Answering the phone, a familiar voice greeted me. “Jason, this is Bill; I’m so sorry. We are nearly ready to go, but the shaft on the new water pump is too short. With your Galaxie having a generator, it requires a longer shaft. It’s going to be a while longer, but I will find one.”
Then, a few days later: “Jason, it’s Bill. That guy lied to me. He swears he measured the shaft before he sent it, but it’s too short on this one too. I chewed on him good, but I need to try this again. Please know I’m trying.”
And: “Jason, Bill. This is making me mad, but I will get a water pump. I’ve been doing this for forty-one years and never had such a time finding a water pump.”
Such has been the story on resurrecting my ’63 Galaxie. I wrote the first part of this story (here) in May 2012. It doesn’t seem like such a long time ago, but in many ways it was. Plans for the Galaxie at that time hinged upon selling my house, a situation prompted by a downsizing at my employer and my talents being needed in a larger branch office. On the day that piece was first shown, my house had already been for sale for seven months; it would ultimately be another twelve months plus twenty-one days before my house finally sold on May 31 of this year.
The Galaxie sat in my garage languishing throughout that seemingly never-ending ordeal. I sincerely hope nobody reading this has ever endured a similar real estate transaction. During that era, the Galaxie was often a focal point for my real estate agents (yes, that is plural; I fired the first two) as they viewed it as repellant to prospective buyers – despite nobody viewing the house ever having issue with it. The third agent did not see the Galaxie as a liability; her belief was it reflected a knack for maintenance and refurbishment that she translated to the house itself. She also shared my philosophy that it was my garage and the Galaxie did not come with the house (incidentally, I have viewed a number of houses around here and have found three original condition Mustangs and one VW convertible).
With over 19 months to plan, my wife and I discussed what we should do with the Galaxie. Selling it was never an option. The final outcome was actually her wonderful and brilliant idea.
Two weeks before the sale was finalized, a co-worker and I hauled the Galaxie to a repair shop seventy miles south of my house and about two miles from my in-laws house. It was a great combination of known skill with the repair shop and proximity for my retired father-in-law to keep tabs on it.
The plan was now in action. The 5.8 liter (352 cid) engine would be removed and sent to Indiana for remanufacturing. The price was reasonable, I would get the same engine block and heads back, and it had a nice warranty on the work. Doing this would ensure I knew the overall condition of the engine. Also on tap would be tires, shocks, boiling the radiator, double checking my work from rebuilding the brake system, and replacing the exhaust.
Of course there were a few wrinkles along the way. The radiator disintegrated while being boiled out; the flywheel needed to be planed; the clutch and throw-out bearing needed to be replaced. Oh, and there was that persnickety water pump issue.
During periodic trips to my in-laws house over this past summer, I would swing by to check on the progress of the car. Further waiting was tough, but progress was truly being made. Raising the hood to be greeted with an empty engine bay was the hardest to see but was the biggest indication of moving forward.
The gas tank I had purchased almost four years ago was installed, plus new tires (its first set of radials!) and a dual exhaust system.
New shocks were installed; the old ones were the originals. For whatever reason, I left the tags on the pre-bent brake lines after installing them; I think they can stay put.
The Galaxie was ready to go – except for the water pump. Then one day the phone rang. Bill informed me a correct water pump had finally arrived. Somebody fat-fingering a credit card number had greatly delayed shipment. Thankfully, this fifth and final water pump was the right one.
On September 26, the old Galaxie was started for the first time since May 1997; it had last moved under its own power in January 1995. Was it really that long ago? Apparently so.
On September 27, I headed to my in-laws house to fetch my Ford and to drive it the 110 miles back to Jefferson City.
So what’s it like to drive a fifty year old car that has been sitting for the last 40% of its life, then fire it up for a two-hour drive? A car that is in some of your earliest childhood memories, has been in your life since 1986, and you had last driven with regularity in 1992? A car that you’ve been slowly working on intermittently the past five years?
Surreal. An erasure of time. Nerve-wracking. At 41, I’m a bit more concerned about things breaking than I was at twenty.
My first concern was fuel. It was five miles to the nearest gas station and the shop hadn’t put very much fuel in it. For the first hour of the drive back, the needle never left the full mark; it wasn’t until I started running at 70 to 75 mph on I-70 and then US 54 that the gauge started to drop.
Another concern was arriving back after dark. Not dawdling with my departure from the in-laws house got me back just before dusk.
So how did it ride and drive?
First, let’s set the stage. The Galaxie is almost completely stock, with the exceptions of dual exhaust, stainless steel brake lines, and somewhat wider P215/70R14 tires. It still has four-wheel drum brakes and a single reservoir master cylinder. The car does not have power steering, power brakes, or air conditioning. It has a three-speed column shifted manual transmission with overdrive and it still has points in the distributor. It is equipped with the optional seat belts from 1963, which are lap belts for the front seat only, constructed similarly to those seen on roller coasters at amusement parks.
Its ride is floaty but still connected to the road; it is not the 1970’s Ford Floatmobile type of ride. Irregularities in the pavement surface really are noticeable yet subtle. A rough set of railroad tracks on my route that have jarred my teeth in newer vehicles were a only supple ripple that could be felt in the seat.
Wind noise is negligible at speed, even with the windows down. The lack of power steering was not obvious, although I did very little in-town driving with the route I took. The brakes aren’t terrific by current standards, but they do adequately stop the car.
Curves were best taken at no more than 10 miles per hour above the posted advisory speed. One overzealous entrance into a curve prompted the Galaxie to tell me to wise up by giving me some body roll and tire squall.
Acceleration is quite nice and V8 confident, although I wasn’t about to start hooning a fresh engine. What was most obvious was the low end torque of the 352. It’s been a decade since driving a manual transmission with any frequency, so a few starts raised the front end. Going around a few curves required my slowing to about 30 mph, yet I never had to downshift into second to regain momentum. A bump on the throttle prompted a kick-down to third direct and I was back up to speed quite rapidly.
About eight miles into my trip, I crossed the second largest town on my route. Somewhere on the west end of town, I began to smell a lot of burning oil. My being tense amplified the moment; thankfully, a few seconds later I saw the mosquito killing Saturn two cars ahead of me.
Having chosen low volume back roads for the first half of my trip was wise. It gave me a good feel for the Ford’s driving dynamics without being crowded on the interstate. On the backroads, I had several waves from people as well as some looks of disbelief. It was somewhere on this part of the trip the song Ventura Highway by America popped into my head and remained there for the duration of the trip.
My route minimized my time on I-70 to about thirty-five miles. That was fortuitous as it was the typical 5:30 pm Friday glob of erratic drivers amplified by those heading to the University of Missouri – Columbia football game or the Lake of the Ozarks. Many people would hit the passing lane as soon as they saw the rear of the Ford although some did wave and smile at me. Some young guy in a Kia Rio was shocked when he saw what was passing him; a truck driver gave me a thumbs up as I went around him.
The Galaxie ran flawlessly. On the first tank of fuel that had this trip along with driving around town for some of these pictures, the Galaxie has returned 13.98 mpg – not too bad for a new engine, having a dribble into the fuel pump, and a driver trying to relearn its clutch!
Showing and telling Mrs. Jason and Spawn of Jason about the Galaxie helped adjust our perspectives of time and the durability of this Ford. Spawn is only a few years younger than I was when my father purchased the Galaxie from my great-uncle Donald’s widow; I am only two years younger than my father was at the time. I am six years younger than my grandfather was when he died on October 30, 1966, the night his brother Donald and the Galaxie barnstormed the countryside trying to find my father. I am about the same age now that Donald was on that fateful night.
There is still more to do. The headliner is sagging, the carpeting is worn to threads in the back seat, and the seat upholstery is torn yet supple up front
and brittle in the back seat.
I have emptied the ashtrays and found this treasure trove under the back seat – mice are mighty destructive creatures. Shampooing the carpet resulted in fifty years of dirt, grime, and mouse crap being pulled to the service. It was a mess – and I keep questioning myself why I didn’t do this five years ago. Yet the hardest and most important part has been addressed as everything else is manageable.
After an excruciating and tumultuous five year wait, my ’63 Ford Galaxie is once again ready for action. I don’t anticipate her needing anything major for another fifty years.