Old Rides

My love for land yachts began; I suppose, as an extension of my father's belief that "Bigger is better". His theory is the big car always wins over what he still refers to as "puddle jumpers". He owned full sized Chevrolet, Buick, Ford and Chrysler cars and very definitely didn't approve of compacts, especially imports, or for that matter anything that didn't have a V8. Growing up around all these really neat, powerful cars, certainly defined the cars I've owned over the years. To this day I insist upon a V8 and rear-wheel drive, my daily driver is a Ford Crown Victoria and Dad's is a Mercury Marquee.

Bigger is lethal in the hands of a teenager

The corollary of "Bigger is better" is "Bigger is lethal in the hands of a teenager" and my father could not come to grips with the idea of his teenage son cruising anywhere in his car. A driver's licence and driving Dad's car was simply out of the question. I was, however, determined to get my licence and then some wheels.

Fortunately a high school buddy, Bob Knight, had a '49 ford and he was willing to teach me how to drive. It was an interesting experience since his manual gearbox wasn't synchronized and the clutch was sprung so tight I had to stand on it with both feet to change gears. Eventually though I managed to get my license and now needed something to drive.

Have License - I'll drive!

I found a job delivering groceries for a small store in our neighbourhood and became the Sterling Moss of the grocery trade. My father still wouldn't allow me to drive his car, but salvation came from an unexpected direction. My mother, who had never learned to drive, got herself talked into getting a driver's license. She was a very nervous driver and was, to put it mildly, was a disaster looking for a place to happen. She would only drive forward, never backwards and always planned her trips to avoid left turns. To get to the shopping mall, she would have me to back the car out of the driveway onto the street while making sure I left it pointed in the right direction. I recall one time mom called from the mall in a complete panic, she had parked in a slot and some silly person had parked in front of her so she couldn't get out without backing up. I had to walk about 2 miles to the mall to extract her car. There was no way I was going to walk home and I sure wasn't about to let her drive me anywhere so I insisted that I drive.

Dad found out and after much "discussion" agreed to add teenager coverage to his insurance - but - I could only drive mother around. I still wonder if my mother got her license simply to engineer a way to get me insured because she never drove again. The new scheme became, "Mom I'll drop you at the mall and come back and pick you up when you are done". Mom soon tired of being a "mall orphan" and talked Dad into letting me use the car by myself. However, getting permission to take the car out for an evening cruise was an event that required very careful planning. Household chores became an integral part of my life.

Things came to a head one Saturday morning after I had taken my girl friend, Susan, (now my wife) to a teen dance the night before. My father always carefully inspected his car after I had been behind the wheel and this time he found an empty beer bottle on the back seat. In those days you didn't lock cars or roll up windows and someone at the dance had tossed his empty in the car window. Talking my way out of that bottle wasn't going to happen so I decided to find alternate wheels

Borrowed Wheels

I made my spending money shovelling snow in winter and cutting grass in the summer. One of my customers, Earl Grandmaison, didn't have any children and sort of treated me as the son he never had. He had a black 1959 Oldsmobile 98 hardtop; it was loaded and had a monster V8. He wanted it washed and waxed weekly and as payment I could use the car anytime he didn't need it. He seldom used the car in the evenings or on weekends. I was now in heaven.

My First Car

Spring of 1964, I came across an ad for a '57 Ford that was for sale and it was only $400. Turned out to be a 6-cylinder, standard, two-door sedan that was owned by an insurance agent's wife. She had sideswiped it on the passenger side in '63, she sideswiped the driver's side in '64 and after it was all repaired she sideswiped the passenger side again. Definitely a worse driver than my mother, at least Mom never hit anything. Granted it wasn't a V8 but it was mine and the most beautiful car in the world - provided you didn't look at the passenger side. Friday and Saturday nights were dedicated to cruising burger joints and impromptu drag races. One night I met a fellow who had an old V8 in his garage that I could have for $50. So began my first major mechanical experience. The engine turned out to be a 430 Lincoln with a couple of burned valves, but the pistons, rings and bearings were all good. Never the less, I tore it completely apart, checked and cleaned everything and slowly got it ready for my car. Along the way I found a dual four-barrel intake manifold and a couple of Holly 4 bbl carbs. Being young and stupid, I paid no attention to silly details such as steering geometry, braking, springs or whether or not the clutch and three-speed transmission would last longer than the first power shift. I spent a lot of time at auto wreckers buying clutches and transmissions. Eventually I had the bodywork done and swapped the single '57 headlights for quads from a '58.

After driving the Ford a while I began to see the folly of a V8 in a car built for a 6, sure it was awesome in a straight line drag but it didn't steer very well, didn't stop well and drank gas like it was going out of style. In 1965 I moved to Hamilton and spent my non-working hours driving back and forth to Toronto to visit Susan after she moved there from Ottawa. The car was costing me a fortune in transmissions and gas. Time to upgrade.

My First Fury

Spring of 1966 I saw the most beautiful car I'd ever seen, it was a dark royal blue 1964 Fury two-door hardtop. Everyday I stopped to admire that car; it was a case of love at first sight. One day it sported a For Sale sign in the window and I now had a problem, I wanted to buy it but knew it had to be worth way more than I could afford. So I continued to admire it from a distance.

Finally one afternoon the owner was washing it, so I worked up my courage and with studied indifference wandered over and asked him what he wanted for the "old pig". He got a little defensive and went into full-scale sell mode, after an hour or so it was mine for $2,600. Unfortunately I didn't have $2,600, heck I only made $4,800 a year, but I was determined.

I managed to sell the Ford for $1,000 to a fellow with more money than brains and I talked my bank into financing the rest. I had graduated to a higher level of heaven, the car handled like a dream, it could stop, it had a 318 V8 and an automatic with push buttons on the dash rather than a column shift. It certainly didn't have the power of the Ford but it was so nice otherwise that engine size wasn't a problem. Besides I was now older and gradually discovering that street drags were too hard on the car and pocketbook.

Susan graduated from nursing that summer and had to move to Kingston to take her last year of Nursing Science at Queens' University so my commute would now be about 4 hours each way. We decided to get married and I would enrol at Queens' and study Electrical Engineering. We arrived in Kingston, she with a $1,500 bursary and I with my car and about $75. Times were tight so some sort of income was mandatory.

After high school I went to E.O.I.T. (Eastern Ontario Institute of Technology later absorbed by Algonquin College to become an Electronic Technologist. Along the way I saw my first computer, an analogue beast made by Pace. While working in Hamilton for Westinghouse in their Aerospace Research Division I worked with an even bigger Pace analogue system so I considered myself to be a computer "expert". I soon discovered Queens' had just received its first computer from IBM and that no one had any idea what to do with it. I talked my way into becoming one of their first Student Advisors at the unbelievable wage of $10 per hour. Later I became a Staff Advisor at $20 per hour.

By 1968 Susan had graduated and was now the Public Heath Nurse for the county. With her income and my income we were in much better financial shape. After two years the '64 was starting to feel "old", mostly because I still missed the horsepower of the old '57 Ford. After much discussion we started to look at cars again.

My First Convertible

November of '68 we took the plunge and bought a one-year-old maroon '68 Fury Convertible. We paid $3,895 and got $1,595 for the '64 as a trade-in. I probably didn't get a very good deal because the dealer put the '64 on the lot at only $1,280. Makes me wonder what the true value of the '68 was. I was more interested in the monthly payment than the real cost. The '64 Fury didn't have the power of the '57 Ford, but it still would haul pretty well so we figured a convertible with a 318 would be a step up.

We took a trip to the east coast and quickly discovered that an under powered, over sprung land yacht is not much fun to drive. Our new pride and joy was also a lemon, everything seemed to be falling apart. We liked the size, style, and the ragtop, but the meagre engine and associated mechanical problems soon had us car shopping again.


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