Kevin Autry is a new and much younger member of the 1949-’53 Ford Mercury Club. He is the forty one year old new blood that each and every antique car club in this country is in desperate need of these days. How often have you heard it said that the young people aren’t interested in the old cars like “WE” were, and “All the young people are interested in these days are computers and electronics. They don’t care about old cars.” “We” are now in our 60’s and older—the mainstay of the antique car hobby. Who is going to carry on the old car interest when we’re gone or too old to work on ‘em? Despite almost 25 years difference in age between us there is remarkable similarity in how we- Kevin and I– got hooked on this old car hobby. Specifically, Grandpa left us 1950 automobiles—he a 1950 Ford and me a 1950 Mercury.
Kevin and I recently met through corresponding on the Internet Shoebox Ford Forum when he realized that we lived about 10 miles from each other. He lives in Shalersville. I now have a 1951 Ford and, as it turned out, was having many of the same problems that he was experiencing with his 1950 Ford—basically stalling, sputtering, overheating, and vapor lock– the things that shoebox Fords are especially known for with our modern ethanol laced gasoline. He is afraid to drive his car more than 10-20 miles locally and I am too. It gets frustrating getting towed home on a regular basis—rough on the ego. But we are making progress!
Kevin’s car has been a Portage County car kept in the family since 1955. Grandpa, from Palmyra, bought it used in that year. His Mom learned to drive in it. It was the family’s mainstay back then. By 1960 the body was rusted pretty well –“It was shot, they said”, so Grandpa pushed the Standard Deluxe body off the frame and replaced it with the Custom Deluxe body that sits on it now. Now, if you think about it, this was no small undertaking even back in 1960. Grandpa obviously was quite mechanically inclined. Actually, he was an ex-Marine who worked as a custodian for Southeast Schools and could fix anything. He drove the car for a few more years and then the car got traded around the family to cousins, aunts and uncles. Ultimately it was considered too old and worn out by 1968 so Grandpa put it in the barn in Palmyra where it sat for the next 18 years. During this time Kevin, as a kid played in it and like all kids fantasized about one day driving it.
Grandpa died in 1986 and at the funeral an uncle handed the title over to 16-year-old Kevin and said, “Do something with it.” So at 16 years of age he and his Dad began to work on the car. They put a new motor in it, rebuilt the transmission and put new king pins in the front end.
As the world turns, young men grow up, go off to college, get married, and have kids of their own. The Ford was put on the back burner, in the barn. These antique cars of ours are not exactly a cheap undertaking anymore and a young family man, well, he needs to be frugal and this car would need to wait.
In 2010 Kevin decided it was time to sink or swim with this car so he pulled it out of the barn and tore it apart. Over the course of the next year he stripped the body and repaired and replaced rusted panels. He removed and replaced the interior, designing the new interior by himself. He replaced the wiring. Because he had replaced the engine some 24 years ago he didn’t have to do much beside replace the head gaskets, install a new distributor and clean the gas tank. Working on a budget Kevin performed 99% of the restoration work himself. Kevin refers to his car as ”The (shoe) Box on a Budget”.
2011 was the year to actually get the car on the road after 43 years in the barn. The Ford now runs, better and better as the summer and fall unfold. But like most antique restorations done by working men (as opposed to those who can afford to farm the work out to specialty shops) the forward progress often seems like two steps forward, one step back. You get one thing fixed and then two other things go bad.
Kevin has managed to make it to several local cruise-ins and car shows in Garrettsville and in Brimfield. The car is painted; the interior is pretty well done. It has a lot of new chrome. Yes, the car is a work in progress, but enough progress has been made so that it does show well.
Plans for the coming year include suspension work, getting the rear springs re-arched, new shocks, and getting the squeaks out of the front suspension. It needs mufflers and tailpipes. “I like the stock appearance but I might decide to do a bit of modernizing like maybe installing bucket seats and a console. I also want to carpet the trunk”, he says.
Will it become a daily driver? Probably not. In the first place these old cars were not, and are not now great on gas. Secondly, they don’t like the alcohol in our modern gas. Third, the lack of power steering (a.k.a. Armstrong Steering) makes for an arduous daily commute. “But the car is a part of the family”, Kevin notes. “Maybe my daughter will drive it someday. This summer my mother got her first ride in it after many, many years. She was delighted.”
The Old Road is a column that features antique automobiles, old cars, their owners, and their stories of the road, the restoration, and the acquisitions. Do you have a restored antique auto? Perhaps you have an old daily driver or a no longer drivable derelict with an endearing family history sitting out in the barn or a field? Maybe you have questions about restoration. Drop me a line: E-mail me at Skipstaxidermy@yahoo.com, or give me a call at 330-562-9801, I’d like to hear from you.