Not so long ago it was a Galaxie far, far away
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This must be classic-car central, for I’ve interviewed other owners in this street, and it turns out only one of these garages north of Auckland doesn’t shelter an elderly car. Neil Beckenham has six, but it’s the fabulous 1973 Ford Galaxie two-door that we’re here to see.
It’s difficult to miss it — it’s from that wonderful US design era that believed bigger was most definitely better.
Neil’s owned classics since his teens — he began with a 1939 Cord V8 when he was 19 — but always hankered after a Galaxie.
“When I started work in about 1973, my boss had a four-door Galaxie and I thought, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t mind one of those’,” he says.
Then, about five years ago, he noticed an American-built one for sale online in Canada.
He and his wife Jane had a Canadian friend living nearby who checked the car out for them.
“He said he’d buy it.” The deal was done, and Neil became the Galaxie’s second owner.
Luckily the shipping process was easy. “Although I think it’s now done more miles by sea than by road!”
When it arrived in the country, it turned out to be a fabulous buy.
Though many Canadian cars suffer rust from salt thrown on snowy roads, this one had sat in a garage, and was “actually cleaner underneath than on top”. It’s done just 43,000 miles (69,200km).
“I call it a preserved car, and I’ve tried to keep it that way, rather than as a restored vehicle,” says Neil.
He has no intention of fixing any wear and tear, as completely original cars are becoming harder to find.
Because it was so tidy, it was easy to register in New Zealand.
“Nothing was flagged,” says Neil. He had only to add a high stop light. The icing on the cake was that when he registered it, he was told it was the only two-door Galaxie in New Zealand.
He’s driven it about 1600km. “I only really use it for vintage club runs or going out to dinner. It’s not the most practical car so I wouldn’t use it as an everyday car.”
I can’t imagine that you’d want to angle park it, for starters. It’s 5575mm long, and more than 2m wide. The distance between the front and rear wheels measures 3037mm, just 17mm less than the entire length of a Mini of the time. And, with a kerb weight of 1920kg, it’s hefty.
“It was the biggest Galaxie, and I think the biggest coupe they made, bar the Lincoln.”
His is the base-spec car, with a 351 — that’s 5.7 litres — Windsor V8 under the bonnet, and power sent to the rear wheels via a three-speed Cruise-O-Matic auto.
Advertised power was 116kW, with 339Nm of torque and a claimed top speed when new of 175km/h (109mph, just under the speedo max of 120).
Neil is happy to cruise around 90km/h, and doesn’t know exactly how much it drinks. “It’s smiles per gallon, not miles that matter.”
But it’s more economical than he expected as it’s so lazy, the engine doesn’t really have to try during normal cruising.
I felt a touch too ordinary for this car when we climbed aboard, and realised why when Neil reminded me that back in the 70s you saw them in TV shows such as Colombo or Charlie’s Angels. “And the villains drove them.”
The Galaxie seems wasted on baddies, especially when you see all that beautiful blue carpet, the matching vinyl seats and plastic trim, set off with touches of warm fake “wood” and shiny chrome.
The front bench seat is vast, and you could throw a party in the footwells. There’s power steering and brakes, power adjustable mirrors, the original AM radio and seat belts.
You pull the sash bit down from the ceiling, the lap from the floor and, with a quick sleight of hand, link and clip them in together.
It sounds like a big classic boat at idle, but with the doors shut you can barely hear it.
“They claimed it was one of the quietest cars Ford had made,” he says.
I can believe it. As for the ride, it’s superb. It’s like being in a hovercraft, with barely any of the expected rocking and rolling, and no sense there’s tarmac beneath our wheels.
When it’s my turn to drive, I see what he means about aiming it at the road, using the sculpted ridges above the headlights as a guide to your line. That is helpful if you’re unfamiliar with left-hand drive.
Meanwhile, the Galaxie purrs seamlessly through the gears as the occupants sit back, relax, and just keep going.
It’s designed to cover prairies — surely coffee in Wellington isn’t too much to ask?