Let me start out by acknowledging that my beloved Miss Daisy is a homely gal with a great personality. She is kind of simple. She’s got wide hips, a pale complexion, spindly legs and could at times be considered “needy” (and I am being both kind and brutally honest).
Beneath that rugged exterior beats an automotive heart of pure gold. The height, light weight and short wheelbase make this rear wheel drive F-100 almost as manouverable as my Jeep. Though no speed demon, the torquey engine in this rig could pull a tall building down. Having a fairly new and reliable ride begs the question- just what I needed this classic “Bull Nose” Ford for. Especially when you consider the scarcity of certain parts and the relatively low value of perfect examples. Fair questions. Admittedly, I have owned more than my share of cars in this life.
Long story short, it is a sickness. A genuine affliction that science should in good conscience endeavor to cure. My cars come and they go. Usually I buy a diamond in the rough; a great undervalued old niche car that just needs a little love. Between cash and sweat equity over several years I invariably spend far more on my project than I recoup in the end (or would have spent buying the restored version). Not to mention the opportunity cost of not being there for family activities, romantic dinners or Dancing With the Stars reruns.
Being as an engineer by trade means that I am drawn back every time like the proverbial moth to the flame. From Mustangs to Jeeps to Porsches and motorcycles and (of all things, a British armored scout car) I never learn my lesson. I need to tinker. I grew up doing this. It is in my blood; passed down from Dad. My joy is actually in the time spent wrenching, problem solving, researching, meeting other enthusiasts and hearing their stories. There is the social aspect and the feeling of being able to do something not everyone can do. As I tell my long-suffering wife, there will never be another woman but- there will always be another project. Car guys understand the sickness: The Passion.
I first spotted “Miss Daisy” on a SoCal Craigslist. From a few nicely composed online photos I just knew that she would be the replacement for a classic GMC pickup that I sold in Virginia a number of years ago. In my head I could imagine the honeymoon: cruising North along the rugged California coast of Big Sur, Slurpee in hand and a bag of greasy tacos within easy reach on that big, beautiful bench seat, Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” playing on the radio… Magical. This time around it would be a Ford “Flareside” with the legendary 4.9 liter “Big Six” engine. Ideally suited for agricultural equipment, this engine is by all accounts not only hard to kill but the best engine Ford Motor Company ever built.
Miss Daisy had her secrets, which I would learn slowly (and painfully). Luckily I have access to a well-equipped garage and supportive friends (called enablers in today’s parlance). Miss Daisy is a true California car, meaning that despite nearly four decades on the road there is no rust anywhere. Coming from the East Coast this means more to me than the lack of a beastly V8 and the challenge of mastering manual column shift, also known as Three on the Tree.
Miss Daisy was sold to me by a “flipper” who specializes in reselling a large volume of pre-loved cars per year, in addition to lawn mower and small equipment repair. Unfortunately for the prospective buyer, vehicle history is whatever sounds good at the time. According to the seller (who could see I was hooked) Miss Daisy was owned by a Hollywood writer who needed a low key, reliable vehicle to go surfing in. Not sure about any of that, but at first sight I was struck by the absolute simplicity of the truck. No frills, damn few accessories and an abundance of solid metal. Sure, the clutch and shifter felt sketchy, but I was assured that the clutch was a “heavy duty” version (in truth, it was both worn out and badly adjusted, with a shifter held together with JB Weld epoxy). Somehow despite battling vague handling, poor shifting and an aggravating Alpine stereo with impossibly small buttons I managed to drive my prize 35 miles back to the parking lot at work.
True to form I stole time at the end of each work day to do some small thing that would bring Miss Daisy closer to being a respectable lady. Basics first: change all fluids as well as any rubber belts and hoses that looked like they dated back to the Reagan Era. Next up tires; and no they don’t make that size anymore, so easy to find Goodyears for me. Hubcaps, because the new tires looked lonely. Then finding the correct non-Dumbo like mirrors. While I am picking the old gal apart lets dump that shiny Alpine stereo for a vintage 1979 model off eBay (of course the “working” radio turned out to be full of dried cola and required two nights on my desk to resurrect). A discreetly hidden 30 watt amp, decent speakers and an auxiliary input Jack for my iPhone give me quality sound without looking to would be thieves like it is worth the effort to break in..
The aforementioned column shifter that had been slapped together with epoxy finally gave up the ghost. I had to drive home ten miles in third gear, which shortened the life of the already sketchy clutch. And no, they don’t make the shifter column collar any longer. Rare as hens teeth if you find one and my needs were immediate. Luckily with judicious metal trimming I was able to make an older version of the part work (on the second attempt). Disassembly and reassembly of the steering column was the stuff watchmakers have nightmares about.
Much of the effort was spent removing previous owners’ modifications. A rudimentary aftermarket cruise control from the long forgotten past just had to go. Medusa-like wiring clumps with no discernible function. Vacuum lines that in no way resembled stock material or configuration gave the engine a pronounced stumble at all speeds. Footprint pedal covers- gone! More basic tuneup parts and I was feeling 50% confidence in my ability to make it home from short errands. All my new found power made short work of the clutch. My few short forays onto local highways put real fear into my heart whenever I hit a pothole or bump at speed. Somewhere between water bed shimmy and the last desperate death throes of the HMS TITANIC. New Monroe gas shocks and a lube job solved the fatal wobble. Friends assisted me installing a new, larger clutch with flywheel, and that made all the difference in the world. Hill climbs were less speculative and I could finally make it across an intersection before the traffic light changed. New dash parts, an AC charge, some Mexican blanket seat covers and I now had a daily driver.
You see, Miss Daisy and I kind of have a thing going. I tell myself that this relationship will bloom in the same fallow ground where countless other crops were plowed under by either necessity or whim. She is the one that gets the look from gear heads at stop lights, the thumbs up from strangers, the subtle head nod from the taco truck guys. Soccer moms and drivers in $60,000 luxury coupes cast scornful looks and keep their respective distance since there is no way in hell this fossil should be on the road or could ever be adequately insured. Surely this joker does not understand the rules of polite society. ‘Just look at that idiot, elbow out the window, music blaring, five miles under the speed limit. White trash, I tell you. And that grin; definitely high on something.’ Love, brother. It’s called love.