John Vermeersch was a suburban Detroit teenager when he bought Orange Crush new in the summer of 1961. His timing was perfect for joining the street/speed movement. Ford had just resigned from an industry-wide agreement prohibiting direct participation in motorsports and was set to introduce its global Total Performance initiative. Late in the '61 model year, Ford was the first manufacturer to top the 400-hp barrier with a triple-carburetor, 401-hp, 390-cubic-inch Thunderbird V-8 for its Galaxie Starliner hardtop.
Vermeersch's Starliner came with 300 hp, but during his Marine Corps years he began to make amends. The eye-searing orange paint was an accident. "My intention was to change the car from its original mandarin red to a hotter Mustang vermilion red," Vermeersch recalled. "Unfortunately, a couple of paint-code numbers were transposed, so we ended up with Chevrolet hugger orange. It looked so spectacular on my Ford that I've left it this color for forty years."
In 1972, Vermeersch realized that the overhead-cam 427 V-8 that he used in his racing boats would fit in the Galaxie. Ford created this engine to battle Chrysler's Hemi and Chevy's Mark II "mystery" V-8, but NASCAR never approved it for competition. Orange Crush's first such engine gave thirty-six years and 82,000 miles of service. Last fall, Vermeersch built a fresh cammer bored and stroked to 482 cubic inches and equipped with a compression ratio suited to today's fuel.
On the road, Vermeersch's Starliner felt amazingly benign. Working through its long-legged driveline, the muscular V-8 quickly shuffled through the transmission's three speeds and settled into a gentle lope. According to its owner, Orange Crush is a pleasure on long trips, where it delivers 12 to 13 mpg while cruising at 75 mph. Riding on stock springs and dampers, this full-size Ford coupe is a gentle old soul that murmurs contentedly through fat headers and quiet mufflers.
During the mid-1960s, when a win was worth $50, Vermeersch raced other Fords on the east side of Detroit. Today, Orange Crush is happiest when cruising or parked with its hood up and a crowd admiring its massive cam covers and cowl-induction system.
Born as: 1961 Ford Galaxie Starliner
Engine: 7.9L (482 cu in) OHC Ford V-8, Holley 4-barrel carburetor
Power: 650 hp (owner's est.)
Driveline: Cruise-O-Matic 3-speed automatic, 3.00:1 final drive
Tires front, rear: Goodyear 255/60SR-15, 275/60SR-15
Weight: 4150 lb