- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

Bill Vincent and Gifford Smiley were two of the most clever men in Northern Virginia in 1958. Each man's wife declared her admiration for the new 1958 Mercury, and each man bought one.

Mercury advertised the 1958 models as a "dramatic expression of dream car design."

Mr. Vincent delivered a Park Lane convertible to his delighted wife, Louise. Mr. Smiley's wife, Mary, received a top-of-the-line Park Lane four-door hardtop filled with convenience features.

Both cars performed flawlessly, but after a few years Mr. and Mrs. Vincent, as was common in that era, traded their Mercury convertible for a newer car. "I hated to see that car go," Mrs. Vincent remembers.

Mr. and Mrs. Smiley, however, kept their trouble-free Mercury running for 35 years until Mr. Smiley's health problems brought the car to a halt.

"It was garaged the day it came to our home," Mrs. Smiley says, "It never spent a night outside."

The big, two-tone blue Mercury was put away with only 66,000 miles on the odometer. It sat undisturbed for about six years until early last year when Mrs. Smiley decided to sell the car.

Mr. Vincent, a veteran old car aficionado, was invited to inspect the car with the object of placing a value on it. He took his wife, and as the garage door opened, Mrs. Vincent caught her breath. "I saw that scooped-out fender," she says, and found it as attractive as she did four decades ago.

Mr. Vincent saw that his wife's infatuation with the 1958 Mercury was rekindled and bought the car on the spot. He was as clever in the 1990s as he was in the 1950s.

About a month later, in March 1999, Mr. Vincent arranged for a truck to haul the 4,390-pound, 18 1/3-foot-long car from Vienna, Va., to Stafford, Va. "It had been setting so long I wasn't sure of the brakes," Mr. Vincent explains.

"It broke my heart to see it go," Mrs. Smiley says, even knowing the Mercury had found a good home.

Mr. Vincent rebuilt the brake system. Later, after being caught in a rainstorm, he rebuilt the system that operates the windshield wipers.

The 430-cubic-inch, 360-horsepower V-8 engine didn't need any attention. With five quarts of oil to keep it happy, Mr. Vincent reports that it doesn't leak or burn any oil. "This thing will get down the road," Mr. Vincent affirms.

His 1958 Mercury, one of 5,241 such models manufactured, is pretty well equipped. It features power brakes, power steering, power windows and a power antenna. Since the majority of Park Lanes like this one come with window cranks, the door upholstery has a hole for the crank handle. On cars with power windows, a stainless steel plug fills the hole in each door.

Because the Mercury is only 2 3/4-inches shy of being seven-feet wide, there is no shortage of interior space. Consequently, the designers decided to put the driver's left hand to use.

The four window-control buttons are mounted below the windshield wraparound dogleg, while the multidrive automatic transmission control push buttons are on the dashboard to the left of the steering wheel.

The transmission push buttons are arranged with four in a horizontal row operating from the left:

• Emergency brake.

• Neutral/Start.

• Hill control.

• Reverse.

Above these four buttons are a pair of horizontal buttons, the left one labeled High Performance Range and the right one labeled Cruising Range.

While driving with the High Performance Range button activated, Mr. Vincent says, "It'll roll right along."

The ride is luxurious, thanks in large part to the 125-inch wheelbase and the 8.00x14-inch tires supporting the big car. Mr. Vincent is quick to point out what the original owner told him is the "original" spare tire.

The dual rectangle bumpers mark both ends of the blue-over-blue Mercury, the corners of the rear bumper notched for the dual exhaust pipes. The spacious interior stretches from innovative at the time the padded "Space Age" dashboard to the single rear radio speaker hidden beneath the package shelf.

It's been a little more than a year since Mr. Vincent bought the 1958 Mercury. After assuring the well-cared-for car was mechanically sound, he has added about 4,000 miles on the odometer. He has driven the Mercury to antique car gatherings as far south as North Carolina and as far north as Pennsylvania. "I wouldn't hesitate to drive it anywhere," he says.

Undoubtedly the most poignant trip Mr. Vincent made was last Aug. 19 when the widow of the original owner asked him to bring the Mercury and drive it in her late husband's funeral procession.

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