Happy Hauler

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When Steve Ek was in high school, he wasn’t attracted to the popular Mustangs, Camaros, or other muscle cars of the era. To Ek, the coolest car in his high school parking lot was a Ford station wagon. 

Roughly ten years ago, the owner of Ek Automotive in Chicago was scanning the classified pages when he saw a listing that evoked those memories: A 1970 Mercury Monterey wagon with 67,000 miles and still belonging to the original owner. 

“I didn’t even see a picture,” Ek says. “I just knew from the listing that’s what I wanted. I knew that car was me. I went out and it was exactly what I expected. I paid $2,900 for it. I didn’t even try to haggle. … I said, ‘I am not putting any bad mojo on this deal,’ and I was willing to pay what he was asking.”

The wagon came into Ek’s possession stock, without any bells and whistles—not even air conditioning. He says he had to replace the disc brakes, suspension, exhaust, and nearly everything else. Ek was strict when it came to the car’s refurbishment, however, and made sure period-correct parts were used when  applicable. The car even wears its original red paint today. 

“When I look at cars, I think of what’s period correct,” Ek says. “That’s why I left the old hubcaps on. It seems right.” 

That philosophy didn’t make its way under the hood, however. A year after buying the wagon, one of Ek’s customers offered to sell him the engine from his 1991 Mustang. Ek jumped at the opportunity, and now he’s got a classic wagon with a little extra juice. 

“It was painful to pull out,” Ek says. “But it was getting poor gas mileage, and it wasn’t performing. My wife would drive it and complain. Carbureted V8 engines are finicky, especially when they’re that old. It wasn’t as reliable. That’s when I thought I should reinvestigate and get some more performance.”

When Ek first purchased the wagon, it served as his everyday car. 

“My kids just loved when I would show up to school with it,” he says sarcastically. 

Now, it’s mostly used when an extra set of wheels is needed around his shop. 

“We use it in the shop to pick up parts, drive customers,” Ek says. “I love to go around in it. I love the looks I get, and believe me, you get looks. What I really like is when I give customers a ride home. They’ll sit on the bench seat, and they’ll tell a story from when they had a car from that era.”

Even though it proudly wears Ek’s shop logo and number on the side panels, he says he has had offers to buy the wagon. But he has no interest in letting go of his shop fixture. There’s just something about driving a station wagon with a V8 engine down I-290, he says.

“I don’t even have to hear the number they’re offering,” he says. “I think everyone in the neighborhood knows my wagon. I love flying down the expressway in it. Every few months I get somebody who calls the shop just to say, ‘What a cool car.’ I’ll have it forever.”   

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