Dale Robley admits he was smitten.
“As soon as I saw the car, I knew I was going to buy it,” he says.
He had already let one 1964 Ford Fairlane Sports Coupe slip through his hands, and it wasn’t going to happen again.
And this one was the collector car of legends. It had been driven by the little old lady from...um, Estacada.
And the Oregon woman was almost obsessive about taking care of her car.
“I don’t think it has ever spent a night outdoors,” he says. “At the end of every day, it went into a garage, and was covered up with a blanket.”
Robley says the car was built in January 1964 and was given to Margaret Smith by her husband, two months later.
It wasn’t what one might consider a typical car for a lady.
A sporty two-door hardtop, it was moved by a high performance 289 cubic inch V-8 mated to a four-on-the-floor gearbox.
“She loved the car,” he says. “She drove it from 1964 to 1991, when her children talked her in to getting something with an automatic.”
Consider that when Mrs. Smith stopped rowing her own gears, she was 81 years old.
Care of the car was then entrusted to her offspring, who retained the Ford for a few more years, storing it in the dry climate of Eastern Washington state, and exercising it only rarely.
“Other than the door, which apparently was damaged in a parking lot, all the paint is original. The trim’s never been off,” Robley says.
The Ford eventually was sold to Larry Jordan of Longview, Wash., who pulled and freshened the engine, using some era-correct high performance parts from Edelbrock, went through the suspension and added chrome wheels and larger tires.
The Fairlane ended up at the Portland, Oregon swap meet in 2007, where it caught Robley’s eye.
A few years earlier he found a white Sports Coupe at the same swap meet, but ended up waiting too long to make a purchase offer.
“I’ve always regretted that,” he says.
“I love the cars,” he explains. “They are understated...just like me. It’s the kind of car a grandfather would drive.”
He even likes the Prairie Tan paint, the color of ripe wheat still standing in the field.
“It is a color Ford used for only about six months,” he says. “I guess it wasn’t very popular.”
Once Robley got the car in his shop, he dropped the Ford 3.5 inches in the front and 2 inches in the rear. He added swaybars and had steel wheels cut and widened for a more conservative look. It now sits with a more aggressive stance, on rubber more fitting its performance.
“It rides beautifully,” he says. “It’s just like a new car.”
He says Ford made about 4000,000 Fairlanes, but that the configuration of his car is very rare.
The body style -with subtle changes -goes back to 1962 when Ford introduced the Fairlane as America’s first mid-sized car. The original price was around $2,700.
“None of the other manufacturers had anything to compete with it,” he says. They originally were offered with a six cylinder and a Canadian-built V-8. On the outrageous end of the line was the competition-bred Thunderbolt, with the mighty 427 stuffed between the frame rails. Only about 100 of the Thunderbolts were built by Ford, but more than a couple of standard Fairlanes were converted (some jobs were better than others) to the big-block configuration.
Robley fires up the V-8 and backs the Fairlane out of his garage. The rumble of the barely-muffled Ford draws glances and nods of appreciation from a group of golfers across the street.
Inside the car, the chassis vibrates with each throb of the engine until things warm up and the engine settles down to a deep bass.
The car has just under 110,000 miles on it, but with a new engine and chassis improvements, it rides with solid authority.
He shifts quickly, yet smoothly, never over working the car.
“Yeah, I get the urge to abuse it,” he says. “But cars don’t last long when you drive them that way.”
Speaking of lasting a long time, the Fairlane was among the centerpieces at Margaret Smith’s 100th birthday party in the community where she grew up and lived.
“She’s seen the car before,” Robley says. “We had her to the house to show it to her. She was so excited she cried. It was really something.”