Saturday, May 8, 2010

Old cars in my blood Part 1

I haven't done many posts so far about my love for old cars, but don't let that fool you.  I was anxious to get behind the wheel of an old Ford from a very early age.

Within a couple years I had my first experience in the driver's seat.  Somehow I got away from my Mom one day, got down the steps and out to the car.  Opened the door, got behind the steering wheel and yanked it out of Park.  Couldn't find the darn keys but early 1960s cars didn't have a steering wheel lockout so you could move the shifter into reverse without a key.  I did, and managed to coast it down hill where I took out an old aluminum chaise lounge and smashed the garage door.  I think I was about 3 at that time.

My Dad started restoring Model T Fords by the time I was 9 or 10.  Not long after that he took me on a parts search to the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Fall Meet in Hershey, Pa. aka "Hershey" I was hooked on old cars.  Hershey is probably the Mecca of old car shows and flea markets.  You can wander down the aisles and find pretty much anything for any old car built in the last 120 years, or at least find someone who can help you find that part.

I remember taking a vacation from Pennsylvania to Wyoming and back in our 1974 Jeep pickup to camp, see the sights, and pick up some rust free Model T parts from a seller out west.  My Mom supported my Dad with his hobby, helping where she could and even letting him bring the freshly-painted body of his 1921 Model T touring car into the dining room through the sliding patio door, prop it up on sawhorses, and leave it set up that way for what seemed like a couple months while they reupholstered the body, seats, and installed the convertible top.  All in the dining room!  (Check out that knotty pine paneling by the way!!!)

My brother was big into cars when I was growing up (he was 15 years older than me) and he worked for a few years as an auto body repairman.  When I turned 16, he helped me pick out my first car - a 1970 Mustang convertible, dark metallic green with a white top and green interior.  It had a four-barrel 351 Cleveland engine and a Hurst 4-speed manual transmission.  I loved that car.  This is the only photo I have of it.

When the second gasoline crisis hit in 1978 and gas prices skyrocketed to about 75 cents a gallon, it got a lot more expensive for my fast food income, and eventually I parked the Mustang and took up driving a 1963 four-door Dodge Dart with a slant six engine and push-button automatic transmission.  Beige.  Ugly.  But it ran great and was a fun, simple car to own.  One winter I had it at my fraternity house and the alternator was going bad, so to keep it drivable I would plug in a battery charger and plug it in through a basement window.  I could get two or maybe three starts a day if I was lucky, but I didn't have to buy a battery.

After I graduated college Mom and Dad gave me their black 1977 Chrysler Cordoba.  (The only shot I have of that car is from my high school junior prom.  Like my wild and crazy grey tux?  Wish I still had that....much hair.)

No, the Cordoba didn't have fine corinthian leather, it had a gold velour interior. 400 cubic inch engine.  In-dash 8 track tape player and quadraphonic sound, great for cranking up the Doors or Led Zepplin. I drove it from Pa. to Arizona where I had my first real job.  It made it as far as Albuquerque before the catalytic converter crapped out.  I had a new one put in and it served me well in Phoenix for a year and a half before I sold it.  But I learned the hard way why no one in their right mind drives a black car in Phoenix.  You needed an oven mitt to open the door in the summer time!

I didn't get another old car until I was living here in the DC area in the early 1990s.  I had been looking for something cheap that would be fun to fix and drive. One Saturday I found an ad in the Post for a 1961 Mercury Comet for $600. The ad stated that it didn't run, but was in good shape and had only 5,300 original miles.  I hurried over to look at it and got the full story.  Grandma car, everyone was afraid to drive it after she got to old to drive, but they couldn't sell it until after she passed away.  I looked over the inside and there was almost no wear on the brake and clutch pedals, so I figured the mileage claim was probably true.  Heck, why would anyone lie about it to sell the car for only $600?

I got some help from my Dad when he was visiting us and we re-did the brakes, had the gas tank cleaned and sealed, rebuilt the carburetor and installed a new fuel pump and gave it new plugs, wires, and a tuneup.

After I got it back on the road, it wasn't long before I found a car I had to have, a Mercury Cougar version of that first Mustang I had sold years earlier.  The 1970 Cougar XR7 convertible had the same  351C 4v engine and Hurst four-speed manual transmission.  (It turned out that both cars were very rare - less than 70 of each were built with the 351c 4v and 4-speed combination in convertible form). There's nothing much more fun than driving a convertible with a manual transmission, shifting up and down with the wind in your face.

When I wanted to buy the Cougar, SWMBO said OK, but the Comet has to go.  I sold the Comet but have regretted it ever since.  I loved the Cougar, and it led me to buying several other Cougars and parts cars.  I'll get into Cougars more in a future post.


  1. I am soooo jealous of you folks who always find these great old cars with like 5 original miles on them, for cheap!!

    The closest I came was about 20 years ago, a neighbor had a wonderful old Ford (don't remember the exact kind, but it was pure 1950's), but my louse of a boy friend at the time who KNEW I wanted that car, (guy was selling it for $500, and it ran!), let a buddy of his buy it out from under me, took it to Washington and totaled it. So the relationship nor the car lasted lol... =(

  2. Love this post and the pics! The only beef I have is with the "ugly" used to describe the Dart, sure maybe compared to a mustang...but the Mustang is like Ginger, and the Dart is like Mary Anne. I think Darts are very beautiful, but of course I'd say that, I have one, lol! Great Post!

  3. Ahh, I shouldn't have used the "U" word, I knew it would get me in trouble. I should have said ugly beige 4-door. Would I have one again? You bet!

  4. My Dad used to have a navy blue Cordoba with a t top and leather seats. He had that car up until I was about 7 years old. I really loved that car. haha

    I think the comet you had was great I dunno why but I like those cars.. or maybe I just like the name comet.

  5. I forgot some Cordobas came with T-tops. I always associate T-tops with mullet haircuts.