(first published in 2007, revised 12/09/2019. Since I had some memorable wheel time behind a 1971 Mustang HO351 four speed as a seventeen year-old, I thought this might provide a bit of additional commentary to this morning’s Vintage Review)
Having paid penance for my illicit driving, at seventeen I finally joined the ranks of legally sanctioned drivers. I could have taught the drivers ed class by then, including certain advanced techniques well outside the usual curriculum. Speaking of which, as part of this rite of passage, I finally retired the implements I’d used for hot-wiring the family Dodges. And it occurred to me: now that I was legal, why not get a job where I could indulge my love of driving and actually get paid for the pleasure?
I decided that the place to get paid to drive new cars must be at a car dealer. So I walked down to York Road, where the Chevy and Ford stores were. Since I was a Chevy man, I turned left, towards Towson Ford. I figured here was my chance to act out my anti-Ford bias. I walked in the door, and bingo; I was suddenly what’s known in the biz as a “car jockey.” My daily after-school job: shuttle the dealer’s cars to and from various storage lots, to the body shop, and back to mother showroom as well as the occasional new car delivery. On a slow day, I might actually have to help apply a quick polish to sold cars about to be picked up. The scope for unauthorized but paid amusement was only limited by the scope of my imagination and what very little self-restraint a seventeen year-old hoon has.
My first and overarching rule when ferrying brand new Fords was to religiously adhere to the factory’s engine break-in guidelines. Well, only one part, actually. I took Ford’s admonishment to “avoid driving at a steady speed” straight to heart.
In my defense, throttle stomping and brake mashing served an important quality control function. Factory fresh or no, Ford’s “Total Performance” 1971 models rarely ran properly off the truck. Remember: these were the UAW’s and Detroit’s glory years. If the manufacturer could get a vehicle on a transporter under its own power, it was good enough.
In fact, the dealer employed a full-time mechanic in the new car prep department (of which I was a member) to tune-up and carefully look over every car before delivery. Yes, a complete tune-up (ignition timing, carb adjustment, etc.) on every brand new Ford! Now that was a revelation. No wonder one literally had to mash throttles to get them from the truck (the drop off point was a couple of miles away) to the assigned storage lot. Seriously, some of them ran very poorly.
Fortunately for me, all too often brand new cars needed a visit to the body shop. And to add to my good fortune, the body shop was oddly far away, and the route included a tightly-winding road along Jones Falls. Said route was often extended via other windy country roads. But my adrenal adventures were all-too-often thwarted by that notorious Ford side-wall shredding understeer: plowing LTDs through the tight curves was like shooting pool with a crooked tree branch. (’71 Ford CC here).
But! There was a certain red Mustang Mach 1 HO 351 to be dealt with. It belonged to the owner’s son, who got a new Mustang of his choice every fall, licensed as a “demonstrator” with dealer tags. He clearly demonstrated his succession of red Mustangs to many prospective co-eds at his college.
The 1971 version arrived needing some cosmetic body work, and it fell on poor little me to take it to the body shop one afternoon. I took a few long-cuts on that drive, and it was a memorable one indeed: my first time behind the wheel of a genuine American V8 muscle car.
I had driven a number of cars on these same and similar back roads, including my friend’s Datsun 510, my brother’s decrepit MGA, and my father’s ’68 Dart, among others. I had a frame of reference, set by mostly compact and lithe cars. The Mustang crashed right through that frame.
It was a four-speed, and that Cleveland HO 351 motor ran decidedly unlike any other new ’71 Ford I’d been exposed too. It rumbled from its two big pipes when I started it up. I eased out of the lot and to the curb. I had to make a left across two busy lanes of York Road. When I saw a hole in the traffic, I gave it way too much gas and dumped the clutch. My first drag strip start. The inside rear wheel lit up and laid a long black stripe as I crossed the two lanes of traffic to head north. I sincerely hoped the owner wasn’t in the store just then. Actually, he almost never was; probably out at the golf course.
This was not the ideal car to experience a high performance V8 for the first time; well, at least on this particular route. The seating position was cramped, and I felt like I was sitting in a mini-sub, with outward visibility restricted to the periscope. It was impossible to know where the ends of the Mustang actually were.
Surprisingly, the wild stallion had serious understeer…except when it had oversteer. It vacillated between the two depending on how much throttle I was giving it, or stomping on the brakes approaching a tight curve way too fast. And it bounced and bucked and crashed over the endless bumps, waves and crests on the narrow, twisty country road. There was shockingly little suspension travel.
My explorations of its various capabilities and vices almost ended us in the ditch at least once. I quickly learned that the throttle can help steer a powerful car like the Mach 1, but I also learned it takes a bit of finesse to make that happen in the intended direction. Actually, I learned that a bit too late; there was really very little finesse to be observed on that drive. But I made mental notes; next time…
A few weeks later when I showed up for work, a red 1970 Mach 1 was in the prep bay. Odd; a used car in the new car prep bay? Turns out this had been the owner’s son’s previous annual Mustang, which had just completed a hard year and had racked up lots of miles. I remembered it having been sold a few weeks back.
A good-sized electric motor was humming away on the front seat floor, with a flex cable attached to it on one end and the other end snaking up under the dashboard. My boss explained that the Mustang’s new owner became suspicious about his new “demonstrator” when he discovered numerous signs of wear and abuse, despite the negligible mileage on the odometer. He decided to do a little due diligence, and came to the obvious conclusion that the odometer had been rolled way back. Now the electric motor was running in the reverse direction it usually ran in, replacing the many missing thousands of hard miles. Caught red-handed.
Surprisingly, a bare-bones 1971 Pinto could be very entertaining to drive, especially on those same roads that had sent the Mustang into delirium tremens. The Pinto’s underpinnings were heavily based on the European Ford Cortina, with a goofy body on top. Equipped with the rev-happy German 2.0-liter SOHC engine, the UK-sourced slick four-speed and light and accurate rack and pinion steering, it was light, squirtable and tossable. This was genuinely fun; the Mustang was more like terrifying.
Smog controls, five mph bumpers, slush-boxes and dead power steering quickly turned the Pinto into another mid-70’s joke.
The Maverick – that recycled old Falcon disguised in bell-bottoms – now that was the punchline. With its feeble six and the typical slush-box, throttle stomping was a given. Taking delivery of a plain-Jane coupe from the transporter one day, I got in and as usual, floored it. One of the skinny little tires went up in a cloud of smoke. Whoa!
A look under the hood revealed a surprise: a 302 V8. Even I, the supreme auto know-it-all, was caught off guard; the V8 option hadn’t actually been announced yet in the magazines (I read about it a week or so later). It took me totally by surprise; I thought maybe it was just an assembly-line mistake, an extreme example of a Monday or Friday car – Hey guys; let’s throw a V8 into this one and see if anyone down the line notices. Oddly, it didn’t sell and sat around for months. I took it on myself to keep it exercised.
On slow days I burned time (and tires) pulling donuts in a distant parking lot. Ironically, an old lady eventually bought it, oblivious to the chewed-up rear tires. Or maybe she didn’t care.
I drove the full range of Fords that year, including trucks, as in pickups and vans. But one day I noticed a big red F-600 cab-chassis when I came to work after school. A salesman walked in and asked if anyone knew how to drive a truck. Without hesitation, I said Yes! The cab looked just like an F-100. How hard could it be?
The salesman imparted his minimalist directions: “follow me”. I had no idea where we were going or what I was doing. Man, everything sure looked small from way up there. I found the first of ten gears (a five speed and two speed axle), and released the heavy clutch as I pulled into York Road again, but no rubber peeled this time. The first order of business: keep the big rig in my lane while sorting out the gears. Once I figured out how to stop locking the unloaded rear wheels with the grabby brakes, people stopped staring at me.
The dealership was just a few blocks off the Beltway, and our route included that and the very curvy Jones Falls Expressway, which dumped us in the heart of downtown Baltimore, to where its future bed or body awaited it at an industrial building. I sweated bullets keeping up with him. I had no idea where we were supposed to be going. Just stay on his ’71 LTD tail, but don’t compress it. It was another righteous, riotous rite of passage.
For a while, I also worked as a car jockey in the service department. My oddest encounter was a customer’s plushed-out ’69 LTD sedan. It had the optional 390 V8, but a three-on-the-tree column-shift(!), and manual steering(!!) and un-assisted drum brakes(!!!). I thought for sure he was in for a new power steering pump. The burly owner obviously wasn’t thinking about resale value when he custom-ordered it. It was all I could do to get it up the narrow ramp with two very tight turns to the roof-top parking lot, built in the 1920s or so for Model A’s.
Well, I had always assumed he must have put in a special order for it. Turns out that in 1968, Ford de-contented the LTD, and the automatic and power steering were optional. The proof is in these snips from the ’69 brochure. But he still must have ordered it, since no dealer would ever have taken delivery of one equipped like that. When I brought it back down to the customer at the end of the day, he unsurprisingly looked like the stereotype of a retired Marine drill Sargent. That explains it…
A metallic-brown ‘70 LTD two-door hardtop was my repeated summer ride, though not exactly through legitimate means. The service department kept a couple of year-old loaners. I pocketed the key before I left work on Friday afternoon, grabbed a Coke next door, and came back for it after everyone was gone.
I unhooked the speedometer cable (I was an expert by then), and took it home for the night or the weekend. My boss was always happy to see me at work in the morning early, before he or anyone else arrived. He knew a highly motivated employee when he saw one.
I spent that summer cruising around and hunting skinny-dipping swimming holes with three girls from my neighborhood. The four of us always sat up front, across that wide front bench seat. Ford’s designers must have had us in mind when they made the LTD so wide.
Summer fun gave way to winter bleakness. I still worked at the Ford dealer after school. The problem was that I didn’t go to school very often. Baltimore had (finally) cultivated a hip street scene that was much more compelling than algebra. I spent fewer days at school than hanging out down on Read Street or at the Pratt library reading endless Popular Mechanix from the 1940s. .
I wasn’t going to graduate that spring anyway, having skipped so many classes, so one February morning shortly after my eighteenth birthday I walked down to Towson Ford, picked up my paycheck, put on my backpack, and walked that same quarter mile to the Beltway that I had driven ’71 Fords so many times, and hitchhiked west– without a goodbye to anyone. Not exactly a shining moment. And no axe for me; I’m not convinced it helps.
I had briefly entertained the thought of grabbing some keys from the cabinet, to my pick of the back lot at Towson Ford. And of all the cars in the storage lots, what would that car have been had I acted on it? A Mustang Mach1? No way. It would have been for a certain Econoline van with the six and three-speed manual that I’d eyed out in the back lot; my first camper van. Good thing I didn’t, in retrospect.
I had no particular destination; just to get away. Like lots of kids then, I was California dreamin’ on a winter’s day. It would take a year before I finally got there.
My adolescence sure was boring.
Call me a total nerd, but out of all the poser Falcons (Mustang, Maverick, Granada) My favorite would be a lightly optioned 302 equipped Maverick Sedan (71 or 72). I always loved the “groovy” bodywork and always thought they looked lighter and jauntier than a comparable Nova. Although the Nova probably handled better and felt more solid. It looks more carefree. And there’s still an equal number of those to early 70s Novas and Valiants plying Berkeley streets, so they couldn’t have been the most atrocious cars of the era.
I always liked the Maverick Grabber. They got the Mustangs high impact colors and a couple of hood scoops. Made a nice package. It actually looked a lot like a scaled down Mustang.
We got Vals here great old cars especially when the hemi6 was introduced those haul arse but rust pretty quik I had a 265 cube regal with 302 Ford carb and tow pack heavy duty suspesion and 727 trans with a 15ft caravan you only knew it was there coz of the extra fuel stops. Your education sounds like mine Paul it went better away from school aso leaving wasnt a biggie.
A 69 LTD with a 390 and a column 3 speed: I want that car!
As for the Mavericks, I liked them well enough. But I never understood why Ford made it without a glovebox. Was it cost cutting or trying to be european like the Cortina?
It’s a good thing you have your 71 Ford memories because most of them reverted to ore years ago.
The decontenting of the LTD started in 1968, with reversion to 3-on-the-tree and a downgrading of the interior trim. Power steering was never standard until 1972, when it was on all big Fords regardless of series, along with automatic. Power Disc brakes,did however, become an LTD standard in 1970.
These 3-on-the-tree LTDs do turn up from time to time, once in an early 90s Hemmings
I had and another on E-Bay a few years ago. I just shake my head every time I hear of it.
Driving techniques while in my 20’s seem similar to yours.
I recall renting cars on sales trips and keeping my right foot firmly planted when not braking. Also to find empty lots, preferably with a few puddles, to do doughnuts…ahh youth.
With regard to the Maverick’s, a friend had one and she wouldn’t use the air conditioner because all the power would be robbed from the engine; probably the 6.
(I am reluctant to even mention this but I respectfully request you leave the UAW sniping to Jr. and associates over at TTAC, who seem more interested in increasing page views rather than discussing cars.)
It’s not sniping. I don’t think anyone can deny that the management-labor atmosphere, and quality control were at a low point then, right? I have no desire for finger-pointing, but things were what they were, and not always so good at that time.
I remember my dad talking about the day he bought his 71 Mach 1. Thirty miles from the dealership the thing died. The distributor was never snugged all the way. He had a few horror stories about that car.
Apparently Ford’s Total Performance only applied if you were travelling in a straight line.
I was an apprentice at a Lincoln/Mercury body shop back in the early 90s. They were a bit more tight fisted with the keys at that time and the cars were even less exciting but we still found ways to have fun.
Brought back some good memories!
Ah, Paul…you were fortunate in being able to make so much out of your “wasted youth.”
I, too, engaged in the waste…but I landed butter-side down. If it sounds like envy and sour grapes, that’s only because it is…
To your cars, though. I’m that rarity that occasionally pops up: A Pinto fancier. Now, I agree with your assessment that once the emissions and bumpers and marketing people were finished with it, the final Pinto was a nose-heavy, dead-steering, styling-clash mess. But in original inception, with the Cologne four and a manual box, and styling that, if not practical, was in fact damned attractive for the time (and looks good even now)…it was quite the package for an entry-level car.
The manual steering, before that chromed railroad tie got bolted to the front…was moderate in effort, tight and quick. The four-speed gearbox had, when new and if cared for over the car’s life…tight, neatly-snicking throws. The brakes took high effort – but sitting on the floor, the driver was in perfect position to stomp on them.
The engine…depended on which you got. I favored the 2.0…had two of them. Had another Pinto with the Lima 2.3; and everything right with the Cologne engine was wrong with the Lima. Never drove the V6 or the Kent engine…my guess is, too heavy and too small respectively.
But give a little respect where respect is due. Compared to the bland, corporate, corners-cut Vega, the Pinto had character…and at least it didn’t rust as fast as its competitors.
For a Ford, that’s really saying something.
My (Pinto) sentiments exactly. Have you checked out our Pinto CC?
Actually, I’m just now checking it out.
The Web’s a great thing when ya want to waste time in great chunks…
My sentiments too, my first new car was a ’72. I wanted a Corolla SR-5, but my WW II vet dad was paying half and made me Buy American. I liked that Cologne engine, 4-speed and quick handling. I think it’s good looking too. Trouble is, the whole damned car was put together with sheet metal screws. Rust holes showed up as soon as it was paid for.
Yah but it EXPLODED when rear ended NO THANKS
I had a similar job back in the early 80’s at a combination Ford/AMC dealer. I worked in Parts and Service and had to shuttle cars to and from the service and wash bays. I did some PDI’s and light mechanical work when we were slow. But at that time, we were in the high malaise era, only the occasional older car from the 60’s or early 70’s had any kind of balls. And since we were a small outfit and fairly self-contained, it was hard to pull off much hooning. I remember getting into a 1979 Mustang with the 302 V8, dropping it into 1st gear and stomping on the gas, only to hear the whole exhaust system ‘honk’ (more like wheeze) and got the right rear tire to spin about twice. The turbo Mustangs were a bit more fun to drive, but hard to do burn outs with because it was tough to judge when you’d come on to boost; even then you got two or three spins of the tires.
But by the the time the next semester started, I had gotten a job loading trucks, the union wages I was making then far outpaced the often boring and dirty job of working the parts and service department. I made enough to dump my 1969 Torino for a nice (leftover) 1980 Mercury Capri RS Turbo
Anyone remember the televison commerical in ’72 where Ford pitted an LTD Brougham against a Jaguar XJ6? They were comapring features. This campagin was not as bold as the mid-70’s comparo between a Ford Granada and a Mercedes.
I do remember “piloting” (more like in the literal nautical sense) my Aunt’s ’74 LTD Country Squire wagon round about the mid-70s when I got my driver’s license. I do remember the 400 2-bbl did have some decent launch (the torque), but other than that, the dull for the time Ford power steering was only fractionally better than the car she eventually traded the Country Squire for – a ’78 Plymouth Fury wagon.
The first pic in this installment made me dig out my Gone in 60 dvd. That’s the type of car flick you’ll never see again.
Your mentioning of hotwiring Dodges recalls one summer in college when I was in charge of the motor pool of cars for a university-sponsored health project out in the boonies. I had a fleet of ten or so four-door sedans…Fords and Plymouths.
One Friday, one of the drivers got a ride home for the weekend, pocketing the keys to a Plymouth. I needed the car, couldn’t just leave it at the farm labor camp because I had people to get back to our lodgings 35 miles away. This was a 1968 Plymouth so its ignition was on the dash. From prior knowledge as a Mopar owner I reached up under the dash, removed the plug from the back of the ignition switch, and hotwired the car with a paper clip, jumpering the starter connection with another one. i told the driver to take the car, pull out the paper clip after getting back, and lock the doors (i knew I could get in with a screwdriver on the vent wing latch).
I had my choice of cars for weekend recreation. My favorite was a 1970 Plymouth Belvedere with a 318 V8. It was quick, beyond all expectation for a 318 in a midsize sedan, and it got quicker with a few more degrees spark advance dialed up in the oarking lot using the BGBG method…By Guess, By Golly. There was just something right about the way that car had been built and set up.
100% true and unenhanced? The skinny-dipping thing gave me a faint deja-vu, perhaps from a previous April 1st story?
[That said, it was another fascinating read, and my adolescence **was** incredibly boring by comparison.]
99.99% true. The only part that wasn’t quite as written was how I got the job at Towson Ford. I think I went to the state employment office and read about it there, or something like that. I didn’t just walk in and get it.
And maybe I didn’t spend as much time pulling donuts on the back lot as was implied. I did, once or twice, but it does tend to attract attention, even if that lot was down the street a ways.
I have mixed feelings about running these again. When I first wrote them in 2007, I felt a strong urge to write these down, including all the crazy stuff I did, perhaps because of it. But I’m feeling rather differently now about it, because my younger son rather takes after me in some ways, but his impulsiveness and recklessness has led him into a very difficult and dangerous place. I’m now more embarrassed about all my foolish impulsiveness than wanting to show it off.
Nothing like your kids to help shine a new light on your own past. And use it against you…”Dad; you didn’t go to school….; you did all that crazy shit….”
But then I refuse to lie about my past either. It is what it is, but I’m not trying to glorify it, although I’m afraid it sometimes comes off that way. which is why I almost didn’t run this today.
And I’m certainly not enhancing it. It was crazy enough as it was.If anything, I’m now inclined to sanitize them 🙂
Thanks, Paul–that was way more reflection from you than I deserved for my query, but *big* thanks all the same. I can see how you might think twice about “full disclosure” from a parent’s point of view, too.
While I’m at it: continued praise for the CC site, which I eagerly look forward to every day (while I hardly ever check in at BAT any more). Being your age, I can really see the early 1970s through a similar lens; hard to imagine what it seems like to your younger readers…
As a 4 th year apprentice mechanic, I was doing the PD (pre delivery inspections) at
North Pine Motors- my local Holden dealer.
Naturally that involved test drives……….. memories of taking someones brand new Commodore SLE up to 200 Km, hand brake turns on the dirt, taking the 4 x 4s through creeks, & up the banks.
And we were always pleased to get an AC equiped car to test in summer!
Hours of fun. Thanks for the reminder, I hadn’t thought of it in years.
In 1986 I staring working part time as a car jockey for a Dodge-Chrysler dealer.
Every car we had with a turbo motor seen redline at least once before the new owner took delivery.
Reading your story brought back a lot of memories of my days of a jockey/apprentice.
30 years later I am not the parts manager at an Acura dealer and still enjoy taking a new car out for a “leasurely” cruse.
For now, I only dream of a part-time job like this. In 2018, Slovakia, at the ripe age of 18 and a year before my high school graduation, it is not easy to be found. Maybe the car dealers don’t need that kind of people no more, or maybe my search is too weak 🙂
However, I tried to get a job like this two years ago, in a used car lot owned by my classmate’s parents. Since I haven’t had a driver’s license yet, I was rejected.
Now I’m searching for a job that has something to do with cars. Being a delivery driver sounds quite appealing to me, as a part-time or summer job. Maybe I will get annoyed by it, but it can’t be judged properly without a try.
But on the article. I liked it even before, with the old ending. The idea of freeing up one’s mind and receive the road’s calling is a very pleasant idea. I’m sure it would be memorable. Being now roughly the same age as you were back then (18), I’m imagining myself living the described lifestyle. Dreaming is where it always begins 🙂
70s cars fresh from the GMNZ assembly plant ran well enough to get onto a transporter or rail wagon not much more they needed fettling once they reached the dealership so its not just a Ford thing, I had the job of cleaning off the protective coating applied to Vauxhalls and Holdens, a miserable task while a mechanic made sure the car was fit for customer delivery. Damage from rail journeys was common and repairs had to be done by a local panelbeater also vinyl tops were dealer fitted accessories here not factory fitments so that meant driving cars to said panel shop.
Having grown up in Harford County MD, and beginning driving in the early 90’s, I miss the winding roads of North Baltimore County and Jones Falls! I considered pretty much the entire countryside from York PA to Baltimore City as one giant high speed playground, usually in the deep hours of night.
American cars were the best in the world until the first Mustang’s success showed Detroit that there was no point in pursuing excellence. It wasn’t just a rebodied old compact sedan. It was a rebody of the least interesting old compact sedan. Meanwhile, Ralph Nader was promoting himself by flagellating GM for building a compact that handled like many small European sedans.
It is true that GM saved money on the Corvair in the wrong place, which probably seemed reasonable to people who did their driving in Michigan. Still, there were any number of other rear engine cars that had swing arm IRS without the benefits of a camber-compensator or low pivot design. Is it any wonder that the advancements and innovations of the fifties and early sixties were replaced by restylings and ‘proven’ platforms that remained in production for two decades?
I’ve made this argument before. Although Nader had an impact on Corvair sales and the decision not to develop the platform further, you’re right in that Ford’s success with the Falcon compelled GM to come up with an answer to it, which became the Chevy II.
However, I don’t necessarily agree that the Corvair had a future in any case. Even the vastly improved second-gen car wasn’t going anywhere. Just about every manufacturer that used the rear engine configuration in the 1960’s had abandoned it within a decade, usually in favor of front drive/transverse engine. Including Volkswagen, who only used it in the Vanagon. And VW had dumped swing axles long before.