It all started one lonely winter day in Madrid, Spain (where I was living as an exchange student), when I opened a letter from my parents and out dropped a picture of a weathered burgundy 1968 Ford Custom, sitting in a corn field behind my grandfather's apartment on the reservation. The once strapping auto body repairman had become too old to drive, and he wanted me to have it.
For the next 10 years, that old Custom and I were nearly inseparable, best buddies hauling down the highway throughout the Midwest. It became my place of solace, my pride and joy, my link to freedom. And, best of all, one day it introduced me to my wife.
Unfortunately, however, the Custom eventually reached the point of no return, in no small part due to careless handling by a moving company on the way to California. So, I pried off the hubcaps, the Ford emblems, and the radio knobs, and then sold it someone for parts. It was over, the legacy had passed away.
For the next few years, my wife and I wistfully kept an eye out for another car to replace the Ford, but nothing ever caught our eyes - until one day I ran across this beautiful 1967 Ford Galaxie 500. Original paint, immaculate interior, original spare tire (with factory chalk marks still on it), original owner's manual with registration card, everything. And the most amazing part was the mileage: 19,400 miles. I took it for a test drive, and it was ours.
This series of photos celebrates the design of the old Fords, it celebrates my grandfather, and it celebrates my wife, Ilana. Without them, I never would have had the good fortune to have experienced this car in all its glory. So here it is, the 1967 Ford Galaxie 500, slightly updated for the current year, with all the bumps, pits, and dust of a 40-year old car, for you to enjoy as well.
As beautiful as it was when we bought it, it needed to be shaken out of its 1960s stupor. But at the same time, we didn't want to do anything that we couldn't later reverse, in case we wanted to sell it or just get it back to more-or-less original condition.
So we started with the exhaust system, replacing the single pipe with a custom dual stainless exhaust, tipped out with a pair of deep-throated Flowmaster mufflers for a sweet rumble.
Next was swapping out all the wheels with deep-well Wheel Vintiques Smoothies (15x7 front, 15x8 rear) and monster Dunlop GT Qualifiers (215/65R15 front, 235/60R15 rear) for traction, as well as new shocks all around for a firmer ride. I ended up having to raise the back a bit - with spacers in the back springs - to keep the tires from rubbing against the inside of the wheel wells.
General maintenance since then has been the usual: new hoses all around, new belts, plug wires, distributor cap and points, and eventually completely replacing the fuel line because it was starting to crack and leak.
I'm a firm believer that cars are made to be driven, and the Galaxie is up to about 34,000 miles. It runs absolutely solid, rolling through everything from three-hour-long 75+ mph highway runs to 45-minute traffic jams in 90 degree weather, from sea level to over 5000 feet elevation. Rock.
Besides the late 1968 Ford Custom from my grandfather and the 1967 Galaxie, I recently found out about another Ford in the family. Back in the 1970's, my father owned a 2-door blue 1968 Ford Custom, damn similar to my current car:
The damage to the grill comes from an accident when someone crossed in front of our family on a two-lane country road somewhere in Nebraska. Everyone survived; even the cars didn't get much damage.
I was commuting to work in the Galaxie a while back, cruising along in dense bay area traffic at about 70 mph, when suddenly the pickup truck two cars ahead of me slammed on his brakes. Traffic had come to a standstill, and he was late in realizing it. Fortunately, he was able to stop.
The (modern-day) Corvette in front of me hit his brakes as well, but after a half second or so realized that he wasn't going to stop in time, so he made a hail-mary dive into the carpool lane and went around the whole mess.
That, of course, leaves me. In a 1968 Ford. With four drum brakes. And no ABS. Closing in on a stopped pickup truck while doing - by this time - about 50 miles an hour.
I knew better than to slam on the brakes, so I tried my best to pulse them and get this beast slowed down. But fate and a 40-year-old car had a different idea. I ended up locking up the tires, squealing and smoking my two tons of steel towards the hapless pickup truck driver, and slowly starting to drift: front to the left, rear to the right.
That wasn't going to end well, so I quickly let off the brake (really, really hard to do in this situation, all things considered), whipped into the carpool lane, and then got back onto the brakes again. Again the tires locked up (I need to get that checked) as the Galaxie howled past a dozen stopped cars in the next lane, their mouths agape at the spectacle.
But I made it. I unclenched my soul and looked in the rear-view mirror. Everything was approximately like it was before I started, except for one thing:
I had created a gigantic blue cloud of smoke from all that skidding, three lanes wide and twice as tall as a semi-trailer truck.
Later that year, I saw the remains of a beautifully restored 1965 Ford Mustang that had been hit hard from the side. There was an impressive selection of car parts strewn across the road, and I never did figure out what happened with the driver.
These old cars feel good and are fun to drive, but it just takes a split second and one knucklehead for things to turn dangerous. Drive careful out there.
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