- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

Bird Dawson had a nice car to drive and that was the problem. It was too nice to subject to the daily rigors of commuting and errand running.
She mentioned her concern to her husband, Ron, who leapt at the challenge. He had noticed a car under a cover in their Alexandria neighborhood that looked promising. One corner of the cover was not snugged down, which left a taillight exposed, telling Mr. Dawson the car was a 1964 Ford Fairlane 500.
He inquired about the 37-year-old car. The owner showed him the car with 24,800 miles on the odometer but said it was not for sale. Mr. Dawson wanted that car and made the owner a cash offer he couldn't refuse. He drove the 2,863-pound car home in August 2001.
The Dawsons are the third owners of the car. The original owner purchased the car, with a base price of $2,276, at Cherner Ford on Florida Avenue SE. Records found in the car indicate it was taken to the dealer in June 1968 for the 12,000-mile checkup, having taken four years to accumulate that many miles.
The car comes within an eyelash of being 16 feet long and is 6 feet wide.
Under the hood is the thrifty 116-horsepower, 200-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine that sips fuel from the 15-gallon gasoline tank as the rate of 18 to 20 miles per gallon in the city and 24 at highway speeds. A one-barrel carburetor sits atop the engine.
Accessories on the midsized car (midsized in 1964) include backup lights, front seat belts, windshield washers and a left door exterior mirror. "There's a pump on the floor," Mr. Dawson explains, "that you have to step on to pump washer fluid onto the windshield."
There is also a radio, heater and turn signals. Standard on 1964 Fairlanes were the two under-dash fresh-air vents. The Ford was exactly the type of car and the size car that Mr. Dawson's wife wanted. The fuel economy is simply an unexpected bonus.
Mr. Dawson gave the car a thorough once-over and found it didn't require much to put it in terrific shape. He did have to replace the downdraft carburetor with a rebuilt version. There are several speed bumps near their son's school and Mrs. Dawson says the engine would always die at the third speed bump. The rebuilt carburetor solved that problem.
He then polished the vintage burgundy maroon metallic paint in time for the car to take part in the autumn filming in Washington of the HBO movie "Path to War." The movie was shown in May 2002 with the car being visible about two or three seconds. Nevertheless, it was exciting watching the moviemakers at work.
By December 2001, the Dawsons had owned the Fairlane about four months and thought they had eliminated all the problems. It was time for a serious test drive.
The car was pressed into service for a Christmas trip to North Carolina. "It surprised me," Mrs. Dawson said. The old Ford ran along with the highway traffic with absolutely no problem and did so economically. With the reliability of the car proven on that trip, the Dawsons now have no qualms about driving anywhere in the Fairlane.
"I want to make it look like new again," Mr. Dawson said. The Fairlane is a departure from the usual cars he has had but he can't deny the appeal of the car.
The two-tone beige crush and vinyl interior is spacious and Mrs. Dawson finds it comfortable while she is handling the three-spoke steering wheel. "It's a nimble little car," she said.
A total of 23,447 cars like the Dawsons' were manufactured, with not many surviving into the 21st century. The odometer on their car is now approaching 32,000 with its charm growing on Mrs. Dawson each time she sets the 14-inch wheels in motion.
Mr. Dawson never thought he would be the owner of a six-cylinder 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 but he concedes, "We've had fun in it."

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