The ultimate prize for many in the car hobby is finding a "survivor car" — an original, unrestored, running vehicle. Pat Reibenspies has only to walk out to his garage to experience that uplifting sensation.
"It has been right there since it was new," he said, giving a walking tour around his beautiful 1954 Ford Crestline Victoria hardtop.
"It has always been garaged, and I think that’s 90 percent of it," he said, explaining the remarkable condition of the car.
"We went on our honeymoon in it. We raised four children in it. I was able to keep all four of them from driving it … I think that was its salvation," he chuckled.
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"Our kids couldn’t touch the windows in it," noted his wife of 56 years, Norma, who said her husband was so particular with the car that he wouldn’t let them draw pictures on the fogged-over glass.
"It does have one nick in the dash. A nephew nicked it with a screwdriver and (Pat) about had a heart attack," she said.
The couple still lives in the house that Pat’s parents moved onto a vacant lot near downtown Wichita in 1915. The story of their 1954 Ford actually began with Pat’s older brother, a World War II veteran who worked as a salesman at Price Auto Service.
"This was his first demonstrator," said Pat, who also worked for the Ford dealership after he returned from the Korean War. He had saved up his money and bought a slick 1953 Ford Tudor with overdrive for $2,470.
But when it came time for the new ’55 Fords to be rolled out, he struck a deal with his brother to sell him the ’54 and sell the ’53 for him.
"I really liked it because it was a 2-door hardtop with an automatic and it was just a plusher car," he said. It was also the first year for Ford’s overhead valve V-8 engine, which replaced the venerable flathead.
It proved to be a dependable family car. "We took trips, went everywhere in it," Reibenspies said, including vacations as far away as California.
"Then, in about 1958, it started smoking real bad on deceleration," Reibenspies recalled. A mechanic discovered a clogged oil pump screen and bad rings in the engine and that was quickly remedied.
Amazingly, that is about the extent of the mechanical work that has been done over the car’s 58-year lifespan.
"It’s got a few little blemishes on it," Reibenspies said. There’s a mark on the rear bumper from an incident where Norma and a neighbor backed into each other in the middle of the street.
"I cried over that," Norma confessed.
But the body and trim remain in amazingly good condition. The body still carries the original Sandstone White paint that was on it when it left the showroom floor. Reibenspies, who worked in a body shop for 30 years, did do a repaint of the Hawthorne Green top.
"I almost painted it black one time, but I got that out of my mind," he said.
He did add a set of 1956 Ford full wheel covers to the car and upgraded to 215 /75R /15 Cooper thinline white wall radial tires. But he resisted the urge to put dual exhausts on the car.
"It’s got some floppy old seat covers on it. I’m looking for some better ones," Reibenspies said. The rear seat displays the original upholstery and the door panels show off factory tri-tone scheme, combining dark green, white and turquoise. All of the original window glass is still in place and the dash panel looks nearly new, with its engine-turned metal inset and its arched "skylight" speedometer housing. Even the old tube radio and the optional rear seat speaker still work as advertised.
Reibenspies has the original owner’s manual and sales brochure for his car. He also has a book of photos of his prized Ford taken by his children and printed by one of them so he could display it at a special 1954 Ford get-together in Branson, where he also attended an Army reunion several years ago.
"There are a lot of memories in that old car," Norma observed fondly.
They were definitely simpler times, Pat noted.
"It’s nostalgia. My entertainment used to be to go for a ride in the evening … go out and get a hamburger or something. When you were out of gas, you could fill up for $2. Now, $20 doesn’t even move the gauge."
He still enjoys taking the Victoria to Friday night cruise-ins, where he displays it with his alternative to air conditioning, a pair of antique hand fans marked "A/C" and "Max A/C," lying on the front seat.
The Ford has just under 114,000 miles on its odometer.
"People spend thousands and thousands of dollars on these old cars. I have probably spent the least of all of them … nothing much aside from the initial expense."
Reibenspies says that although there are several car guys interested in buying it, "I tell ’em it will go after my wife and kids are gone.
"It’s not a muscle car, it’s not a classic. I look at it as something that I drive. It’s kind of like a pet, like a dog that you get attached to," he said.
And that is something special.