The other day I was rummaging around my favorite auto-themed antique store, Rusty Sprocket Antiques in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and came upon an item that jumped out at me.
At first glance, it was just an old 8 x 10 black-and-white photograph of a guy and his car. But there was something personal and intimate to this picture, something that alluded to a greater story behind its subject.
There’s just something about this photo that captures a place in time, and the magic combination of confidence, charisma and optimism that is youth.
Taken at face value, the car in the photo – a 1953 Ford Customline sedan – is nothing special. In 1953, the classic Shoebox Ford had evolved to take on added weight and detail, like a caterpillar morphing from its pupal stage to a butterfly. By 1955, it would even sprout wings. But in this photo, it’s clear that this sedan is a source of great pride.
There were no inscriptions on the back of the picture to tip me off, so it was necessary to deduce some of the elements in the photo. The license plate was issued in March 1963, so we can safely assume the picture was taken sometime after that. The lack of foliage on the trees, the leather jacket and the road sludge on the car could indicate early spring in Wisconsin.
Perhaps this Ford had just been registered, and the photo was recording the first proud moments of ownership.
Sure, it was a 10-year-old four-door that must have looked very geriatric in the jet-age styling of 1963. But hey, it was wheels, man! And that’s not something every young man in the early ’60s could brag about. Maybe the car was earned by long hours sweeping a shop floor for minimum wage, or working after school and on weekends cleaning out yards.
Behind the sedan, barely visible, is what appears to be a Triumph TR3 sports car. Perhaps a buddy’s car, owned by the guy who gave him a lift to go purchase the Ford? Kind of a racy crowd he was hanging with. So was our man Wally Cleaver… or Eddie Haskell?
The stuffed animal on the hood gives our guy a sensitive or sarcastic side, depending on how you look at it. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and betting there is a girl involved somehow in this whole equation.
Obviously, whoever took this photo saw in it the same subtle magic we are seeing today, which is why it was made into a large print and survived all these years. Is this the image of a generation? Is this the American experience? Is this everyman?
And if somehow, in the magic of the internet, we could track this guy down (I’d guess he’s in his 70s now) maybe we could hear firsthand what was going through his mind that day with his Ford in a cobblestone alley.