I recently posted this photo on my Facebook feed and it generated quite a bit of response, mostly along the lines of “what a beautiful girl” and “what a cool car” and, well, most people didn’t even notice that I was in the photo.
Yes, that was me and my girlfriend (at the time; she’s been my wife for more than a half century now…I’m a very blessed fellow) posing in the driveway of her home, next to a vehicle that played a major role in our relationship. I’m not sure exactly when the photo was taken, nor even who took it, but we guess that we were in our late teens.
Given the response to this photo — it was especially gratifying to hear from some high school friends who remembered us as a couple, as well as the car — and in the interest of establishing an Official Historical Record, I’m going to elaborate on the vehicle and the role it played in our lives. By the way, this is the only remaining photo of that car I could find. I have a lot more pictures of my wife, and if you’re wondering if any of them are as provocative as this one, well…that’s really none of your business. 😁
The year was 1958. I was in the first grade, attending Comanche Elementary School in the small West Texas town of Fort Stockton. I don’t remember many of the details of exactly how it came about, but my brother and I left the Trail Drive-In Theater with my parents one evening as the recipients of a brand spanking new Ford coupe, by virtue of possession of a winning raffle ticket. I had no inkling of the impact that car would eventually have on my life.
The new car was the most basic model that Ford produced, so basic in fact that Ford was apparently too embarrassed to put any kind of model badging on it. A three-speed manual transmission (“three on the tree”) was paired with an anemic six-cylinder engine housed in a compartment with enough spare room to sleep in. It sported no power anything: not brakes, not steering, not windows, not door locks. No air conditioning, not even a radio. I can’t remember if it came with wheel covers; the only photo I have of it (see below) doesn’t show one, but it’s possible that over the years they all were lost due to various “adventures.” My brother has also reminded me that it was missing armrests and sun visors.
Even though my memory regarding actual specifications fails me (although in my defense, I never knew most of them to begin with), the interwebz helpfully fills in the gaps. As near as I can tell, the model was a Ford Custom 300 Business 2 Door Sedan, retailing new at just under $2,000 according to this website. The engine was 223 cubic inches, with a Holley single-barrel carb, and produced a whopping 145 horsepower. The car had a theoretical top speed of 94 mph and a 0-60 time of just under 13 seconds (which was actually faster than a 1980 Buick Skylark [heh…I initially typed “Skylard“] or a 1977 Cadillac Seville). Engine and performance specs via this site.
It was a two-door model with some manmade faux-fabric covered bench seats, front and back (which I would later come to recognize as a feature, not a bug), and vestigial tail fins. The paint color was a non-descript beige; today it would probably be called something like Unbleached Cosmic Tuscan Latte, but it was really just West Texas dirt colored, rendering it nearly invisible in a sand storm, but also able to go months without an apparent need for a wash job.
I implied above that this nondescript Ford — which, incidentally, was the only FOMOCO product my dad owned for decades, he being a staunch GM guy for reasons that were never clear to me — had a profound impact on my life. Here’s a summary of some of the highlights (and lowlights, depending on one’s perspective) of my relationship with the car…which, by the way, we never named, although there were times when I called it names.
- I learned to drive behind that big, skinny steering wheel, and before I had my license my parents let me drive it, unaccompanied, around the neighborhood on Sunday mornings before church.
- The Ford became my daily driver once I had a license and I drove it everywhere, including on some offroad adventures. One in particular stands out, as I high-centered it on a dirt berm around an abandoned pit. Fortunately, some random guy was walking through the pasture and helped me rock the car off the berm, so I never had to confess to my parents. (I’m not naive enough to think that in a small town like FS, they didn’t find out anyway.)
- I experienced my first car wreck as a driver, when I t-boned a car that pulled out in front of me front a stop sign at the intersection of Dickinson Blvd and Everts St (there’s now a traffic light there). No one was hurt. The other guy’s car got the worst of the damage; we got a new fender, front bumper, and paint job out of it.
- I drove the car to school most days. Once I started dating, my girlfriend (and eventual wife) would borrow it to go home for lunch. That wouldn’t have been worth mentioning except she lived only one block from the high school. It’s also worth mentioning that she learned to drive in a Sixties-era VW bug, so she was not intimidated by a manual transmission.
- One summer, between our junior and senior years, two of my buddies and I drove the Ford from Fort Stockton to Norman, Oklahoma (with a stopover in Arlington to visit my aunt and uncle) to see our former band director. It was quite an adventure for us small town guys, and we got to watch the moon landing while we were in Oklahoma. We made it up there without incident, but the alternator went out on the return trip a couple of miles past Penwell. This was before it became a ghost town, so two of us hiked back to the truck stop and called home, and two of our dads drove sixty-five miles and replaced the alternator in the dead of night.
- And speaking of mechanical mishaps, I remember well driving on a neighborhood street and experiencing a loud thump and violent jolt, and I’ll never forget the sight of the left rear wheel rolling down the street ahead of the car. I learned a valuable lesson that day about tightening lug nuts.
- As I mentioned above, the Ford didn’t have a radio, so at some point I installed a state-of-the-art 8-track tape deck. I figured out how to wire it into the car’s system for power, but I didn’t go to the trouble of routing speaker wires. Instead, I just laid the speakers on the back seat floorboard. Very classy, huh? But that tape deck got quite a workout.
I’ll close with a non-detailed summary of many of my favorite memories. The bench seats were an integral asset to our dating life, and I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what I mean by that. Suffice it to say that life is sometimes comprised of a series of circles, and the same drive-in theater where my family came into possession of that clunky-but-mostly-reliable vehicle would later become the site where my hot girlfriend (and eventual wife…need I remind you?) pretended to watch movies.
I can’t remember what became of the car. At some point my dad acquired a used Olds Cutlass with a fairly potent V8 engine, and he might have sold the Ford or traded it in. My brother probably has a better handle on that than me, as I was off in college by that time.
Incidentally, I never owned a car until I got married, although I did have a motorcycle. And while I sometimes wish that we still had that ’58 Ford, I’m sure its appeal is more imaginary than real. Except for those bench seats…
And, for the record, that drive-in has been gone for decades. Adios, mi buen amigo.