The Gran Torino
~ A Pocket-sized True Story ~ (a four minute read)
The only good thing about the old clunker I drove was reliability. It sufficed but never came close to appeasing that deep-seated desire for an automobile with style, respect, and one that would cause my friends pea green envy. After having been prequalified at the bank, I never yearned more for the work day to end than when suffering new car fever. For weeks I rummaged sales lots until disoriented, even test drove cars that did not strike my fancy. Salesmen pegged me a “tire kicker.” My wheels were out there somewhere.
The early morning sun in the fall of 1972 shined bright through the apartment. I jerked my eyes open. First thought, “Today’s the day.” A few seconds later, a jolt of enthusiasm struck me in the heart. I jumped out of bed and landed feet firm in certainty. The dresser mirror reflected a serious face. Enough test driving, on this Saturday new car fever burned hottest, pen in hand, show me where to sign.
Since it was the weekend, my thirteen year old brother Lee was not attending class. I asked him to come along. He sounded excited, “Sure! Pick me up!” Seat belts were not Texas law yet, so when he hopped in, I slammed the gas pedal. We were off! His exuberance, beyond my own, was energetic movements and rapid speech that described his dream car the Mustang. In fact, that sort of excitement greatly contributed to my final decision.
All windows down, wind invigorated through midday while we weaved around in lots ogling, yet not one car grabbed either of us. Autos were built differently back then with aerodynamic design not new. Solid steel chassis, powerful engines, heavy doors, chrome edged steel fenders, overly roomy, and extras like high quality leather interior built into the price. And speaking of price, gas was cheap. Insurance was cheap. And car payments affordable even for a stenographer.
I drove San Pedro and Broadway where major car dealerships were located. Our full heads of hair blew every which way. Suddenly Lee pointed out the window and said, “Get a load of that one!”
Excitability and protruding eyeballs were obviously fixed on something spectacular, high in the sky that I could not see from the windshield. I jerked the wheel to the right, weaved out of traffic and pulled over. We sat in awe for a minute. I shut off the clunker’s engine. The brilliant copper 1973 Ford Gran Torino Sport with a black vinyl sports roof was prominently displayed on a twenty foot high angled ramp, like she pointed to heaven. A four thousand pound buffed penny sparkling in bright sun. Glory be! She was brand spanking new, a grand exhibitionist!
My mouth was still hanging open when I said, “Lee, if you had not been with me, I would have missed her.” This instant love for a vehicle, unlike I had ever felt, flushed my face. My heart pounded hard. I then knew the addict’s crave, “Can’t live without her.” Until this moment, appreciating my job did not exist.
I whirled the old clunker into a parking spot directly in front of the dealership. There they huddled only feet from the door, Lot Lizards, salesmen who pounce on new customers. Yet not us. Lizards with upturned noses avoided Lee and I like trash on a San Antonio sidewalk. Unbelievable. We must have been judged by the old clunker or my twenty-one-year-old baby face.
We meandered through the showroom still undisturbed until I disturbed a salesman. When I said, “I want to drive that one,” he suddenly looked away and walked quickly to tend to something that needed no tending, but when I said, “I’m no tire kicker,” he turned.
Salesmen should know expression is EVERYTHING. A face that surely never cracked a smile joined its bushy eyebrows. Plenty of vocal force lectured “cost of upkeep” with arms folded at his chest, and “Do you have a job?”
With eyes focused on his, “My bank prequalified me,” pride then spoke, “for up to $5,000.”
“How foolish,” I instantly thought. He thought the same but smartly did not express it. His eyebrows relaxed and gladly laid back down where they belonged. He unfolded his arms, swallowed his distaste, and said, “I’ll get the keys.” Now, he was truly in a hurry but to frisk palms.
The salesman eased my car down the ramp and drove her directly up to us. I felt in total control as she tightly gripped the road for a heavenly smooth ride down San Pedro Street while the salesman sat in the backseat filling us in with her abundant features.
He referred to notes when babbling faster than an auctioneer,
“This two door gal has Ford’s only performance engine, size – 351C-4V, heavy duty automatic transmission and 2.5 inch dual exhaust. Her 3.50:1 gears have a 0 – 60 mph time of 6 seconds, and she runs the quarter mile in 15 seconds. With improved chassis and suspension design, you have excellent road handling and passenger comfort. The instrument panel features a speedometer, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, clock, and tachometer. She boasts quality black leather interior with high back bucket seats that feature integrated head rests. And we can’t leave out the AM/FM radio, eight track stereo system, and twin racing mirrors. The sports roof wears a guaranteed ten year black vinyl top, and she rides on Firestone tires with raised white letters and triple chrome-plated steel Magnum 500 wheels. Only 22 miles on her before you stepped in. Any questions?”
Lee’s eyeballs protruded again. I grinned. He grinned back probably thinking how could his sister, a girl, buy this souped-up vehicle? Oh, but I could, just a tad bit concerned about price. Haggle? No, no. You don’t quibble over your child, you just pay the ransom. ― And it was high.
The salesman smiled, “Total is $5,080.”
That was a sledge hammer hit to the table that reminded me to slap myself but instead I sighed and said, “Can I write a check for 80?”
Lee and I drove away thrilled. And the old clunker? The salesman called it a “haul away trade-in.”
Friends were pea green with envy during the wonderful three year ride. I even raced her, and passing eighteen wheelers was a breeze. But in 1976, the worst mistake of my life occurred when falling for the Ford Mercury Monarch. With eight more payments on the Torino, I gave her away. Gas was rising, and she used more than anticipated. Our brother Anthony always admired the vehicle. I told him, “If you pay off the note in a timely manner, you can have her now.” He beamed for so long. I bought the Monarch, and he paid off the Torino, trading it a decade down the road.
Presently 2016, I would forego my Chrysler 300 for possession of a 1973 Gran Torino Sport which averages $30,000. Not cheap. But gas is and continues to drop. Hmmm, ―tomorrow, yes tomorrow, I’ll start the hunt for my four thousand pound buffed penny tomorrow.