To paraphrase a common saying: I am envious of those who see a Cord L-29 for the first time. One of the grand names of the Classic Age, E.L. Cord was bound to slap his own name on one of his cars of legend, and the L-29 was the first. Front-wheel-drive equipped in an era where Fords still had mechanical brakes, it’s not the mechanical specifications that strike the first-time viewer, but the styling. Imagine seeing one in traffic.
Oh yeah, I did. It was right around lunch hour in Lansing, Michigan, while I was sweating out traffic 100 miles from home in my ’63 T-Bird. What was I doing 100 miles from home?
One of my repair jobs this summer was to figure out an odd oil leak from the Thunderbird’s 390. On long freeway trips (70 mph for over an hour), I would find just a ton of oil pooled around the distributor. The engine had been rebuilt before I bought the car, and a “quirk” of the FE Ford is that the distributor mounts atop the intake manifold, unlike a small-block Ford (but much like a small-block Chevy). Once heads are milled and work is done, the distributor can become off-center to the corresponding hole in the intake manifold, causing a leak at the large o-ring used to seal it (it’s removed here so I can check the centering of the distributor).
That wasn’t likely my problem. My distributor is almost centered (not perfect, but probably close enough), but the boss for the distributor hold-down bolt is open to oil. On long trips only, it seems that oil would wick up those threads and cause a leak. Along with a new o-ring, I sealed the threads with Permatex #2 (I’m a little old school with my sealers), and after a 200-odd mile round trip at freeway speeds, I’m happy to report that the leak is gone.
To test my repair, I asked my dad along to the R.E. Olds Museum in Lansing, an annual trip for me (Let’s face it, all the museums within reasonable driving distance are an annual trip for me). On a normal day, there is a small handful of cars in the lot, but I arrived with dozens of other cars as the result of a car club tour visiting the museum at the same time we showed up. It was a little more crowded than I would like, but the parking lot was spectacular. Here are some highlights in addition to the Cord.
I love small ’60s station wagons, and one of my favorites has to be the ’65 Falcon Squire (although I’d prefer a Comet Villager). That it’s 289-powered is even better, as I imagine that many of these had the 200-cubic-inch six cylinder.
Certainly uncommon in America is this ’58 Ford Consul Convertible, which was apparently built at Carbodies, the makers of old London cabs. The distinctive top and car windows are the tell, as several British convertibles were bodied at the same firm and shared the Consul’s “upper half.”
Here’s the T-Bird, sweating nothing but cash after 90 minutes keeping up with modern traffic (and getting a terrible 12.7 miles per gallon).
Here’s another Bullet Bird, but this one is much more valuable than mine. It’s a ’62 Sports Roadster (although some people clone regular convertibles into SRs).
And another T-Bird: This one is a ’65 Special Landau (I’ve written at length about these before).
Although I’m not so personally keen on the modern Torq-Thrusts, this ’63 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon is a practical wagon for modern-day American roads, although its fuel mileage is unlikely to be much of an improvement on my gluttonous Ford.
This Ranchero (a ’71, I believe) was a nice ride for two. Like Dentside Ford trucks, pre-1977 Rancheros have been growing on me for some time now, although I’d prefer a ’73 or ’74 El Camino.
This ’54 Bel Air was the last of its kind, as 1955 ushered in one of the most revolutionary Chevrolets of the 20th century. I may save the ’62 LeSabre in the background for a closer look later on – I really liked that one.
I don’t usually get too excited about these big Eldorado convertibles, but the color is right up my alley, as are the matching wheel covers.
I went through a period about 20 years ago where I might have owned a ’48 Nash Ambassador if one had come along. In hindsight, I don’t know if it’s for me, but it still looks like a fun ride if you like that prevailing ’40s car look.
This is a ’35 Dodge. That’s all I know about it, as ’30s Chryslers take up a lot of my automotive blind spot.
This ’56 Cadillac Eldorado took up even more space in the parking lot than my T-Bird did. The ’55 Coupe DeVille is my favorite Cadillac, but the ’56 isn’t too far behind.
This very nice ’64 Riviera made me envious that I hadn’t driven my ’63 to the museum, but I got over it quickly.
Sometimes, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, and you’re surrounded by crowds of visitors at a more commonly quiet museum. On the other hand, those visitors also sometimes share a hobby with you, and it works out all right.
On the surface, driving an old car in today’s traffic doesn’t make a lot of real sense. First, they’re hot and loud to drive in the summer with the windows down, sticky vinyl exacerbating the general aura of passing semis and engine smell seeping through the firewall. (All of this is partially my fault; I’ll probably never own an old car with air conditioning that works because I like having the windows down.) On top of that, fuel mileage is, at best, mediocre and safety features are laughable.
But you drive an old car for all the same reasons that Harley riders “live to ride”; nothing else will quite do. It’s not simply nostalgia, although every time I drive my ’65 Mustang, I think back on my teens and twenties (back in the ’90s and ’00s), throwing a beach towel over the sun-baked vinyl before a three-hour drive home from wherever, all four windows open, speeding down a two-lane, tree-lined country road. Nope, it’s important not to fight your instincts too much. Though I’ll never be a Power Tour long-haul guy driving 5000 miles in a week because that’s in the itinerary, there’s little better than heading out for the day in something that time has passed by but is still somehow just right for the job. It looks like these folks all feel the same way.