- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

Almost five years have passed since Carter Wagoner first envisioned a luxurious antique car towing an Airstream trailer of the same vintage.

What a neat rig, he thought. It was unique and would be practical as well because at antique car shows he would have his own accommodations right behind his car.

The only problem was that he didn’t have a powerful antique car nor an Airstream trailer.

He gave a lot of thought to rectifying that problem and determined that either one of two cars would suit his needs. He would be happy with a 1968 Mercury Marquis Colony Park or a 1971 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser.

The search was on for one of the behemoths but without much success. Mr. Wagoner discovered that station wagons are workhorse automobiles and are generally worked to death. As they age they often serve as trucks. With a limited supply of station wagons, he expanded his search to include cars from the 1970s. The ones he went to inspect proved to be beaten to smithereens and were disappointing.

“I looked for more than three years for a 1970s wagon,” he says.

During the summer of 2005 he saw a 1977 Mercury Marquis Colony Park for sale on EBay. It was a rust-free Nebraska car and Mr. Wagoner was determined that this was one car that was not going to get away. His was the high bid.

On Aug. 29, Mr. Wagoner flew to Kansas City International airport with a change of clothes in an overnight bag and a variety of hand tools and duct tape in another bag. The seller met him at the airport and the two men spent the better part of two hours driving to Dawson in southeastern Nebraska, where the car was located.

The big white Mercury was as advertised as having 71,505 miles on the odometer but was dirty and the tires were shot. One of the rear tires even had a large bulge on the sidewall.

Mr. Wagoner decided the car looked road-worthy enough to drive halfway across the continent. “It was kind of a leap of faith,” he acknowledges. He left Dawson at 11 a.m. and planned to avoid interstate highways as much as possible on his leisurely trip home to Springfield, Va. At one of his first fuel stops, the dirty exterior irritated him so much he found a do-it-yourself car wash and washed off most of the offending grime.

Once in Illinois he began thinking about the bulge on the rear tire.

“I’m going to have to get new tires at home,” he thought, “so why not get them here?”

In Lincoln, Ill., he found a Kmart that put on four new 15-inch Uniroyal tires while he purchased some cleaning supplies in the store and proceeded to detail the dark-brown interior of his car while waiting.

“The more I cleaned, the better it looked,” he says.

The first day of the trip ended at 8 p.m. in Springfield, Ill. Mr. Wagoner hadn’t driven his 5,047-pound car far the next morning when he heard a terrible racket.

He pulled off the road into a Lincoln/Mercury agency. It was so early the dealership wasn’t open so with his tools he crawled under the car and removed the remainder of the rusty old tailpipe that was dragging and causing the racket.

About 10 p.m. the second day of travel ended in Chillicothe, Ohio., with no more surprises. The third day Mr. Wagoner comfortably cruised on home in his 19-foot-long station wagon riding on a 121-inch wheelbase.

He proudly announces, “On the entire trip it burned not a drop of oil.” The big engine develops 197 horsepower.

Once at home, Mr. Wagoner gave his Mercury a careful once-over and double-checked all the paperwork. That’s where he discovered the car had been purchased new in Pilger, Neb.

According to the records that came with the car, the base price was $5,590. Added to that price were options including:

• Air conditioner $512

• AM/FM/8-track tape 339

• 460 cid V-8 212

• Power windows 162

• Power six-way seat 132

• Dual facing rear seats 126

• Power door locks 109

• Cruise control 101

• Roof rack 100

• Comfort lounge seats 86

• Convenience lights 8

• Radial tires 67

• Tinted glass 66

• Tilt steering wheel 59

• Reclining passenger seat 58

• Cornering lights 41

• Side molding 41

• Bumper guards 33

• Digital clock 29

• Interval wipers 28

“The car has all the earmarks of being garage-kept and well maintained,” Mr. Wagoner says. Even the vinyl wood graining on the flanks of the car show no signs of fading.

In the past six months Mr. Wagoner has been busy working on his Mercury and the big Colony Park now sparkles from the roof rack on down to the huge wheel covers and from the hidden headlights at the front of the car back to the trailer hitch.

That hitch won’t remain empty for long if Mr. Wagoner’s search for a small Airstream trailer of 1970s vintage is successful.