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Moriarty Bros. Big Red Found!
(These pictures are the property of Robert Price. Top - 1966 Big Red, Price driving, Matthew Moriarty Jr. standing on right; Middle - 1967 Big Red, Robert Price driving; Bottom - 1970 Big Red, Robert Price driving.)
Man I am chuffed. Every now and then, I’ve written about Moriarty Brothers, a Lincoln-Mercury dealer I worked at in Manchester, Connecticut, a long, long time ago. Moriarty’s did some drag-racing back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and they were pretty darn successful.
Anyway, yesterday I got a message from my union’s office saying a man by the name of Robert Price from Manchester wanted to get in touch. The name didn’t ring any bells but the fact that he was from Manchester sure did. So, I emailed him ASAP.
Bob Price emailed me back with some info and pictures. Bob was the driver of “Big Red,” Moriarty’s racecars, a 1966 Mercury Comet GT w/390 and 4-speed, a 1967 Mercury Comet 2-door sedan w/427 and 4-speed, and finally a 1970 Mercury Cyclone, probably a 428.
Bob also drove for the legendary Tasca Ford out of Providence, Rhode Island in the early ‘60s.
For years, I’ve been trying to find pictures of Big Red to no avail. Bob provided pictures of all three. I remember the first two; I was drafted before the 1970 was built.
I’m still looking for confirmation of what my brain remembers – that the ’66 Comet won C/S at the 1966 Spring Nationals. I know the car was very successful. If memory serves me correctly, the ’67 was not as successful. I think there were a number of mechanical problems that year.
Both cars were sold at the end of their respective seasons. The ’66 was repainted, still red but all the lettering was removed, and the race engine was replaced by a stock 390 GT engine. I think the headers were left on though. Moriarty sold the ’67 pretty much as is when it was retired. I remember the day the ’67 left Moriarty’s. What a sight and what sounds, as the full-race 427 sputtered up Center Street (or did it go up Pine?), the full exhaust strangling that cammed up engine. I remember it was still wearing the “wrinkle wall” slicks (Goodyear or M&H?). Later someone told me the locked differential blew up on the way to the new owner’s house but that’s hearsay.
At the time I owned a ’67 Fairlane GT, 390, 4-speed. It was pretty quick (the one time I took it to the track [Connecticut Dragway], running on Big Red’s old slicks, it turned something around 14.6 seconds). I knew the kid who bought the ’66 Big Red, he used to stop by Moriarty’s (I worked there, more further down). I don’t remember his name but I can picture his house – big place (well bigger than my mom’s house), probably upper middle class kid. He was always bragging about how fast his car was because, well it was “Big Red.”
Thinking I was pretty hot stuff, and that my Fairlane was superior to everything else Ford produced, we went head to head once. I don’t remember why we drove all the way from Manchester to Coventry, my hometown, but we did. On a semi-straight section of South Street, just around Hinkel Mae Drive, we lined up heading south. We counted down in unison (windows open), and raced until the street started uphill. I edged Big Red! Now I have to admit that it wasn’t a fair race; we had no starter, there was no quarter mile marked, and the other kid said my car started to roll before we took off (neither of us had line-lock or anything like it).
Bob Price told me that the '66 Big Red still exists and is owned by someone I worked with at Moriarty Bros. Cool.
I started working at Moriarty’s in the fall of 1965. I quit school at 16 (dummy that I was) and went to work for Joe Pelletier’s Chevron in Coventry. I don’t remember how much Joe paid me but it probably wasn’t more than minimum wage. My best friend, Stan Ferrell, got a part-time job at Moriarty’s, working at their Mobil Station (Moriarty’s had many components – Lincoln-Mercury Dealer, Mobil Gas Station, Mobil fuel oil, used car lot, auto body shop, and towing service).
Stan kept telling me I should apply for a job at Moriarty’s, how great a place it was to work, and how they paid better than Pelletier. So not being completely stupid, I went and applied for full-time work. Miracles of miracles they hired me.
Moriarty’s was a great place to work. They treated you right as long as you did your job. I worked in the Mobil station part, pumping gas. In time, I worked the lube bay, changed exhaust, mounted tires, and drove the tow trucks. The Mobil station was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It was said the only time Mr. Moriarty closed the station was the day of John F. Kennedy’s funeral.
I remember that I worked Thanksgiving that year; I was the new guy after all. I worked the afternoon and early evening shift with some guy I didn’t know, a skinny college kid. He drove a ’66 Comet GT and I had him pegged as some spoiled rich kid (it didn’t sink in right away, that a spoiled kid would not be working on Thanksgiving). Any way, after bantering a bit, with me trying to be the kid who knew it all about cars, it came out that my coworker was Maurice Moriarty, the owner’s son. He told me that he always worked during college breaks and especially on the holidays so that the other workers could be with their families. Wow, that told me a whole bunch about Matthew Moriarty Sr.’s ethics.
As time went by, I learned a ton about life and business from Mr. Moriarty. I met his two sons and respected them both. Maurice was only around during school breaks and the summer. Matthew Jr., worked full-time, I don’t know what his exact duties were but he was pretty much the General Manager. I know that there was a sister but I don’t remember her name, only that she was married to Mike Lynch, who was either a salesman or the sales manager (he later went on to own Mike Lynch Toyota).
Moriarty’s Mobil had two managers and I can’t remember their last names, Dewey managed the day shift and Danny the evening. They were both good guys although they both had their problems. Danny was a drunk, there’s no other way to put it. He was such a big-hearted guy; I have no idea why he drank so much. He had a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters. He used to play some wicked pranks on us, particularly on Stan. I remember once he called up Stan, impersonating a customer, and harangued him for probably fifteen minutes, telling Stan that he (Stan) had shortchanged him during a recent visit.
Dewey ran afoul of Mr. Moriarty and I still admire the way it was handled. Evidently, the bookkeepers noticed severe shortages in the Mobil station but they couldn’t pin it down. I know that a private investigator was hired; I unknowingly worked with him. Eventually they nailed it down to tire sales. Somehow, Dewey was stealing a substantial amount of money by manipulating the tire sales reports.
Now many places would have had Dewey arrested but Mr. Moriarty, for whatever reason, fired Dewey. The scuttlebutt was that Dewey was told he could never work for anyone “east of the river” (Connecticut is just about equally divided east and west by the Connecticut River) or he would be outed. Dewey found work with a tire distributor from New Britain (west of the river) I think. I remember Danny going to Mr. Moriarty because Dewey was offering a great deal on tires from his new job but Danny was leery of doing business with someone recently fired for theft. Mr. Moriarty told Danny that as long as Dewey was offering a better deal than anyone else was, to go for it.
There were many stories about Mr. Moriarty. Some of the employees were afraid of him. I was at first. I was told that he might show up during the night when I worked graveyard, or that he would most likely stop by on Sundays when only the gas station was open. We were all warned that he often just drove by to check on us.
At first, I was worried but I figured that as long as I did my job, I was okay. I was right. One night when I was working graveyard (it was usually busy up until about 3 am, then from 3 to about 5 am it was dead), Mr. Moriarty showed up. Boy was I nervous. I shouldn’t have been. He came in, introduced himself (as if I didn’t know who he was), tallied the case registered (a big, brass, multi-drawer thing) and left.
I remember one occasion when I was working Sunday. Danny had told me to cut the prices of all the old additives, waxes, etc. Therefore, I made up a sign for half off. Mr. Moriarty came in, looked at my hand-lettered sign, and sternly advised me that “we” never use hand-lettered signs.
Moriarty Bros. was a milestone job in my life. I worked there from ’66 until February 1969, when I was drafted. Whenever there was a crisis in a job later in my life, I would think about the dignified way Moriarty treated their employees.
I moved away, had my problem with the military, but as my mom continued to live in Coventry, I eventually returned to visit Moriarty’s. Must have been 1977 or so; I stopped by the old place and ran into Matt Jr., who I think at that time was the Mayor of Manchester. I wasn’t sure he’d recognize me but he did immediately. We talked a little bit, I was nervous because I knew he had been in the military (Navy or Coast Guard?) and I had only recently been given an undesirable discharge. Matt was so gracious, telling me how the guys at Moriarty’s always wondered what had become of me. They all knew about me going AWOL, and although they might not agree, they understood.
So, a toast to the Moriarty family – thank you for all you ever did for me and for so many others. And to Robert Price, thank you for getting in touch and letting me relive some of the best years of my life.