- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Ford Motor Co. couldn’t write a better script than this for a screen play about the golden anniversary of the company.

Both John and Patty Girman grew up in Hinckley, Ohio, where her parents owned a 1953 Ford. She spent many weeks in that Ford on family vacations exploring the western half of the country.

His parents, too, owned a 1953 Ford. He took his driver’s license test in the family car and later, in his junior year of high school, while on a date with Patty, succeeded in totaling that car. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

His best friend, a couple of years older, also owned a 1953 Ford. The pair had many — as yet unpublished — adventures in the car. Young Mr. Girman even learned how to drive in that Ford.

Along about the turn of the century, the Girmans, now husband and wife, thought an antique car would be a nice addition. After considerable thought and exploration they eventually came to the conclusion that any antique car would have to be a 1953 Ford. How could it possibly be anything else?

They searched in all the usual places, thinking at first that a convertible would be nice. The selection of convertibles was sparse. “We wanted a good-looking driver and most of the convertibles had automatic transmissions, which we didn’t want,” Mr. Girman says. “Besides,” he says, “the convertibles were show cars.”

After more than a year of fruitless searching, Mr. Girman saw a notice of a 1953 Ford for sale on a bulletin board near his office at the Environmental Protection Agency. A colleague who knew of his hunt had found the car for sale on the Internet, printed it and posted it just to see how long it would take Mr. Girman to notice the posting.

Within an hour Mr. Girman was in touch with the owner by telephone on a Friday. “After a couple of phone conversations with the owner, Patty and I were on our way,” Mr. Girman says.

On Saturday the couple flew to Columbus with a tool box full of everything Mr. Girman thought he might need if he bought the car. The big problem was getting a container of nonflammable water pump lubricant through security. The fact that they both had one-way tickets probably didn’t help matters.

Once in Columbus they rented a car and drove on to Richmond, Ind., right across the Ohio border.

“Our first impression of the Sungate ivory Ford with a white top was good,” Mr. Girman says. The base price of the car when new was $1,941.

A careful inspection revealed a few imperfections. The car had no license plates but that deficiency was overcome when the owner said he was a used car dealer and could issue temporary license plates.

“It started a little hard but ran well,” Mr. Girman said. “It had overdrive but it didn’t appear to be working well.”

While the owner waited, the Girmans debated the merits of the Ford. It need some work, but seemed to be a good driver. The paint was marginal and although the upholstery was in good condition, it was not correct. After waffling awhile they decided to buy the car if the price was right. “To our surprise,” Mr. Girman says, “the bargaining with the owner was brief.”

The biggest decision was yet to be made.

“We elected to drive it the 525 miles home, not a decision to be made lightly with an unproven car,” Mr. Girman says.

Before heading home to Vienna in their new/old car that rode on a 115-inch wheelbase. the couple made a stop at Jiffy Lube where the oil was changed (they didn’t have a filter that fit), and the coolant was drained and replaced with unadulterated water.

After looking at the 239-cubic-inch flathead V-8 engine that develops 110 horsepower, one of the attendants explained to his compatriots that this was “one of those flattop engines.”

Indeed, Ford started building flathead V-8 engines in 1932 and continued on through the 1953 model year.

In two cars the Girmans drove to Columbus, where the rental car was returned, and then continued on to Cambridge, Ohio. It was close to midnight when they stopped at a motel.

The next day, a Sunday, was not a good day. It was midday before a AAA truck finally got the reluctant Ford started. The farther they drove, the worse the car ran. The stopped in Morgantown, W.Va., to refuel themselves and their car. Fortunately, they parked on a hill before shutting off the engine.

As expected, the Ford would not start. Fortunately, a few sympathetic passers-by offered to push the car downhill and when Mr. Girman popped the clutch, the engine roared to life — as did many of the spectators. “The engine always seems to promise more than it can deliver,” Mr. Girman says.

They struggled the rest of the way home without shutting off the engine.

Safely at home, Mr. Girman discovered the new-looking spark plug wires were quite old and cracked. The battery was the wrong size (too small). Additionally the spark plugs were old and were gapped at varying dimensions. An incorrect Stromberg carburetor wasn’t giving the correct signal to the vacuum advance of the distributor.

“Put all that together and you get the picture,” Mr. Girman says, “a tough trip home.”

A couple of years of fine tuning the Ford has left the Girmans with a reliable car that brings back fond memories.

“It was meant to be,” Mr. Girman says.

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