Connie Goes to Palm Springs
by Richard Gierak
Some triumphs take a quite a while to happen. For my wife Shirley and me, showing our ’57 Lincoln Premiere, known as “Connie,” in May at the LCOC Western Region National Meet in Palm Springs was the culmination of a long journey.
But first, a little history…
My grandfather, Adam Gierak, drove only Lincolns his entire life. He and my grandmother, Connie, moved to Palm Desert around 1965 from Concord, California. I remember being driven to school in Concord in my grandmother’s Lincoln; I don’t recall the year or model, but it was large and beautiful.
Around 1981 I moved to Palm Desert to live with my grandparents and attend nearby College of the Desert. At this time my grandfather was driving a 1977 Lincoln Continental and my grandmother a 1973 Mark IV. (This white-on-white Mark IV would later become my first Lincoln.) Grandpa also had two 1957 Premieres covered in his yard which he would uncover and start once a month. One was yellow and eventually landed with my Aunt Candy. The other was turquoise and white with a Continental kit on the back. Grandpa said the turquoise car was better but the yellow one looked nicer.
I arrived at my grandparents’ house driving a 1972 Honda Coupe with a 36 cubic inch, air-cooled engine with front-wheel-drive and 10″ wheels. Unfortunately, I managed to blow the engine on my little Honda Coupe while running an errand for grandpa to Twenty Nine Palms. I’ll never forget the white-knuckle ride home as grandpa towed me behind his Continental at 75 miles per hour!
Grandpa decided I would drive the turquoise and white Premiere until he could find me a suitable car. So, I drove this massive car to school and around Palm Desert for a couple months until he found a nice 1974 Ford LTD which I would drive for the remainder of my time there.
Fast-forward to October 1997 when my grandfather passed away just short of his 80th birthday. I traveled to Palm Desert from Clayton California to be with my grandmother. When she asked me if I wanted the turquoise and white Premiere, I enthusiastically said “yes” and returned the following month with a car trailer to bring the Premiere north.
For the next few years, I would start the car and drive it around the block every other month. Eventually I became lazy and the car sat in my side yard, but in 2011 I had a garage built for it and began to get it running. The LCOC was hosting a National Meet in Concord in 2012 and I was hoping to bring the car. There was quite a bit of work to do. Once the engine was running, the water pump seal gave out. Next it became frighteningly clear that the brakes didn’t work – at all! All four wheel cylinders were rusted completely solid. I resolved these issues and thought she was ready to drive, but the night before the meet she wouldn’t start.
I spent that Friday night working to get the car started. A little gas down the carburetor and she would fire, burn the gas off and stall. Late in the evening I took the top off the carburetor and found the float bowls and body full of sand! A little blowing and vacuuming along with a fresh fuel filter in the line and the car started just as I was ready to accept defeat.
Over the next five years Connie made some trips to Bay Area club gatherings and a few lunch outings. In May of 2017 I decided to restore Connie to her original condition and began with pulling the engine and transmission. The biggest aspect was the body and paint work which took longer than I had hoped. Connie came home with her new paint in December 2021 and I began re-assembling. During her time in the body shop I cleaned, polished and refurbished literally every part of the car. I had Connie parts stored in about 60 boxes and locations in the garage, all cataloged in a Google spreadsheet.
Connie gets her name
The Saturday morning of the meet I started the car to back her out of the garage. On the seat next to me was a photo of my grandparents which is still in the car today. As I began to back the car out,I heard a voice, as though my grandmother who had passed away in 2005 was saying clear as day: “My name is Connie.” I get flushed every time I think of that moment, even now. Connie had been named!
I drove the 7 miles to the Concord meet with lots of attention from other drivers and Connie made her LCOC debut.
Again, I was hoping to make the next LCOC Western National Meet, this time in Palm Springs and 10 years after Connie’s first national meet. In addition to my assembly activity, Connie spent 3 weeks at the upholstery shop getting her new interior installed. She was completed in late April and what a sight!
Off to Palm Springs
We were finally ready to go to Palm Springs! Heading south on Interstate 5, Connie glided down the road in style. I was surprised to find her 368 V8 averaging about 15 miles per gallon on the highway, about double what my ’73 Mark IV would do with its 460 motor.
We arrived Thursday evening in Palm Springs and truly enjoyed the weekend with so many LCOC friends that we hadn’t seen since the San Diego meet in 2015. We participated in a tour and lunch with the club on Friday morning before driving to my grandparents’ house in Palm Desert. They are long gone and yet it was very special for me to photograph Connie in the driveway of their former home, the photo of them on the back seat as always.
Connie looked fabulous on the show field Saturday and took home a 2nd place Primary Division award with a score of 92 points! Needing to get home Sunday, we headed for the highway early that morning. After hitting 3 little rainstorms rolling west toward Pasadena, we headed north on I-5 over the Grapevine. Connie ran strong and fast up the mountain with nary a rise on her temperature gauge. As we descended on the north side, I noticed a bit of a rumble in the front end; I assumed it was the road surface and made note to pay attention.
As we reached the valley floor heading north, I also smelled burning brakes. Again, I dismissed this as belonging to trucks since they all smoke their brakes by the bottom of the hill. Then a vehicle to my left honked and instead waving or offering a thumbs-up they pointed at my left front wheel—just in time for me to make an exit to a large truck and auto plaza. As I slowed and cornered very carefully to park in the near-empty RV parking lot, I could hear lots of rattling coming from the left front wheel.
Getting out of the car, I could see smoke pouring out of the hubcap! Just in case,I grabbed my fire extinguisher. Removing the hubcap, I found, rattling loose inside, the grease cap, pieces of the cotter pin, the castle nut, the washer AND the outer wheel bearing. The hub had cocked a bit and was riding on (and grinding away) the threads on the spindle.
Having purchased a cotter pin and some grease at the truck stop, I raised the car and removed the wheel and the brake drum/hub. The brake shoes were curled at the bottom and some lining had been burned away. The spindle had about one fourth of its diameter, including the threads for the castle nut, ground away. I began working on the threads to see if I could get the castle nut to engage. A few minutes with a file from my toolbox and some turning with the nut and I had ‘good’ threads again on the spindle. I greased the inner wheel bearing and installed the brake drum. I greased and installed the outer wheel bearing, washer and castle nut. I tightened the castle nut as much as I dared given the compromised spindle threads, but it wasn’t far enough to get the cotter pin through the hole.
I put the wheel on the car and drove a couple of laps around the parking lot hoping to seat the bearings enough to allow some more turns on the castle nut. I was able to get the nut far enough to allow half of the cotter pin to squeeze through the hole. I folded the cotter pin over the end of the spindle, installed the grease cap and hubcap and we headed for home. The temporary repair took about an hour and we drove 350 miles home without further incident. At our next fuel stop I removed the hubcap and found (to my relief!) that the hub was cool to the touch which meant we had enough grease and smooth-rolling bearings.
Connie made it home in fine shape and sat for 2 weeks until we moved our home 100 miles northeast to Sutter Creek. I checked the wheel bearing adjustment, adding a few turns and a new cotter pin. Connie made the drive to our new home and I’ve since replaced the spindle, brake shoes and outer wheel bearing. It was quite the adventure and we couldn’t be happier with how Connie looked, drove and brought us home safely.
Getting Connie restored and successfully showing her at Palm Springs was a long journey, but well worth the time and energy. We look forward to showing her around our new community and joining the local car show in October. I’m blessed and glad to honor my grandparents by restoring and driving this beautiful car, the last Lincoln remaining in our family. If you’ve read this far, you know most of my story with Connie. If you would like to learn more about her restoration process, she has a little website: https://sites.google.com/site/theconnieproject/home.
Stay well and I hope to see many of you at future LCOC gatherings!