Per my last COAL posting, I had fallen head-over-heels for the family’s Mustang Fastback, but it was now time to get my license and actually start driving cars for real. When I was 12, a new baby brother arrived on the scene, and it was decided, on high, that the family needed to go back to being a “station wagon family”.
The 1958 Ranch Wagon had been sold and a secondhand white 1966 Cadillac had been purchased in the meantime. The Caddy had real seats in the back for us kids, complete with seat belts, and Mom could ferry us around in it. I never really “took” to the car, as it was a purely adult thing, like hard liquor and cigars. It seemed to whet my parents’ appetite for big cars, though. I still had passion for the family Mustang, with its bright red paint and ever-so-slightly cartoonish styling.
Now that the family was station wagon shopping again, the push was for something big and luxurious. The Cadillac had been a trip astray from always owning Fords, so there was really only one choice, once the family re-entered the Ford fold, and also wanted a luxury station wagon. Fortunately, in a sense, the 1973 gas crisis had just hit, so this year-end example, a dealer demonstrator car, was being given away. Two and a half tons of fun, propelled by a 460 engine, was not finding many homes at that moment. Especially as these engines were wheezy for their size, fitted with a complexity of hoses and attachments, and drank fuel at the rate of 8 mpg or less.
The car was very anonymous, but in a totally elegant way. Our car was a twin to the bronze ones pictured here, complete with color-matched wheel covers and a brown interior. It was as if all the identifiers of a Lincoln were stripped away, and the resulting car was squared up and made indistinguishable from some generic car. Then a random front grill and headlight covers were pulled from some upscale J.C.Whitney catalog, and topped with a rather meaningless free-standing hood ornament. Add the requisite monster chrome bumpers, some di-noc, and away you go.
The interior is minimalist-maximum. Cushy, padded, elegant, but devoid of any personality, and garnished with a plastic dashboard containing a cornucopia of squared off elements. The only thing the dashboard can actually tell you is your speed, when you are in drive, and how fast that fuel needle can sweep to “empty”. The rest of it is idiot lights, including the engine temperature. If you need to know the actual temperature, look elsewhere for your wheels. This is about motoring with a minimum of distracting inputs.
The back of the car is a combination of tidy and completely inefficient. The floor is a bit high and the roof a bit low. The multi-way tailgate works nicely. The floor is deep and flat, once the second seat is folded down, and the sides are smooth and clean. The side-facing rear seats are a complete puzzle in so many ways, other than having them to differentiate one from the competition. Less efficient, less comfortable, likely less safe, and seats for two when three could be squeezed in, if they were friendly, in a conventional rear or front-facing seat.
Now that I have completely denigrated just about every aspect of this beast, its time to realize that, in the light of day, none of it mattered much at all. I learned something very important while driving this thing. “Driving” is probably overstating it a bit. “Navigating” is probably a more proper description. But if one takes the driving experience as it is presented to you, then accepting it and rolling with it can be quite satisfactory.
This Lincoln that had been put through the Witness Protection Program was actually a great car, in its own peculiar way. Having driven a ‘29 Packard later in life, the two experiences were not that dissimilar. The way to drive the Mercury is to point it, let it build up steam, plan ahead for braking or turning, and don’t ask too much of it too quickly. Stay within the modest bounds of what the car is actually capable of, and travel is a delightful experience. To exceed its capabilities is to turn the whole thing into a tire-shredding, heaving, slewing obese mass of metal and di-noc. Just don’t go there.
Navigating and parking the thing has to be considered an achievement, especially for a sixteen year old. Again, it is listening to what the machine is telling you it is willing and capable of doing, rather than your asking of it what you might ask of a different car. Learning to work with the car, rather than trying to dictate what I wanted it to do, was a huge revelation in refining my driving skills.
Rolling along was extremely comfortable in a floating, smooth sort of way. One could go all day in it, without effort. I can’t imagine modern stop-and-go traffic in it. That would be a workout. On the other hand, the car would be the biggest, heaviest thing in its lane. Wait up or go around.
This was the car I drove for a while, as I saved my money and considered what I might want to own. For a sixteen year old car-geek, it was not really my style at all. But it was such a magnificent beast. One couldn’t help but smile, as the car rolled down the road, not to be deterred from its destination, nor to be moved from its route and pace. The Hulk was going to go where it intended to go, at its own pace and in its own time. That’s how a big, heavy car rolls.
I learned to respect the machine at the wheel of this thing, but something like this was not for me, once I could make my own decision. I also learned that a car is an entire package of mechanical capabilities, and integration of the capabilities, in comfort and in control, is to be sought out in a car. As to our example, it was sold in order for my parents to buy a ‘77 Cougar, and I moved on to my own car as well. The Cougar was a disaster, and the last new Ford for a while, as a series of Volvos populated their garage. The wagon was actually bought by a used Lincoln dealer, for his family’s car. Lincoln in drag, indeed. But about eight years later, I walked out the front door of my apartment building, across town, and there was the wagon, still wearing the same license plates and appearing in good, if slightly faded, condition. I do not know why it was there, and I only saw it the one time, and never again. It was as if it had just stopped by to say hello, checking in.