Long, gray and powerful are three words that can be used as rather basic descriptors of most any ship operating in service of the U.S. Navy. Quite coincidentally, those three adjectives power my elementary verbal rendering of a particular classic station wagon. Despite the different mission statements employed by a naval ship and a 1967 Ford Country Sedan, the two contain surprisingly similar attributes with regards to size, color and powerplants. I’ve only got keys to one of them, however, and it prefers to operate on dry land. Luckily, our country is nearly covered with the stuff.
Still, despite my possession of the ignition key, my name was notably absent from both the title and registration found in a box of paperwork, receipts and maintenance history sitting next to me on the long bench seat. The actual owner was waiting in his new home located hundreds of miles North of the big Ford’s present location… and I had to get the big rig back to him.
Waking up before the sun one Saturday morning, I stuck the key in the ignition then pondered what lay ahead of me. Four hundred and twenty-three miles in a 44-year-old car powered by a massive V8 sporting an AM radio. Oh, and the fuel gauge didn’t work. What could go wrong?
Keep reading to find out.
Seeing as the road trip is an essential part of life in America, it would appear that a new one was required of me. I’ve been on a handful over the year, including a few jaunts from coast to coast. Most recently, I piloted an Airstream Avenue from Huntington Beach up to Pismo for a weekend with a friend. That was fun, but part of the recipe that makes a road trip successful is the vehicle used. The Avenue was fine, yet that trip left me wanting more. My next road trip machine had to be more interesting, and all signs pointed towards the ‘67 Country Sedan showing me a “Hell Yes” on the Magic 8-ball of life choices.
Fate had conspired in my favor. Tim AKA Mad_Science was moving to Northern California and he didn’t want to take his muscle wagon with him. For Sale signs were placed on the 10-passenger battleship, and it wound up in my driveway where I could look after it while his family and the wagon hunted for new homes. That search proved successful for my friend, but the automobile occupying a portion of my life was still without a new owner. Rather than let it languish in my driveway, I decided it was time to reunite the beast to its title bearer.
After a twist of the key, the Country Sedan barked to life before settling into its thumping idle. My tank was filled with 91-octane fuel, as per the owner’s instructions. The carbueratted 390 cubic-inch V8 likes to drink the good stuff. That fuel is converted into 315 horsepower and 427 pound-feet of torque, which is sent to the 3.00-geared nine-inch rear end and out to the black 15-inch Cragar wheels. This is a muscle wagon that, like an aging boxer, can still deliver a heavy punch. For this trip, I just (optimistically) hoped it would deliver mid-double-digit highway fuel economy.
Spoiler: it didn’t.
The Ford Country Sedan is 214-inches long (8 inches longer than a Lincoln Navigator), weighs 4,310 pounds and can transport an entire starting baseball lineup (plus manager) in comfort. That baseball team should get its hand on a gas card, because I was averaging around 10 miles per gallon. That didn’t matter on this trip though as I wanted to spend as much time with the wagon before returning it. Our fuel stops allowed us a moment to take in the scenery of our adventure together.
Rather than take the faster route up the 5 Freeway, I opted for California’s 101. Running near the coast, the 101 travels through beautiful beach towns before ducking into wine country. From my vantage point behind the thin steering wheel, I was treated to one long postcard outside my window for nearly the entire journey. Well, not until I passed through Los Angeles.
Moving away from the City of Angels, the road opens and the 390 is allowed to breathe. In fourth gear, the wagon jogs down the highway like a dog let off its leash. The engine turns at 3,000 rpm, and the speedo needle slides horizontally towards 80 miles per hour. Thanks to the Titanic-grade wheelbase, the car tracks straight as an arrow fired from Robin Hood’s bow.
Despite the eagerness to run, I had to keep one eye on the aftermarket Autometer gauges installed near the steering column. One relayed engine temp, another keyed me in to oil pressure and the third was a volt meter, which decided to take this trip off. No matter, the other two were more important anyway. The two non-union gauges served notice that this 44-year-old hulk planned on making the trip a comfortable one. Oil pressure remained healthy, which was good news for the 390, and the engine temperature performed a wonderful impression of the other side of the pillow.
I was expecting drama on this trip. My pre-trip imagination was filled with a soaring temperature gauge, a diving oil pressure gauge, any random classic-car ownership issue and the myriad of unforeseen items that could pop up when taking something old and driving it somewhere far. There was no drama though, save for the seemingly endless glory of the Pacific Ocean, the golden fields of central California that roll on forever and the view of the open road stretching out in front of the hood of a 1967 Ford Country Sedan.
When asked the inevitable question of “why?”, Tim has an answer ready to go. In 2007, he and his wife were looking to get their first classic car yet they also wanted a vehicle to haul items if necessary. A scan of Craigslist led them to the Country Sedan, and $2,500 later it was their Country sedan.
Big plans were hatched but, as most classic car owners will tell you, those plans don’t always come to fruition. If he could go back and start over, he would’ve done things differently, but that doesn’t change the fact that this was his first and he has strong memories tied to the car. A park ranger once stopped him as he entered San Onofre state beach to engage in a lengthy conversation about how “awesome” his “surf wagon” was, and he can easily recall the excitement felt the first time he heard the secondaries kick in on the new carburetor he just installed. These are joys held by owners that others don’t always get to experience.
I got to experience it for during my brief time watching over this automotive Baby Huey. This time wasn’t spent with a particularly rare car, seeing as Ford cranked out thousands of examples between 1952 and 1974. It isn’t a quick car either thanks to all that weight, but the 390 does a more than admirable job. Despite this, I got to take in a beautiful portion of our country from the driver’s seat of a part of its automotive history. The owner may have paid $2,500 for the car, but his time with the car and my road trip are worth far more as far as memories go.
My destination came into view before I was ready for it. My remaining time with the car turned from hours into minutes. Still, Tim had one last “date” in store for the wagon and myself. We found a secluded road that terminated, oddly enough, at a Pick Your Part junkyard. The place was closed for the day, and the road was empty of both traffic and pedestrians. I was then shown how much life that 390 still has… by way of a few burnouts. They may have been of the one-wheel, get-me-a-posi variety, but they were still impressive for such an elder beast.