(Bloomberg) -- Michelle Faucheux knows a thing or two about keeping her cool.
As a TV commercial and print producer, Faucheux regularly turns chaos into beauty on projects for Apple, Prada, Vogue, A&E Networks, and the US Air Force. As a New Orleans native, she’s used to working in the heat.
But it was a summertime drive from Los Angeles to New Orleans in her 1964 Ford Falcon Futura that threw her into a pressure cooker. The whole idea was to get her recently acquired convertible back to New Orleans in time for White Linen Night, an annual August gallery crawl where art lovers wearing their best summer linen stroll along Julia Street in the Warehouse District.
All that stood between Faucheux and her beloved hometown were 2,000 miles of sizzling asphalt and some tenuous hoses in her V-6 baby. What could go wrong?
Ford produced the Falcon line from 1960 to 1970 as a scaled-down alternative to the Ford Galaxie; it was among the first compact models ever sold by Detroit’s Big Three automakers. Early models offered six-cylinder engines, while later models added an optional V-8.
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Falcons were valued for their simple mechanics, sharp styling and lightweight drivability. Considered an economy car at the time of its debut, today Falcon prices range from $10,000 for a reliable daily driver to roughly $50,000 for a show-ready example.
In this installment of our series, How’d You Get That Car, we talk with Faucheux about that memorable cross-country drive, and why she says owning a classic car was one of the best things she ever did. Here’s our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Michelle, you’ve been living and working in both Los Angeles and New Orleans for years. How did you know you needed a white Ford Falcon for New Orleans?
I had been going down to New Orleans a ton to do shoots, and I kept renting cars. One year I did my taxes, and I realized I had spent $5,000 on rental cars in New Orleans in one year. And then I was like, “This is stupid. You should buy a car for New Orleans.”
I decided that I was going to New Orleans for this street party they do every year, an art walk called White Linen Night. I needed to find a white convertible and drive it from LA to New Orleans.
I looked at cars everywhere. Santa Barbara, San Diego. I’d make day trips out of it: Drive down to Newport Beach and go drive a vintage car and then have lunch and go home. It was fun, but of course the one I fell in love with was right here. I found it at Dennis Buys Cars in 2009. He’s an old rock ’n’ roll dude, plays in a band.
What caught your eye when you first saw it?
The front of the car had this very classic look. It still felt like it could have been a ’50s car. I loved the white with the black trim, and it kind of has fins on the back. It was in perfect shape—and it was the easiest one to drive. After test driving all those other cars, I was like, “I can drive this one 2,000 miles.”
I paid $6,600 for it, and I called up my friend Alexis, who was always up for a crazy road trip. I was like, “Do you wanna get in a car from the ’60s and drive 2,000 miles with me in the dead of summer with no AC?”
That’s quite a friend.
We ended up having this pretty epic Thelma and Louise road trip. She’s this tiny girl, and we were driving through Arizona, and it was 106 degrees. I had her in the backseat with jugs of water so she wouldn’t pass out. And I’m wearing gloves because I can’t touch the steering wheel, it’s so hot. We’re sweating in our mini dresses, and I’ve got my gloves on.
How did the car do in that crazy heat?
We had this epic breakdown where we’d gone to Tombstone, Arizona, and had taken all these photos, and as we pulled out on the freeway, we broke down. But the sun was setting, it was gorgeous out. So we popped the hood, got out the boxed wine we had bought in Silverlake and some ham sandwiches, and sat on the back of the car eating ham sandwiches and drinking boxed wine.
This Vietnam vet pulls over in a murder van, it literally looked like a van a serial killer would use. But the place we broke down at was just gorgeous; we kind of weren't ready to be rescued yet. We were having fun. We were like, “Could you come back in 20 minutes? Because we’re really enjoying our rosé and sandwiches.”
It turns out he was a gold miner, and he had a claim up in the mountains we were looking at. He had all these cartons of water in the van. So he got out, had a look, said you busted a hose and you need to let the car cool down. We gave him a ham sandwich; he told us all of his claim-jumping stories. And then he duct-taped the hose together, used the water to fill the radiator, and then sent us to a mechanic. That was breakdown number one.
Just number one?
We also broke down in Manor, Texas. It’s this teeny tiny town from the movie, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? We were one day out from getting home and making the White Linen Night party. We broke down, and the local mechanic had to send away for the parts. So we had this entire crazy movie day where we had breakfast at the Mexican restaurant, we’re sitting on a bench having another carton of wine, we wander around town and go to this historic home to read the plaque on it, and the woman invites us in and offers for us to spend the night there if we get stuck. It was this very weird eccentric day in this small town.
In the end, we were there for eight hours, and we got the car on the road and drove through the night to make it to New Orleans. We showed up at 4 in the morning, went to my apartment, went to sleep for a few hours, got up, bought dresses, and then went to White Linen Night in our white vintage convertible.
You made it! And you got your special white convertible there, too.
Yes! Her name’s Betsy. She got her name because on the road trip we were calling her Bad Betty and Good Betsy. Anytime she was misbehaving we’re like, “Hey Betty, cut it out!” And then when she was being good, we were like, “Good girl, Betsy.” Betsy just stuck.
Owning her did turn out to be the best thing a girl could do when she’s single in her 30s.
We would go to a club, and we’d park in the front. And then, because New Orleans has an outdoor open container law, we’d go inside, get drinks, then sit on the hood of the car, listen to music and, you know, pick up guys. Everybody would come hang out on the car: The car becomes the bar! It was really fun.
We would go pick up crawfish, and we’d do a hood picnic where we just dump all the crawfish on the hood on the tablecloth. She just is such a great fun thing. Driving her down St. Charles Avenue with the top down in the fall is still a magical experience.
It all sounds hot and sticky and mystical, very Southern. I can almost hear the crickets and the music.
It’s an amazing New Orleans car in the spring, fall and winter. It is a horrible New Orleans car in the summer because of the heat and not having air conditioning. And New Orleans is destroying her. I just spent $10,000 getting the whole floor redone, but now there’s a ton of damage in the trunk and the back fenders. So I have to decide, do I wanna spend another $10,000 getting that fixed?
That’s a tough decision.
My theory right now is, it’s drivable, the floor’s not gonna fall out. The brakes work. Drive it for another few years, and then reassess if I do the next round of damage control or call it a day. You just learn patience. She’s been in my life for so long.
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