Things That Fall Off 1970 Mavericks

70maverick

The Maverick was a huge sales success. Nearly 579,000 units were produced in its first year. This rivaled the record-setting first year of Mustang sales (nearly 619,000), and easily outpaced the Mustang’s sales of less than 200,000 in 1970. <–From wikipedia. (By the way, the complete wikipedia entry is quite interesting and includes a lot of little known facts about the development and introduction of the Maverick)

Our Mavericks

Mavericks, bless ’em. They sold like hot cakes, everybody had one. As noted above, the wikipedia blurb on the ’70 Maverick is very interesting and mentions attempts by FoMoCo to give the car “European” styling. The car’s style was quite correctly done and is still very attractive. It has a very clean design on the sides with nice full wheel well openings, some nicely done sheet metal sculpting along the sides, a very clean and clearly defined roof line and C-pillar, and a sweeping fastback deck lid. Up front the style is a little bit of a throwback but still attractive. The car in the picture above is more clunker than classic but still shows the clean design elements.

In our family brother Mando was the first to buy a Maverick. (They cost $1,995 new.) He was headed to California and needed reliable transportation. He selected a Maverick for that undertaking. Family friend Frank Higgins bought two of these suckers. At the same time. Actually, he needed to get out from under a fancy Ford pickup and its 5 mpg mileage, so he traded in the pickup on two Mavericks, a green one (base model) and an orange one (base +1). I bought the green one from him in late 1971. Sister Tootsie had one too. That’s the one that nephew Mark backed into a light post. Talk about a bumper that didn’t bump. Mavericks, not unlike other low end cars of the time, had the paper thin bumpers bolted directly to the 8 gauge sheet metal. No need to attach bumpers to brackets or frames, is there? That Mav’s rear end stuck up in the air precariously until its ultimate demise. Mine was green, as I mentioned above, and looked eerily like the car seen in the picture that accompanies this blurb. It had that old Ford overhead valve 6 cylinder engine and a three speed standard transmission with the shifter on the column (three-on-the-tree they called it.) This car was acquired as a second car, to supplement my sweet ’66 Mustang GT. I am sad to say that the Maverick eventually replaced the Mustang as the family’s second car. But that’s another story. This story is about my 1970 Maverick and the piece parts it left strewn along the way.

The Driving Experience

Driving a Maverick offered the same thrill as taking a bus. You got in it. It moved. You eventually got where you were going. Almost every time. No thrills. No chills. No tactile sensations. No pride of ownership. I drove my stripper once from Aurora, CO (near Denver) to El Paso, TX. Left Colorado at 5:00PM on a Friday with my trusting wife Yolanda and infant daughter Christina. Drove south on the interstate in the cold and the snow. Somewhere south of Pueblo the headlights went dim. I could only see about 30 feet in front of the car, at most. There was no place to pull over to check things out. It was cold. It was dark. Very, very dark. It was snowing. I strained my eyes to see. It was a very unpleasant, almost horrifying, experience but I did make it through the night and into the following morning’s daylight. At journey’s end it was determined that the fan belt had come loose so the alternator was putting out a very weak charge. That was a horrible 700 miles. Those were the same 700 miles I had driven in the car headed in the opposite direction in September, ’72. We were moving to Denver from El Paso and I foolishly decided to drive up there by myself in that Maverick. It was a long, exhausting drive but the car did get me there. There was another side to owning a Maverick, though. That aspect was the constant torrent of pieces that fell off the car.

Things That Fell Off

The rear side window. The side windows for the rear seat passengers did not open by rolling down into the body. Instead, they were attached to a frame that clasped the front, top and some of the rear of the glass. This frame was attached to the body at the front by a hinge that allowed the glass (with its frame) to be swung open two inches or so. Ah, sweet ventilation. By the way, the frame around the glass was cool because it matched the metal of the door frame and served to disguise the cheapness of the manufacturing. On many other low-end cars (see Pinto and most Japanese cars built since then) the glass had no metal frame so the cheap construction was in-your-face. As noted, this mode of opening passenger windows has become much more common in cheap cars in the last thirty plus years. I will not claim the the window frame I just described ever fell off my car. That would be a lie. But, on more than one occasion, I unlatched that glass and swung the window open only to see the glass slip out of the frame and fall to the ground with a clunk. As near as I can remember, the glass never broke when it hit the ground, no matter how loud the thud. But there was always a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach each time the glass dropped. I solved the recurring problem with a liberal application of silicone sealer, squeezed out of a tube. Silicone sealer was the duct tape of the 70s.
The top half of the carburetor. Winter mornings in Colorado can be cold, very cold. One such morning I left our warm and delightful duplex, ready to drive to work. I shivered as I jumped in the ice cold Maverick, which spent its nights parked outside, at the curb. I inserted the key in the ignition and cranked the engine over. It cranked but did not fire up. I got out of the car, opened the hood, and glanced at the engine, hoping that a menacing glare from me would convince the engine to start. I don’t think that trick worked. This I do recall: The long, narrow 6-cylinder engine had a large blue air cleaner covering a single barrel carburetor. I decided to remove the air cleaner, why I don’t know. But as I started to unscrew the wing nut that held it in place, the air cleaner lifted up on one side and fell over into the space between the engine block and the fender. Attached to the air cleaner was the top half of the carburetor. The bottom half of the carburetor remained attached to the intake manifold. While I was not particularly thrilled by this development, I seem to recall that I merely lifted up the air cleaner (with attached half carb) and very carefully placed it back on top of the engine. To the best of my recollection I was somehow able to get the car started that morning and drove to work. I drove that car with that detachable carburetor top until I sold the car years later.

The column gear shifter linkage. OK, this part did not literally fall off. Nor did it come off in my hand. What did happen was that one morning, on my morning commute to my job at the Mountain Region Headquarters of Western Electric Company, I wanted to hurry things up so I slammed a speed shift from first gear to second gear. It was a forceful but clean attempt. Fast and furious. Amazingly, the shifter lever moved from down and near (1st gear) to up and away (2nd gear) but the transmission remained in first gear. The linkage had somehow come undone. I drove all the way to the office in first gear. That was one high revving straight six. That evening I drove the car home in low gear, made it home and drove it straight into the garage of our new home on E. Florida Drive. I had spent that day going over scenarios on how I was going to repair the shifter linkage. Once I was under the car in the garage, whatever I saw down there convinced that the best solution was to order a floor shifter from JC Whitney & Co, the mail order parts catalog company. This modification led to our next mishap.

The floor shifter stick. It may be unfair to include this incident as a Maverick failure, since the shift stick came from an after market supplier, but…what the heck. It was written somewhere at that time that I must at every opportunity assert my cheapskate personality. If Leona Helmsley was The Queen of Mean, I was The King of Tight as a String. So, after perusing JC Whitney’s many conversion offerings, I opted for the cheapest one available. How cheap was it? It was so cheap that it may have cost me as little as $4.95 to get it. I really can’t recall the actual price but it can’t have been much over $9.95, including postage. Very soon, the conversion kit arrived in the mail. So I ripped open the box, looked the kit over, and headed to the garage, where I crawled under the car. No jacking up the car to make space to work, no jack stands to hold the car up, just crawl under the car on that concrete floor and get to work. The most difficult part of the conversion was figuring out where to cut the hole in the floor. At first it looked like the front bench seat was going to be in the way of the kit and make the conversion impossible but, in the end, I cut the hole in the floor (hammer and chisel), disconnected and discarded the useless column shifter linkages, bolted the new mechanism to the transmission and successfully attached the new links to the trusty 3-speed. The kit came with a nice, chrome stick (handle?), a knob (of course), a nice cheap boot, and a chrome plate to give the boot a finished look at the floor. I was a little bit in awe that the conversion came together as well as it did and the new mechanism worked as well as, if not better than, the factory set-up. It even had a reassuring little click-click built into the shifts. But there were more shifter adventures yet to come.

The floor shifter was a functional part of the car and the car was more fun to drive using that shifter than with the old set up. At times I even played ‘boy racer’ and tried to run the car (still with its two piece carburetor) through the gears. On one such mad shift from 1st to 2nd gear, the stick broke off at the bottom, where it was screwed into the mechanism. The stick literally came off in my hand. I think I was able to continue my journey at that time by reaching down to the floor with my right hand and manipulating the mechanism with my fingers to move the linkage from one gear to the next. Later, once back home, I was able to extricate from its metallic grave the threaded piece of the stick shift that remained entombed in the hole in the base. Once those remains were cleared out of the crevice, I removed the gear shift knob from the handle, flipped the handle upside down and screwed the handle into the recently vacated mechanism. I then carefully screwed the knob on the other end of the stick and, because there were a few threads left on that end, I had a precarious but functioning gear shift knob again. At least for a while.

The suicide knob. Like the floor shifter above, this knob was not a Ford factory part but this narrative is about things that fell off the Maverick, irrespective of their manufacturing source. One day I was at K-Mart, the big chain discount store that preceded WalMart, where I spotted for sale at a very attractive price (see my penchant for cheapness, above) a nice, chrome and green suicide knob. So I bought it for my Maverick! What, you ask, is a suicide knob? A suicide knob was (they have long since been made illegal) a clamp with a freewheeling knob that could be attached to a steering wheel. Once secured in place, the steering wheel could be turned very quickly by grabbing the knob with one hand and pushing it along the circumference of the steering wheel, clockwise or otherwise. These knobs were also known as lover’s knobs because they left one arm and hand free to cuddle your sweetie as you drove. It really made steering, and consequently driving, a lot of fun. So I installed my bargain knob on my Maverick’s black, plastic steering wheel, and off I went, dashing here and there and turning left and right, as necessary, by grabbing that knob and pushing it in circles. As fate would have it, during one such maneuver, that pretty green plastic knob came off in my hand in mid-turn, effectively separating the steering wheel from my hand(s). The beautiful, chromed clamp remained attached to the wheel but the piece that I had so joyfully cupped in my hand separated completely from its base. I was somehow able to recover in mid-turn and regain control of the car without crashing. But without that knob (it was not repairable) the car was a lot less fun to drive. I actually searched high and low for another knob to attach to that wheel but they had long since disappeared from K-Mart and America’s vast marketplace. I did see one at Kobey’s Swap Meet in San Diego many years (decades) later but there was quite a tussle among buyers to get their hands on (pun intended) that little device so I was not able to acquire it.

A Sad (Not Really) Good-Bye

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This is a somewhat fuzzy picture of the illustrious Maverick in its final days with us. The picture shows, along with our two lovely children, a custom paint job. I had painted the window frames, both around the door and side glass, flat black (with a 79 cent spray can, of course) to add a bit of contrast to the factory green body. That was an elegant touch. But more importantly, the picture shows (still fuzzily) the beautiful chromed, reversed (offset) wheels with 5 lug bolts. How was this installation possible on a 6 cylinder 1970 Maverick? This feature was the result of having kept the ’66 Mustang GT’s custom wheels when that car was sold. That Mustang had a 5-bolt pattern because it was a V8, of course. We had the wheels (and tires) and we had the Maverick. How were we able to mount those wheels on the car? Well, JC Whitney & Co came to our rescue once again. In their catalog, they offered adapters that bolted to the 4-bolt pattern on the hubs and had their own 5-bolt pattern attached to an aluminum disk. At first I bought only two adapters 1)because I was cheap and 2)to see if they worked. So at first the Maverick rode on custom wheels and tires on the rear with the stock components on the front axles. Sometime later, after I was able to scrounge up another $15 (or whatever they cost), the front axles were modified to accept the 5-lug wheels. The car looked pretty darned snazzy that way and even received unsolicited compliments from time to time. But underneath it was still a poor man’s car. No air conditioning, no luxury options, no grunt, no pizzaz. And on top of that I had once repaired a leak in the gas tank (which I had caused by scraping bottom while hauling concrete chunks in the trunk) using clay-like mud. The mud had plugged the leak (amazingly) but eventually the mud was sucked into the fuel lines and into the fuel filter. The inevitable result of this process was that the car would periodically stall from fuel starvation. Rather than deal with this problem, the car (that had been acquired for $1,200) was sold for $500 five or six years later. The last time I saw it, it was sitting in the parking area at a gas station in San Jose, CA, awaiting its turn in the service bay. Back then gas stations still had repair garages attached.

In Memorium

70mav old

The Infamous Maverick in El Paso After a Banzai Run From Denver (Early 70s)

It would be unfair to end this entry without mentioning that the Maverick I ridicule here was the only car I ever owned that I never had to spend money to repair, other than the incidents noted above. In all the years I owned it I never had to replace a radiator hose, repair a radiator leak, replace a muffler, replace a clutch, redo the brakes, nothing. The car just ran on and on. In fact, I may have poured a quart of oil into it once or twice, maybe, but I never did an oil change on it nor did I once replace the oil or air filters. I never even had a light bulb burn out on it. I guess you could say it was a faithful servant.

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2 Thoughts to “Things That Fall Off 1970 Mavericks”

  1. xtimu

    Hilarious, Dad. This made me laugh and laugh! Thank you for the trip down memory lane. I have a vague, childish memory of the floor shifter, watching it from the back seat and aware that it was some sort of creative addition to the machine.

  2. Rick,

    I raced my car once at the El Paso Drags against a Covair and won a trophy. As the result of the “power shifting” during the race, on the way home my column shifter did come off in my hands on the way home. Lucky for me I had some tools with me and I was somehow able to shift using some vice grip pillars. However, using the vice grips also destroyed the pot metal thing that at one time held the shifter. I have to tell you that your story about the JC Whitney shifter is, 100% the same as mine. The same brake, the same solution, just turns the stick upside down and away you go. Corina and Tony helped me buy my car in August, 69. By July ’74 when I traded it in for $150 on my ’74 Corolla, at 70,000 miles I had had the engine and transmission overhauled to no avial. Nothing on that car worked after 35,000 miles. I also have a terrifying story of Rosa and I driving to El Paso from Denver on Xmas eve and the car in driving snow in ’71. Just as it got real dark on I-25, around 6pm, between Pueblo and Ratton (I still remember that it is 113 miles between them) the car slowed to about 25 mph max. We stopped in Ratton around 2am, I opened the hood and was what looked like a Disney light show with 1,000s is shorts dancing all over the engine compartment. I was to stupid to stop and return to Denver, so I kept driving, poor Rosa. Before getting to Santa Fe we turned south towards highway 54. We stopped to sleep (in the car) near Vaughn (?) N.M. and awoke with the car covered with about three feet of snow. We left Denver at 5pm, on Friday night, got to El Paso around 2pm Saturday, and drove back to Denver on Monday. About 1,400 miles of sheer hell.

    Wonderful story you wrote, I laughed the whole time I was reading it.

    Thanks

    Mando

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