In his heavily anthologized short story titled “The Swimmer,” John Cheever wrote that his drunken protagonist Neddy Merrill’s “life was not confining.” Fortunately for me, that’s all I have in common with old Ned; however, this one similarity has led to my having few regrets, one being that my maternal grandfather died two days before my high school graduation in 1995. Therefore, my memories of him are refracted through the lens of a moody teenage boy rather than an adult who could really appreciate having him around. His story lives on, however, through narratives told by my parents and the artifacts he left behind, such as his old watches that I still wear regularly. One tale involves my sweet-talking father’s turning him into a Ford man.
Grandpa Vic had an interesting childhood. His mother and father divorced when he was fairly young, and he often was shuttled out to New York to live with his aunt and uncle. There, he was able to visit the 1939/40 New York World’s Fair and other sites on the eastern seaboard. Later, he joined the Navy during World War II and spent time…somewhere on a ship. He never talked about his experiences aside from mentioning being wet and frozen one night with a future lifelong Navy buddy rolling on waves I wouldn’t believe.
His father, my great grandpa (also named Victor), remarried a woman 20 years his junior in Indiana before dying in the street of a heart attack at 41 years of age in 1949. He was baptized just before his death by a kindly police officer before being delivered back home for burial. A crack representative of the local cemetery managed to sell my 22-year-old grandpa, who already had four kids, eight burial plots. Although one could argue that this gentleman took advantage of Victor at a stressful point in his young life, he in essence ensured that I would have an eternal home near my parents, grandparents, and Great-Grandpa Vic.
The year after Great Grandpa passed away, my mom, the youngest of Grandpa’s kids, was born. She met my dad when she was fifteen and married him after they graduated from college. Grandpa and his son-in-law were, on the surface, little alike. Grandpa was an imposing six-feet-four inches tall with a temper to match. My dad is a charming five-foot-seven wearing shoes. Both are the two loudest men I’ve ever met. My grandpa would whistle in his house with the windows and doors closed, and I could hear him a block away. I often have to tell my dad to whisper in restaurants.
I stand in between at six-feet even, and I’m the third loudest man I’ve ever met. I’ve inherited a little of the temper and a little of the charm, but both are dulled somewhat by a personality that prompted one of my coworkers to ask me, with sincerity, if I was a nihilist.
My grandpa adored my dad and trusted him more than he trusted anyone; after all, Dad is a charmer. One of his bosses once wrote that my dad could charm a bird out of a tree, although I don’t know why one would want to do that. Regardless, we all grew up in the same city, a city that is home to a Chevrolet (now GM Powertrain) plant. Therefore, like many residents, my grandpa was always a GM guy.
He drove Bel Airs, Impalas, and Catalinas mostly, trading them in regularly, his job as a newspaper ad salesman apparently affording him the wherewithal to do so. In 1968 or 1969, for some reason, Grandpa decided to buy a Buick Skylark. After driving it for three weeks and finding it cramped and sluggish, he took it back to the dealer to trade it in on a LeSabre.
The dealer apparently balked, protesting that my grandpa would take a bath on the trade in. Vic, his temper certainly not getting the better of him, drove the Skylark straight on down to the Ford dealer and traded it in on a new green 1969 XL two-door hardtop with a black vinyl top (390-powered, according to my dad).
My dad, pictured above, had certainly more than a little to do with this. After all, to date, he’s owned seven Mustangs, two Escapes, three Thunderbirds, a Pinto, a Gran Torino Elite, and a Galaxie convertible. His Bronco Sport is scheduled to be built this week. He’s owned exactly two cars that weren’t Fords: one was given to him by his parents and one was a mistake (as he might say).
Grandpa’s life with Fords was, on the other hand, comparatively short-lived. Unfortunately for my dad and his plans to indoctrinate another family member into the Church of the Blue Oval, Grandpa’s string of Fords, in addition to his XL, merely included a couple LTDs and a Pinto Wagon, of all things, during the energy crisis. Early ’70s Fords, as you may have heard, had a teensy problem with early-onset rust in salty climes such as our own, and I remember my grandpa having little good to say about any of them. Needless to say, by the time I rode next to him on the front seat, he was retired due to a heart attack of his own in his forties, and he rolled in a ’77 LeSabre similar to the one pictured above. Looks like he got that LeSabre after all, eight years later.
Of my grandpa’s short dalliance with Fords, my favorite (excepting my Mustang) was the ’69. Therefore, when I saw this LTD at the 2016 Motor Muster in Dearborn, I took several pictures. To be honest, I hadn’t seen any pictures of Grandpa’s car since I looked through his old slides after he passed away, and my memory failed me in thinking his XL was actually an LTD. Either way, the 1969 LTD was quite handsome; I certainly prefer it to the 1971 and 1972 LTDs he would later own.
The vinyl-covered hardtop roof was LTD specific, and Ford sold a lot of this model in 1969. The standard engine was the 302, but one could order engines as large as a 429 (two or four barrel).
The 1969 model year introduced this “flight cockpit” instrument panel that gave passengers very little to do, which may be for the better.
As you can see, it’s pretty plain over there on the passenger side.
Even from the rear, the ’69 LTD looks good; I can see why my grandpa switched to Ford this year. Owning both Fords and Buicks, I don’t play favorites, but the Ford is, in my opinion, as attractive as a big Buick for 1969.
It’s no breakthrough to say that loving cars sometimes transcends a mere love of machinery, though that is enough for me most of the time. Seeing a ’69 LTD sitting around in my photo files makes me wish that Grandpa Vic would have lived long enough for us to make fun of stuff together. Sure, he introduced me to coffee when I was a nervous, jittery eight year old and taught me that people with large vocabularies can still use curse words with merry abandon. He listened to Motley Crue when he was in his sixties and yelled at people with that booming voice from his moving car when they drove like idiots (imagining the Doppler effect makes me laugh every time). But I don’t think I was quite ready for him yet. He certainly disparaged Fords often enough for me to remember it, although my mom says that he would have loved my ’63 T-Bird (He always wanted a T-Bird but thought they were too expensive.). Needless to say, he’s left me with his general attitude about what other people think; in other words, he’d be sorely disappointed if I gave a crap what he thought of it. I miss you, Vic!