- - Thursday, May 19, 2011

Unplanned events often have the best results.

Take, for instance, that April day in 2002 when Bill Hughes was minding his own business when the telephone rang. He didn’t need a car. He didn’t want another car. But the voice on the telephone said that he knew Mr. Hughes favored Ford automotive products and he had a good one.

The caller’s grandmother had purchased the car new in 1980 and in the intervening 22 years have driven it fewer than 40,000 miles, making it a true low mileage car. She had lived in an apartment building in Washington where the car had always been garage-kept.

The description of the car sounded as if it were so good to at least warrant an inspection. Mr. Hughes went to see the incredibly original car and upon first glance decided that he could not not buy the car. He told the grandson of the original owner, “It’s sold - I hope you don’t want too much for it.”

A 1980 Mercury Marquis two-door Brougham that sold new for a base price of $7,860 had captured his heart. Only 2,353 such cars were manufactured.

When he got the remarkable car to his Gaithersburg home, a closer inspection revealed that it appeared that the back seat had never been occupied. Also unused is the heating element in the cigarette lighter. Additionally, Mr. Hughes is not certain that the AM/FM radio has ever been turned on.

What really amazed Mr. Hughes was the condition of the wall-to-wall carpeting. It is in like-new condition because not only does the carpeting have protective floor mats but the floor mats from the factory have dealer-installed floor mats to protect the protective floor mats.

If the tires on the Mercury weren’t the originals, they were the second set of tires on the car so Mr. Hughes replaced them. “It gave me a chance to feed my whitewall fetish,” he says.

The 3,476-pound Mercury comfortably rides on a 114.3-inch-wheelbase. “It has a 302 [cubic-inch-displacement engine] that everybody calls a 5.0-liter V-8,” Mr. Hughes says. Regardless of the engine’s designation, the car is motivated by 134 horsepower, thanks to a variable venturi carburetor.

— Other features on the Mercury include:

* Power seats.

* Power brakes.

* Cruise control.

* Power steering.

* Power antenna.

* Power windows.

* Tilt steering wheel.

*Electric rear-window defogger.

“Everything on the car works,” an incredulous Mr.Hughes reports.

After about a half year of attempting to get the dark green-over-light green metallic paint to shine, Mr. Hughes determined that it was a lost cause and had his Mercury repainted in November in the same hues it had when it left the factory in 1980.

Inside the virtually unused Mercury are fabric bench seats to match the handsome interior. For the convenience of the occupants, on each door is a leather pull strap.

Mr. Hughes did discover one item on his Mercury that desperately needed attention and needed to be replaced instead of repaired.

That was the sagging headliner. Simple repairs were akin to trying to glue sand together. Consequently, a new headliner is snugly in place.

Since he has owned the car, Mr. Hughes, a firm believer in using cars for the purpose for which they were manufactured, has driven his Mercury almost daily and once on a lengthy trip to upstate western New York. The odometer is about to roll over 65,000 miles.

The rear half of the roof is covered with a padded vinyl covering that Mr. Hughes says he will have to replace one day - hopefully, he says, later rather that sooner.

At the rear of the Mercury, on either side of the license plate, are the two backup lights. Outboard from them are the taillights that wrap around the rear corners of the fenders.

Recently Mr. Hughes has noticed the Mercury’s gas mileage has dropped about 25 percent from the 19/20 miles per gallon the car formerly delivered - which means it’s time to rebuild the carburetor.

Even so, Mr. Hughes says of his 1980 Mercury, “It’s the most reliable transportation I’ve ever had.”

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