My 1963 Ford Galaxie 500, Part 1

(Author’s Note:  In case you were suspicious, my name really isn’t Jack Lord.  Jason is my given name; my surname is of German origin and has an Americanized spelling.  Googling my name reveals a whole host of folks having dubious accomplishments with whom I do not care to be confused, so “Jack Lord” is sticking around for now.)

When pondering the creation of this article, I debated whether it was more of an “Autobiography” or if it would be a better fit under the “Cars of a Lifetime” heading.

Likely the quandary is irrelevant.  This 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 has had the same last name on the title since about 1964, almost nine years longer than I’ve been around.  The Old Gal certainly has stamina, given its life.

In 1963, Ford was marketing their full-size cars as able to fulfill many varied and diverse needs.  Depending upon what advertisement, book, or experience one has, you could option a new full-size Ford in any configuration from stripped down six-cylinder fleet vehicle to a snazzy powerhouse convertible with 427 cubic inches of thrill awaiting under your right foot.  For many this could likely be viewed as the halcyon days of vehicle optioning, as the a la carte method gave you exactly what you wanted with none of the fluff you didn’t.

Sometime in 1964 or 1965, nobody still alive knows for sure, my great-uncle Donald purchased his 1963 Ford Galaxie 500.  For most of the time Donald owned this Galaxie, he worked it.  He constantly was calling upon it to perform all manners of tasks.  It was the family hauler.  It pulled a trailer.  And, briefly, when he served as a town marshal, he used it as his patrol car.

In the fall of 1986, I had just turned 14 and was planning ahead for the magical and wonderful day when the State of Illinois would grant me a driver’s license.  At the time my parents owned a gray 1983 Plymouth Reliant, a gray and red 1984 Ford F-150, and a white 1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria.  Knowing the teenage adventures awaiting me would most likely involve the ’83 Reliant, I sought something with a bit more, uh, charisma.  Okay, I really mean engine.

My Uncle Donald and his wife Bobbye lived in our small town of 450 people.  She ran the small grocery store and video rental they owned.  For the years prior to Donald’s death in 1985, he had been driving a tan and brown early 1970’s GMC pickup.  With what he did, and Bobbye working long hours at the store, the Galaxie was used little, if at all.

At about the same time my ingenious idea of acquiring the Old Gal was hatched I learned my father was thinking similarly.  It took another great-uncle, Stan, a bachelor brother to Donald and my grandfather, to start laying the groundwork with Bobbye.  Stan was as gloriously uncomplex as people come, yet he certainly knew how to navigate the intricacies of family politics.

One night in December 1986, Bobbye called my father.  She was looking to sell the Galaxie.  They agreed upon a price of $200.  She was happy it was going to a good home.  Dad was happy to have something of his uncle’s.  I was happy, period.

The day after Christmas, Stan, my father, and I went to fetch the Galaxie and take her to her new home.  It was about a mile to get there.  The Old Gal had not moved under her own power in some time, so we decided to pull her back with Dad’s old Ford tractor while Stan steered the Galaxie.  Amazingly, I, without a hint of a driver’s license, was elected to drive the pickup back.  Even more amazingly the dry rotted tires on the Galaxie were still holding air.

Close inspection of the Old Gal revealed much.  The interior was in poor shape.  She had only 73,000 miles.  She had a physically large V8 (this was pre-internet, so I didn’t know what size yet).  Hooked to the V8 was a 3 speed manual transmission with overdrive.  She had no power steering, power brakes, or air conditioning.  And her being a 4 door sedan mattered not a bit.

My Uncle Stan warned me before the chain was ever hooked to the Galaxie: “Jason, if you ever drive this car, be careful.  It runs like a scalded dog”.  While I’m still trying to figure the dog thing out, the advice has lingered in my head.

Over the next few months, while my father and I refreshed the car, I was also hearing more stories about the Old Gal.

There was a dent in the front bumper and directly above it on the hood.  Donald’s house was at the top of a slight hill.  It seems one fateful night the Old Gal popped out of gear, or was left in neutral, and rolled down the hill, through some brush, and right into the corner post of the neighbor’s pigpen.

I found a little dog hair in the back seat.  When Donald was a town marshal, he kept a german shepherd with him just in case.

The ashtrays were full of Donald’s, and other’s, cigarette butts.

Donald had a habit of chasing speeders.  In the part of the county where Donald lived at the time, the Galaxie had earned the reputation as being able to catch anything, which is remarkable for her possessing the mid-range 352 cubic inch (5.8 liter) V8. Only once was Donald outran, a time his german shepherd was howling for mercy due to their going so fast.  (As a side note, Donald always carried a long chrome handled flashlight.  When I was about five, I asked him how it had so many dents.  Uncle Stan, a frequent companion to Donald, said the dents came from “some punk’s head”.)

This Galaxie is also the car Donald used on October 30, 1966, to track down my father upon my grandfather’s sudden unexpected death at age 47.  Years later, Donald told my dad he was so shaken he wasn’t paying attention to his speed.  Several miles north of town was a curve most wisely negotiated at 35 to 40 miles per hour.  Donald said the speedometer was just under 110 mph when he realized where he was, giving him barely enough time to slow down.

Donald’s son told me had had burned rubber in all three gears.

While learning all of this, my dad and I succeeded in getting the Old Gal running.  And run she did.  Ford wasn’t wrong in calling the ’63 models “Super Torque” Fords.

From what I had learned I knew I need not worry about any carbon build-up in the engine, however, my family is terminally guilty of not maintaining vehicles.   While the Old Gal ran great, there were issues with the suspension, such as ball joints, tie rods, and bushings in the rear, that prevented it from being a daily driver.

The Old Gal was driven occasionally during my time in high school and first two years of college.  It was not driven after 1992 when I moved four hours away to finish college.

As one reflects upon their life, it is very sobering to realize how quickly time passes.  The sobriety can also be mixed with some degree of angst and frustration regarding some topics when one realizes how much of the elapsed time is filled with good intentions and no action.  When looking at the time period from 1992, when the car was last driven, to 2008, I finished college, got a job, married, had a child, moved six times, and had several serious health issues.

In 2007, my largest health issue to date made me realize my copious number of good intentions with the Galaxie and how I had acted upon absolutely none of them.  The poor Old Gal was once again dormant, squirreled away in my father’s pole barn, and covered with paraphernalia my parents had bought from countless auctions.

Many miles of the road to hell had been paved with my good intentions.  It was time to fish or cut bait.

So in June 2008, when gasoline was at record highs, I fired up my trusty $400 1987 Dodge 3/4 ton pickup and headed south to retrieve the Old Gal from languishing at my parent’s house.  A buddy helped my father and me load up the poor neglected Galaxie and we headed the 220 miles back to my house.  Dad signed the title over to me with my only investment being the $180 worth of fuel the old Dodge’s four-barrel 360 V8 was able to gobble down in one day.

I was determined to set things right.  I bought a new gas tank and replaced the fuel pump.  I rebuilt the carburetor.  I changed the points, plugs, and wires.  I rebuilt the entire brake system, converting it over to having stainless steel brake lines.  I was on a roll, until…

She did not want to start.  At all.  The engine would turn over, but nothing further would happen.  Finally popping off a valve cover, my suspicion was confirmed.

I had last started the Old Gal twelve years earlier in 1997.  It ran poorly then, the blame going to five year old gasoline.  Not so this time.  The valves had stuck as evidenced by the six bent push rods with one missing in action.

Before I could rectify this, life intervened yet again.  Several large life events occurred not allowing time or resources for the Galaxie.  Upon conclusion of these, restructuring at my employer soon followed.  Now, as I write this, the Old Gal is sitting under a tarp in my garage 100 miles away from where I sit writing this waiting for my house to sell.

This story is still being made.  The Old Gal is yearning for another day in the sun.  She wants her picture taken in front of the Ford factory in St. Louis where she was built.  She wants to drive on Route 66.  She wants her paint buffed and her ashtrays emptied of those blasted cigarette butts.  She doesn’t yet know about the plan I have devised and to be executed upon the sale of my house.

One upside to my lack of action is that I still have my first car.  How many people older than 25 or so can still say that?

So stay tuned for Part 2 of this saga….