A family affair

Old Cars Weekly archive – May 29, 2008 issue

Story and photos by Joseph Garant Steele

My father’s car, as I always refer to it, was purchased in late 1978 by him at Fordland in Auburn, Maine, as a leftover, low-option car that had not yet sold. I suspect this 1978 Ford LTD II S lingered on the dealer’s lot, because it was a dark, midnight blue color and had no air conditioning, making it a very hot car in the summertime.

My father, Noel Garant, was a hard-working and old-fashioned type of man, and this was the last new car he bought. My father was actually looking for a Cutlass Supreme or a Monte Carlo, but came home with the Ford instead. The Ford was a base-model two-door that cost him $5,000. It came equipped with hubcaps and whitewall tires, but no stripe, and he talked the dealership into installing a clock and floor mats before taking it home.

I learned to drive in the car and remember enjoying how long the hood was as I looked at it from over the dashboard. After four years of ownership, my father sold the car to a local mechanic for $2,000 with only 30,000 miles on the odometer in 1982. The Ford was sold so my father could buy me a black 1969 Ford Mustang fastback with flames, but after Dad sold the Ford, we learned the Mustang had been sold to someone else; we both ended up losing our Fords.

The mechanic who bought the LTD II S also kept it four years, and in 1986, he sold it for $900.

A family with the last name Alexander was driving by the mechanic’s home when their daughter spotted the Ford and fell in love with it. They bought the Ford for her and she drove it all through school, then she kept it as her family car after she was married.

In 1996, my father and I, not knowing what happened to the Ford after he sold it, were driving in Brunswick, Maine, about 30 miles from where we lived, and spotted the Ford. My dad said it couldn’t be the same car, but I knew it was. The car was still blue, but it had mag-style wheels and side exhaust pipes, as well as a sunroof. I followed the car until the driver pulled into a fast food parking lot. I introduced myself in the parking lot, and to confirm whether this was my dad’s original car, I asked to look in the trunk. Many years ago, my dad would not let me put a bumper sticker on the car’s bumper, so I put it inside the trunk. If the sticker was still there, the LTD II S was the same car my father had purchased new. If there was no sign of the sticker, it wasn’t likely to be the same car. When the trunk lid was opened, there it was, the chewing tobacco sticker that said, “A Little Pinch Is All It Takes.”

Upon seeing the sticker, a deal was sealed with the current owners that, when they no longer wanted the car, they would sell it back to me.

Two years later, in 1998, my father died of lung cancer. Among the promises I made to my father before he passed was that I would buy the car back and restore it.

The Ford never left the back of my mind, and in 2002, I received a call from the Alexander family. They were ready to sell the car, and I was able to purchase it. The first order of business was to get it safe to drive as it had sat for a few years. This required new brakes, tires and some electrical parts. The car had a sunroof, so I went to a salvage yard and took a roof skin off another car and installed it on the Ford. J&K Collision Center did the work and the work on the roof cannot be detected. I then put the car into storage until the next spring, and that’s when all the problems began.

First, I took the car for a ride after its long winter storage and the electrical power died, along with the engine. I pulled off a busy highway and into a driveway, but the car rolled down a hill and slammed into the porch of a house and started to burn. The homeowner and his family came out of the house and helped me put out the fire.

I took it back to the body shop with a smashed nose and fender, and for the next two years, they completely restored the car. I had restored 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Holiday coupe that the body shop owner liked, so I traded the Olds for the repair work done on my dad’s Ford. I was also fortunate to find an NOS grille and front fender that were installed on the car at that time.

After the car returned from the body shop, a front wheel came lose and the tire flew off while I was driving, causing damage to the fender and the brake rotor. Again, the body shop repaired the fender, and on this visit, they painted the Sport stripe using a factory photo as a pattern.

In 2005, I took the Ford to its first car show and had a good time, even though I did not win a trophy. I believe Dad would have loved to see his Ford in all its glory.

Since then, I have located a rare police car rally gauge package with a 140-mph speedometer and temperature gauge, as well as an optional leather-wrapped steering wheel. The only thing I would to add to car is a set of original bucket seats and a floor shift with console to give the car a more sporty look inside. I have learned that finding NOS parts for Ford LTD IIs is hard, because these cars do not have a large following, but I do believe 1970s cars will continue to grow in value and popularity as 1960s cars become expensive to purchase.

The Ford has a 302-cid V-8 with a four-barrel carburetor that is mildly built up  and now provides enough power for me.

I work at a collector car dealership in Freeport, Maine, called Classic Convertibles, as I enjoy being around collector cars and trucks. When I bring the Ford to work, it draws a crowd and people ask what kind of car it is. Now that the car has come full circle, I don’t plan to ever let it go.

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