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ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/22/20 10:13 p.m.

I came up with this car a little over a year ago in late July 2019.

I got it as a functional vehicle so this isn't a “build” thread so much as “life with an old FoxBody cruiser” thread. Generally my “build threads” move so slow that I think folks don't actually have the patience to really follow along. So I figured I'd hold off on this one until I had owned it long enough to have a few things to talk about.

The story starts probably 18 months prior to my ownership (we'll call it about 2 ½ years ago now).

One day I noticed a Baby Blue Ford Fairmont Futura sitting in the driveway of a home near one of my customers that was 30-some miles away. I would drive by about once a month and notice the car was always present...but not always sitting in the same spot which made me think somebody was using it for something. On one of my monthly drive-byes I went ahead and left a note in the mailbox to say I have always been interested in Fairmonts and to keep my number in case they ever wanted to sell it.

Fast forward roughly a year and while driving by one day I saw the car now had a for sale sign in the window. I whipped back around and got the phone number.

It wasn't good timing for me. I had no project cash in the sock drawer and I really didn't need another project vehicle (I already owned 3 other fox body projects). I was guessing this would be a $1,200 car (though I was hoping maybe it had an asking price of much less). I called the seller to see what the story was. It had been given to him by his grandmother many years ago. He had a sentimental attachment to the car but they just didn't use it anymore. He hinted that he wanted close to $2K for the car (which was well above my comfort level and I expected that of most other folks). He said it ran and drove but had a few leaks and I could tell that it was generally going to be a bit of a project.

I thanked him for the time and info. I let him know I was the guy who had left a note. He remembered that but had misplaced my number. I said I didn't have that kind of money to spend right now but I DID have a 4x4 Chevy truck that I was trying to sell and if I got it sold I would give him a call to see if the Fairmont was still available. And also I'd be willing to trade the truck for the Fairmont on the off-chance he'd be interested.

To my surprise, his interest was piqued. His wife kind of wanted a truck which was part of the reason for selling the Futura. Later on, he offered to drive the car to my place so we could see if a deal could be made.

The truck I had was acquired in a trade for a Miata that GRMer Robbie traded me for a '65 Buick Skylark. I really had some serious remorse about buying this truck. It was rusty and rough. SO. RUSTY. I had realized about 30 minutes into the drive home with it that I didn't want to own it anymore. But hey...it was a running, driving 4x4 chevy. Come winter, it would sell for $1,200-$1,500.

Anyway...Mr. Fairmont (a really nice guy) showed and we both decided we were interested in owning the other. He was hoping I'd maybe throw a little money his way on the deal. I politely declined. I liked the Fairmont but I really felt that the value was pretty much even. What I kept to myself is that I was pretty confident he wouldn't find anyone who wanted a Fairmont more than I did. He asked if it was ok if he thought on it (of course it was!) and departed. About an hour later he called and said if I was still interested...he'd like to do the deal. I said “Sure” thinking he was 40 minutes away and we'd have to find a good time to meet up and trade another day. That's when he mentioned that he was at the end of my drive...was it alright if he came up to the house?

 

So there's the long-winded story of how I acquired the 1981 Fairmont Futura.

(by the time it got to my house it had hubcaps)

 

ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/22/20 10:26 p.m.

It's a 200 cubic inch inline 6 (also known as a 3.3L) with a Select-o-matic C4 automatic transmission.

The paint is faded and worn-through in spots. The vinyl top is pretty rough (at least on the back half). The interior is mostly present but needs lots of attention.

I drove the car sporadically for fun during the rest of 2019. I took it to cars and coffee a time or two.

The car had a spare carburetor in the trunk (I deduce it's probably the original) when I got it that had electric choke (the carburetor on the engine had a manual choke cable cobbled in). I went through that and got it running and working with electric choke (thread here:  https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/forum/grm/carburetor-enthusiasts-i-need-help-with-a-holley-1946-on-a-200-i6-in-my-fairmont/157559/page1/).

While driving I got to know the car and found a few more items that needed repair.

The biggest item was the exhaust. The exhaust manifold had a massive leak at the #1 exhaust port and it was pretty obvious a manifold bolt had broken off in the head. This is the kind of thing I dread. The rest of the exhaust system seemed patched together and was literally being held on by bailing wire.

The HVAC controls were also inoperable and upon removal for inspection, the HVAC Control set basically disintegrated in my hands.

 

I parked the car before the salt trucks came out last winter and started hosing down the exhaust manifold bolts with PB Blaster.

The manifold in a Fairmont has a large output flange that mates to a HUGE catalytic converter and this whole mess occupies most of the passenger side of the engine bay. I devised a plan to locate a manifold from a classic mustang to avoid the mess of air fittings and such. I found a manifold and set to work. It was not easy but eventually I removed the Manifold and Cat together. Here's the new and old for comparison:

I put some POR15 manifold paint on the manifold and was quite happy with the result when it all went back together.

The valve cover had been leaking so I resto-tained it.

Once it was all buttoned back up it was about time to think about driving the car again so I loaded it up on the trailer and took it to have a new exhaust system installed.

Terrible photos, but my exhaust guy did a great job:

 

And with that...I started driving it!

 

For 200 cubic inches and a slushbox, this car is surprisingly fun to drive. Not fast-fun...just nostalgic, smile while you drive, putting around fun.

 

You'd be surprised how many folks strike up a conversation with you in the parking lot or at a stop light while driving a Fairmont. Folks in their 40s like me remember riding around in them. Folks a little older remember driving them when new. Of course...many of them think it's a Thunderbird or a K-Car.

ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/22/20 10:41 p.m.

So now I've got a car that is pretty enjoyable to drive around. But it is starting to get warm out. Ideally, I'd love to be able to turn on the A/C and cruise around in this thing in the summer heat. Will that be feasible? I'm not sure yet...but I'll give it a try.

The first step was to find a replacement HVAC Control set. The original set was inoperable (the fan selector switch didn't work, anyway) and fell apart as I removed them to see what the problem was. I found a guy on facebook to sell me another set that was in good condition and it was a pretty straightforward installation.

Of course when the fan blower was operable for the first time in who-knows-how-many-years it became evident that the blower housing was full of mouse nesting and nut shells. A couple hours removing the blower housing and cleaning had me back in business there. Excellent!

I noticed the mode was stuck on Defrost (which is the default mode) and realized I didn't have enough vacuum to actuate any other mode (Dash vent or Floor). I culled some old, defunct vacuum hoses from under the hood. By the time I was done I had a vacuum hose directly from the heater controls to the manifold and I have all my functions!

At some point I need to install a check valve in this new, direct vacuum hose to keep it operating correctly under low vacuum conditions (mainly driving up hill).

So now the only thing I was missing was A/C. My A/C system was all installed and in tact. It is an old R12 system but has R134a conversion service ports installed. Who knows what kind of “conversion” had been performed...but I figured I'd start with seeing if it would hold vacuum.

To my surprise, the system held vacuum. So I loaded it up with some R134a (one can with dye). In the end, I had working A/C! Fantastic!

Time to Cruise!

ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/22/20 10:46 p.m.

Things were going pretty good. I'd just use the car for an occasional daily driver. If the weather looked nice and I didn't need to go very far, I'd use it to make my daily sales calls and just enjoy.

One day it didn't want to start back up for me after shutting it off. That led me on an electrical system wild goose chase. Turns out it was mainly a battery that just decided to give up during the heat of the summer. But the process had me touch the whole charging and starting system. This kind of stuff makes it really nice to have another, similar model or two nearby to rob known-good parts from for testing. I got it all sorted out and it's been doing pretty good for a 29 year old car that probably had a intended life of about 10 years.

Here recently my tire fund lined up favorably with a good sale and I ordered up some tires for it.

I had cleaned up an old set of Mustang 15 inch “Ten Hole” wheels for my other Fairmont ('81 Wagon) a few years back. That project hasn't progressed yet, so the plan is to use these wheels and new tires on the Futura for now.


Here's a reminder of the “before” with 14” steel wheels and hubcaps:

 

And here it is with its new footwear!

I don't care who else likes it or doesn't...I love it!

The car still has a lot of items that need to be addressed. My plan is to just keep driving it occasionally and fix stuff as I go. As of today the odometer reads “00321.” I've put a little under 1,000 miles on it in the past year. Perfect, as the limit for vehicles with Historic registration in Missouri is 1,000.

Some of the things it needs are as follows:

The headliner is sagging and that's no fun, nor is it conducive to socially-acceptable hair styles.

The driver seat cover has come apart at the seam on the left side.

While installing new tires/wheels today I found a loose inner tie rod end on the driver side.

The shocks and struts are surely due for replacement

Front sway bar bushings are shot. That means I need a new set of bushings for a larger sway bar and a larger sway bar ;)

Rear sway bar: I don't know if it has one yet.

The carpet is shot. I don't want to put in new carpet until I find some really good rubber floor mats (we live in the gravel and mud).

The transmission shifts weird from 2-3. I figure it may do this forever or it could die tomorrow. If it dies or if I get too annoyed with it, I may just replace it with the transmission that's about to come out of the Wagon.

I can't manage to glue the lug for the rearview mirror on so that it will stay. I need to get a glass shop to stick it on there for real. In the meantime, the mirror is riding around shotgun with me.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/22/20 11:14 p.m.

Always been a fan of the 200.  If you ever decide to pull it for a 5.0, I'd like to try and find a way to get the cylinder head, or potentially the entire engine from you.

Ranger50
Ranger50 UltimaDork
8/22/20 11:18 p.m.

I remember having lots of hoonage fun in my 78 2.3/4spd version during hs....

mjrj (Forum Supporter)
mjrj (Forum Supporter) New Reader
8/22/20 11:34 p.m.

My mom had a '79 Mercury zephyr Z7 when I was a kid.  Same color.  I loved that car.  It ended up getting t-boned in 1988 or 1989.  I was 10 or 11 at the time and I wanted them to keep it to fix it up..  We ended up getting a gold Ford Fairmont 4 door.

slowbird
slowbird SuperDork
8/22/20 11:40 p.m.

Love it! The Futura roofline is an all-time classic in my book. Looks great with the 10-hole wheels too.

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/23/20 5:13 a.m.

In reply to ClemSparks :

That looks rad!

eastpark
eastpark HalfDork
8/23/20 6:55 a.m.

Bob Glidden's Fairmont pro stock cars were my all time favourite. It would be fun to build a tribute car like that. 

Loweguy5 (Forum Supporter)
Loweguy5 (Forum Supporter) Reader
8/23/20 7:44 a.m.

you could always turbo the 200 and get up to like 110 hp!!

Jk, I love these cars and it looks like you are making this a good one.

Woody
Woody MegaDork
8/23/20 9:54 a.m.

I love it!

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/23/20 10:01 a.m.
Loweguy5 (Forum Supporter) said:

you could always turbo the 200 and get up to like 110 hp!!

Jk, I love these cars and it looks like you are making this a good one.

There's actually a couple out in Arizona running a turbo'd 250 in a falcon into the 10s.  He's the wrench turner and she drives.

gumby (Forum Supporter)
gumby (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
8/23/20 10:36 a.m.

I love seeing an old Fairmont getting driven, and have a soft spot for the 200 as well. Glad to see you keeping this one going!

 

Mr_Asa, look for an email coming from me.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/23/20 10:40 a.m.

In reply to gumby (Forum Supporter) :

Will do

dropstep
dropstep UltraDork
8/23/20 11:30 a.m.

I'm jealous of the ten holes. I looked for a set forever before settling for pony's! I'm always in too watch a foxbody build. I'm glad my i6 was a 78 so it didn't have the giant mess of an exhaust manifold. 

ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/23/20 2:37 p.m.

Thanks for all the kind words folks!

The little 200 I6 is pretty sweet.  When you tell enthusiasts you have a Fairmont they (like me) get all excited.  They suggest and/or assume "It needs a ____" (the blank could be 5.0, 351, 460, LS1, Turbocharger...the list goes on).

I usually rebut:  "I have another Fairmont that's going to get a V8.  This one will just get driven."  Some folks really don't want to hear that, lol.

I can't say I haven't put some thought into how cool it would be to have a turbocharged, fuel injected 200.  Every time I get very far down that rabbit hole I slap myself back to reality.  

Now, that said, I DID learn just yesterday that Holley now has a 1 barrel Sniper EFI system geared toward classic mustangs with this engine.  I have to say...that's pretty exciting and tempting.  It's not geared toward making power but rather drivability on these little 1 barrel-equipped I6s.

Regarding the Futura-specific roof line.  I don't dislike the Futura roof...but I always really wanted a standard, non-Futura 2 door.  But when this car came along I realized that beggars and choosers are in a separate set now that there are so few of these old gems.  Regardless of the roof...I've always appreciated Fairmonts as a non-Mustang Fox Body.

The wheels.  yeah...I've always appreciated the Ten hole mustang wheels.  I think the Highway Patrol SSP cars might be responsible for that.  I had cleaned these up for the Wagon...and they still may end up on the Wagon (or another set if I can find one).  I picked up a couple of Pony wheels at a swap meet.  I like them a lot also and would love to use a set on this or the Wagon.  I'll probably find some at some point.    

The other wheels I never liked...on Mustangs...are the 15x7 inch "Turbine" wheels.  They've grown on me as a good choice for a Fairmont.  They're along the same line of the original hubcaps...but cooler (and wider...and larger diameter).  So I'm on the lookout for a nice set of turbine wheels.   The problem is...in my mind they should be dirt cheap.  Those days may have passed without me realizing it ;).  

gumby (Forum Supporter)
gumby (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
8/24/20 11:14 a.m.
ClemSparks said:

Now, that said, I DID learn just yesterday that Holley now has a 1 barrel Sniper EFI system geared toward classic mustangs with this engine.  I have to say...that's pretty exciting and tempting.  It's not geared toward making power but rather drivability on these little 1 barrel-equipped I6s.

That sounds bitchin.

One of my log heads has a 2bbl adapter fitted, and I contemplated mounting a 3.8L CFI unit run by a MS. Bolt-on Sniper would be much simpler!

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa Dork
8/24/20 2:29 p.m.
ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/28/20 10:57 p.m.

Well tonight I tossed a left inner tie rod on and had the younger daughter help me measure and set toe.  

I had just started to notice a disconcerting front-end clunk/rattle/hammer the last few times I drove it.  

03Panther
03Panther HalfDork
8/29/20 12:04 a.m.

After having several Falcons and Comets with the anemic in-lines, I have never grown to like 'em. There are some hot ones running around these days, but not my tastes.

That being said, I'd prolly just drive that as well!

However I did like the roof line when I came out, and am still a fan.

914Driver
914Driver MegaDork
8/29/20 5:36 a.m.

Why doesn't everyone have LTD trailer wheels?

Very sweet.

I've got a buddy with a 65 Mustang with a 3 on the floor, and a 250 6 cylinder. Excellent cruiser. Basically, the same car, but you have 80stastic styling and better brakes-Good on Ya!

 

ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/29/20 7:37 a.m.
03Panther said:

After having several Falcons and Comets with the anemic in-lines, I have never grown to like 'em. There are some hot ones running around these days, but not my tastes.

That being said, I'd prolly just drive that as well!

I'm with you there.  I grew up around hot rod stuff.  There is nothing better than a lumpy V8 Idle and all that it implies.  On the other hand I've always been a fan of Straight Sixes because by the time I was of age, they were something you didn't see very often.   I remember being about 12 or 14 looking under the hood of something at a show or cruise night with an I6 and my father said "You really like straight sixes, don't you?!"  Lol.  It's just nostalgia.

Truth be told, I'd prefer a 2.3 four cylinder (more nostalgia...my first mustang started out with a 2.3 and this same color).  These old straight sizes aren't easy or cheap to make "fun."  This car may totally get a V8 swap some day.  Or...someone could side swipe it tomorrow.  I figure the best thing to do is keep it driving while I work on other projects with a larger scope.  

ClemSparks
ClemSparks UltimaDork
8/29/20 7:39 a.m.
914Driver said:

Why doesn't everyone have LTD trailer wheels?

 

Right?!

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