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03/12/2022 at #192173
Aaaaand now, the saga of our 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL Convertible!
The Galaxie June, 2021.
Our 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL convertible has been in our family since the early 1990s, but the notion of a ‘62 started 3 decades before, when these cars were new. Back in 1962, My Dad was a 25-year-old, 2nd year police officer in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois. Born in Chicago, he was honorably discharged from the US Air Force in 1959 and joined the Park Ridge Police Department in 1960. He was doing well, as his new career provided him with the means to purchase a new car. In fact, he was able to pick up a new ride every two years!
In 1960 he brought home a new Dodge. He wasn’t a huge fan of the car, so in July of 1962, he went to his local Ford dealer in Chicago and traded it in on a brand-new Corinthian White 1962 Galaxie 500 XL 2-door hardtop with a red interior. I believe this car was powered by a 220 HP 352 in.³ V8 coupled to a Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission. The XL package included bucket seats, floor shifter and console, and special seat trim.
Photo from July, 1962.
Shortly after purchasing his car, he embarked on a cross-country journey from Chicago to the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair with his brother and then-pregnant sister-in-law! He had lots of stories about the trip, but her stories aren’t quite as fun… being 7 months pregnant on a cross-country road trip in a car with no air conditioning in July isn’t a barrel of monkeys.
SIDEBAR: Let’s take a trip in the Way Back machine to take a road trip to ‘62 Seattle World’s Fair! This probably looked very much like their trip.
The crazy thing is they could have been IN this old film footage!
I really dig this shot, taken from the back seat while rollin’ down a 2-laner (they were nearly all 2 lane roads in ‘62, before the Eisenhower Interstate System was anywhere near finished.) I don’t know where this was, but I’m guessing Montana or Idaho?
Well, he kept his streak going, and in a short 2 years, he moved on from the Galaxie. When I was growing up in the 1980s, my dad would often say that he never should have sold that car. He really liked it. I don’t know if it was because of the time period of his life or the places he went with it, but for my Dad, that ‘62 was the “one that got away.”
1962 Galaxie 500 XL Sunliner Ad
The 1964 Dodge Polara that replaced it was rarely mentioned, outside of the fact that he traded in his prized Ford for the ‘64, a decision he looked upon with regret. The Polara was a 4-door hardtop with a 6-cylinder under the hood.
Again, not his actual car, but a ‘64 Dodge similar to what he had in style and color.
However, the car was used in their wedding in 1965, providing this great shot of the happy couple.
By the early 1990s, my sister was married and out of the house, and I was in college and tinkering with cars of my own. Over time, I grew quite tired of hearing my Dad go on about “what a great car that ‘62 Ford was” and how he regretted trading it.
Kevin Oeste03/12/2022 at #192175
By 1993, I finally convinced him that 1962 Ford Galaxies were still out there, and perhaps he should get another one. My buddy Jim had turned me on to buying cars in Southern California where they did not succumb to the rust of the Midwest.
In July of 1993, Jim returned from a SoCal trip with an Auto Trader type magazine that featured a bright red 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 XL convertible with a black interior and Kelsey-Hayes Thunderbird wire wheels.
The asking price was $6200 and it had recently been restored. I promptly showed this to my dad and said “hey, this looks like a great candidate, why don’t you call the guy?”
Surprisingly, he did call the guy and discussed the car at length. The seller was named Dean Duke, and the car was in West Covina, California. He requested a few more photos and Dean responded, complete with note on the back of this one:
They talked about the condition and other details, and Dean assured my dad that this car could be driven back to the Midwest with no issue. He mentioned that the transmission slipped a bit in reverse, but it was otherwise a very nice car. It had a rebuilt 300 HP 390 in.³ V8, Cruise O-Matic Transmission, a recent repaint and a decent top.
The brakes and tires were good as was the dual exhaust. The interior had been re-stitched in black vinyl and it was a real 500 XL.
Soon, my dad sent a deposit check and we made a plan where Jim and I would fly to California, inspect the car and purchase it if all looked good. We would drive it back to Illinois and Big Al would have a bright red droptop version of his old flame.
Kevin Oeste03/12/2022 at #192176
Jim and I flew to LA, and stayed with Jim’s buddy in Manhattan Beach, CA. (The big side note here is how that trip ruined me… the weather was perfect, the beach towns were outstanding, the nightlife was fantastic… it was just the ticket for a midwestern dude in his early 20s looking for a good life. That would eventually come true, but not for quite some time.)
We looked at the car, and elected to make the deal. Dean was hot-to-trot to deposit the cashier’s check at his local bank. Understandably, he wanted the funds to clear before releasing the car, but I could sense he wanted to be down the road before the ink dried on the bill of sale.
Jim and I hit the 10 freeway headed west back to the beach. Man, I was on cloud 9… a bright sunny morning in SoCal, gliding down the freeway in a bright red 60s ragtop. “Bad and Nationwide” as Rev. Gibbons would say. But that moment of bliss was soon interrupted by a queasy feeling from down below. Not 10 miles down the road, the Galaxie’s transmission starts to slipping and sliding, with a cool smoke show for added effect. It’s hard to look cool in a smoking car that can’t maintain speed on the L.A. Freeway, but I think I pulled it off.
The ‘62 was on the hook truck on day one. Dean mentioned that the transmission was slippery in reverse and probably needed a band adjustment… like that is ever the case. It was shot. Our trip was extended by a week as we had to wait for a random transmission shop in East L.A. – I think it was United Transmissions – to return the Cruise-No-Matic back to functioning state. Truth be told, I didn’t complain much, because Jim and I had some great times at the beach while it was getting fixed, but we weren’t happy with the transmission situation.
Kevin Oeste03/12/2022 at #192180
Jim bought a ‘68 ElCamino to drive back, and once the transmission was back in action, we hung out in SoCal for a bit before embarking on the journey back to Illinois. The 1962 Ford Galaxie was built in LA, and I don’t know if it had ever left the area. It fit in perfectly at the beach, that’s for sure.
Rancho Palos Verdes
When it was finally time to hit the road, the plan was to cruise up Highway 1 and see the sights, then head east around Monterey, zig zag around, and pick up 80 all the way back to Chicago. The car was doing pretty well at this point. Interesting, thinking back, that it had no real working gauges outside of an oil warning light and a generator light. No fuel gauge or speedometer. Who cares, right?
I don’t remember where this was.
I’m guessing this was around Ventura on Highway 1. You can see the ElCamino behind. I think I still have the hat, but not the fresh Manhattan Beach tee-shirt or the sweet cutoff jean jorts!
Jim and the two new rides.
I call this “Sunset in the headlights” because that’s what it is. A bit grainy, however. Wrong film speed for night photos. Remember that struggle?
Kevin Oeste03/15/2022 at #192421
Much more to come on this… it’s a work in progress, much like the car!
Kevin Oeste03/17/2022 at #193207
The drive back to Chicago was mostly uneventful, except for the wind noise and the brutal sunburn I got because I refused to put the top up. It was August, and I had to be back at school at Illinois State University in a week or so, but this was a great way to round out the summer. I was 20 at the time.
However, just as we reached Iowa City or so, the Galaxie started smoking again, and the transmission was letting go. I couldn’t believe it. This time, however, we found that the dipstick tube was not seated properly and was leaking fluid, so it just needed a top-off to get back on the road. The car made it to it’s new Midwestern home on it’s own power. Man, was my Dad happy to see that!
We went over the car, fixed the leak, and Big Al finally got to scratch a 30-year itch. He was a happy guy!
This car was built on June 25, 1962, at the Los Angeles plant. The original 390 was long gone, and at some point, the color changed from the original Castilian Gold to red. The interior was re-stitched along the way, but it remained the original black color. New, it would have looked much like this one, but without the 406, A/C, and 4-speed! (What a car!)
He had a great time with the car, cruising to the local Fluky’s dog joint on Friday nights for the cruise-in, of course with the console full of beverages.
One of his first stops was to go visit his brother and sister-in-law in Chicago. These are the very same people that were passengers on their trip to Seattle back in 1962, and here they are 31 years later. My uncle Ron thought the car was cool, And hopefully my Aunt Jean didn’t have flashbacks of the cross-country trip shortly before giving birth to my cousin Doug. If you think about it, my cousin Doug actually got a ride in the white car, albeit before he was born! Here he is with my cousin Don and the family in 1993.
Kevin Oeste03/17/2022 at #193208
Big Al was having a good time with the car, going to local shows, washing and polishing it, and doing what you do with an old car. He stored the car for the winter, and in the spring it came out for the new season. He had complained that the front suspension was “spongy”, so he decided to have some new coil springs installed on the car. The shop doing the work was about 45 minutes from where we lived, and it was on his way home when the fun stopped – and abruptly!
I documented the story for a Journalism class I was taking in college. Here’s that paper:
Kevin A. Oeste
MOUNT PROSPECT IL- -Automobile accidents are an unfortunate fact of life, but for retired Park Ridge Police Commander Alan Oeste, a recent fender-bender spelled more than just car trouble.
Oeste enjoyed over 29 years of civil service without a major automobile accident. Even in his private life, Oeste maintained a perfect driving record. But on June 27, 1994, all of that changed.
Oeste was driving his recently-acquired dream car- a red 1962 Ford Galaxie XL Convertible- home from a repair shop when it all happened.
“I hit the brakes and nothing happened! The pedal went right to the floor!” Oeste recalls.
“I hit the car in front of me twice before stopping. First a big ‘crash’ at about 20 miles an hour, and then another little tap as the other car came to a stop. I had absolutely no brakes whatsoever!”
Being a former police detective, Oeste found it hard to believe that the brake system could simply fail.
“There had to be some other explanation…” Oeste said. “I was on my way home from a shop which had just installed new front springs in the car. They used an acetylene torch to remove the old springs. I figured that maybe they burned through a brake line or something.”
After a full inspection of the brake system revealed no severed lines, Oeste was in a quandary.
“I couldn’t figure it out. There was not even any brake fluid missing,” Oeste explained. “So I asked a friend who used to be a mechanic back in the early ‘60’s for some insight. He used to work on these things when they were new, and he remembers these ‘mystery’ failures happening occasionally. He told me that in ‘62, Ford used a single-reservoir brake fluid system. This basically means that unlike cars today, there is no backup system if there is a master cylinder failure, which is what happened to mine.”
The damage to the Galaxie was not so extensive that it could not be fixed. Oeste actually performed a majority of the repairs himself, with help from friends and family. Unfortunately, the worst damage occurred to Oeste, not the car.
“I couldn’t sleep for weeks. All I kept thinking was ‘there must have been some other way out’, some way to avoid hitting the other car.”
Although the occupants of the second car were not seriously hurt, Oeste was troubled by what could have happened.
“After dedicating the majority of my life to public safety, I went out and put innocent people in danger. That’s what bothered me.”
Oeste lost 10 lbs. in the first week after the accident. He began to slip into a depression which made his friends and family worry.
“I didn’t know what to do,” said Oeste’s wife, Diane. “We kept telling him that it wasn’t his fault and that everything would be O.K., but it didn’t seem to help. He just sat there day after day and stared at the smashed front of his car.”
The turnaround for Oeste came when he finally realized that his car would soon be fixed.
Jim Bognar, a friend of Oeste’s and an auto-restorer by trade, began to help put the Galaxie back together.
“It was just a matter of removing the broken pieces and installing the replacement parts.” Bognar explained.
Oeste found a donor car in a salvage yard in Arizona to supply him with the necessary replacement pieces.
“Once we got the new straight fenders and hood on the car, things started to look better to me” Oeste stated. “From there on out, I knew it was just a matter of time and effort.”
Today, the Galaxie still is not 100 percent finished, but it will be ready for the summer season in 1995.
“This whole crash thing has given me some new ideas about what I want to do with the car. After it gets repainted, I’m having the top and interior colors changed from black to white.”
It is this new spirit that keeps Oeste going.
“I guess you could say some good has come out of this mess. Before, I was afraid to touch the car, and now I have no fear about tinkering around with it and making it what I want it to be. You gotta be ready to play the cards that life deals you.”
“If you don’t, things will never get better.”
Man, that was a crappy time.
Kevin Oeste03/18/2022 at #193215
Fortunately, Big Al had the Galaxie properly insured, so we were able to not only repair it, but make some improvements by doing the work ourselves. The first steps were to disassemble the smashed front clip, and then send the car to the body shop to have the frame checked. They did a real slight tug on the driver frame horn, but overall it was good to go. And then, in a classic case of “Might as well syndrome,” I had the bright idea to repaint the car and polish / plate / replace all the trim.
Here, the replacement front sheetmetal is installed, and the paint stripping process has begun.
We sourced a new hood, inner fender, driver fender, core support, bumper, and brackets from Hidden Valley Auto Parts in Maricopa, AZ.
Other items came from Desert Valley Auto Parts, also in AZ with multiple locations:
I spent a few weeks manually chemical stripping the car, with all the wonderful pleasures that come with chemical paint stripper on skin. It was nearly 100 degrees outside, and of course, my personal protection consisted of shorts and sandals. I think I still have burn marks decades later.
Brush on the stripper, wait for it to bubble, (not long in the heat,) and scrape it off with a razor blade. Repeat about a million times.
In this shot, you can see a string of lights in the garden – this was the day of my college graduation party, June 17, 1995. Styrofoam cups pressed over cheap Christmas lights make for a festive scene in the backyard! You can also make out a beer keg in the garage, there were 6 more on the garage floor being iced down. It was a heck of a party.. and that’s a story for another time!
At this point, I recall telling someone it was going to take about 3 weeks to get the car painted and back on the road. HA! HAAA HAAA!! Boy, was I wrong, by a couple of years!
There’s a lot going on in this pic, and not just my parent’s garage being in disarray, all thanks to me… first off, you can see how Big Al used to put his beer cans on the freshly stripped sheetmetal on the car. This would leave condensation rings on the car, and I’d get hot about it. He’d just laugh. Stripped paint chunks on the cardboard on the floor. The 1982 Yamaha Vision 550 motorcycle that I took in trade for an old Cadillac, but never titled or rode… couldn’t do that and live under Big Al’s roof… so the bike got sold after I repainted it white from blue. Also note the nylon-webbed lawn chair, cordless phone, and the new grille and bumpers in the background.
The good thing is that the car was nearly 100% rust free under the multiple paint jobs. I never found the original color, so it had been stripped before.
Kevin Oeste03/18/2022 at #193337
After the chemical stripping, I sanded the whole car with 80 grit paper on a DA sander. This was a home garage repaint, so the car never came off the frame, but I tried to be as thorough as possible with the resources at hand.
The body had a few dings and dents, but no major rust.
The only area that was questionable was the driver rear tail light and trunk lid fit. Why the heck was the light nearly an inch forward? Well, it turns out that the Galaxie was damaged in an impact at some point, where the driver’s side quarter panel and tail light were smashed. Someone brazed in a repair panel at some point, but they didn’t get the alignment right, and the tail light pocket was in the wrong place. This would have to come out.
Once stripped, I sprayed the car with some PPG DP40 green epoxy primer to protect the bare steel. The car got stored for the winter of 1995 as we gathered parts and materials to continue.
In 1996, we obtained a quarter panel section from Desert Valley Auto Parts, and I began the process of installing it. At this point, we brought the car to my buddy Jim to have him finish the quarter repair, bodywork, and to repaint the car in 1997 Porsche Guards Red PPG 2-stage Urethane. I landed a job with Hot Rod Magazine, and had to move to LA, so I was unable to finish the job. Jim did all the metal and bodywork, and got it into color and buffed by September or so of 1997. I don’t have any photos of the car up until it was painted, but that paint is still on the car as I write this in 2022!
Kevin Oeste09/04/2022 at #206609
The saga continues…
Kevin Oeste09/04/2022 at #206610
I don’t have any photos of the car going through the paint process, but here’s a few right after it got sprayed and buffed. The color is 1997 Porsche Guards Red, which is vibrant, but sort-of splits the difference between an orange red and something too bloody. My Dad really liked the color, and I think it looks great on a car with a lot of polished trim and chrome.
Here, the car is stashed in the garage as my Dad, my uncle John Barrett, and my uncle Ron Oeste are all packing up the house!
Kevin Oeste09/04/2022 at #206611
You see, my parents were embarking on a new adventure of their own, moving from my home town of Park Ridge, IL, to Scottsdale, AZ. The Galaxie would have to get shipped to the new house, and the plan was for my Dad to finish it off as a “retirement” project.
Most of the trim and interior parts were all kinda stashed in the car for the trip, and they were able to load the car right into the moving semi that contained everything from the house as well. My Dad must have been out of his mind for all this. This is in about October of 1997 or so.
Big Al looks on as they drive the car up the ramps. This thing had not really been driven in about 4 years at this point, outside of being moved around for storage and during paint work.
It fits! Whew!
Big Al, his brother Ron, and some friends and neighbors all contemplate the new chapter for the car and the family. I was working full-throttle in LA, and could not wait to help my Dad in Scottsdale finally get the Galaxie back on the road.
Kevin Oeste09/05/2022 at #206613
The Galaxie survived it’s ride in the moving trailer to Scottsdale, although the hood popped up and dented the nose along the way. Looking at the photographs, I’m not really sure how they strapped the car down, but it made it…
These next few snaps I took on my first visit to my Folks in their new house. I was shooting with a Casio 640×480 digital camera, this was back in 1997. I’m amazed I still have the photos, but the quality isn’t so hot. Anyway, you can see the painted Galaxie and my tan ‘69 Buick Riviera in one of the shots. And Big Al with a beer.
Kevin Oeste09/07/2022 at #206617
Over the next year or so, my Dad would spend his spare time tinkering on the Galaxie, slowly putting trim back on and reassembling the car. It seemed like a really great retirement project in my mind, and in his, too. One unforeseen challenge was the insane heat in the Arizona summertime, so he wouldn’t be able to spend much time on it during the heat of the day.
One afternoon, in the 100+ degree heat, Big Al went out to work on the car. He put the key in the ignition and turn it to start, and *POOF* … the forward wiring harness burned up under the hood! Big Al was shocked, jumped out of the car, grabbed his fire extinguisher, and put out the fire.
Needless to say, he was very shaken by this episode. The fire was minimal, just the wiring coating on a short harness burned, but to Big Al, it was a car – that the last time he drove it – had a brake failure and endangered a motorist. Now, the same car tried to burn his new house down. He wasn’t having it.
Later that day, I got a call in my apartment in Hermosa Beach, CA.
“Come get this *&^%^&$ thing or I’m going to put it outside and sell it!”
“Well, this is unexpected” I thought. I was upset that he was frustrated with the car, but I also knew that at this point, he wasn’t that into the car as it was long on challenges and short on enjoyment. He was working on it by himself in the heat, which would have been far more fun if we could work on it together in a more hospitable garage situation. I started to see his side.
I accepted the challenge, and made a plan to bring the car to my place and finish it off, then get it back to him to drive. Or at least, that was the plan.
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