Tag: Mark J McCourt

Fourth-gear musings: Thoughts from the road in a long-distance 1981 Plymouth Reliant K – Mark J. McCourt @Hemmings

Fourth-gear musings: Thoughts from the road in a long-distance 1981 Plymouth Reliant K – Mark J. McCourt @Hemmings


Our K-car-driving friend Joe Petralia has made time to keep us up to date on his adventurous Michigan-to-Arizona trip in a new-to-him 1981 Plymouth Reliant K two-door sedan.

At 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 28, he shared the above photo and some driving impressions from 3-1/2 days on the road.

The stout 82 horsepower is enough to keep you moving but not enough to get you anywhere real fast. The car actually drives very nicely; it has a great ride and is a fairly tight and well maintained automobile, just by the feel. Even though it has no power options, it’s small, light enough, and a simple-enough car just to drive as-is. The manual steering is not a big deal and the manual transmission shifts smoothly and easily with no issues from the shifter. I have had a couple of these cars in the past, usually with double the mileage; the shifter is usually worn out, sloppy, and it’s generally hard to find first gear. This one, however, feels like it’s brand new: no strange noises, the transmission is tight, the clutch feels good… it did recently have a new clutch cable installed. As far as handling, this car is not going to win any autocross event, but it does feel pretty confident on the road as long as you don’t go over 35-40 mph on a highway exit ramp; she goes around corners ok, but she’s not designed to corner like a sports car. Overall it’s a great little car. It feels no different [to me] now than it did when I was driving them back in the day. Being a 56,000-mile car probably accounts for a lot of that, and this one has definitely had some pretty good maintenance along the way because it’s still tight and drives like it’s fairly new.

Joe has related a couple spots of bother, both pertaining to the car’s cooling system. The first came in the form of a leaking heater core, which manifested in dripping coolant thankfully captured by the passenger floormat.

“Well, like every trip across-country in an old car, something always has to happen,” he reported. “I was doing pretty good on the trip until a wet passenger side floormat in Nashville, Tennessee: leaky heater core! Now before I go into the process of disconnecting and looping the core, I’m going to throw some Bar’s Leaks in it and see if i can get it to tighten up, stop leaking, and continue on driving…”

“Second day on the road: fuel stop on the west side of Tennessee, getting ready to head into Arkansas,” Joe tells us. “So far the Stop Leak is holding up in the heater core, so that’s a good sign. The car’s running and driving real well – no issues, not using any oil, averaging about 25 miles to the gallon. I just made a fuel stop and checked all the fluids… we’re in good shape.”

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A rare and stylish 1941 Buick Super Convertible Phaeton has led a charmed existence – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings


When Mr. Wiley ordered his Convertible Phaeton from Illinois’ Bauer Buick in the fall of 1940, he selected a newly released, short-run “Spring Color” hue, his chosen warm, terracotta-like Sienna Rust body paint a striking contrast to the rich green leather inside. The open-top four-door Super was built in Flint in February 1941 and delivered through the suburban Chicago dealership in late March or early April. Over the next 80 years, it would have four additional long-term owners, two of whom preserved it for the latest, who then returned it to its prewar glory.

“I found this car in 2004, in Wisconsin,” Michael Stemen remembers. “The ad said, ‘Very original; one of 467; runs, drives; last of the four-door Buick convertible sedans.’” The avowed marque enthusiast, then living in New York’s Catskill Mountain region, called upon an Illinois-based friend in the Buick community to inspect the Model 51-C on his behalf; upon learning of its high level of originality, Michael negotiated the purchase and set the Phaeton on the road to restoration.

General Motors had discontinued Cadillac’s junior La Salle division for 1941, leaving Buick room to expand its territory both within the GM hierarchy and in the marketplace. The Super line hit a sweet spot for affluent middle-class buyers, representing a distinct step up from the wide range of Series 40 Special models. The lowest-production Series 50 body style was this Convertible Phaeton, whose $1,555 list price —just $6 less than that year’s average yearly salary—represented around $30,415 in today’s money.

Mr. Wiley’s six-passenger convertible was one of two open four-doors the automaker offered that year, the second being the $1,775 Series 70 Roadmaster that rode on a 126-inch wheelbase, 5 inches longer than that underpinning his Super. These Convertible Phaetons represented the final appearance of a type that dated back to Buick’s touring cars of the early 1910s. While the body style moved upmarket through ensuing decades, the Phaetons built for 1941 still used manually operated folding Haartz cloth roofs, rather than the vacuum-actuated tops enclosing both Series’ flagship two-door Convertible Coupes. Our feature car’s first owner selected a complementary tan top, the color of which was echoed in the optional cream-pinstriped, Prairie Tan painted road wheels.

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The Sophisticated, High-performance Thunderbird Turbo Coupe Is a Surprisingly Durable and Affordable Collector Car – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings

Photo by Ford Motor Company.

The Eighties were when American automakers affected European accents. A new generation of consumers appreciated the understated styling, buttoned-down road manners, and real or imagined prestige that vehicles from Germany, England, Sweden, Italy, and France offered. Even true-blue American icons like Ford’s personal luxury car, the Thunderbird, looked overseas for inspiration, the result being the Turbo Coupe that the company hailed as “A World Class Touring Car.” This popular flagship forever changed buyers’ perceptions of the Thunderbird, and nearly 40 years later, its surprisingly contemporary driving characteristics make it a modern classic worth owning.

The ninth-generation Thunderbird, which still shared Fairmont-derived Fox-platform underpinnings with the Mustang, rocked the market upon its 1983 debut. Adding fuel to the fire was the unprecedented Turbo Coupe. Introduced midyear, this top-of-the-line, forced-induction variant attracted well-heeled enthusiast buyers, those to whom its advanced appearance and technical innovations strongly appealed, to Ford showrooms.

While the 1983 Mustang looked trim, even the hatchback version of that pony car was a brick (0.44 Cd) against the new Thunderbird. Surprisingly, its smooth lines were a development of a Lincoln design proposal from Ford’s Luxury and Intermediate Studio. Gone were the 1980-’82 model’s formal lines, padded vinyl roofs, opera windows, and stand-up hood ornaments. Now we had a downsized two-door whose careful detailing resulted in a 0.35 coefficient of drag, in Turbo Coupe form accented with Euro-style blackout trim and sporting a thrifty four-cylinder making more horsepower on demand than the traditional V-8 more than double its displacement.

While it would retain exposed quad sealed-beam headlamps through 1986, the Thunderbird featured hidden windshield wipers and wrap-over doors concealing the rain gutters, these working in concert with the high rear deck and subtle lip that managed the wind. Turbo Coupes were further distinguished with dark headlamp housings, a front bumper with integral Marchal fog lamps and deep chin spoiler, and bold 14-inch alloy wheels. Inside, special fascia finishes, comprehensive gauges and diagnostic lamps, articulated front sport seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob set the high-performance variant apart.

The Thunderbird Turbo Coupe evolved steadily, gaining an available automatic transmission in 1984 and a color-keyed grille, redesigned instrument panel, larger wheels, and a more powerful engine in 1985. This model took a major leap for 1987, when Motor Trend named it Car of the Year. A planned mid-cycle facelift ended up much more, the Turbo Coupe gaining flush-mounted window glass, a ducted hood, composite front lighting, a “bottom-breather” front bumper, and a smoother rear end. Mechanical updates included an intercooled engine, Programmed Ride Control electronic suspension, anti-lock brakes, 16-inch wheels, and more. A 22-gallon fuel tank ensured impressive high-speed-cruising range.

Ford’s premium two-door was a hot property in its ninth generation, selling nearly 884,000 examples. The North American Turbocoupe Organization (“NATO,” online at turbotbird.com) distills the Turbo Coupe from that total, suggesting 128,533 units were built over six model years, the final two selling the most copies. This Thunderbird benefits from its mechanical relationship to the Fox Mustang, but its unique body and sophisticated electronics pose more challenges for today’s restorers. Thankfully, these well-engineered sports-luxury cars are notably tough and enjoy a passionate, engaged enthusiast following that help each other with parts and information. Values are starting to tick up, with classic.com listing average sale prices nearing $12,500 and rising, so if you’ve always wanted a Turbo Coupe, now is your time to soar.

The dashboard of 1983 and ‘84 Turbo Coupes was held over from the 1982 Thunderbird, albeit enhanced with a different finish and instrumentation.
Thunderbirds received an updated dashboard for 1985 that was retained through the major 1987 revamp. The electronic systems in Turbo Coupes are largely reliable, but replacements are rare.

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Looking Back At The “Stockholm Syndrome” 1971 Ford Mustang Getaway Car – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings


It sometimes happens that an ordinary car becomes famous through extraordinary circumstances, like the Triumph Herald whose inadvertent parking spot on Abbey Road made it part of pop culture royalty. Perhaps infamous might be the more appropriate term for an otherwise unremarkable 1971 Ford Mustang Hardtop. It was one of more than 65,000 built; it just happened to have been sold new in Sweden.

That Swedish pony car also just happened to play a small but important role in one of the most internationally famous bank heists of the 20th century, and it recently came up for online auction with the firm, Bilweb Auctions.

The Ford, chassis 1TO1F100286 and license plate AMP 083, is known today as the Norrmalmstorgsdramat Mustang. It was to be the getaway car for Jan-Erik “Janne” Olsson and Clark Olofsson, Olsson being the man who, on August 23, 1973, held up the Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, and set off a five-day saga that involved four bank employee hostages and the demand for freedom of notorious criminal Olofsson, then in Swedish prison. This event, and the hostages’ ultimate reactions to the robber who held them captive, led to the coining of the psychological term, “Stockholm Syndrome.”

The history of this blue Mustang—factory-equipped with a 2-bbl.-carbureted 302-cu.in. V-8 and C4 SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic automatic—was quite interesting from the start, as it had diplomatic ties, having been purchased new by the Embassy of Brazil in Stockholm. From the fall of 1971 through the time of the siege, it belonged to Kenth Svensson, the on-duty policeman who was shot in the hand during the drama.

The car was parked in front of the bank with a full tank of fuel, as demanded by Olsson, but was never used; the hostage crisis was ended with no fatalities or criminal escape.Its five days of fame over, the Mustang faded into obscurity, being sold off and eventually heavily modified with the intent to turn it into a drag car. It was last registered in 1987, when it showed 46,600 kilometers, or 28,956 miles. Bilweb Auctions tells its history:

After the robbery, he used it as a utility vehicle for the family became too large and it was sold to Mats Fahlgren in Umeå. Mats drove the car until 1987 when he had to rebuild the car for drag racing (he then had no idea about the history). The car was emptied of interior, wheelhouses at the back were widened and rebuilt at the front. A roll bar and some reinforcements had time to be fitted before a reporter came to do a report on the car and the history was discovered for Mats. Then he decided to interrupt the construction and parked the car with parts in a dry lodge.

It stood there until 2019 when the current owner Fredrik Johansson in Trensum bought it and aimed to build it completely original. He has meanwhile collected a lot of parts and a donor car that is included in this auction. As the time is difficult for Fredrik who is self-employed, he chooses to sell this exciting object on to someone who wants to take over.

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A Pared-Down Take on Upscale Luxury Marked Chrysler’s 1972 New Yorker Brougham – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings


Was it a cause of Tom Wolfe’s “‘Me’ Decade” or a byproduct? By the early 1970s, the 1969 Volkswagen ad that had cheekily suggested Americans should live below their means felt out of touch. Really, we were worthy of indulgence, and near-luxury automakers like Chrysler were happy to oblige. More of everything would prove the trend of the decade, and from the early days, the New Yorker Brougham offered consumers a unique interpretation of middle-class luxury.

A 225-hp, four-barrel-carbureted 440-cu.in. V-8 with single exhaust was the default engine in the Brougham, while a dual-exhaust setup that added 20 horsepower was available. Chrysler’s proven three-speed A-727 TorqueFlite automatic was the sole transmission choice.

The Imperial line had all but been absorbed into Chrysler by 1972, those well-appointed flagship two- and four-door hardtops built alongside lesser models instead of on a dedicated assembly line and marketed in the same brochure. Their unit-bodies were long-wheelbase variants of the parent company’s standard versions and bore minimal styling differentiation. At the same time, Chrysler’s eponymous models were creeping upmarket; the New Yorker Brougham offered nearly as many lavish trimmings as a Cadillac- or Lincoln-fighting Imperial LeBaron, in a slightly smaller (but, at 224.1 inches long over a 124-inch wheelbase, a still-generous) package.

Chrysler treated buyers of its premium four-door hardtop to more comprehensive instrumentation than did many competitors; features like power windows were standard.

This New Yorker Brougham remained in the possession of its original owner until 1994, by which time she’d driven it fewer than 22,000 miles. It now displays just under 23,500 miles and retains all its factory-original finishes and features. “A couple of scratches have been touched up, but I’ve never found evidence that any panel has been changed. I just think it was a nice lady’s go-to-church car, and from what we can tell, it accumulated pretty minimal mileage,” Jeff Stork explains. “This Chrysler remained in North Carolina, we believe in collector hands, until we brought it to California in 2018.”

As curator of the 80-car-strong Prescott Collection, Jeff is the primary caretaker of the time capsule Mopar and others of its ilk. This collection specializes in postwar American automobiles, with a particular emphasis on these four-door hardtops that are typically overlooked by other collectors. He tells us they sought this car both for its pristine condition and for its individualist interpretation of American luxury motoring in that era. “We wanted a 1972 because it was the first year of the New Yorker Brougham, and the last year of the original styling statement, with the loop front bumper that was gone in 1973.”

“This car represents a very interesting moment in American automotive history. It was the Broughamization of America… the automakers were ‘going for baroque,’” Jeff says with a laugh. “Suddenly everyone had these luxury offerings with upgraded cloth interiors and vinyl tops. You could get this in midsize cars like the Cutlass Supreme, and even in what had previously been the low-priced three with the Ford LTD and Chevy Caprice. The automakers were reaching up to see how many profitable features they could offer. This car reminds me of Marcus Welby, M.D.; I used to watch that show when I was a kid, and Welby drove a blue one. He was a caring doctor, and this Chrysler exudes upper-middle-class respectability.”

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The unibody XJ Cherokee blazed the trail for today’s popular, car-based crossover SUVs – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings


It was a gamble for American Motors Corporation’s Jeep division to introduce the “XJ” Cherokee, using a venerated nameplate on a new 4×4 that was very different from any Jeep that came before. This compact, efficient, and stylish people mover was thoroughly reimagined for the 1980s and became an immediate best seller in its first year on the market. With decades of hindsight, the XJ Cherokee proved a winning formula with incredible longevity, and 1984 was where it all began.

Images from the Hemmings Brochure Collection, courtesy of Bruce Zahor

The Cherokee and Wagoneer being sold in 1983 had their origins in the early 1960s, being large, six passenger, two- and four-door SUVs. Those “SJ”-chassis models were powered by inline-six and V-8 engines, and their traditional body-on-frame construction was rugged, if not particularly intended for daily driven on-road comfort. A clean-sheet replacement for those near 4,000-pound, 186.4-inch-long trucks had long been in the making, and the new versions of these models reached AMC/Jeep showrooms for the ’84 model year, having modernized four-wheel-drive motoring.

The crisply attractive design shared by the new Cherokee and Wagoneer variants was drastically downsized, their “UniFrame” integrated chassis-bodies measuring 21.1 inches shorter, on a 7.3-inch shorter wheelbase, and weighing in an average of 800 pounds less than the original design that stayed in production as the upmarket Grand Wagoneer. The XJ came as a basic two- or four-door Cherokee, a well-trimmed two- or four-door Cherokee Pioneer, a sporty two- or four-door Cherokee Chief, and as a plush four-door Wagoneer and premium Wagoneer Limited.

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Why it’s smart to treat your classic to engine-oil analysis – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings


It’s not just “golden-clear = clean” and “dark-opaque = dirty.” Motor oil is a complex, highly-engineered fluid before it’s even poured out of the container. And after it has been sprayed, dripped, and sloshed around in a running engine for a period of time, coming into contact with multiple materials and wearing surfaces, it holds the secrets of that engine’s overall health. There’s real science behind determining what the chemical and physical composition that oil can tell us. To learn more about this, and share it with you, we’ve tagged along with an enthusiast owner as he explores a new-to-him old-car purchase.

Case study:

Rodney Kemerer bought a Maroon Metallic, five-speed manual-equipped Honda Accord LX brand new in June 1978, when he was living in Pennsylvania. Now a resident of Beverly Hills, California, he has maintained and cherished that two-door hatchback for 43 years, and Rodney knows firsthand how difficult it is to keep the car running and looking factory-fresh, considering the near-total lack of replacement parts. When a virtually identical (save for its paint color, dealer-added accessories, and California-spec emissions controls), running-and-driving ’78 LX came up at an online auction last autumn, he took a chance and bought it, sight-unseen, with the idea that it could be a complete source of parts for his own car.

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On the rebound: Five facts about shock absorbers and struts – Mark J. McCourt @Hemmings


As you motor down the road, does your vehicle invoke motion sickness from the bobbing and weaving it continues to do, long after you’ve passed over that pothole or speed bump? Does it adopt a nose-up attitude worthy of a wheelstander each time you take off, or affect a gnarly slammed stance upon braking? If you answered yes to any of these, check your shocks or struts, pronto.

The shock absorber, and the related strut, represent parts that aren’t typically seen or even thought about, but whose job is crucial in keeping cars and trucks stable, comfortable, and safe. In broad terms, shocks and struts change kinetic (movement) energy to thermal (heat) energy through friction; they’re also–and more accurately–described as dampers, because they control excess suspension action as your wheels roll.

Unlike the tires, whose tread becomes visibly shallower as they wear, shocks and struts rarely physically show the deterioration that use and years compound. It’s therefore important to spot the signs of failing dampers, and to understand what these components do and how they differ, should you choose to upgrade them from standard replacement units for improved performance on the street, at the track, or off-road.

What’s the Difference?Shock absorbers have come a long way since the late 1800s, when their concept originated with dry, solid-material friction: to absorb suspension movement, rubber and bendable metal coils kept tension via compression, stretching, or bending. Fluid friction was a major advance in the early 1900s, when double-action rotary shocks were supplanted by lever arm, and then telescopic, or tubular, shocks. And the introduction of gas-charged telescopic shocks moved damping technology still further.

An offshoot of the shock absorber is the strut, the most common version patented in the late 1940s by Earle MacPherson. This component, often used by automakers because of its space-efficient design, consists of a shock absorber cartridge located in a tubular housing that can support a coil spring and connects to the hub or axle on the bottom; it’s linked to the body/frame by a lower control arm or wishbone (and, in front-wheel applications, a steering tie rod). Another type used in some rear-wheel drive racing and street applications is the Chapman strut, named for Lotus founder Colin Chapman. This design features a coil spring surrounding a shock absorber, and the tubular shaft’s lower connections to the body/frame are a driveshaft and radius arm.

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Just Like New: Five facts about vehicle interior cleaning – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings


It may be a beloved classic you want to tidy up before car show season gets underway, or the daily driver that takes everything your life throws at it, but we all find our vehicle interiors getting dusty, dirty, and cluttered. Few automotive experiences are more pleasant than settling into a car or truck whose cabin looks, feels, and even smells showroom fresh. It’s one thing to pick up the scattered gas receipts and shake out the floormats, and another to remove built-up filth and discoloration from every part of the interior, and properly treat and protect individual surfaces like carpet, fabric, plastic, and leather.

Professional automotive detailers can charge serious rates because their work is time-consuming and physical, and they’ve mastered specialist techniques that bring the best outcome. And while garage shelves filled with pro-level cleaning supplies and dedicated tools are great to have, those are not the be-all and end-all: a few quality products and some typical household tools, used in a knowledgeable way, can achieve show-worthy results.

1. Before You Begin

When it comes to a serious deep clean of your vehicle’s interior, you may already have some of the most useful and effective cleaning implements and chemicals on hand, while others can easily be acquired through online sources. A shop vacuum–especially a wet/dry version–with brush and slender crevice attachments is great, but even a powerful regular vacuum with an extendable hose can be effective. Microfiber towels that can be washed (a reminder to avoid fabric softener and line dry) are inexpensive, as are various-sized soft-bristle brushes- yes, your old toothbrushes can be useful, so save them for car cleaning!

As to the products you’ll want at your disposal, a biodegradable or citrus-based general purpose, low-sudsing cleaner/degreaser, diluted with water and handled conscientiously, can be safe for use on most interior surfaces. When it comes to interior dressings/ultraviolet light (UV) protectants, detailing pros tend to be selective. Some of the most commonly available brands are silicone-based, which gives them the propensity to attract dust and–as they evaporate–to haze interior glass. Water-based dressings are generally preferred for those reasons, and tend to impart a desirably natural, low-gloss appearance.

2. Under Foot

A thorough vacuuming–including under the seats, in seat seams, the dash top, center console, and don’t forget the rear shelf, trunk, or cargo area, should remove built-up dirt and dust. A towel misted with all-purpose cleaner and rubbed on the carpet can lift dirt and greasy marks and, with repeated passes, treat many types of stains. If a vacuum and rag-applied cleaner aren’t doing the trick, Gil Monge of Gillin Auto Interiors suggests a household-type steam cleaner may work as a last resort: “The key is to not soak the carpet, because there’s padding underneath; if that gets wet, you could end up with mold growing.”

If your vehicle has carpeted floormats, you can give them the same vacuum/wiped cleaner application. Rubber or plastic mats needing attention will benefit from a different treatment, T44 Detailing principal Brian Skorski advises: “Like ugly brown ‘blooming’ oxidation on tires, all-season floor liners and mats can fade and discolor over time. Apply rubber cleaner or diluted all-purpose cleaner and agitate, rinsing thoroughly and following up with a dressing of your choice, but wipe mats before reinstalling to ensure surfaces aren’t slippery.”

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How an EPA cheating fine kept Ford from selling its 1974-built Capri IIs until the 1976 model year – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings

First-generation Capri, built in Germany for the American market and sold here in Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, had proven massively popular, and was still selling well in the spring of 1974, when its restyled, hatchback-equipped Capri II came online

It was during a recent conversation about Capri II values for a Hemmings Stock Exchange feature that Ford Capri racer, Capri Club North America founder, and proprietor of Capri parts specialist firm Team Blitz, Norm Murdock, told me the fascinating story as to why we sometimes see Capri IIs in the U.S. with build dates of 1974 and 1975, for a model whose first official year on our market was 1976.

As Norm explained, Ford of Germany actually built both generations of Capris at the same time in 1974, in the same plant. For virtually all markets outside of North America, 1973 had been the final model year of the first-generation car, with the exception of the racing homologation-special RS3100 that was sold in late 1973-early 1974; that was the only Mark I Capri available for purchase during the 1974 model year in the U.K./Europe. The vast majority of the 1974 Capris built were Capri IIs, and aside from that RS, all first-gen 1974 cars built that year were exclusively for our market.

During those years in North America, tightening Environmental Protection Agency and Department Of Transportation certification processes created emissions mandates that nearly all automakers were forced to meet by adapting exhaust gas recirculation and catalytic converter systems.”Ford, in 1973, had just been fined what was at the time, the most severe penalty by the EPA for shortcutting its emissions certifications, and had suffered a big civil settlement,

” Norm explains. “When the Capri II debuted in Europe, it was not ready for prime time in North America.”Our ‘official’ first model year for the Capri II in North America was 1976. But in my collection of Capris, I have a November of 1974-built car. They were building them for North America in 1974, but they were embargoed voluntarily by Ford, stored in gigantic holding lots until they were allowed to sell them: I assume they were kept in Detroit, and out in lots by the East Coast/West Coast shipyards.” [Note, the lead image does not show one of these lots, but is a European representative image of a Ford holding lot.]

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