Auto-Biography 26: There's a Future in Your Ford

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
auto biography 26 theres a future in your ford

Twenty years ago, I was a well-heeled young exec. One day, I decided to indulge in a four-wheeled “weekend toy.” Instead of a Dino or XK-E, I dropped $500 on a 1966 Ford F-100 pickup. Sure, I’d harbored fantasies about Ferraris and Jags for years. But I didn’t want to be saddled with an expensive toy that offered temporary or unreliable escape. My dream has always been about real freedom. The freedom to wake up in the morning, sniff the air and go… berry picking! Lumber hauling! The simple, rugged, frugal Ford represented my ideal life. And I knew it would get me there.

For the first five years, I used my weekend toy to haul brush and tree trimmings to the dump. The dump road had numerous tight switchbacks; my kids and I have many happy memories exaggeratedly leaning over on top of each other going around the hairpins. Coming back down the road, I’d turn the ignition off and on, creating lovely explosions out the tailpipe. One time I waited too long and blew out the muffler, ending that noisy pastime.

Five years later, a corporate purge swept away my executive status. I reckoned it was time to go for the dream of a simpler, more honest life. So I sold our expensive Los Gatos property, hooked-up a trailer to the old Ford, loaded our worldly goods and headed north to Oregon.

I bought property, subdivided, and had a bunch of old houses that were about to be torn down moved unto my lots. “Old Yellow” and I were working hard now, doing it all ourselves. When the houses were all fixed up and rented out, I knew that the dream had pretty much come true.

Now, when I drive my battered Ford into a parking lot full of giant 4×4 mega-cab turbo-diesel 24” chrome-wheeled trucks, I chuckle about the millions in equity I made by putting all my dough into assets that appreciate, instead of these rapidly-depreciating show-off toys.

The F-100 is a half-ton pickup rated to carry 1200lbs, motivated by the 129hp “small” 240CID six. It’s tough as nails, never failing to pull or carry anything I’ve asked it to. One time I weighed-out with 3500lbs of building rocks at the local quarry and created a killer low-rider. I’ve also pulled Bobcats on trailers weighing well over 7k lbs. The Ford takes it all in stride.

Since my three-speed doesn’t have a “granny” low gear, I have to plan my route to avoid stopping on a steep incline while grossly overloaded. I stay in low gears coming down hills, as the drum brakes are next to useless.

With no power steering, power brakes or smog controls, there’s very little to break or replace. And so the F-100 rarely breaks down. When it does, it’s the easiest vehicle imaginable to fix. It’s had a new clutch, and the fiber camshaft gear broke recently. Since I replaced it with a heavy-duty steel gear, it howls like a 1920’s blower Bentley.

The Ford’s blessed with a Warner T-85 HD three-speed with overdrive. Freeway cruising is relaxed at 2000rpm (and 20 mpg). Because the OD also has free-wheeling, the transmission shifts without declutching. By splitting the gears with the OD, six ratios are always at hand to play with. It’s a great device for baffling passengers.

But I have to stay on the ball; I don’t want to be caught on a long downhill with the freewheeling on. The little drums will smoke and be useless well before a full stop. The litigation era sealed the overdrive unit’s future.

Plenty of well meaning folks have suggested swapping out the F-100’s drums for disc brakes, or upgrading to a V8 and automatic. But they’re missing the point. Today’s vehicles are utterly effortless and disengaging (no wonder drivers are multi-tasking and babbling on their cell phones). I love driving and enjoy the challenges– and limitations– of the old Ford.

The F-100 doesn’t have a radio and I don’t carry a cell phone; the piece of plywood covering up the pickup’s radio hole gave graphic meaning to my son’s (mis)understanding of the word “dashboard”.

From time to time I take the old beast out for a brisk outing through the local hills and winding roads. Then my easily provoked imagination takes over. I’m driving one of my all-time fantasy cars, a 1920’s era Bentley: a big straight six with howling cam-gear drive, manual choke, complicated gears, leaf springs and solid axles, a giant steering wheel and puny brakes. It’s the unmitigated joy of pushing elemental machinery to its maximum capabilities.

And on the way home I can stop off at the quarry and pick up a ton of rock for that wall I’m building. Try doing that with the typical weekend fantasy toy.

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  • TOTitan TOTitan on Jan 16, 2010

    I have a newer truck (04 Nissan Titan, KC 2x4) but I use it the same way you guys do your old trucks. I installed lowering shackles which brings the bed height down to 32", and Firestone airbags which allow me to carry unbelievably heavy loads without bottoming out. Lately I have been pouring concrete for a back yard project, and regularly haul a full pallet of concrete mix home (3150 lbs, airbags set at 85 psi) with no problem, and a normal ride height. When I ordered the truck, I made sure that it had three important packages: Off Road which has skid plates and beefier wheels/tires, Utility Bed which has the factory bedliner, extra adjustable tie downs, fender mounted storage, and 12v outlet in the bed, and Tow Pkg which upgrades batt, cooling, has trans temp gauge, and frame mound slider hitch and a socket to plug in trailer wiring. I have always had old trucks before this one (63 Intl., 79 F250), but I can tell you that its really nice having A/C and lots of power while I'm hauling my stuff

  • Aaron Aaron on Nov 11, 2014

    I recently picked up a 1966 F250 with the 8 foot bed. This is the first Ford truck I've ever owned and your article is very encouraging.

  • Jim Bonham Thanks.
  • Luke42 I just bought a 3-row Tesla Model Y.If Toyota made a similar vehicle, I would have bought that instead. I'm former Prius owner, and would have bought a Prius-like EV if it were available.Toyota hasn't tried to compete with the Model Y. GM made the Bolt EUV, and Ford made the Mach-E. Tesla beat them all fair and square, but Toyota didn't even try.[Shrug]
  • RHD Toyota is trying to hedge their bets, and have something for everyone. They also may be farther behind in developing electric vehicles than they care to admit. Japanese corporations sometimes come up with cutting-edge products, such as the Sony Walkman. Large corporations (and not just Japanese corporations) tend to be like GM, though - too many voices just don't get heard, to the long-term detriment of the entity.
  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
  • Bunkie The Flying Flea has a fascinating story and served, inadvertently, to broaden the understanding of aircraft design. The crash described in the article is only part of the tale.
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