Posts Tagged ‘fairlane’

Last week, I told you about one of the loves of my grandfather’s life circa 1969 — his brand-new, eagerly anticipated Ford Fairlane 500.

This week, we follow him as he grits his teeth, swallows hard, and thinks about handing the keys over to the other love of his life — my grandmother.

May 6, 1969.

May 6, 1969. (With special bonus content: May 5 and 7.)

I’ve been writing this blog for a good 20 months now … and my total failure to define, describe or otherwise flesh out my grandmother in this space has been an ongoing source of frustration for me.

Corine Mae Blumenau, nee Wambolt, was kindly, good-humored, a skilled baker, deaf as a stone post, and prone to occasional periods of depression.

As a child, I witnessed all of these qualities but the last; and all except the deafness have manifested themselves in me as an adult. (Classifying myself as “kindly” may be giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I suppose.)

Genealogy was her chosen habit. And it is her family’s lineage that connects a 21st-century salaryman to the earliest days of colonial America, through distant ancestors like William Keeney (born 1601, Leicestershire, England; died 1675, New London, Conn.) and Levi Beebe (born 1743, East Haddam, Conn.; died 1817, Richmond, Mass.; served as a corporal in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.)

Corine Blumenau and her adorable grandchildren. Stamford, Connecticut, 1975.

Corine Blumenau and her adorable grandchildren. Stamford, Connecticut, 1975.

My grandma worked until she got married. It was a point of pride to my grandfather that he make enough money to support them, and they dated for several years until he felt comfortable that he could do so.

I am not entirely sure he did her a solid. I think my grandma’s worldview in her homemaker years was somewhat limited, and she would have benefited from engaging a little more with the larger world.

She was the only one of my grandparents who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in her final years; and while social interaction and intellectual challenge have not been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, more of both might have helped her.

(In fairness, millions of other women of her generation chose the same path — homemaking, not Alzheimer’s. I have no evidence to indicate she was anything but agreeable with her switch from working woman to homemaker.)

As far as I know, my grandma never had a driver’s license. I know I never saw her drive, and I do not think she was ever legally able to.

This suited her personality — though I find it difficult to find the exact words to describe why.

Was she ditzy or airheaded? No. But, I could easily imagine her rear-ending somebody because she’d seen a good price for ground beef advertised in a store window, and had started thinking about how she might put it to use.

Was she nervous? Not in a chronic fingernail-biting sense. But, I can easily imagine her going 10 mph under the speed limit — on a street marked for 30 — just to be totally sure she didn’t hit anything.

My aunt and grandma, passengers, 1959.

My aunt and grandma, passengers, 1959.

While my grandma might not have been cut out for driving, she did make some attempts to learn.

My grandfather’s calendar headers for October 1968 and March 1969 both feature notations about my grandma taking, or signing up for, driving lessons.

And the calendar entry that started us off, 500 words or so ago, indicates she went so far as to get behind the wheel and give it her best.

October 1968.

October 1968.

I don’t know at what point the Corine Blumenau Driving Experiment failed. I’m not sure if she ever took a driver’s test, or whether the whole idea was abandoned after a few lessons.

I don’t think the topic was ever raised after 1969, though — or if it was, I don’t remember it ever showing up on the calendar.

My grandfather remained the sole operator of the family celery wagon for the remainder of his life, and they managed to get by with that. My grandma retained firm control over the cooking and cleaning, with help from my great-grandmother.

And that, in the Blumenau household, was the way of things.


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This week in 1969, my grandfather entered into a close relationship that would last for more than a decade.

It was something he’d craved for a while. And it brought him prolonged satisfaction, even pleasure, during a time of great change in his life.

No, no, it wasn’t what you’re thinking.

January 4, 1969.

January 4, 1969.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site that my grandpa was a Ford loyalist for much of his adult life.

And I’ve written before about his evident excitement about taking delivery of a new car — which, granted, is a pretty cool experience.

In the Sixties, my grandfather fell into a pattern of buying a new Ford every four years. He would drive the new one, while the old one went off to college with one of his kids.

First, there was a ’61 Fairlane, the arse end of which is pictured in this post. Then, there was a ’65 Fairlane, which was discussed at some length in the post linked two paragraphs ago.

Documentary evidence suggests this pattern was not coincidental, and my grandpa was plenty aware that 1969 would bring another trip to the dealership:

September 26, 1968.

September 26, 1968.

I love this detail — how my grandpa not only knew about the announcement of the next year’s cars, but put it on his calendar as a personal highlight of the day.

It must have been an exquisite buildup between September 1968, when Ford announced the new line, and January 1969, when my grandpa finally went in to pick his out. Perhaps his dreams were only further fired by commercials like this one:

When the big day finally came, though, my grandfather proved to be a man of noteworthy fidelity. He opted for his third straight Fairlane,  in a color that the interwebs tell me was probably Wimbledon White.

The '69 Fairlane 500.

The ’69 Fairlane 500, in the driveway at 1107 Hope Street, shortly before my grandpa got rid of it. Looks like someone kissed him a little bit on that back panel, right near the bumper, where the red reflector is.

It looks cop-car big in this picture, but I remember it (through a kid’s eyes) seeming modestly midsized.

The Fairlane certainly wasn’t the biggest car in Ford’s 1969 line; at least one other model, the Galaxie, had it beat for size. So did the Plymouth Satellite my folks drove, and the Chevy Impala my other grandparents drove.

The Fairlane didn’t go in for flash, with only that S-thing on the rear pillar to break up the plain, classic straight lines. This was not a car that would have drawn Smokey Bear’s attention on any American interstate of the 1970s.

I note, though, that my grandpa opted for the Fairlane 500, as opposed to the base run-of-the-mill Fairlane. You can see the model designation on the rear panel.

Not sure what those extra three numbers gave him — it certainly wasn’t sporty trim, a plush interior, or racier lines. Maybe a bigger engine? (He wouldn’t have wanted for power in any event. The base Fairlane came with a 302 cubic-inch V8, and 390- and 428-cubic-inch V8s were optional.)

Once my grandpa had ordered his dreamboat, then came the really hard part: He had to wait for it. Apparently he didn’t choose one off the lot; he had to wait for it to be assembled and shipped from Ford’s Lorain Assembly plant, near Cleveland.

And then, l0ve came to town.

February 14, 1969.

February 14, 1969. What’s that? He drew the heart for Valentine’s Day? I don’t buy it.

Somehow, he held out another four days before going to pick it up, by which time he was so excited that he couldn’t spell “Fairlane”:

February 18, 1969.

February 18, 1969. Lent began the next day; I do not think my grandfather gave up driving.

And as he got to know his new car, it showed up from time to time on his calendar:

February 28, 1969. Halcyon days for celery wagons.

February 28, 1969. Halcyon days for celery wagons.

The ’69 Fairlane served my grandparents and great-grandma for 13 years, during which time my grandpa retired, had a heart attack, became a grandfather three times over, turned 60 and then 70, and experienced any number of smaller events previously documented on this blog. The car went from an eagerly anticipated novelty to practically a member of the family.

When my grandpa finally gave in and bought his next new car, he passed the Fairlane to my Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve, who wrung a few more years out of it. If memory serves, the engine kept running but the body finally started to go, so they got rid of it.

The Fairlane in harness.

The celery wagon in harness, at a rest stop somewhere between Stamford and Rochester.

The ’69 Fairlane was neither the most colorful nor the most storied car in Blumenau family history, but it may have been the longest-tenured.

Which is a nice enough note on which to end an automotive love story.

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This week’s post is dedicated to anyone who’s ever thought, “They don’t build ’em like they used to.”

March 1, 1965

On Monday, March 1, 1965, my grandfather proudly took possession of a brand-new Ford.

It was a Fairlane, his first car with power brakes and power steering, not to mention a smooth, powerful 289 V8 engine. Not the sexiest ride, perhaps, but a fine example of why people get nostalgic for Detroit’s vaunted Good Old Days.

The arrival of a newly purchased car is always a big deal, especially when it’s fresh off the production line, and I’m sure my grandpa looked forward to many miles of driving. His excitement practically explodes off the page.

His excitement might have started fading as early as Thursday, March 4, when he found himself back at the dealership:

March 4, 1965.

My grandfather was not a risk-taker, behind the wheel or anywhere else, so I can’t fathom him doing anything that would have blown out his shock absorbers in four days of driving. I can only assume the car came off the line with a couple of defects, and that my grandpa made a 100-mile stop just to get the first batch of bugs ironed out.

From my point of view as a nearly-forty-something, this seems absurd: A brand-new car shouldn’t need any repairs. For the extra money it costs to buy new, you should be able to count on some period of flawless operation.

But I’ve heard other stories like my grandfather’s. A co-worker once told me he bought a car (Buick, I think) in the mid-’80s and was issued a checklist of potential faults. The idea was that he would drive the car for a little while, check off all the stuff that didn’t work or didn’t fit right, then bring it back to the dealer to get those faults repaired. It was simply expected that some glitches would be found.

At any rate, my grandfather’s honeymoon with his new Fairlane lingered at least until May 25, 1965. It might have ended that day, though.

May 25, 1965.

Now, my grandpa owned two Fords at that time — the new ’65, and a ’61 that started the year with 43,000 miles on it. I was going to give the ’65 the benefit of the doubt and assume the older car had the carburetor leak.

But my dad told me the ’61 Ford was at college with him in the spring of 1965. A carburetor leak “would have been my problem, not his,” my dad said. And since my dad went to college in Troy, N.Y., the ’61 Ford would not have been towed to Stamford Motors.

So there we have it — a car less than two months old, making a second trip for repairs, this time with a show-stopping engine defect. Nice.

A few years later, Arthur Hailey’s novel “Wheels” popularized the concept of “Monday and Friday cars” — the notion that cars built immediately before or after a weekend were poorly assembled because of high absenteeism and lack of attention.

Perhaps the ’65 Fairlane was a Monday or Friday car — though in those days, American carmakers had plenty of production problems from Tuesday to Thursday, too.

Ford’s acceptance of sloppy quality control later came back to cost it dearly. Seven years to the week after my grandpa’s carburetor problem, another new Ford with a carburetor defect would cause significant financial and PR damage for the company.

On May 28, 1972, a Ford Pinto stalled out in traffic on a California freeway, was rear-ended, and burst into flames. The car — bought new the previous November — had suffered from chronic stalling and other problems that several trips to the garage had failed to repair. After the accident, the stalling problem was traced to the carburetor.

The crash was the genesis of Grimshaw vs. Ford Motor Co., the legal case that accused Ford of willfully ignoring hazardous flaws in the Pinto’s fuel-tank design. The publicity surrounding the case would forever brand the Pinto as a firetrap and FoMoCo executives as callous, though of course the company disputed both conclusions.

Ford held on to my grandfather as a customer through 1969, when he bought another Fairlane — this time a homey cream-colored sedan. He passed the ’65 down to my Aunt Elaine, who used it for several years.

(Loyal readers may remember that the ’65 Fairlane appeared in two previous posts on this blog — breaking down in Vermont in 1967, and being stolen in Boston in 1971.)

The ’69 model served him well until the early ’80s, when my grandpa broke with decades of tradition and bought a Chrysler product instead of a Ford. He would go so far as to buy a Honda before being prevailed upon to turn in his keys in the ’90s. (Edit: I have my family history wrong. See the Comments for a correction.)

I would have been interested to see how my grandfather rated the cars he owned over the decades, and where the ’65 Fairlane ranked among them. Perhaps it was one of his favorites.

But if it were, that impression would not have been based on its first two months.

Come back tomorrow for a related quick-hit post.

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