My father-in-law has a huge talent for finding and procuring both cheap cars and low mileage cars. It’s even better for him when he is able to combine the two into one example.
In the early 1970s he was able to do just that with a 1957 Plymouth having 8,000 miles which he purchased for a pittance. This was the car used to transport his only daughter home from the hospital in very late 1972. However, in 2001, he was only able to cover the cheap part. Enter one remarkably clean 1992 Ford Crown Victoria, a car that would have two chapters in my life.
Like my 1986 Crown Victoria, this baby blue Crown Vic had been purchased new by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. In a weird twist of fate, paperwork in the glove compartment revealed it had been assigned to a trooper in Cape Girardeau County, meaning it was from my old home turf.
However, its trajectory in life deviated significantly from my ’86 when it came time for the Patrol to divest themselves of it at just under 50,000 miles. Instead of being purchased by a university, this Ford was purchased by the Missouri Department of Mental Health and assigned to the Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center in St. Joseph.
While it may be a bit early for an aside, I have to include something into this memoir for some context. I subscribe to a YouTube channel called The History Underground. The Rehabilitation Center, formerly known as (hold on, it’s a reflection of times passed) State Lunatic Asylum Number 2, operates and maintains a museum called the Glore Psychiatric Museum which shows the history of treating mental illness.
The History Underground recently toured the Glore museum. The preview picture is a bit graphic, thus not shown here, but here’s a link to the video. It’s mind-blowing (I’ve visited the museum and it’s even more mind-blowing in person) and I only mention the video as it helps give some perspective on where this car came from – plus it’s also just plain old fascinating.
Incidentally, our house in St. Joseph was contiguous with property owned by the Rehabilitation Center. It was a short walk over the hill and across the field to get there.
With all that said, how specifically did this Ford enter my life? Glad you asked.
I had been keeping an eye on various state auctions, which is how I had learned about my ’86. When this Ford came up for sealed bid auction in mid-2001, I told my father-in-law about it. He subsequently entered a bid for $651.50 and won the car. It had right at 100,000 miles on the odometer.
The only real out of the box issues with that Crown Vic were the valve guide seals were no longer overly vibrant, a not uncommon issue with the early 4.6 liter V8 engines, and the fuel pump croaked as my in-laws were driving it back to their home about an hour north of St. Louis. After that it gave them great service.
In January 2002, an extremely pregnant Marie was given a baby shower by her brother’s wife. Their house was twenty minutes from my in-laws house, meaning a nearly four hour trip to get there.
Marie was seven months pregnant by this point and her ability to get into the Thunderbird was marginal and it was nearly non-existent for her Escort. We talked about how to transport her to her parents. She decided we should take my ’86 Crown Victoria as she could stretch out easily in the backseat. Problem solved.
However, there were objections raised after the plan was executed. That ’86 Crown Victoria had a leaking heater core and I had bypassed it, meaning there was no heat. Thinking about it, I never did replace the heater core, so I was driving a car with no heat in Little Siberia, also known as Northwest Missouri. Either I’m tougher than I realize or I can simply ignore such things. Or maybe my drive to work was simply that short. Who knows.
The lack of heat didn’t bother Marie. She was relentlessly hot during this time and she had some blankets if need be. The trip was a snap.
Well it was until her parents learned my Crown Vic had no heat. That went over like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. That’s where this ’92 first entered my life as we were sent back to St. Joe in the ’92, with my in-laws keeping my ’86 at their house. This loan (trade?) was a long-term loan (trade?) and, due to Marie’s ongoing pregnancy-induced mobility challenges, this would be the car in which we brought Eileen home from the hospital.
This loan lasted until late summer of 2002. In that time we put a bunch of miles on that Ford due to many follow-up doctor’s appointments for both Marie and Eileen. This series of events had been brewing for a while and was a secret storm until it hit with its full fury.
But, in regard to this particular Ford, it had its own little secret storm. In late 2003 or early 2004, my in-laws gave Marie and me this Crown Victoria. While it was free, a transmission leak was diagnosed as a bad torque converter. It seems the transmission must have been dropped when the car was owned by the Department of Mental Health. In turn, a bolt of some variety had chewed up the torque convertor before becoming lodged into the bell-housing.
After that pricey little endeavor, all that Ford ever required was a quart of oil every few hundred miles. It was a good running and driving car that was light years ahead of that ’86 in every possible metric except oil consumption. That ’86 never used a drop.
Toward the end of 2004, we got a call one night from a friend of Marie’s. She and her husband, Gene, along with their five kids (ranging in age from 12 years to 4 days – yes, you read that right) had lost the transmission to their 1991 Ford Taurus wagon while headed back to their old house outside of Kansas City from their new home near Omaha. The transmission in their Taurus had crapped out right at St. Joseph and they were two miles away.
They needed refuge for the night. How can you say no?
The rest of this little soiree was covered here. For anyone remembering it and thinking it was exaggerated folly, it isn’t. It truly did happen. One could say that was yet another secret storm involving this poor Ford.
In short, I ultimately loaned them the Crown Vic a few days later as they wanted to go home and I wanted them to go home. Gene took a real shine to that Crown Vic and, as they were needing a second vehicle a few months later, I sold him the Crown Victoria and gave my father-in-law a cut of the sale price.
While Gene has many talents, automobile maintenance is not one of them. Despite my having told him repeatedly to keep the oil topped off, he didn’t do so. A year or so later, Gene and his family relocated to Dayton, Ohio. He forgot to check the oil and the 4.6 in that Crown Vic seized.
Last I knew, Gene had sold the car to somebody around Dayton who had given that Crown Vic one last hurrah – he entered it into the demolition derby at the Ohio State Fair.
(Author’s Note: The Secret Storm aired on CBS from February 1, 1954, to February 8, 1974. All Crown Vic pictures have been harvested from the web.)