[Editor’s Note: Elmer Liimatta sent in this story of his first (full-size) car for Reminiscing in Hemmings Classic Car. Got a story about cars you’ve owned, cars you’ve worked on, or working for an automaker? Send it in to email@example.com.]
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. My dad, with only a fifth-grade education, was a good mechanic and had a job at Packard Motor Company. During World War II, Packard had contract work building Rolls-Royce engines for the North American P-51 Mustang fighter planes and PT boats—more than 9,000 of those engines. During that time, we rebuilt used cars because the production of new civilian vehicles had ceased. It was something we still did afterwards; believe it or not, cars were still scarce in 1949. It was a problem, as I was 17 years old and had thoughts about a car of my own.
One day, my cousin—who was “bird-doggin,” or spotting cars for dealers—came over and said, “Elmer, I have a car for you.” That Sunday afternoon we went to his house, which was about 10 miles away. There sat a 1934 Ford Victoria. It was hard to miss with that front end, and it had doors that opened from the front. The car had been used as a paint truck by a previous owner and it had big hooks on the left side that were used to hold ladders between jobs. Someone had made a wood floor in the back that covered the factory recessed floor.
The Ford looked good, but it was tired. I was able to buy it for $50. When I drove it home there was a cloud of blue smoke billowing from the exhaust. Its engine had used all the oil by the time I got home. During lunch that Monday I took three buddies for a ride. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because the engine stalled, and it was so worn it would not start. We pushed it home.
The solution was to rebuild the engine. While we were at it, we made our own dual exhaust system using 1.50-inch diameter flexible tubing. My Ford had a nice snap to it. Later, I put two Smithy mufflers on it. But now that it sounded good, it needed to look good. We found a pair of doors at Ford Salvage over in Highland Park and bough a can of metallic blue (a silver-blue) paint. Dad took the compressor from an old refrigerator, and an old army surplus air tank, and put them together to create his own air compressor. To make it portable, he made a little cart with casters. It worked well enough that we painted the Ford’s 17-inch spoke wheels yellow