(first posted 6/20/2015) Doesn’t time quickly slip by? Having had the realization I can remember my father as being significantly younger than I am now, it seemed wise to lasso his automotive history before it slipped from my brain.
Prepare yourself: The list of his various steeds is lengthy, not unexpected for a man now in his 70s who for many years had a 100 mile daily commute to work. Buckle up; let’s go for a ride.
How many people had this for a first car in the late 1950s? My great-grandfather gave a 1946 Ford to my father and my father’s cousin. They lived less than a quarter mile apart on two different properties out in the woods of Alexander County, Illinois, a county in the southern tip of the state that borders the Mississippi River on the west and the Ohio River on the south. My father soon bought out his cousin’s half of the car for $5.
My father would later sell the car and he gave half the proceeds to his grandfather. Part of this 1946 Ford remains as I currently possess the external sun visor. It is in surprisingly great condition from my having found it in a scrap pile of my grandmother’s in the late 1980s.
The proceeds from the 1946 Ford went toward the purchase of a 1956 Mercury after my father graduated high school in 1961. He was going away to further his education but needed to have transportation. Sadly, this Mercury did not provide reliability.
My father said his Mercury was the lowest trim level Mercury for 1956 and its only option was an automatic transmission. He also states it was extremely hard to start. One weekend as he was preparing to leave for the three hour trip home, the Mercury was being temperamental and the engine refused to fire. A classmate had an idea: He would use his Dodge to push my father up to speed. Then, once up to speed, my father would drop the car into gear and he would be good to go.
When they hit 50 mph, my father said he dropped the Mercury into gear. With a loud “BAM!” the car started and he did not shut it off until getting back home. That weekend the Mercury went away.
1962 Ford Falcon
This is what replaced the Mercury in 1962. Purchased from the upstairs storage area of Ford Groves in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, this baby blue Falcon embodied the thrifty motoring concept Ford advertised. With two doors, the 170 cubic inch straight-six, and a three-speed manual, this car had a radio and heater as its only equipment. This car was quite robust; a fuel stop once revealed the supplier had placed diesel fuel in the bulk gasoline tank. Unknowingly purchasing a tank full of diesel, my father drove the Falcon home as it coughed and smoked fiercely. It returned to the station without incident the next day so he could dilute the diesel with fresh gasoline.
My father drove this Falcon extensively as he used it for work purposes and the frequent traveling young bachelors are prone to do. However, a powerhouse it was not. One night the Falcon was unable to pull a steep hill covered in loose gravel. My grandmother’s neighbor came along and pushed the Falcon up the hill in his 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air.
1965 Ford Fairlane
By 1965, the Falcon had accumulated nearly 84,000 very hard miles. Heading back to Ford Groves, my father purchased a 1965 Ford Fairlane, a copper and black two-tone with a 289 V8 and a three-speed manual. To this day, he will not fully answer my question about why a 22 year-old bachelor purchased a new, four-door Fairlane.
The road to my grandparent’s house was at least five miles of crushed creek gravel regardless of path chosen. The day my father purchased his Fairlane, he had a flat tire in the time between leaving the dealer and getting to his parents house.
This Fairlane is also a reminder about the quality of exhaust systems. The muffler on this car rotted within two years. He kept the muffler bandaged up with tin for a number of years but by his own admission it did little to nothing for noise. By this time he had entered college for more career potential, money was precious, and such trivialities like mufflers could wait.
He kept this car until 1970 when it had 93,000 miles.
1969 Ford Fairlane
When my parents married in 1968, my mother brought her 1962 Chevy II into the communal property pool. Powered by a four-cylinder hooked to a Powerglide, it threw a rod through the side of the engine block on their wedding day after an aunt had mistakenly placed it in low and over-revved it. After the car received a different engine, it remained problematic and disappeared for a new 1969 Fairlane.
In news that shocked me, my father did cross-shop other brands before purchasing his Fairlane. What else did he test drive?
Yes, he purchased a Fairlane over a Charger. His argument was the Charger had a 383 and would have used a lot of fuel. While true, the 302 in his Fairlane was renowned more for durability than efficiency. My first car trip after being born was in this 1969 Ford Fairlane when it could have been in a 1969 Charger.
However, the Fairlane was the right car at the right time for my parents. Soon after getting married my father was drafted into the United States Army. With the military having been drafting college students, my father had signed a deferment to postpone any draft. After he graduated from college at age 25, he was drafted and reported to Ft. Leonard Wood for basic training.
He did not finish basic training. On Easter Sunday 1969, my father broke his hip during a drill. Uncle Sam patched him up, but his repairs did not allow for regular duty. Working on base with various office jobs, my father had the ’69 Fairlane with him and its two doors and automatic transmission worked out quite well for access, room to store his crutches, and drivability. From what I’ve been told, this car was rock solid and free from drama throughout their ownership.
1970 Ford F-100
Having bought a house and transitioning back to civilian life, the 1965 Fairlane was traded for a new 1970 Ford F-100 Custom, identical to the yellow one seen here.
At the time, Stout Ford in Mounds, Illinois, was literally a one-man show as Mr. Stout was owner, salesman, and mechanic. He kept few cars in inventory and would happily order you whatever you desired. In 1970 he ordered my father a yellow, 1970 F-100 with the 240 straight-six and a three-speed manual.
Ever see the movie Mr. Majestyk with Charles Bronson? If not, here’s a chase (in black and white and dubbed over the English) toward the end of the movie. Except for being airborne, the way the Bronson character drove this pickup wasn’t vastly different than how my father drove his pickup.
As a child, my parents built an addition onto the house, doubling its size. It was typical for my father to overload this pickup to the point of being deliciously obscene. 4,000 pounds of rock in the bed? No sweat, let’s add some lumber and bagged cement on top to save a trip later.
One Saturday I remember the rear bumper being about five inches from the ground. I thought its new accessibility was great and started to bounce on the bumper. I was quickly yanked from there for fear of the tires blowing out. It seemed pickups weren’t overloaded until something bent, broke, or blew.
Over time the old Ford was driven less frequently. In my memory, it never topped 50 mph due to a worn front suspension. It had 74,000 miles by 1985 when it was traded off. The body had rusted and fallen onto the frame, putting the shift linkage into such a bind one could not shift out of first gear. Jacking up the body and placing some shims in strategic areas, my father went pickup shopping. When he found one he did not negotiate with his typical gusto for fear of somebody looking under the pickup.
This was the first vehicle I ever drove.
1973 Ford Torino
Shortly after I was born in late 1972, the 1969 Fairlane had 95,000 miles and it went away for a new, base model Torino.
My father always drove this car like he hated it. Recently my father told he regrets having purchased this car. He had been eyeing a Ford Maverick due to his commute but Mr. Stout talked him into this Torino that was in his minuscule inventory. He purchased it shortly before the Arab Oil Embargo, in which price was the only affect in his area of the country.
This car was a disappointment due to its 12 mpg appetite at super elevated fuel prices. A wallowing pig, it would strain, wheeze, and moan to reach a top speed of around 88 mph. However, a broken timing chain was the only thing about the car that left my father sitting and he put 123,000 miles on it before selling it in 1982.
When I was eight years old, recycling aluminum cans suddenly came into vogue. I remember taking a bunch of cans with me to crush when we arrived at a grandparents house. Impatient, I started to crush them on the rear floorboard while going down the road. My father wasn’t expecting such a noise and thought something was wrong with the car. When he discovered what I was doing, my industriousness was squashed.
Perhaps my father’s disdain for his Torino rubbed off; to this day, I do not like any Ford Torino. Such a beautiful name was placed on such an ugly car.
1978 Plymouth Volare
The Volare was purchased as an addition to the Shafer Fleet in early 1979. My father was driving the Torino to work and leaving the F-100 with my stay-at-home mother. Upon her return to work in 1978 or 1979, some adjusting had to occur.
A leftover 1978 model, the Volare was now my father’s commuting car. Equipped with two-doors and a slant six, this was the first of many cars he would buy from Guetterman Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge (a dealer that soon hedged its bets by taking on Ford products) in Cairo, Illinois. Swathed in the same putrid brown as the Torino, this was a top dog of the Volare hierarchy. The nicer version was out of character for him but he likely got a screaming deal on it given the timeframe.
Early on there were some various ancillary issues that required dealer involvement but mechanically the Volare was great. The catalytic convertor was removed and it soon gained a few rust bubbles on the vertical surfaces of the trunk lid, but it never broke the paint surface.
Something about this car induced animals into committing suicide. Pigeons loved to kiss the front turn signal covers as both were often broken. It attracted dogs and it helped greatly reduce the local dog population.
The Volare also hid an unusual talent for stellar off-road capability. One night during a freezing rain storm, my mother slid off the road returning home from her job at the hospital. She took about twenty acres to loop through a recently tilled field on her way back to the road but it didn’t faze the car a bit.
It stayed around for 103,000 miles.
1981 Dodge Omni
With the Torino looking ever more sad and pitiful, one cold Saturday in January 1981 dad took his entire family to go car shopping. This entourage for car shopping was a singular event.
Returning to Ford Groves, he test drove a gray two-door Mercury Lynx with a four-speed and blood red interior. Dad wasn’t overly impressed. We then drove to Guetterman’s.
Sitting on the lot was a blue Omni Miser powered by a 1.7 liter Volkswagen engine mated to a four-speed manual transmission. Equipped with air conditioning and an AM radio, this was my father’s latest commuting car. At that time he kept fanatical records on fuel purchases and the Omni nearly always topped 30 mpg. It even achieved this on a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, for the 1982 World’s Fair. I suspect he still has the log book for this car somewhere in his man-cave.
I once drove this car when I was ten or eleven. I have driven every vehicle he’s owned since calendar year 1983 as his philosophy has always been if one’s feet can reach the pedals they are old enough to drive. Thank heaven I grew up on seven acres of property with a lot of county roads nearby.
My father’s list is long. Come back tomorrow for Part 2.