Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cars I Have Known IV

My computer is down again- blown a second hard drive in a year- so I can't get a picture of either of my 'Birds; this is an old Ford image from 1969. This was the best image I could get from the Internet.

1969 Thunderbirds are rare. Ford built about 25,000 'Birds total in '69. That may sound like a lot of cars, but that same year they built 250,000 four door Galaxy 500s. T-birds are rare. And I have managed to get my hands on 4 of them.

My first was back in 1979, in North Dakota. The car was 10 years old and had almost any option you could want. Looking at Ford's option list for '69 I think I am missing the passenger side mirror, the sunroof, the fiber optic light minder and the rear window mounted brake lights. Yes, an option in 1969; mandatory 15 years later.

Ford only offered one motor in the 'Bird that year; a 429 cubic inch big block V-8 with a recorded 380 horsepower, but Ford has been found to be notorious for under-reporting engine horsepower and dyno tests have recorded over 410. 10.5 to 1 compression- where most modern cars run 8 to 1- and a 7.0 liter (for those who want to know) where today most cars are less than half that. This car used sheer size to compensate for lack of technology. In some respects a perfect metaphor for the United States in the 1960's.

These birds are, to me anyway, the epitome of what was once right with American Cars. Driving it is like sitting in your living room. everything adjusts to your perfect comfort. Road feel through the steering wheel? Hardly. This is your living room, remember? Cornering? Like the Queen Mary. Living room, remember?

But do you want to sit in total comfort for 4 or 5 hours while watching the countryside pass by at 65 MPH (or 90 or maybe more)? This is the car.

Who talked about fuel economy in 1969? Around town, count on about 8-10 MPG. Stop and go downtown? 4 to 5 if you don't run the air conditioning. This car was born for the highway. I once ran mine form Grand Forks ND to Omaha NE. 500 and some miles in one day. I made the whole trip at around 80 MPH and got 18.5 MPG. The next morning I started across Iowa and got busted for 80 in a 55. Iowa was a little more particular about their speed limits than ND, SD or NE I guess. Anyway, I ran all the way across Iowa at 55. And got 14 MPG. It's a Bird; it was made to fly.

On that same trip ( I was driving my 'Bird home before leaving for England) I hit I-275 from I-74 and was following it around into Kentucky. I was coming up the hill from the bridge and gave it a little gas to climb the hill. It was 4:00 in the morning and I had been awake sine 6:00 am and this was the first time I had been in the Bluegrass for a year. I got to the top of the hill and kept the pedal down.

I always had a problem with the dash lights in that car. There was a loose or bare wire somewhere and randomly the dash lights would blow a fuse. The fuse was small, and in the back of the fuse box, which was inside the glove compartment, so I didn't always replace it immediately when it blew. The dash lights fuse blew somewhere around Illinois 6 hours earlier and I hadn't replaced it yet. So I couldn't see my speedometer. Until I happened to glance down while going under a street light.

Bear in mind, I-275 was brand new; it was 4:00 in the morning and the road was empty. And I was 20. How fast was I going? Imagine a clock face. Zero would be about 6:30; 120 would be at about 5:30. The needle was back up to about 20MPH. I let go of the gas pedal immediately. I felt like i was doing maybe 100, but it was probably closer to 150. Living room, remember?

Why did it take me 6 hours to get from Illinois to Kentucky? The battery went dead on me in Indiana (The 'Bird's alternator had a funky built in voltage regulator that would occasional y take a couple of hours off. The ammeter didn't work, so you wouldn't know when the regulator had taken a vacation until the lights would suddenly dim) and I had to stop at a truck stop at 1:00 am to have the battery charged. That took an hour. Except the mechanic who charged the battery turned on the timer, but not the voltage. That battery didn't charge and I had to spend another hour waiting on the charger.

I still have that 'Bird. it is euphemistically 'Awaiting Restoration', meaning it's parked out back of the barn, waiting on me to get a couple of bucks together.

Which I will do.

As soon as I can quit raising kids.

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