Greg Cofield's Mercury proves cars don't have to be particularly exotic, potent or pricey to establish an emotional bond that ensures they'll remain cherished family icons from generation to generation.
Despite its swinging Sixties vintage, the big, handsome and close-to-pristine Mercury Montclair Breezeway four-door sedan wouldn't command a big dollar figure on the auction block. It's not a desirable collector car like a Mustang, Camaro or Barracuda, or even a two-door, Cofield says. But then it's never likely to find itself in that position.
"It's been in our family since new, and we intend it to stay in the family," says Cofield, who plans to pass it on to one of his sons, just as his father, Reg, did to him more than three decades ago - after he handed over the $500 asking price.
Reg Cofield was in the air force and stationed in Winnipeg when he ordered this rather unusual 1967 Montclair model from his brother-in-law, who operated a Lincoln Mercury dealership in Sedgewick, Alta. But rather than pick it up there, he chose to take the train to Ontario and then hitchhike to the Ford assembly plant in Oakville to take delivery of his new ride.
It just kept snowballing, but it's now close to where I can say, I'm done. Well, there are still a couple of other little things on the list. I'm into the detail stuff now.Greg Cofield
"He broke it in on the drive back to Winnipeg," says Greg Cofield, and then his father used the family's first new car as rather classy daily transportation and for holidays trips through the Rockies, "with three of us up front and three in the back."
It also hauled them all to a posting in Trenton, Ont., where Greg Cofield attended high school and met his wife Karen. The newly married couple bought the then-10-year-old car from Reg Cofield in 1977 and it served, as it always had, as year-round family transportation.
Greg Cofield says the Montclair was the first car he ever drove - as a 12-year-old. "I don't know what my father was thinking, letting me drive his new car," he says.
He also officially learned to drive and acquired his licence in it and it also provided training wheels for his mother, brother and two sisters and later his wife.
Greg and Karen soon decided the Montclair was just too nice to continue exposing to car-destroying winter conditions and, for the next two decades, it was used in the summer only. The big, luxurious car was a favourite for family trips, including another run across the Rockies and then to the East Coast.
But it eventually began to show its age and 10 years ago Greg suggested to Karen that "it was either time to kiss it goodbye or restore it." With a timely bonus cheque in hand, her response was, "Why don't we just do it," which began a process that still isn't quite complete.
Step one was relatively modest: A consultation with a body repairman who said making it look good again would take about three weeks and cost about $4,000. That sounded okay to Greg, but as the car was stripped, more ills revealed themselves and it was two months and $6,500 before it was back in his hands. Since then, he's spent another $20,000 or so to bring it to today's near perfection.
Cofield says the car was always available for summer driving duties, but every winter he'd take more pieces off and refurbish or replace them. "It just kept snowballing," he says, "but it's now close to where I can say, I'm done."
Then he adds, "Well, there are still a couple of other little things on the list. I'm into the detail stuff now."
The object of all this familial affection and fiscal outlay is a classic, upscale full-size sedan from the 1960s with a unique feature that makes it more than a little rare. In fact, according to Cofield, it's one of only 75 Mercury Montclair Breezeway sedans built in Canada in 1967, and the only one he's aware of that's still on the road.
The Montclair was just one step lower in Mercury's pecking order than the line-topping Park Lane, and this one was ordered with a two-tone polar white and glacier blue paint scheme and optional AM radio by Cofield senior, who paid about $3,600 for it.
Stretching further between its bumpers than anything that would aspire to full-size status today, the four-door body sits on a separate ladder frame with a wheelbase of 123 inches (3,124 mm) between its independent front suspension and solid rear axle. Large power-assisted drum brakes are fitted all round, which Cofield describes as "awesome," and it also came with power steering.
Under that broad expanse of hood is a 390-cubic-inch (6.4-litre) overhead valve V-8 with a two-barrel carb perched on top. It was rated at 270 hp, which got to the rear wheels through a three-speed automatic transmission. With 3,889 lbs (a modern mid-size crossover weighs 600-700 lbs more) to motivate, performance is lively and highway fuel economy is about 22 mpg (13 L/100 km).
Its unique claim to fame is its power-operated "Breezeway" backlight (rear window), which lowered a few inches to promote airflow through the interior. The feature was offered on various big Mercury models from 1963-68.
Cofield says that, with the foot well air vent doors open and the window lowered, air flow through the car makes it comfortable on the highway on hot summer days despite having no air conditioning.
After more than four decades, the Cofield's Montclair looks and runs like new and is still a source of family pride as it attracts interest at car shows - including a special invitation to Ford's 100th anniversary event in Oakville a few years ago - and cruises on Prince Edward County's back roads.