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Sometimes, losing is the best thing that can happen to you.

Take, for instance, the Beatles (who seem to be showing up around here a lot lately, but bear with me).

If they’d been signed by one of the record labels that rejected them, they would probably have been assigned to a producer who strictly chose their songs and selected one of them to become the frontman at the expense of the rest. Instead, it was their good fortune to land at EMI, where George Martin recognized their developing talent and gave them wide rein to create.

This week, we catch up with my grandpa as he dreams about something he won’t get and doesn’t know he doesn’t want:

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May 29, 1972. Mets win one, Yanks win two.

I would love to know who in the Stamford area was giving away a Pinto, and who won it. I’d even hoped to track them down and ask them how the car worked out for them.

Unfortunately, this is one of those moments where the publications I have access to don’t give me any clear answers.

The drawing doesn’t seem to have been a national event: It wasn’t mentioned in several Chicago Tribune issues in that time frame. Even the Bridgeport Post, which is occasionally good for stray tidbits, doesn’t turn up anything relevant.

I did find something similar in some newspapers from Long Island around the same time. Suburbia Federal Savings Bank gave away a gold ’72 Pinto in July of that year as part of its 50th anniversary celebration.

I’m guessing whatever drawing my grandpa took part in was along the same lines. Maybe it was his bank. Maybe it was his grocery store. Maybe it was even the local dealer where he bought his Fords.

A Pinto would have been an ideal car for any business publicizing a big event to give away — sporty, relatively inexpensive, and fairly popular (Ford sold more than 480,000 of them in 1972.)

So, I’ll presume that some store or company in Stamford did just that, and that my grandpa did enough business with them to have his name in the hat when the big day came.

Since I’ve been writing this blog for five years now, and you’ve never read anything about my grandpa’s Ford Pinto, you know how this particular story works out.

You also know the Pinto had a famously unsafe design, plus poor build quality as well. (According to Wikipedia, six months after the car was introduced, Ford was forced to recall all 220,000 Pintos on the road to address a problem with potential ignition of fuel vapors in the engine.)

The odds were probably slim that my grandpa would have been caught in one of those infamous flaming rear-end crashes, had he won the Pinto drawing.

But, given the Pinto’s sloppy reliability record, it probably wouldn’t have been a better car than the reliable ’69 Fairlane he was driving at the time (and continued to drive into the 1980s). Plus, my grandma and great-grandma wouldn’t have relished climbing into and out of the back seat of a two-door car.

So, he won by losing. And somebody else in Stamford … well, again, I’d love to know how things worked out for them.

But, that’s a story for somebody else at some other time, I guess.

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It is Saturday, April 30, 1949. The Yanks are already in first; the Giants and Dodgers are not far back.

It’s a slow news day. There’s not much in regional papers except wire-service dispatches related to Communism and post-World War II Europe, and not particularly meaty dispatches at that. In one piquant news item, the wife of a G.I. shaves the head of her husband’s 18-year-old German girlfriend and douses her with acid.

The NATO defense alliance is roughly one month old. So is Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution is not being televised, but other things are: Arturo Toscanini has recently conducted Aida on NBC live from Rockefeller Center, while Milton Berle is three weeks away from landing on the cover of Time magazine. (Eugene Dennis, general secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S., is on this week’s cover.)

In New Canaan, Conn., a 38-year-old family man from nearby Stamford is registering himself as a firm supporter of capitalism. He’s signing papers, handing over checks, and achieving a core piece of the American dream.

His own wheels.

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As shown on the receipt below, this is the payment for license plates (“markers”), not for the full car.

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This was definitely my grandpa’s first new car; it may have been his first car of any kind. (You’ll note no mention of a used car on the receipt.)

Either way, I’m sure he was thrilled to take delivery.

For one thing, he had two young children, and he certainly wanted to move his family in safety and style.

For another, he’d been waiting for this car for a while. A handwritten sheet of his notes — yeah, that got saved too — suggests he’d put down a $100 deposit on his car two months before. I bet he spent plenty of time between February 5 and April 30 daydreaming about his new ride.

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Some time ago, I wrote a post wondering if any examples of my grandparents’ stationery still existed. The answer: Yes.

So what did he spend, and what did he drive away in?

$1,757 in 1949 money equals roughly $17,580 in today’s money, according to online inflation calculators. That’s more or less the MSRP for a brand-new Ford Focus sedan today. So, it’s good to know that the cost of a relatively low-frills family hauler bought straight off the lot maybe hasn’t gone up that much.

But, while today’s Ford Focus makes at least an attempt to be sporty, efficient and maneuverable, its 1949 equivalent proudly advertised itself as “a living room on wheels!”

Seriously, see for yourself:

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Ah, for the days when a car could be advertised as “as deep and comfortable as your sofa.”

It’s easy to jab at the styles of the past, but the Ford Fordor sedan (the coupe, inevitably, was called the Tudor) was actually a fairly exciting item in ’49. According to Wikipedia, the ’49 Ford line was the first all-new design introduced by the Big Three automakers after World War II.

Wiki goes so far as to say that the popular and attractive ’49 design saved the struggling company, and that 100,000 orders were taken on the cars’ first day of availability. I wonder if my grandpa’s order was among them.

Judging from his notes, he was torn between black, Midland Maroon and Sea Mist Green. He chose black. Based on a review of the paint chips, I would have picked the maroon, myself. But, it’s easy to jab at the styles of the past.

I also note that he sprung for a heater, but not for a radio. This is consistent with his later behavior: The car he drove 40 years later when I was in high school didn’t have a radio either. He liked music fine, but not while he was driving, apparently.

Unfortunately, he did not leave behind any notes on why he chose Ford over a number of other American automakers.

I’ve written many times about his loyalty to Fords, which continued until the early 1980s. That loyalty would have started here, in the spring of 1949, but I don’t know the reasons behind it. Maybe the brand-new style got him started as a customer and build quality kept him there.

Finally, I always enjoy Googling the landmarks of my grandpa’s time and seeing what’s going on there now.

You can’t buy a Ford at the intersection of Forest Street and Locust Avenue in New Canaan any more; but you can, if the New York Times is to be believed, dine quite nicely on brick-oven pizza and Italian nosh-plates.

An online search finds New Canaan Motor Sales carrying on into the early ’60s. I’m guessing the dealership changed its name at some point, but I don’t know what it became or how long it lasted.

(Back in the ’50s, New Canaan Motor Sales used to advertise at the Talmadge Hill commuter rail station in New Canaan — the next station up the line from Springdale, and a location my grandpa photographed some years later. Perhaps the auto ad along the platform in my grandpa’s photo is for some dealership descended from New Canaan Motor Sales. Alas, the photo gets no larger.)

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970.

Talmadge Hill station, February 1970. This seems like a good place to stop.

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For almost 35 years — from the end of the 1940s until the early ’80s — my grandpa bought Fords.

For whatever reason, he decided he liked them; and the ones he bought served him well enough to keep him happy. And so the Blumenaus were, for almost all of their residence on Hope Street, a Ford family.

I know of only one occasion during those years when my grandpa’s attention wavered. We’ll go down that road this week — which gives us the opportunity to look at some classic Sixties marketing materials, as well.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special "Mannequin" has.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special “Mannequin” has. Why, it’s the standard for the entire industry!

Throughout the ’60s, my grandpa bought a new mid-sized Ford Fairlane every four years, in the presidential inaugural years of 1961, 1965 and 1969.

(His loyal patronage was not enough to save the model, which was discontinued in 1970.)

The marketing brochures for these cars, as well as other Fords from the ’40s and ’50s, still live in a worn yellow envelope in my folks’ basement, somewhat the worse for wear after many years of my pawing.

There’s also one non-Ford brochure from the ’60s, which shows that my grandpa — at least once — was willing to be flexible and consider something new, rather than plunk down his bills for the latest shined-up version of the same model.

When he went off the ranch, he went in a big way. He left behind the other members of Detroit’s Big Three and turned to the industry’s scrappy fourth-place player, Rambler.

The 1965 Rambler "X-Ray" catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great '60s design.

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great ’60s design.

When my grandpa went car-shopping in ’65, the Rambler brand had only been a stand-alone marque for about eight years, having emerged from the survival-merger of Nash and Hudson in the mid-1950s.

The company with a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had managed to make significant waves in the industry, though.

It had pulled off the eternally difficult trick of convincing Americans to buy compact cars. It had positioned itself as more nimble and creative than the Big Three, adding features the bigger players didn’t have. And it had won Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award in 1963.

An example of we-do-it, they-don't from the '65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

An example of we-do-it, they-don’t from the ’65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

Indeed, by the time my grandpa noticed Rambler, its best days might have been behind it.

Wikipedia suggests the company enjoyed its glory years under the corporate presidency of George W. Romney, and after Romney left to run for governor of Michigan in 1962, subsequent chief executives found the going tougher and tougher. (How might America’s automotive and political worlds be different today if George Romney had stayed in the auto business?)

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog plays on the company’s established giant-killer image, comparing Rambler autos to their big-name competitors. Not surprisingly, all the comparisons — from turning radius, to cargo space, to fuel economy, to reliability — come out in Rambler’s favor.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

Several pages of the catalog stack up Rambler models against their competitors in different size classes. Thoughtfully, Rambler put its Classic mid-size model on the same page as the Fairlane, so my grandpa could size them both up at a glance.

In retrospect, it doesn’t look like much of a choice. Both cars are plain and rather boxy, and would be difficult to tell apart at a distance. Still, I imagine my grandpa spent at least a couple minutes looking at this page.

Head to head.

Head to head. The adjoining page featured the Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Belvidere and Dodge Coronet.

A few other pages of the catalog showed my grandpa looking behind the hype and writing down questions about key features.

I didn’t think that many people cared about seat belts then, but the note on this page suggests it mattered to him:

"SEAT BELTS?"

“SEAT BELTS?” (Clearly the lack of headrests didn’t bother him, but the potential lack of seat belts did.)

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

I have to hand it to the forgotten marketing geniuses at Rambler: After reading the X-Ray catalog, I was ready to go out and plunk down my own money on a Rambler. They sold the hungry, quality-driven, thinking-man’s-choice, underdog image pretty well.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

Unfortunately, as I said 600 words ago, they couldn’t convince my grandpa. When the time came to make a decision, he turned his back on the little guys and stayed loyal to Ford.

This in and of itself was not life-changing to anybody. But repeat it a couple hundred thousand times, and it helps explain why Rambler and its successor brand, AMC, couldn’t last in the long term. Window-shopping doesn’t bring in any money, and Rambler/AMC didn’t get enough Americans to sign on the dotted line.

A shame: A ’65 Rambler Classic like this one — shown in its X-Ray glamour shot — might have looked nice in old family scrapbook photos.

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Bonus multimedia content: Check out this ad, not for Ramblers, but for the X-Ray catalog.

Or, if you want to see a ’65 Rambler Classic in action:

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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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