My wife loves her daily-driver Ford Fiesta ST to bits—the power, the keen handling, rowing through the gears—save for one thing: the gas in the shock absorbers feels more like quarry gravel. She likes cars, a consequence of growing up with a father and grandfather who ran a used car lot in Spokane in the ’70s and ’80s. She learned to drive on a Trans Am from the lot, I’m told; when we met in Los Angeles 20-odd years ago, she was driving a stick-shift car. By choice. When I talk about car things, she doesn’t automatically roll her eyes, tune out or scold me for thinking crazy. So when she has the slightest inkling about anything car-related, I try to feed that. (Similarly, she indulges me when I get a home decorating idea; it’s not often, but it happens.)
She has forever loved the look, feel and even the smell of an old truck (old defined as a time before she was born in 19-cough-ty8). Yet she knows that she is not willing to put up with the nature of an old truck, particularly if it’s going to be something reliable enough to daily. The cut-and-thrust nature of morning traffic is far better suited to her 197-hp hot hatch than it would be to a properly restored vintage pickup. The perpetually-under-construction roads in our town would feel no better with two solid axles beneath her, and there wouldn’t be enough oomph to make her anything but an impediment in traffic, no matter how adorable she looked behind the wheel. Hot rodding might be the answer, with a bigger engine and Mustang II front suspension and all sorts of aftermarket components that might well be engineered to work with a stock truck, but not necessarily with each other.
Recently, an intriguing alternative came to our attention. This ’65 Ford F100 pickup now lives on a Ford Panther chassis. Panther, you may recall, was the codename given to the downsized full-size platform underpinning the Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis starting in 1979, with other applications coming on line later. From the mid-90s through 2011, when production ceased, and even long after, a Panther was probably your local PD’s cop car of choice. And while the beefy P71 cop-car package was built for beatin’, plenty of grandma-spec Grand Marquis models came down the pike as well—and benefited from regular updates. By the year 2000, a Grand Marquis came standard with overdrive automatic transmission, four-wheel disc brakes with both anti-lock and traction control, set-it-and-forget-it climate control, smooth suspension with anti-roll bars on either end, dual exhaust, power windows, and more. All of it was rigorously tested by engineers in Detroit and elsewhere. Here in the desert Southwest, there are approximately 17 billion of them, plenty of which look just like your great Aunt Helen’s last ride—low mileage examples with questionable roof treatments and scraped bumpers—and lots of them for sale around the $5,000 mark. Could something like this be a viable replacement for the Mrs.’ little orange rocket?