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A published narrative appears on the Feature/Culture page

The Ford That Hated Chocolate Ice Cream

The current newsworthiness of Ford Motor reminds me of a car of theirs that hated chocolate ice cream. This is a true story told to my father in the 1950s by a manager at the plant in Mahwah, NJ.

Ford corporate headquarters received an angry letter from a customer demanding reimbursement for several enclosed towing receipts. His new Ford kept refusing to start, and the dealer had failed to fix it.

The company contacted the dealer’s service manager. “The guy is nuts," he explained. "He says his car won't start whenever he buys chocolate ice cream."

Having heard the circumstances, Ford located a salesman who lived near the customer. Because the customer insisted that he was using the car only for commuting, Ford instructed the salesman to follow him to verify his complaint.

Over the next several mornings, the salesman waited outside the customer's home, observed him start his car cold, then followed him to work. At the end of each day, he returned and waited in the company parking lot for the customer, who again started his car cold and drove off.

On the way home, exactly as he had described, the customer stopped at a luncheonette to buy a newspaper and a small carton of ice cream for his children’s dessert. At this point, he had insisted, the car would refuse to start if he bought chocolate.

On each of the next several evenings the customer came out of the luncheonette carrying a newspaper and a small paper bag, climbed into the car, and started it easily.

As he sat waiting a bit later one evening, the salesman began to wonder how much longer this loony assignment would continue. Finally the customer came out of the luncheonette as usual, newspaper and paper bag in hand, got into his car, and turned the ignition.

With no results.

He turned it again.

Obviously the car was not going anywhere.

As the salesman sat stunned, the customer repeatedly tried to start the car. Finally the salesman got out, trotted over to the offending vehicle, and tapped on the driver's window. The customer rolled it down.

"What kind of ice cream did you just buy?" demanded the salesman, hoping to startle the customer into answering.

"Chocolate," spat the customer.

"What kind did you buy last night?"

"I don't know . . . strawberry. WHAT THE HELL BUSINESS IS IT OF YOURS???!!!"

The salesman identified himself and congratulated the customer for finally having his problem witnessed.

He reported back to Ford, which shipped the car to the Mahwah plant and directed a team of engineers to solve the mystery. Upon dismantling the car completely, they finally found a tiny leak in the carburetor.

The device that pumps the fuel/air mixture into the engine, a carburetor needs some fuel itself for a car to start. If the car is cold, extra fuel is automatically pumped into the carburetor while the choke closes to cut off air and draw in more fuel faster. When the car is stopped, a small reserve of fuel remains that allows the driver to restart it while it's warm.

Because this Ford was brand new, the cold-start adjustment alone was enough to get it going in the morning and evening. When the customer stopped at the luncheonette, the fuel reserve would begin to leak out of the carburetor, so whether or not he could restart the car would depend on how long it was shut off.

Inside the luncheonette, ice cream was displayed in small cartons in a freezer out front. The customer usually came in, picked up a paper, selected a flavor, paid for his purchases, and walked right out again.

The chocolate ice cream alone was delivered in tubs kept in the freezer behind the counter. To buy chocolate, the customer had to wait until a clerk was free to pack it into a small carton. No wonder his car hated chocolate ice cream.

Needless to say, these days Ford has redefined its need for a flavor change.

Copyright © 2008 by Janice M. Cauwels, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
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