27 June 2008

Growing up in a Ford family

Or: "To all the cars I rode before" (shut up, people, I'm not Julio whatzisname)

My recent "tribute" *cough* to the AMC Ambassador - "one of the now cars of the 1967 American Motors" - has me reminiscing about all the vehicular apparati my family has owned over the years.

We start with a battle over the virtues of automobiles produced by the Ford Motor Company. In one corner, both my Dad and his parents ... all of who are/were staunch Fordphiles. On the other side, my grandfather (Big John), who couldn't stand Ford. Dare I say, he hated Fords.

The reason? A bad experience with one in 1952 (he told me the story many times), and Big John vowed never again to so much as set foot inside another Ford dealership.

Yeah, well, I made such a vow in 1991 when I got rid of that 1987 Mercury Topaz. Talk about a flimsy, poorly-built car. Cheap to the core. And for many, many years that defined my image of FoMoCo. Never mind the car I had before, a 1982 Mercury Capri, felt quite solid (if with some problems of its own). The Topaz - and its Ford twin, the Tempo - along with the earlier generations of the Tore-Ups Taurus - struck me as Ford trying to cut corners and sell cars based on jingoism instead of quality.

You know, just like Degenerate Motors.

What happened??? Ford didn't used to be like that, I told myself. The cars my Mom and Dad drove -- with only two exceptions -- were Fords. And I don't remember a whole lot of problems between 'em. The Ford cars I remember from my childhood were solid puppies. They looked and felt (!) indestructible.

I looked at the Ford cars of the '80s and '90s and it was like going to a Cheap Trick concert in 1990. You feel empty and sad because you know this group was filling big arenas and had top-10 hits on the chart just a decade ago ... and now it's come down to playing horse barns in Montgomery, Alabama. "Puppet show and Spinal Tap"

ANYhoo, so I'd broken from Dad and sided with Big John in the great Ford debate. The difference, however, is I went toward Honda and Toyota. But my grandfather? While I understand his bias due to that '52 lemon, I am beyond baffled at how he could look at me with a straight face and tell me that American Motors was a superior product to what Ford was putting out, at least in the '60s and '70s. That '52 Fordster must've been a doozy. How could it have been worse than that damned lemon-yellow Shambassador??

Funny, it seemed that my maternal grandparents were always the ones who had car trouble.

And the only time I recall my parents having headaches with a car was the first time Dad broke from the Ford tradition and bought a one-owner used 1974 Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon. Yellow with - you guessed it - faux woodgrain door panels. Our version of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

And in 1978, the electrical system kicked the big one. It happened outside of Birmingham, and it should come as no surprise to the reader that Dad did not trade it in for another GM product.

So back to me for a minute: WHY, then, is one of our cars a Ford? Why did I suddenly go from bashing Ford in a way only Big John could've appreciated, to having one in our driveway???

And boy howdy, did I ever shock the 'rents when Seraphim and I bought that Escape last August. Heck, if you could go back in time to June 27, 2007 and tell me we'd be driving a Ford before Summer's end, I probably would've punched your lights out.

Again, as with Big John, it was mostly that one (1) bad vehicle. The Tempo/Topaz cars, I'm convinced, were designed by a committee of sister-bangin' neanderthals from Ecru, Mississippi.

Then I got to thinking back to all the cars Mom & Dad drove. All but two of them in the Ford column. And where did Dad get that loyalty from? It came honestly; Gran Lera was a die-hard Ford person, and that's all she ever drove to the very end. GL had trouble only with her last one, an '86 Crown Vic station wagon (nicknamed "The QE2"), which had a persistent oil leak. That was about it.

Heck, if the blue oval was good enough for her........

In the end, I was impressed with how far Ford has come in their reliability and quality in such a short time. The current Consumer Reports auto issue mentions this, too. Ford woke up. And that '08 Escape we test-drove had both my wife and me sold. We bought one. Named it Rupert.

Yeah, I still have pockets of raised eyebrows. I've never had a Detroit car go 50,000 miles without any mechanical snafu. And I'm hoping hoping HOPING good ol' Rupert (who is pushing 19,000 miles as I write) will not disappoint. And if he goes the distance and proves reliable, that will seismically change my whole perspective about cars.

Go here for the various reasons we ended up going with a Ford instead of a Toyota or Honda. It's still a gamble, any way you look at it. All I can do is faithfully maintain the car, doing all the service when called for, and driving it responsibly. That's all a car owner can do. Beyond that, you're at the mercy of an automaker's quality-control.

So, what cars did my parents drive?
  • 1965 Ford Galaxie 500, burgundy colored. Complete with confederate car tag on the front.

  • 1968 Ford Galaxie 500. Yellow with black vinyl top, just like that damned Ambassador. But far more reliable.

  • 1969 Ford LTD, red. It, like the '68 Galaxie above, was a hand-me-down from Gran Lera.

  • 1971 Ford Torino. Lime green. Mom & Dad bought this just before we got transferred to Tupelo. And we had this car for nearly 10 years! Dad named it "T.R.", as in "Old Rough and Ready." And it was, too.
Y'know, I miss that chartreuse Torino even today. It was one of the two cars that I learned to drive. And brother, if you can handle a '71 Torino with its V8 under the hood that stretched from here to Macon, with its acceleration (0 to 60 five seconds ago) and lack of power brakes (yes, coming down an interstate offramp, I literally had both feet on that brake pedal .... whoa, camel, whoooooa!!!) ... then brother, you can handle anything!!!

And the Philco AM radio in that Torino (yes, you were just waiting for me to get around to the radio, weren't you? Right?) was to die for. Powerful and could reach for the faintest signals. Better sound out of that oval dashtop speaker from AM stations than you can get out of many FM radios today!

T.R. was finally beginning to show its age by the Summer of 1981, and early in August, Dad and I made a (loooong) roadtrip from Cape Girardeau down to Troy to dispose of it. I drove much of the way there, and felt very sad when we got there and knew that was the last drive I'd ever take in that green tank. We returned to Cape in Gran Lera's old 1975 Thunderbird.

Okay, back to Mom & Dad's other cars:
  • 1974 Pontiac Grand Safari. Dad's only foray into GM, which proved to him why he should never have left the Ford side of the room. It had a clamshell style tailgate with power glass, and AM/FM radio - the first FM model my parents ever had - although with that crappy in-windshield antenna that GM cars had in the '70s. Reception was good locally, but on the open road it was awful.

  • 1978 Ford LTD. Yellow. It was nicknamed "Yellowbird." We bought this one after the Suck-fari above had one problem too many for Dad.

  • 1975 Ford Thunderbird. Black. Used to be Gran Lera's. This was our "second" car, i.e. the one Dad drove to and from work.

  • 1986 Thunderbird. Red. Successor to "Yellowbird." Had an electronic instrument panel with digital speedometer. Mom's last Ford, proper.

  • 1982 Ford F-150. Red and white.

  • 1984 GMC Jimmy. Blue. What?? Another GM??!! Yup. Apparently Dad managed a good deal on it. It was a good car to drive when I had the chance. Had a good cassette deck, too. Loaded front-wise, not sideways like 99% of tape decks. GM Delco radios were top-notch, and reception was much better when they did away with that stupid windshield antenna nonsense. Only problem: persistent oil leak. As Dad will say when he encounters a GM product: "Where's the drip?"

  • 1987 Ford Bronco. Eventually became my brother's.
From there, it's been nothing but F-150s for Dad and Lincoln Town Cars for Mom. When you find something that makes you happy, you stick with it.

Cars Gran Lera had:
  • 1968 Ford Galaxie (later became ours)
  • 1969 Ford LTD (ditto)
  • 1972 Ford LTD, brown. First time I'd ever seen FM in a car. All of GL's cars from here on out had the FM option. Problem was, FM was far from perfected in cars. Listening to FM stations on car radios made before 1980 was an exercise in frustration.
  • 1975 Ford Thunderbird (eventually became Dad's)
  • 1979 Ford Fairmont station wagon. Blue. Affectionately called "The Driver's Ed Car", because that's what I first drove. The Summer of 1980, while visiting Gran Lera, she taught me how to drive.
  • 1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria station wagon. Same shade of blue as the Fairmont. The "QE-2." Last car she ever owned.
And Big John & "An-Mom" drove these creampuffs post-Ambassador:
  • 1973 Pontiac Catalina. Green as a "Sprite" bottle.
  • 1973 AMC Gremlin. Silver. The Energizer bunny of its day. After you turned off the car it kept going and going and going....
  • 1975 Chevrolet Caprice. A more reasonable shade of green.
  • 1978 Buick something-or-other. Light-ish blue.
  • 198(3?) Buick something-or-other. Forget the color, too. Isn't that sad??
  • 1984 Dodge Ram pickup. Red and white. AM radio with digital readout. My grandmother friggin' sold this thing just days after my grandfather's stroke in 1989!!!
  • 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity. Eventually became mine after a car swap in '91. Helped make up for that Pacer debacle!
  • From there it was nothing but white Buick LeSabres. I think there were two, or maybe three now that I think about it. The last one even had a CD player in it, which is funny because my grandparents never so much as owned a compact disc.
So any of you have fond memories of the cars you rode in as you grew up?

Ciao for niao.


Melissa said...

Go check my blog...great big post about my cars! :)

nettiemac said...

I'll post later about my own cars (all 4 of 'em)... but as you know, the last two have been Fords, and mechanically, they've been fantastic. I am truly amazed.

164K in a 10-year-old Taurus. A TAURUS!!