Welcome to my first Cars of a Lifetime post. I truly have been blessed with a lifetime of cars (20+), and it is with pleasure that I will be sharing them with you over the coming weeks and months.
I have been a car person all my life. Chances are if you are reading this you are too. You also know that we not like other people. However, I don’t think you will find better exemplars of this than my extended family. I am of Germanic descent, and a third-generation engineer in a family full of engineers. Automobiles are in my blood. I know this sounds stereotypical, but I reassure myself that it is not a stereotype if it is true.
My family’s fixation with automobiles goes back at least as far as my great-grandfather Lawrence Halter. A well-to-do businessman and socialite in Akron, Ohio, he was already financially successful from other enterprises before opening up a car dealership in the 1910’s. He sold Haynes, Chalmers, Maxwell, and Briscoe cars, and purportedly had a large personal collection of autos. To this day, when we speak of my great-grandfather, he is remembered best not for the City Laundry that he owned for decades, but the car dealership that he only briefly owned. The picture below is taken from a book titled Men of Akron in Caricature published in 1919.
In my family, we mark time by cars. While others may look at old family photos by looking and people and fashions to discern the age, I immediately go to the cars. An encyclopedic knowledge of who owned what car when is to me the most accurate way of dating a photo. Cars form the pages of my mental calendar, and that of my family. While reminiscing about a life event such as a wedding, you are more likely to hear someone say that “That’s when you were driving a piece of crap ’66 Ford” then you will hear a comment about the actual event.
I have no doubt that there is a genetic component to this, as demonstrated by my own earliest memories. I have the fortunate privilege of (barely) remembering my dad buying his first new car, a 1971 Ford Galaxie 500. It was what they used to call triple white: White exterior, white vinyl interior (it would be decades before I knew there was such a thing as leather seats), and a white vinyl roof. He bought it for the same reason people have bought new cars since time immemorial: To have safe, reliable transportation for his growing family. It was a good start for his family, and a good start for my Cars of a Lifetime series.
For 1971, full-sized Fords were available with no fewer than seven engine choices, from the fleet special 240 Big Six all the way up to the 429 4-barrel V8. The vast majority came with the sensible but sufficient 351 Windsor V8, providing a decent balance of power and economy. This is most likely the engine that was in Dad’s Galaxie.
Surprisingly, a lot of digital ink has already been spilled about the 1971 full-sized Fords here on Curbside Classic (here, here, and here), so I don’t have a lot more to add, especially for a car I never drove. The consensus seems to be that the 1971 stylistically is not as strong as the models that preceded it, with particular scorn reserved for the “Bunkie Beak.” I however always found the Bunkie beak of this era (both here and in its application on the 70-71 Thunderbird) to be quite attractive, long before I even know what a Bunkie beak was.
The 71 Galaxie had a smart-looking stainless panel between the brake lights with some nice “Galaxie” script attached to it. However, I soon noticed that some versions of my Dad’s car had tail lights where ours made due with the aforementioned ornamental filler. These cars also said “LTD” instead of “Galaxie” (which I always viewed with embarrassment as a misspelling of the word “Galaxy”). You don’t even have to leave the Curbside Classic site to see examples of each, as I did when creating the composite image below.
I instantly grasped the automotive pecking order and the relative position of my Dad’s 71 Galaxie in this pecking order (near the bottom). This was also my first introduction to the knockout panel, broadcasting to the world the options that you were too cheap to buy.
At the time, my Dad was working at Aeroquip in Van Wert, Ohio as a plant engineer. Since this was decades before remote access and working from home, he frequently needed to stop by the plant after hours, and sometimes dragged me and my brother Andy along to give Mom a break. I didn’t mind too much, as the route to the office went past the local Lincoln-Mercury dealership. I used to stand in the back seat (no child safety seats then) to catch a glimpse of the Continentals and Mark IVs parked on the neatly terraced lot in front of a gleaming showroom. With their opera windows, hidden headlights and huge chrome grilles it obvious even to a 4-year old that I was looking at the pinnacle of the automotive pecking order. I didn’t have to ask my Dad, as no explanation was necessary.
While they may have been lacking class (and in some cases taste), there is no denying that these 70’s luxobarges had presence. I wonder if the pecking order of today’s lookalike cars is as self-evident to a 4-year old as they were to me in the early ‘70s? This would, of course, prove to be highly influential later in life, but I am jumping way ahead of myself.
Dad also had a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass that he had purchased used before buying the Galaxie. I always preferred the Galaxie, since it seemed more modern to me with its flush door handles, ventless windows and hidden wiper blades. Other than that, I don’t remember much about the Cutlass, so I won’t be writing up a separate COAL for it, but I did want to include it here since I uncovered some snazzy pictures of me and the car.
That’s it for now – stay tuned for my next COAL, where we will start covering cars that I have actual wheel time with.