Classic ’57 Fairlane is a sentimental journey for Calgarian back to ‘Canadian Graffiti’ in Medicine Hat

For Richard Busse, growing up in Medicine Hat in the early 1960s was like a Canadian version of the film American Graffiti.

As a car-obsessed teenager in the southeast Alberta town, the local A&W stood in for the classic Mels Drive-In where much of the movie action takes place.

As member of the Turnkeys Car Club, Busse and his pals would cruise downtown Medicine Hat, pull in to the A&W for burgers and fries, and drag race on the access road to the old Goodyear Tire plant.

“It was just like American Graffiti,” Busse recalls as he talks about his early years in Medicine Hat and how he came by the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Club Victoria two-door hardtop that currently graces the garage of his Calgary home.

He’d yearned for a 1957 Ford from the time he was 12 years old. But a Fairlane wasn’t his first car; that honour falls to a 1950 Morris Minor bought from his dad for $250.

With its 27 horsepower four-cylinder engine and four-speed transmission, the Morris Minor was woefully underpowered for a 16-year old Busse in 1961. That was the year he joined the Turnkeys club.

“I’d customized it with some hood louvres and Plymouth Fury hubcaps, but it wouldn’t win a drag race against a gopher,” Busse says. “It was so slow.”

He traded the Morris Minor for a 1950 Ford, customized this car, too, and drove it for a year. Then, in 1962, he bought a 1953 Mercury Meteor with its more powerful 255-cubic-inch flathead engine that made 120 hp, nearly quadruple the power of the Minor.

“In 1964, the Turnkeys disbanded because everyone was going off to school,” Busse says. “We sold off all of our assets, including a 1935 Ford powered by a Hemi engine that was the club car. We gave all of the money to the muscular dystrophy society.”

Busse attended Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary from 1964 to 1966. He would drive his ’53 Meteor back to Medicine Hat on weekends to visit his sweetheart, Donna. When he graduated from SAIT, Busse looked for a 1957 Ford to buy but couldn’t find one. Instead, he bought a 1964 Ford Galaxie convertible.

Other Fords have since come and gone, but he never forgot about the 1957 Fairlane.

“The ’57 Fairlane was my favourite car,” he says. “In my opinion, it was the most stylish car of the 1950s.”

Introduced in 1955, the Fairlane replaced the Crestline range and was offered in a number of different trims. Updated in 1957, the car grew in every direction and featured only a slight suggestion of fins – most other cars of the era had much larger rear fender fins. New for the year was the retractable hardtop Fairlane 500 Skyliner. Regardless of two doors or four, hardtop or Skyliner, the buying public thought all Fairlanes looked good, and in 1957 for the first time since 1935, Ford sold more cars than Chevrolet.

According to Ford literature, Fairlane buyers could choose one of two Thunderbird V8s to power their car, including the 212 hp, 292-cubic-inch V8 or the 245 hp, 312-cubic-inch V8. The first engine ran with a two-barrel carburetor while the latter featured a four-barrel.

Never forgetting Busse’s infatuation with the 1957 Ford, Donna – who had become Richard’s wife – found him a car for sale in 2011 on Craigslist in Michigan.

Built in Dallas, Texas on July 18, 1957, the Fairlane’s original owner bought the car and drove it in South Carolina.

According to the history that came with the car, this owner was an “alcoholic who quit drinking when his pastor helped him dry out,” Busse says. “The pastor saw the car in 1977 and offered to buy it, but the original owner wouldn’t sell.”

Busse adds, “About 10 years later, after the pastor had transferred to North Carolina, he got a call and found out the ’57 had been left to him in the original owner’s will.”

The pastor kept the car until 1997 when he sold it to Jack Warner of Michigan. Warner had the exact same car in 1957, and this one was a replacement. While in his care, Warner repainted the car, installed new tires and rechromed the bumpers. He added only 3,000 miles to the Fairlane before his death.

Busse bought the car from Warner’s widow with 61,702 miles on the odometer and had it shipped to Calgary. For it to pass an Out of Province inspection prior to registration, Busse did a complete brake job and installed a water pump seal and a brake master cylinder seal. He’s also added a new battery and radiator.

While the ’57 Ford is what Busse has always longed for, this particular car now has a special meaning for him. “I lost Donna in November, 2012,” Busse says. “She was the best there was, and the car reminds me of her.”

Busse still visits A&W restaurants at least twice a week, and will occasionally drive the ’57 Ford to his favourite burger chain in northwest Calgary.

Now with only 64,500 miles on the Ford, Busse has willed the car to his 23 year-old grandson, Logan Bondy. An autobody technician at Carstar Collision Repair, Bondy has promised he won’t change the interior or exterior of the Fairlane.

“But he can change anything mechanical, from the engine to the transmission to the brakes; that’s the deal,” Busse says.

Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or gregwilliams@shaw.ca.