Right after we encountered a 1976 Ford Elite we got in touch with Dan Epstein, author of Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76. The book is out in a few weeks to coincide with the ramp up of this year’s MLB season. Stars and Strikes chronicles such performers as Mike Schmidt, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and George Brett in the context of a remarkable time in sports and cultural history but Dan suggests that a car like this would be driven by a journeyman player from the days before the era of free agency. He thinks it would be a good fit for Mets’ outfielder John “The Hammer” Milner who hit 10 grand slam home runs over the course of his career but, due to hamstring issues, never achieved superstar status.
Elite was Ford’s answer to Chevy’s Monte Carlo and Chrysler’s Cordoba and followed the same basic formula of those “personal luxury” coupes: long hood, short deck, rococo interior and de rigueur vinyl top. Opera windows were all the rage back then and Ford upped the ante with a bifurcated two pane affair that virtually screams “class.” While the car was based on the mid-size Torino, it was its own model and predicted the direction for the downsized Thunderbird that debuted the following year.
While we’re on the subject of baseball and 1976, check out this Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon of that vintage. With three rows of seats and easy loading thanks to the “clamshell” glide-away tailgate, it offers room for the starting nine and lots of cargo carrying capacity. By the way, this Olds is, arguably, the very last American car with tail fins, minimal though they were.
Speaking of “rich Corinthian leather,” David Less, our Feral Cars man in Memphis, shot this raging red Cordoba just the other day. That vinyl-topped half roof is the embodiment of “swank” to these bulging eyes.
Let’s add another ’76 opera windowed coupe to our Stars and Strikes overview. This Lincoln Continental Mark IV, shot by Feral Cars scout Amy Treco, sports an oval opera window with etched glass plus vinyl roof top corona. We bet Pete Rose had one just like it.
Dan points out that one of the touchstones of the magic year was the release of The Bad News Bears, starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. Matthau’s character was Morris Buttermaker, a boozy ex-minor leaguer turned pool man. We found a still of his pool equipment-laden ’64 Cadillac convertible, the implication is that driving a twelve year old car back in ’76 branded you as a loser. A vintage Cadillac makes you a loser? We beg to differ!
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