Like starcrossed lovers, I shared a dozen year on again, off again love/hate relationship with my old 1983 Ford Fairmont Futura project. In 2012 I finally got the Fairmont mostly together, registered it, and put a few street miles on the car before taking it to NCCAR for a shakedown run.
A late night pre-event thrash the evening prior to the car’s debut event culminated in me walking home at midnight, abandoning the Fairmont in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a hot start issue. I had noted coolant temps creeping north sitting in traffic earlier in the week, and part of my last minute preparations included the installation of a Spectre fan shroud. It clearly did not make the difference I’d hoped for. I walked home to get my truck, tow dolly, and some tools, dragged the car home to cool off and packed it up for a 5am departure, now less than four hours later.
Form follows function. One wire alternator, HEI distributor, total simplicity.
The Fairmont ran well on the two hour ride to the track, though I was afraid heat soak would leave me stranded stopping for gas so I left it running for a quick fill up. After event registration and tech I pulled out my tool bag and an electric fan I’d snagged from my parts pile before leaving, and wired it up with the help of Brannen Cunningham, the guy pitting next to me. The temp gauge did nudge over 220 degrees while waiting in staging, but the electric fan kept enough air moving through the radiator to prevent the car from overheating. Not too bad considering it was nearly 90 degrees and the sun was brutal. So brutal in fact, my iPhone overheated inside the car while trying to take some dashcam video.
The car felt ok during the first heat. The timing equipment malfunctioned on my first lap and failed to record my time. The second lap was a 1:30, which I managed to drop to a 1:26 by the end of the session. Not stellar times considering the fastest lap put down in the morning was a 1:03, but it had been some time since I’d been track, the car was unsorted, and I was having some trouble finding a good line through the back end of the track. Unfortunately that was not my biggest problem. The car began smoking on the second run, and it got progressively worse with each additional lap.
A break in between sessions gave me some time to isolate the problem. The aftermarket valve covers I had installed on the five liter did not have baffles and the sustained high speed, high rpm cornering was pushing oil up through the breather and spraying it on the hot exhaust, leaving a smoke screen like the car from Spy Hunter. Rather than risk spraying the track with oil and delaying the rest of the drivers, I packed it up for the day. Fortunately there would be opportunities for future track days.
The Fairmont was never intended to be a race car. I don’t mean that from the perspective of it starting life as a straight six powered bench seat coupe carrying Grandma to church. I mean I didn’t initially intend for mine to be a race car. In the summer of 2000 my daily driver was a white 1966 Galaxie 500 with a 390 under the hood. It was a pretty solid car, but the time had come for it to get some major attention. The engine was beginning to smoke, it needed brakes, and the front end was one enthusiastically driven exit ramp away from scattering all over the highway.
I originally bought the Fairmont with the intention of making it a daily driver while I took the Galaxie off the road for a proper restomodification. I paid a hundred and fifty bucks for it off the trade line of a shifty buy here pay here dealer, with the knowledge it would need a transmission. I picked up a good used C4 for another Ben Franklin and my then girlfriend (now wife) crawled under the car with me to embark on my first transmission swap.
The C4 swap was a success, but a few weeks later the 200 cubic inch six choked on its head gasket and overheated, warping the head. Not wanting to put an engine in the car too, and with two unreliable cars making it difficult to get to work I made the painful decision to trade the Galaxie in on a new truck. The Fairmont sat in front of my condo with For Sale signs on it until the condo association threatened to impound it and charge me fees. So I hitched it up to my brand new black Dodge Dakota and towed it out to the Virginia countryside, where it was more or less laid to rest in my buddy’s farm field.
Two years later I’d left the condo behind for a house with a proper detached garage. Short on funds, but full of ambition I brought the Fairmont home to build into a drag car. I quickly figured out that Ford doesn’t make drivetrain swaps easy and I was soon in over my head, learning as I went. During this time I was also nurturing a new business, Octane Magazine, a regional motorsports publication. I naively thought owning and running an automotive business would give me more time and access to work on my automotive projects. Instead, I spent most of my time watching and writing about other people’s projects.
The Fairmont spent a lot of time collecting dust in the garage, but would occasionally get some attention in conjunction with an Octane Magazine article or project. One of the first big projects ended up being paint. I initially intended to attempt painting the car myself, but I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. Octane Magazine was gaining momentum and advertisers were beginning to show interest in being involved with the magazine project car. One of the body shops I worked with wanted to paint the car in exchange for coverage in the magazine, a win-win.
I hitched the Fairmont back up to my Dakota and dropped it off at the shop along with a clean trunk lid I scored from a parts car to replace the only rusty panel on the car. I left instructions to stick with a two tone paint job – silver on top, charcoal gray on the bottom, with a black pinstripe separating the colors. The next few weeks dragged by waiting for the call to pick up my fresh ride.
The reunion was a lesson in trust, project management, and getting what you pay for. The car was two tone and silver on top, but with a dark purple bottom split with gold and orange pinstripes. Adding to the half ass job the orange stripe was painted on, but the gold stripe was unevenly applied tape. As it turns out, the painter realized after the car was prepped and half painted that he had no charcoal or black paint, so he used up the leftover cans in the shop. Awesome. Not only were the colors horrible, it was a ten foot paint job at best. If you looked closely the car appeared to have been wet sanded with a brick.