The morning sun temporarily blinded me as I opened my front door. “Come on, let’s go. We’re buying a car today.” The voice belonged to Mike, a close friend and a fellow editor of this site. Standing by his side was Bryan, another friend and fellow editor. Groggily, I pulled my shoes on and followed them out the door.
“What kind of car are we talking about?” I inquired as we bounced along, heading west towards Sun City. “I called a guy about a Crown Vic” Mike said matter-of-factly. “Oh, cool” I responded.
Mike had arranged to meet the seller at a gas station, which we soon located. We waited for him to show, and waited, and waited. Mike called the guy, but there was no answer. Frustrated, he was not about to be beaten. “We’re buying a car today and that’s it!”
The three of us buried ourselves in our smartphones, checking craigslist and sorting by lowest price. We took turns calling out some of the listings. “91 Toyota for $700.” “Here’s a 1994 Buick for $450. Oh, it needs a new transmission.” “Someone’s got an old truck on here for $900.” Mike made a few calls, but most of them either didn’t answer or had already sold the cars.
Then we got to one listing for a 1991 Mercury Grand Marquis for $800. It was in Chandler, on the complete opposite side of town and about 60 miles away from us. We looked at each other and agreed to go check it out.
The car belonged to the seller’s late father who had recently passed away. Speaking through a thick New York accent, he told us that his father had brought the with him when he moved to Arizona a few years ago.
For a 22 year old car, it was in surprisingly good shape. It had four brand-new tires and a full-size spare. It had a brand new windshield and a brand new exhaust all the way back. It was fully loaded with power windows, locks, seats, and mirrors. The odometer showed just 80,200 original miles. What really impressed us were the seats! They were incredibly soft and comfortable, like an overstuffed sofa at your grandmother’s house.
However, it wasn’t exactly a “cream puff” either. The vinyl roof was peeling from sun damage. The old man had smoked in the car, and the dashboard was a bit discolored near the ash tray. On top of that, the seller warned us that the “raddy-atah” needed to be flushed.
We took it for a spin around the block. Glancing at each other, we knew that we had found our car and that it was a steal at $800. We scurried off to the nearest ATM where each of us withdrew the necessary funds to buy the car.
In Arizona, vehicle titles have to be notarized at the time of purchase. We had a bit of trouble finding a mobile notary service on Sunday evening, but eventually a guy came out to the house and $40 bucks later, we were ready to roll.
After a quick stop at the gas station, we headed back to our side of town and promptly located a third-party MVD office. We received our new license plate and were excited about our new car.
And then we cut the roof off.
The whole reason for buying the car was to make it into a convertible, just like we did with the Volkswagen Rabbit. Working at night with some lights and a Harbor Freight sawzall, we went to work removing the roof. It was a noisy, jarring, and messy process. Rather than remove the side and back windows, we opted to break them out. Although we vacuumed out as much as we could, we are still finding bits of glass months later.
Removing the roof took about 2 hours. We managed to do it without breaking the windshield! The top of the windshield and the B- and C-pillars are dangerously sharp, and we plan to cover them up with some panels.
This was absolutely the most perfect car we could have ended up with. With just 150 horsepower from the 5.0L V8 motor, it’s not fast enough to get us into any real trouble. The car is built using traditional body-on-frame construction which gives it incredible strength and durability. The car rides like a dream. It is soft and comfortable and feels very controllable, even off road. That’s a good thing, because it’s been through some rough times.
The Grand Marquis did have a few problems that we weren’t aware of when we bought the car. Like the massive oil consumption if you drive for any period of time. We were pulled over at a gas station one day after dumping our last spare quart into the motor, waiting for it to cool down. I went inside and bought a bottle of engine oil stop leak, and that seemed to do the trick! Ever since then, it’s been fine on oil.
We also have an issue where the car runs hot if you drive it on the highway. City driving is no problem, but once you get on the highway, the engine temperature starts creeping up past the halfway mark. It had a full-on boil over when we took it up South Mountain. The coolant overflow tank was bubbling and gurgling like Old Faithful. We poured a few gallons of water on the radiator and had to wait for it to cool down before heading home.
Overall we have been very impressed with the car and it is one of the best and most fun projects we have ever had. We hope it will last a long time and through many more adventures!
- Feb 10 – Purchased car for $850, cut roof off
- Feb 11 – Cut rear springs
- Feb 23 – Replaced spark plugs, wires, distributor cap, rotor
- Installed an AIWA CD player and some speakers from a Ford Contour
- Added a few bumper stickers
- Cut the mufflers off
- Apr 7 – Replaced grille with one from junkyard
- April 20 – Added some engine oil stop leak
- June 22 – Car overheated while driving up South Mountain
- Added a subwoofer in the trunk
- Flushed the radiator
- Cut the exhaust off at the H-pipe
- Aug 11 – Popped a tire while off-roading
- Sep 16 – A large tree branch fell on the car. It survived without a scratch!
- Sep 21 – Hit a recliner in the road, broke hood ornament, replaced a headlight
- Odometer at 84,000 miles
- October 4 – Tire tread separation incident on the freeway, lost 1 trim piece