I already had a replacement for the 1960 Fury: a 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL convertible that had been my father’s company car. He traded it to me for a new KLH stereo worth $400. Insider trading?By the time I had put a few years between college and working in the real world, I had amassed a considerable fortune, about $2,000, and began to think about a new car. I was growing weary of my near-perfect 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL convertible with a 390 and Cruise-O-Matic. Along with an AM radio that didn’t work. And an exhaust system that was impossible to maintain, given leaded fuel and my short commute distances.
What’s more, thanks to one of my college girlfriends (the lovely Natalie, who had certain talents that–sorry–would have to be described on a website devoted to such stuff), I was totally smitten by front-wheel-drive (and certain of her more engaging talents).
Nat’s father owned a ’66 Saab 850 Monte Carlo, which she drove to my aunt and uncle’s house in western Illinois during a Christmas vacation. There was plenty of snow, and the temperature hovered around 0º (cold as hell in Celsius as well). The Saab had no problem with the snow, but it resolutely refused to move in the morning. It would start, but once in gear it wouldn’t go anywhere. Storing it in my uncle’s tire shop at night had the proper therapeutic affect. The Saab moved.
And what a revelation! On the area’s snow-packed back roads, the Saab could be guided precisely through snaky, snowy roads with total control and confidence thanks to its big ol’ 17” (432 mm) Nardi steering wheel, 13:1 steering, and Sears Allstate radial tires (made by Michelin). Saab was proud of the fact that its three-cylinder popcorn popper had only one or two moving parts; well, maybe a few more. But the roller-bearing crank was not very tolerant of the carbon specks that this oil-burner produced in spades. Since the crank was not rebuildable, this generally necessitated one new engine per year.
The Galaxie inherited the towing duties of Felicia Fury. With the 390, it was hardly taxed at 80 mph (130 kph). The bike I hauled was my Bultaco 250 Matador, which I’d taken as payment for a design job in Chicago. It was really beat: The chrome was pitted and rusted, the seat was split and everything looked like crap. Fortunately, at the time I worked at CBS Labs, in Stamford, CT, where we had our own spray booth. I fixed up the gas tank and sprayed it in mixing white lacquer. I painted the frame in silver acrylic enamel.
The Matador was wonderfully light. I think it weighed about 295 pounds (134 kg), and had a really low center of gravity. I used to play Sammy Miller at the gravel pit next door: no-feet-down climbing on really poor traction surfaces. I don’t think the bike as geared would run more than 40 mph (64 kph), but it had wonderful low-end torque. I could pull a wheelie without popping the clutch or tugging on the handlebars. My friend, who also had a Bultaco, and I would dust off our friends who had contemporary Yamahas and Hondas. It was 1970; how times change.
The Galaxie was a relaxed long-distance cruiser and dead reliable, but it wouldn’t return more than 10 mpg no matter how I drove. Besides, it simply wasn’t fun to drive. It was just a big fat boat. It was time for a change. But as mentioned, I was smitten by front-wheel drive. That story will come in Part Three.