December 13, 2007

Affordable Ford

We are a two-Ford family, which is not how I came of age. If my father had any brand loyalty, it was to GM, because that's all he owned from 1954 to 1974. I liked our Chevys and Oldses, even when Dad and I were elbows-deep under the hood trying to make them last another year. Opening a machine up like that, you get a feel for it, an appreciation for what makes it run. The handshake between man and machine takes place through a 9/16 end wrench.

On the contrary, I never liked the feel of the Fords I rode in or worked on. Something felt plastic and hollow about them, as if a much smaller car were operating beneath an enormous, tin façade.

When I actually started driving, it was Ford's column shifters that unnerved me. Like pulling on a stick jammed into a bucket of badly mixed epoxy and river rocks. The détentes felt springy and imprecise. I wondered if r really meant r sometimes, because it never felt the same way twice.

Ford's column shifters feel like pulling on a stick jammed into a bucket of badly mixed epoxy and river rocks.

My Explorer continues that tradition. Its shift lever's placement always makes me guess whether to grip it underhand or overhand, because neither feels right. My Taurus, built in the Years of the Dominant Oval, has a spongy rubber shifter that looks sort of like a paddle jammed sideways into the steering column. Its resistance is a little too strong for fingertip operation, but so weak that gripping it with my whole hand seems like overkill. (Ever watch a kid drink from a cup with both hands? Like that.) I've learned to sort of throw it into gear, the way Will Smith worked the alien fighter ship's controls in Independence Day.

GMs never made me guess. My old Monte Carlo's gear selector made two bends on its way out to meet my hand with a flared knob, perfectly engineered for cupping three fingers around it, underhand, and pulling it down in the victory-hoo-ah fashion precisely into the gear I wanted. It also went firmly into park, so I never had to wonder if the car would roll away after I stepped out.

Ford ignition switches also feel wrong, with too much throw and too little feel. Mushy, as if something has snapped inside and the whole thing's about to pop out onto the floor in a pile of tiny springs and pewter coggery. In fact, the first moving part to fail on our Explorer was its ignition switch.

i got to compare these makes side-by-side in my chauffeuring days, when we ran a mixed fleet of Cadillacs and Lincolns. The stretch DeVilles were driver's cars, heavy and solid-feeling; you knew that when you turned the wheel, the car would comply immediately with no nonsense. After a bump, the chassis promptly returned to neutral and the car continued its cruise as if nothing had ever happened.

Not so with the Lincolns. They careened on curves and never seemed to come out level in the end, as if they were still traumatized by lateral g-force. Their engine speed had some relationship with acceleration, but it wasn't linear. You could also steer them easily with one finger, which made me wonder, Why not just put a joystick on the console? No need for this 16" grab handle blocking my view of the instruments.

I will concede that FoMoCo leaves GM sucking wind in the intermittent-wiper category, all because when you turn off a GM wiper, even if the blades are down they jump up and sweep across one last time, as if to say, "You missed a spot." Fords obediently lie down or stay there when you switch them off, no back talk.

Wipers shouldn't upset me this much, but they have a way of bringing the worst out of people. Perhaps it's just the way they operate, snapping across your field of vision as you're trying to see through the rain. You know they're there to help; it's their haphazard, noisy manner that irritates.

but only an ingrate grouses over a convenience such as the automobile. One of my greatest little pleasures in life is basic maintenance, or even a major repair if I know what I'm doing.

It's when I don't know that my faith in God is tested.

Within its first year under my ownership, at 71,000 miles, the Taurus cannibalized its camshaft position sensor. This takes the place of the distributor in a distributorless ignition, and sort of advises the computer on when to send sparks out to the cylinders. The car will run without it, but you can't get an inspection sticker with the service engine soon light on. So I had a deadline.

Locally, parts stores wanted $80 plus for the item. I found it online for about $25. That's a suspicious savings, the kind you get for that few weeks between the Chinese knock-off's arrival in California until the domestic producers sigh and mark theirs down accordingly. I even took the cheaper one to my local parts store, where the counter guys held it up side-by-side with their offering and just shrugged. Looks the same; let us know how it works out.

I'll spare you the details except that I had to machine about 1 mm of metal off the mounting to make it fit. The time this consumed in realizing the problem and fixing it easily burned up the $55 savings.

nonetheless, taurus and i bonded through the experience, our first repair. I try to be grateful for God's little favors like that. He didn't have to point me to this $4,000 cream puff, but he knew I needed it right then, and he did.

Posted by: Michael Rittenhouse at 06:25 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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1 Huh. Your description of Fords is completely different from my experience with them.

I've found them to be solid, well built, and reliable vehicles, starting with  the '65 F-150 my parents owned, to the first one I had, a '79 F-150, then a '99 F-150, to my current one, a '91 F-250 .

Posted by: akornzombie at January 05, 2008 02:15 PM (ViN2K)

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