COAL: 1978 Mercury Zephyr Z-7 – My First COAL

(note: the cars in this COAL series have not been in chronological order. ED)      My first car.  A friend saw this car for sale in a nearby trailer park.  He noted that the price was very, very low.  Like high school student-low.  So after school, we got on our motorcycles and went to have a look.  We found a two-tone, tan and yellow 1978 Mercury Zephyr Z-7.  It was a 302/automatic car with a yellow interior and yellow vinyl seats.  At the time, it was only seven years old, but it was rusty.  The seller was honest and mentioned a coolant leak, I’d have to add water to get it home. I was elated, excited.  Giddy about buying my first car!

Ford’s new for 1978 Fairmont had a corporate cousin, the Mercury Zephyr.  Also based on the Fairmont was the Futura.  The Ford Futura and the Z-7 were very similar.  Both were two door coupes with the unique “basket-handle” roofline.

This chassis, code-named “Fox” would undergird many Ford products for the next couple of decades.  The Fox bodies included the Granada, the LTD/Marquis, the Thunderbird/Cougar, the Continental, the Mustang/Capri, and the Mark VII.  Remember that some of these models were refreshed or even redesigned yet still used this same Fox chassis.  For example, the Fox Mustang ran from 79-93, but the new for ’94 Mustang still used a Fox chassis, albeit a modified one.  This iteration ran through MY 2004. Think about that for a moment, 1979 through 2004 is a quarter century!

This chassis supported luxury cars, station wagons, bland sedans, and hot Mustangs.  Words like prolific and ubiquitous come to mind.  Of course, I did not know any of this as a fifteen year-old, I was just excited to own my first car.

Besides the coolant leak, there were some other problems.  One problem was that I was fifteen years old.  I was legally not old enough to drive without an adult with me.  Never mind that the Z-7 was not tagged or insured.   I never even thought of the third problem because I was so concerned with those other two problems.  and it was this third problem which would prove to be insurmountable.

My mother and step-father had finished having their dream home built and we had recently moved in.  It was in a fairly ritzy neighborhood, so of course, there were deed restrictions.  If I remember correctly, my mother even served on one of the HOA boards.  At any rate, a crappy car leaving a rusty trail of hot water down the street leading to our house was out of the question.  And it had no license plate to boot.  “Can’t I just put it in the garage?” I pleaded.  “No.”  “Your mother’s car, and mine belong in the garage.”  My step-father’s decision was final.

I sat on the front porch, staring at the car and just wept.  My mother made me return it, as if it were a lost dog or something.  There was a glimmer of hope when the guy in the trailer said he had already spent the money.  But my mother said to him “Take it back for free.” The guy got mad.  After a lot of raised voices and even law enforcement being summoned, the Z-7 went back to our fancy neighborhood for one more night.  Apparently, you cannot give someone a car if they don’t want it.  Lost in all this, was the fact that all of them were allowing me to drive illegally.  I had only driven a car one time before this debacle.

And I drove it to the junk yard the following day.  I lost most of my money and learned that trying to haggle with the owner of a junkyard gets one nowhere.

The irony in all this is that my stepfather felt bad about the incident and soon after wanted help me look for a car.  I had spent my savings on the Z-7 so I was nearly broke, but he kept encouraging me to look anyway.  About a month before I turned sixteen they helped me buy a 1974 Coupe DeVille.  They even pitched in so I could be legal, with insurance and registration as a birthday present.

From their point-of-view, that Cadillac was my first car.  But not for me, I always thought of the Caddy as my second car.