My 1949 Shoebox Ford
Some Thing’s Get Better the Second Time Around
On a rainy Sunday afternoon in May, 1959, I left Clark’s Sinclair gas station in Peoria, Illinois driving a semi-custom V-8, Meadow Green, 1949 Ford Tudor Sedan planning to return my tuxedo to the rental shop following my Junior Prom the night before. How was I to know that there was disaster lurking only a few miles away…
It was at the Sinclair station where all of us gear heads from the Hi-Winders Hot Rod Club hung out. We worked there for free in order to use the lift to repair and build our cars during off-hours and use the heated wash bay, a huge benefit, during the long, cold Midwestern winters. It was a real status symbol to have a sparkling clean car as you cruised thru town heading for the Steak n’ Shake drive-ins. The benefits of free labor paid off handsomely as we smugly drove our super-clean rides thru the gauntlet of teen age critics who closely examined each car that came thru the drive-in eateries. Everyone backed into their parking space, if you were lucky enough to find one, just so they could better view the continuous parade of custom cars, hot rods and lead sleds idling thru the U-shaped driveway. Once parked, we’d order a large Coke with no ice, so we could get more Coke into the glass and prolong your stay. We would critically discuss each car as it rumbled by, and we were particularly critical of those who drove their daddy’s four-door automatic (“slip-sticks” as we called them)…how square was that! Often times, we would drive thru two or three times just to give the line-up of onlookers a special treat. If we were really lucky, we might even pick up a chick or two on one of the frequent passes. But, if we were unlucky (almost always), we would cruise on to the next drive-in to another part of town repeating the process, and usually getting into a stop light drag along the way. As you exited the drive-ins, you needed to give the watchful crowd one last thrill by burning some rubber as your dual glass-pac Smithy mufflers rapped loudly to the tune of the early Ford Flathead V-8. Meanwhile, you and your buddies would keep a sharp eye out for the “Fuzz” as we liked to call the local constabulary who would delight in writing revenue generating tickets for the offensive crime of “Disturbing the Peace.”
But I digress from my main story…
As I left Clark’s Sinclair station on that fateful day in May, fifty-two years ago, little did I know that the days of cruising in my beloved 49 Ford were about to come to an abrupt end. I stopped at a green light at a major intersection waiting to make a left turn thinking of my not-so-hot date the night before, traffic was heavy with Sunday drivers returning from their day trips to grandma’s house, and as the traffic began to slow, and the light changed to yellow, I negotiated my left turn, but to my surprise an oncoming Chevrolet simultaneously decided to speed-up to beat the light. The speeding Chevy hit me squarely in the right front fender, spun my Ford around on the rain slick street, and as the cloud of dust disappeared, I sat disconsolate facing the opposite direction.
Well, that was the end of my beloved 49 Ford. It doesn’t take much for the insurance company’s claims adjuster to total a $200 car. I was not hurt in the accident, except for my pride, and the fact that my pride-and-joy was demolished by a 6-cylinder Chevy added insult to injury!
Lesson learned: To this day, I never make a left hand turn without waiting until the stop light has turned bright red and all traffic has stopped from the opposite direction.
Once a car guy always a car guy they say, but over the years the practicalities of life took precedence. I went to state university, got a degree (much to the surprise of many), got married, got a job in Chicago, raised a family and bought a house in the suburbs…the Great American Dream! Many years later, after the last of my three daughters was finishing college, the car bug bit me once again (car nuts never fall far from the tree). I decided that it was time to reward myself after all these years of sacrifice and depravation. So I bought a Porsche!
What does this have to do with Shoebox Fords you ask?…keep reading.
It was a used Porsche 911, over 10 years old; it was red; it was fast and it was a cabriolet…life, or mid-life, was good for this aging car guy! But, the “Nine-Eleven”, nice as it was, never fully satisfied my car lust for some unknown reason. Now living on the East Coast in New Jersey, I would go to car shows nearly every weekend during the summer months. There were car shows aplenty in the Northeast, especially in neighboring Pennsylvania, so I pointed the cabriolet west to the car show capitols of Hershey, Carlisle, New Hope, Macungie and points beyond to satisfy my need for a collector car-fix. Most of these car shows were so large they would boggle the mind; you were on complete sensory overload…so many beautiful cars and so little time to see them all. But, I developed a system since the show cars were usually displayed by category, I would start with my favorite category first. And what was that favorite, you ask? Well, the Fords, of course. I gravitated toward these cars like a magnet. I think I have seen every 1949-51 Ford in the Northeast worth seeing. I took photographs, talked incessantly to the owners and became a self-proclaimed expert in these model years. I also liked the “Fat Fender” cars, but I had a true attraction and affection for the 49 to 51s.
After several years of obsessive looking at collector cars throughout the mid to late 1990s, I began thinking seriously about owning another 1949 Ford, just like the one I had in high school and lost on that tragic day of May. I joined the Early Ford V-8 Club, and I subscribed to Hemmings Motor News, Old Car Weekly, Auto Trader and a raft of other collector car publications…this was before the era of the internet. I had so many car magazines, papers and periodicals that my basement storage room became a fire hazard. I looked half-heartedly for several years, researching, planning and dreaming, but never really taking the full plunge into the old car hobby…that is until I retired.
Now it was time! Retired and living in western North Carolina, I spent many hours on-line looking at Hemmings, Cars.com, EFV8 Club, EBay, etc. While the 49 Ford was my favorite, I also considered a well preserved or restored 50 or 51, as this group of like cars became known as the “Shoebox Ford”. The last thing I was going to do was buy a Shoebox on-line at an auction, sight unseen…how crazy was that!
So I traveled far and wide until I came across a Shoebox Ford that met my budget and quality criteria. I traveled to South Georgia (seven hours away) to look at a 50 that interested me, but returned disappointed as the car was not up to my exaggerated standards. I traveled to South Florida to look at another 50 Ford. It took me a day and a half, and a few hundred dollars to get there, including an overnight stay at a Holiday Inn.
As I pulled into the seller’s driveway full of excited expectation, there sat the 50 Ford, and my heart sank, as it was not nearly as good as the buyer had described. I almost turned around immediately and left, but I felt obligated to meet the owner as appointed and gently told him that the car was not for me. He was stunned; what kind of idiot would drive 15 hours to turn around and go back home empty handed?
That idiot would be me!
Finally, on a lark, on a fateful day in 2008, I surfed for the first time onto Craigslist and saw a 49 Ford advertised in Western Pennsylvania. My heart jumped, but burned twice, I contacted the seller on email and asked for a detailed description and photos. A couple days later, I received a response along with the requested photographs. To my surprise and delight, the car was a highly desirable Custom Club Coupe, and looked quite nice in the photos, but don’t they all. No fool this time, I called the seller and talked for at least an hour asking the most detailed and arcane questions imaginable from a list I had prepared in advance. Still not ready in jump in my car and drive on yet another wild goose chase, I told the seller that I was heading North in a couple weeks with the Mrs. to visit our daughter in Connecticut, and I would detour to western PA to take a look at the Ford. I further told him that if the car was as good as he said it was I would pay him $1000 over his very reasonable asking price if he would hold the car for me. We agreed, and I told myself that if he sold the car to someone else in the meantime, then it was not meant to be. I was not going to make two twelve hour trips north two weeks apart on an emotional car purchase.
Another lesson learned: Don’t get emotional about the purchase of an automobile…there will always be another better one. It’s a hard lesson to learn, believe me!
To make a long story short, two weeks later I drove to PA, saw the car and liked it immediately. As I said earlier, I think I’ve seen every good Shoebox on the East Coast and by now I knew a good one when I saw it. I paid him his price, plus a $1000, said I’d have the car picked up in a couple weeks by a hauler, and happily went on my way to CT the proud owner, once again, of a 1949 Ford.
I've been driving my new 49 Ford now for almost eight years. So does it really get better the second time around? The answer is: Absolutely! It's like a blast to the past. Everytime I drive my Shoebox Ford it's like I'm seventeen all over again. The sound, the feel, the memories come flooding back. Back to a simpler, more care-free time when you could hang with your buddies, drive with your arm around your honey as she sat close on the bench seat and cruise the drive-ins all night long on twenty-eight cent a gallon Sinclair gasoline. Those were definitely the "good old day" never to be repeated, except in my mind when I slide behind the wheel of my 49 Ford.
Yes, life can definitely be good...The Second Time Around.
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