The Marine View Driver: Attempting to Cruise in the 1979 Ford LTD


In which the author experiences every possible human emotion during a Mariners game.

by Mike Smith

Back in 1992 I bought a 1979 Ford LTD. I’d always wanted a big car. I liked the LTD as a kid and bought one because it made me feel childish child-like again.

LTD originally meant Lincoln Type Design, which could be applied to any car in the Ford line. The LTD was a luxury designation and the models first dubbed LTD had all the bells and whistles available at the time. Later the LTD became its own marque.

Never mind all that. I bought the LTD because it was Longitudinally Dynamic: big. Oh, and heavy too.

LTDCaptureAnd just look at that interior. Our family of four could have camped in this thing. There is something relaxing about the open road in a big, quiet riding, roomy, bench seat-laden full-size American car.

I owned the LTD when I started on my first real outside sales job. My company gave me a “car allowance,” which was basically gas money. But it was nice to have what amounted to free gas. However, at the time gas was selling for right around $1.25/gallon. But it was still nice to have a perk.

I’d never had perks before. I remember my boss sitting me down one day when I submitted my first reimbursement form. He explained in great detail how to pad the expenses and get more gas money and mileage allowance.  I thought, “Man, even the boss is running a con on the company.”

(I never cheated on my expense sheet by the way. My sales were solid enough that my income was equally good.)

$(KGrHqJ,!qgFD+gGjRFCBRC)C!VzdQ~~60_12Because I love taking long road trips, bigger cars were an obvious choice. The sheer mass of the LTD was just under the commercial threshold, a feature nicely counteracting the rumble of the road resulting in the luxury-car quiet ride. The road seemed so much smoother as we floated over it. Plus, there was room to stretch out–even work out, and conduct music lessons.

With its big V-8 engine the LTD ran over the mountain passes with ease and its Kenworth-type grill opened many lanes of traffic for a high speed descent. It was a great car to see the country in. We made several trips to Montana to visit family.

One year I drove my brother and two of his roommates to Pullman for the start of spring term. That was the first hint of problems.

We got as far as Othello and the car simply quit running. Battery was good. Fuel was half tank. When the rest of the family caught up with us, we crammed into the remaining cars and made it to Pullman. My grandmother lived in Pullman and had a good family friend mechanic. We had the car towed to his place. He had it running the next Monday. I had to drive back from Seattle to pick it up and it ran fine. Until…

I had another attack. I was trying to get to Canada for a business meeting and the car wouldn’t start again. Presumably it was the same issue. I took it to Huletz in downtown Seattle. They were supposed to be the best. They could not find anything. They got it running and I took it home. I drove the car back and forth to work for a number of weeks without incident.

But the same thing happened several times over the next several months with no diagnosis other than it must have something to do with a timer or heat. I guessed that maybe it finally worked after things cooled down. My emotions were frayed to the point of distraction as I would always be afraid that I would miss a sales call or something.

I did miss a sales call one time and was so frustrated that I vowed that if it happened one more time I was going to buy a new car, car payments be damned.

8440703172_3db5e9bebb_nOne day I was tinkering and I found what appeared to be THE cause. I’d spent about $800.00 on repairs over the months just to fix this one problem, including $450.00 on rebuilding the carburetor–remember those? I was getting tired of car problems.  The issue turned out to be about a $30.00 replacement part.

Instead of being angry, though, I felt rather smug that I had fixed it myself. I’d beaten the experts. I was smarter than the professionals. I was a diagnostic genius! No reason to ever hire another mechanic as I was the apex of the trade itself.

These were the sort of justifications I was entertaining in my mind and heart. I was SO proud! Sandy said things like, “Man, we sure wasted a lot of money on that car.” But I was immune to any form of negativity.

In fact, the LTD ran practically flawlessly for several months. I was settling into my new mindset. Being a master mechanic allows one to gloat, to wallow, to enjoy a lofty intellectual perch while other mere mortals hire out the simplest of car repairs.

I was getting used to offering my mechanical advice. Solicited or not. And then…

My boss came to town on opening day of baseball season. We were going to visit a customer and go to the game. We were on our way to see the customer on 4th Ave. and Royal Brougham. Seattleites of old will recognize this address as right outside the Kingdome.

Yes, the Kingdome.

My car died right in the middle of pregame traffic. I was creating a giant back up. When I finally got a chance, I pushed my dead car into the parking lot of the Salvation Army.

My opening in traffic came long after my boss called a friend to pick him up and drive him to lunch, and after that the game.

So I was alone with my LT-Dead in the shadow of one of the ugliest buildings ever built, surrounded by angry, cursing, honking Mariners fans.

Must be a sign… Me, the former great genius mechanic who can make anything run, even when Huletz can’t, was hung out to dry and fend for myself with a 4500 lb. albatross called LTD.

Ironically, Huletz was just two blocks away on 6th Ave. Blush…

Yup, it was a sign.  I had to call one of my employees to come and pick me up, and we went straight to Bill Pierre Ford in Lake City. I drove home with a brand new Ford Tempo.

I thought about leaving the LTD as a donation to the Salvation Army.

“Here, it doesn’t run. You can take it.” I know I can’t anymore.


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