Father’s Day Weekend Special – The Cars of My Father, Part 2

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My father in 2015

Yesterday in Part 1 of this two part series, we covered the cars of my father from 1946 to 1981.  Today we shall cover 1983 to the present time.

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1983 Plymouth Reliant

While there was nothing memorably wrong with the Volare, Dad got that old familiar itch and went car shopping in the Summer of ’83.

The dark gray 2.2 liter powered Reliant was slightly used with about 3,000 miles on it.  Purchased at Town & Country Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge in Cape Girardeau, it was a rapid transaction.

This was the car we took on a road trip through Ontario and New York state in 1984.  Later that same year we took it to my great-grandmother’s funeral in Houston, Texas, staying with my great-aunt and uncle in nearby Cut-and-Shoot, Texas.  The funeral was softened by a side trip over to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Later on during his ownership, the Reliant developed a ferociously loud racket at speed.  My father – the only one in the household immune to the auditory onslaught – blamed it on tire noise despite a new set of tires failing to remedy the situation.  When my mother and sister ultimately refused to ride in the car, he finally had a mechanic take a look.  The culprit was a bad wheel bearing that had to be removed in pieces.  That Reliant was as quiet as a Cadillac after that – or so it seemed.

Incidentally, if performed just right the Reliant would not upshift to third gear until 67 mph.

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1984 Ford F-150

In 1985 the old ’70 F-100 succumbed to the tin worm.  Dad went shopping and I tagged along.

At the time Ford had their 300 straight-six as standard equipment with the 302 V8 as optional.  My father could not understand why Ford bothered with the 302 since the engine sizes were so close.  Going to Ford Groves, he lamented greatly upon learning Ford had discontinued their three-speed on the column a year or two prior.  To him that was the ultimate transmission as they did not rob floor space and historically there was no surcharge for obtaining it; he was almost as distraught as his younger sister was when Sonny and Cher divorced.  Not finding what he liked at the Ford dealer, we saw a newish F-150 sitting on the lot at Cape Toyota.

Powered by a 300 straight-six, this red and silver F-150 had 2,200 miles when the first owner decided he wanted something different.  The original owner had been blessed with a ton of prescience as this F-150 drank like a wino in a liquor store while pumping out breathtakingly meager levels of power for its generous displacement.

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Soon after getting this pickup, my father obtained another of his many 4,000 pound loads of gravel.  His observation was this pickup did not squat as quickly as his ’70 but the ’70 would pull infinitely better despite not being equipped with the granny-low first gear of his ’84.  He said the ’84 was so pitifully underpowered it needed this gear to start moving any type of load (or maybe I suggested that to him).

I can attest that at 4,500 pounds of rock, it was a brain-teaser to drive as the front axle took steering input as a meager suggestion instead of a direct order.  Finally dumping the factory gas mileage biased P215/70R15 tires for something meatier did allow for the same payloads with less tire bulge.

This pickup always stayed close to home and I likely put half or better of the miles on it.  At 10 to 12 mpg even with a light foot, it never endeared itself to me and I strongly suspect it never really endeared itself to my father.

Several years after he traded this pickup, he and I saw it again.  It was being used to collect garbage in the small town of Anna, Illinois.  He had traded it off in the same town and the red and silver paint job was so unique there was no mistaking it.

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1985 Ford Crown Victoria

Larger children necessitated a larger vehicle in 1986 and the ’81 Omni had about 120,000 miles.  After looking briefly at a new 1987 Dodge Diplomat at Town & Country Motors, Dad went to Guetterman’s.  Sitting on the lot was a loaded 1985 Ford Crown Victoria with 5,100 miles on the clock.

The original owner was insatiable in his automotive appetite, coming to Gutterman’s every four to six months for a new car.  The Crown Vic was by far the most expensive vehicle my father had purchased up to this time and it also has the distinction of being his first car costing over $10,000.

Comfortable and quiet, the Crown Vic was great for travel.  We took it to such places as Minnesota, Arizona, and Washington D.C.  My only visit to Las Vegas was in this car.  It was flawless until it hit 50,000 miles and the pollution control devices decided to crap out one at a time.  A malfunction would prompt rough running or running so rich it would pour black smoke out the tailpipe.  It got so bad my father took the title with him when journeying more than one hundred miles.  For our trip to D.C., the title was in his suitcase as he was ready to ditch the car at the first sign of trouble; naturally, it ran flawlessly during these times.   At 75,000 miles yet another component went south with a repair cost of over $700.

This Crown Victoria was gone within two weeks.

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1988 Ford Tempo

By 1988 the Reliant had about 115,000 miles and it was traded for a new two-door Ford Tempo.

The Tempo was not a bad car, but is completely forgettable in a good sense.  There were simply no issues to greatly annoy a person and it was flawless mechanically.  In the 154,000 miles my father had the car the coolant fan died somewhere north of the 100,000 mile mark and a cable in the dash broke, causing all air generated by the ventilation system to shoot onto the windshield.  With its 2.3 liter HSO engine and five-speed manual transmission, the car averaged over 30 mpg during his ownership.

This car typifies the majority of my father’s automotive experiences – they aren’t exciting, they do their thing, they don’t misbehave, and he gets a lot of miles from them.

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1991 Dodge Dynasty

This is what replaced the ’85 Crown Victoria.  Purchased in late 1990, the Dynasty was equipped with the 3.3 liter V6 and the infamous Ultradrive transmission.

This Dynasty twice saw speeds of nearly 120 mph (the dashboard started bouncing at about 110 and at 120 I backed off the throttle due to the noise).  It was driven from sea to shining sea as I pulled up to the shores of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans in it.  It was subjected to extensive use by my sister, whose driving will scare the hell out of mortal people.  After my parents moved to a different house in 1994, it was pressed into a 70 mile daily commute for my mother.

In the 135,000 miles my father had it, there was only one minor hiccup.  A sensor went bad, a malady that stalled the engine three seconds after start-up.  That was it.  The transmission was flawless, all the trim stayed in place, and it was only on its second set of tires.

Some say the Dynasty was a pile of rubbish.  While I drove some awful ones at work, this one possessed quality and reliability comparable to any manufacturer.  It was simply that good.

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1995 Mercury Cougar

Reflecting upon the cars of my father’s life, writing about this Cougar keeps prompting a song to race through my head….

The Tempo was traded for the Cougar in late 1995.  I was away at college when the Cougar was purchased and the rationale for it being chosen has never been determined.  It was a complete surprise when my parents arrived at my college graduation in a red Cougar with a moonroof.  All I knew was my father once again helped put groceries on the table at the Guetterman residence and the Cougar had graced a rental car fleet in Florida.

Part of the rationale may have been retirement.  My father was preparing to retire a few months later so I presume this was part of his transition.  The only complaint they ever had with the Cougar is the noise made by its 3.8 liter V6.

The Cougar was a car that disappeared as quickly as it appeared.  I’m uncertain of the mileage when they traded it and they owned this car for a shorter time than any other car they have had in my lifetime.  There were no problems during the time of their ownership.

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1997 Ford Crown Victoria

With my father having retired in 1996, and my mother retiring soon thereafter, the Dynasty was sold outright in 1998 and the Cougar went away for a one-year old Crown Victoria.  It had been purchased new by a retired couple that didn’t keep cars for very long.

The intrigue of the purchase of this Ford, and the subsequent Mercury, was the irony of it.  In 1986 my father moped about buying the ’85 Crown Vic as he preferred smaller cars.  Now, when his children had moved out and it was an empty nest, what did he buy?

The original window sticker was in the glovebox of the Ford when he bought it.  Looking at it I was amazed the only option on this car was the zero cost front license plate bracket.  It was well equipped in basic form, quite the stretch from the days of his zero option Falcon.

One of my parents retirement goals was to travel and this car was driven all over the United States.  It made numerous trips from their house in Southern Illinois to Blacksburg, Virginia, while my sister was working on her Master’s degree.  One of those trips included my wife and I shortly after we married; for that trip its 4.6 liter V8 averaged a shade over 25 mpg.  My father told me  they squeezed nearly 29 mpg out of it on another trip.  That’s not too shabby for an eight-cylinder, 4,000 pound car.

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1998 Dodge Ram 1500

In 1998 my father traded off his ’84 F-150 when it had 55,000 miles.  Strangely, several dealers did not want to entertain taking a low mileage fourteen year old pickup on trade.

The replacement for the Ford was a new Dodge Ram 1500; with a 5.9 liter V8, an automatic transmission, an 8′ bed, and an abundance of power accessories, it was a vast departure from his previous two pickups.  Pulling a car trailer with this pickup, after having done so in the ’84 F-150, was a revelation that a half-ton pickup could pull 5,000 pounds without wheezing and dragging its tongue on the ground.  The 360 almost makes any trailer undetectable.

Soon after purchase, my father obtained a slide-in camper.  With the camper this Dodge has been to every province in Canada along with many states stretching from Alaska to Maine.

Other than an intake plenum that has reared its ugly head a few times, the Dodge has been flawless.  Even the dashboard, a known weak point in this vintage of Dodge pickup, has not cracked.  It is stored inside which undoubtedly helps.

My father still owns this Dodge and it now has about 120,000 miles.

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2000 Mercury Grand Marquis

In late 2001, the ’97 Crown Victoria had 95,000 miles and it went away for a 2000 Grand Marquis.  It was nearly the same tan as the ’97 Crown Victoria, prompting my grandparents to think my parents had not actually purchased another car.

This car was another drama and trouble free car.  It was traded with 135,000 miles sometime in 2007 or 2008.

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2007 Ford Five Hundred

My father still owns his red Five Hundred but likely won’t for much longer.

Its 3.0 V6 is rated at two hundred horsepower, but the cars weight does burden the engine considerably and hills will cause it to downshift from sixth all the way down to third gear.  Sweetening the deal is this Five Hundred is thirstier than both the V8 powered 2000 Mercury and 1997 Crown Victoria that preceded it.

The comfort is decent but it does seem to have excessive noise.  The air conditioner ceased working at capacity this past summer and it recently spent several days at the repair shop to replace faulty exhaust manifold gaskets.  With about 125,000 miles at this writing, his Five Hundred has not been anything to brag about.

My father is obviously a dyed-in-the-wool Ford and Chrysler man.  In a recent discussion on what to buy next he admitted to being intrigued with little from either company.  He wants to stick with American made, although he has not kept abreast on how that has evolved over time.  He was surprised to learn my Volkswagen was built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, further muddying his concept of American made.

I’m curious to see what transpires.

(Author’s Note:  Sadly, I do not have pictures of any of my father’s cars; these pictures were culled from various sites.)