one day rent an Escape or another SUV that totally blows my mind and seems like the best discovery that I’ve ever made. I did rent an Escape in February of 2011, and I do remember thinking I definitely would have been stuck in one of the areas I had driven in the Michigan winter weather if I had been in just a regular car. The Escape was also roomy and had great visibility, and its elevated driving position gave me a feeling (illusion?) of being in greater control than as if I was in a car. Its gas mileage wasn’t the best, but I don’t remember it being so awful that I later posted on social media about it. Did the Escape move me, in a matter of speaking? A little bit, maybe. Would a rental Fusion have moved me more? Come to think of it, probably not.
Does this realization prompt a one-eighty from my original, basic premise – that Ford’s decision to get rid of most of its passenger cars might be a mistake? Not quite. I’ll say, though, that what this recent news feels like to me is that Ford is taking away my freedom of choice – at least within their showrooms. This is what hurts and feels like, next to Pintogate, one of the most un-American things Ford has ever done. Still, as I’ve learned while attempting to change my weekend routines and activities, a little adaptation and fresh thinking won’t kill me. Let’s see how this plays out.
Wicker Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, September 21, 2013.