Saturday, December 5, 2015

Cars Of A Certain Age

When I was younger--much younger--I bought numerous cars in various states of poor repair and worked to make them better. Sometimes I was successful; other times I hauled a carcass to the junkyard. These endeavors were driven by two things: One, my limited cash flow as a young person and Two, my desire to return something to function and beauty.

I love machinery of all types, particularly those that were built before or around the same time as my own birth. I find equal appeal in the simplicity of a Model T as I do in the exotic machine work that created a Ferrari Berlinetta. My deep interest in things mechanical and cars in particular led me to educate myself in the skills and knowledge to repair them. In effect, I learned by doing. There have been countless snapped off bolts and botched welds as I gained my education. I have achieved a level of competency as a mechanic but am far from a competent restorer.

Through my automotive history I can claim only one actual restoration of a car. It was a haphazard, amateur accomplishment at best and admittedly never fully sorted. A good five-footer (looked great from five feet away) it brought me satisfaction. Subsequent attempts, however, generally failed. The demands of time, money and skills I still did not possess kept most of these other unique vehicles from becoming anything more than good drivers.

My appreciation and desire for older cars such as vintage Mustangs, old pickups and quirky pre-war cars remains but I have had to accept the reality that restoring them is fairly impossible. If I wish to have a vintage car I should really buy one already finished. With old cars there is always something that needs tinkering with and that aspect will satisfy my desire to use the vast number of tools I have accumulated. Gone however is the urge to fully disassemble and scatter a vehicle throughout my garage over a period of years with the rosy vision of someday making it whole again.

Collectible vehicles come in all sorts of ages, shapes and prices. Most of the ones I am drawn to cost more than I can reasonably afford for something that will see only occasional use. If I lived in a climate less detrimental to old steel perhaps I could justify driving a classic every day. Unfortunately, I live in a region known for ruining cars with road salt and humidity. Thus the appeal of modern cars that look like classics.

The retro styling trend at present seems to have run its course but not before I was able to snag my own example. Much of the automotive world criticized retro styled cars as being un-original when they came out. I welcomed them as modern takes on attractive cars in a world otherwise full of nearly identical jellybeans. Though I may not want a Dodge Challenger or VW Beetle I welcome their unique visual impact on an otherwise repetitive landscape.

Progress being what it is, the modern cars all have things we have become accustomed to: disc brakes, power steering, air conditioning and reliable electronics. No longer do we have to tolerate brakes that barely work when wet, enormous steering wheels or setting points inside a hard to reach distributor. Life with cars has become much easier if a bit less interesting.

Vintage vehicles still possess charms and character that no modern vehicle can match. I still desire to experience life with any number of old cars and motorcycles but as I become a 'man of a certain age' I find the commitment required to take care of them more daunting. A restoration may be something I take up again when retired with plenty of available time (and hopefully money) but for now the limits real life places upon me leads me to enjoy the modern equivalent of a favorite classic.

There is almost a sense of guilt for not care-taking of a true classic when I am mostly capable. I really do enjoy preserving old stuff and sharing it with others who have a similar affliction. I worry that younger generations are losing touch with these rolling pieces of history and that every retro car purchased negates a vintage model being preserved. The other thought is that perhaps the popularity of such designs will generate some interest in the old versions of the same. The only thing I can say with certainty is choosing to drive either is a step in the right direction. Life is too short to fettle it away piloting something forgettable.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dream vs. Reality

Its been not quite ninety days since the Mustang entered my garage. The new-ness has worn off and the quirks and idiosyncrasies by now have reared their heads. I am still a bit shocked to see it in the garage when I go out there. I do, however, think it belongs there. It looks right.

The only other car I can recall pining for over such a long period of time was my 1970 Fiat 124 Spider. As my teenage years began I spent endless hours scouring car magazines searching for the perfect vehicle to be my first car. I had always wanted a sports car in the traditional sense. Two seats, four cylinder engine, convertible top and of course a manual gearbox. One lucky day while perusing periodicals at the local convenience store I found an issue of Car and Driver that compared every convertible available at the time (this was in the mid-1970s). The authors warned that the convertible was probably doomed because of government safety regulations and that we should get one while we could. Comparing everything from the VW Beetle to a Rolls-Royce Corniche I was surprised at the final results. The magazine chose the Fiat 124 Spider as the best overall convertible, soundly trouncing my prior favorites the MGB and Triumph Spitfire. I read everything I could about the budget Italian car and ultimately decided that it would be the necessary chariot to carry me into adulthood.

Reality turned out to be temporarily different. My father, assuming because he was sharing in the financing of a vehicle for my use would also have a say in what it would be. The sports car, I was told, would not be. Instead I found myself piloting a 1971 Jeep Commando. Much could be written about my relationship with that vehicle and perhaps some day I shall. Suffice it to say that it did nothing to quench my thirst for a proper sports car. Eventually, I did purchase a forlorn example of the coveted Fiat for the princely sum of $300. Would reality equal the dream I had conjured up in all those years leading up to ownership?

In many ways it did. Keeping in mind that my standards at the time were tremendously low. Getting the proper kind of car trumped the actual condition of my example. Through the lens of adulthood I can only shake my head at the gallons of plastic filler and tractor paint that hid the numerous perforated sins of the tired body. Having no mechanical expertise at that age it befell my father to suffer through innumerable troubles with the brakes and electrics trying to keep the thing functioning. But the dream of top down motoring and how wonderful it must be was realized the first time I took the wretched little car for a summer drive. It proved heavenly, and I overlooked the car's innumerable flaws for several years until the rot finally claimed it. And then I bought another...and kept it for 23 years.

I had desired various flavors of Mustangs over the years but realized the shortcomings of older ones, particularly those that had not been restored to a condition vastly better than Dearborn had cranked out originally. As I noted in my first entry, S197 solved most of the reasons I found to avoid Mustang ownership. The car was beautiful, modern and reliable. Still, I had to wonder if ten years of longing would be sufficiently rewarded driving one every day.

The happy news is:  yes. In fact, I probably enjoy the car more today than I did my first week of ownership. The interior is quiet with no squeaks or rattles. The ride is taught without being jarring and the steering is responsive. I love looking at the dash. The 4.0 V6 has proven wonderfully torque-y and above adequate for normal driving while repelling the juvenile hooliganism I know would be the norm if I had gone for the V8. The six has kept me from being stupid while at the same time not insulting me.

There are things I would change, of course. The transmission is a bit clunky compared to the European cars I grew up with and the clutch is heavy for a hydraulic unit. The tires are far too narrow and lose grip too easily. The brakes are adequate but nothing more and the solid rear axle never lets you forget it is along for the ride. Minor annoyances, all of them, and even as a whole do not cause me real displeasure. Overall, I am surprised how much I actually do like it. Expecting it to be a vehicle to satisfy a whim I now regard it as a probable long-term relationship. If I wear this one out I would probably buy another. Time will tell. It is wonderful though to find that sometimes the reality is actually not that far from the perception.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Wing Ding

The styling of S197 is what really sold me on the car. The fact that it is actually a very nice vehicle to drive is mostly a bonus, but an essential one for a guy like myself who values the driving experience so highly. There was one part of my particular Mustang that I couldn't get past, however: the rear wing.

When S197 was being designed there was debate over what to do at the back of the car. The 1969 fastback had a 'ducktail' spoiler and this was the most-favored choice for finishing off the tail. The problem was that giving every S197 the ducktail would lessen the distinction between the base car and the GT. Ultimately, it was decided to make the trunk lid flat and attach a separate rear wing to all of the GT models to further differentiate them from the V6s. Though I haven't read anything to support this, my theory is the pedestal 'wing' type spoiler may have been chosen because a similar one graced the tail of Mach 1 and Boss 302 models in 1969 and 1970. Additionally, rear wings were the default styling craze of the 90s and early 2000s. You could find rear wings on everything from Mercury Tracers to Ford Tauruses.

Ironically--or perhaps as a concession to those of us with taste--you could order a new S197 with a 'spoiler delete' option which gave you a unadorned flat trunk lid. Since the deletion of the spoiler did not generate any cost savings few people took advantage. The V6 did have an optional low ducktail type spoiler but it cost extra. However, with the availability of the Pony Package in 2006 the designers' worst fear was realized; the V6-only Pony Package included the GT spoiler. While I did want my Mustang to have the Pony Package I did not hold any affection for the pedestal rear spoiler. To me it was an ugly add-on, a senseless piece of vanity that served no aerodynamic purpose and sullied the look of an otherwise perfect car. To simply remove it, however, would leave four large holes in my trunk lid. As the weeks of ownership passed and I learned to like other aspects of the car I was at first unsure of, one item offended me every time I looked in the rear view mirror. That hideous, bulbous wing taunted me from its perch on the rear deck.

The only practical solution was to replace it. The aftermarket is full of options to do just that but many were even more garish than the GT wing. I was unable to find a used V6 spoiler anywhere, which surprised me. I did eventually find that Ford did produce something that was sort-of what the original designers may have intended. The 2007 Shelby GT500 sub-model of S197 came with a ducktail spoiler that gloriously attached to the trunk lid at the same places as my much-loathed GT spoiler. Though a bit larger than perhaps both I and the designers had hoped, this spoiler much better matched the car's lines while possibly even supplying some actual down-force to the rear of the car at speed. While an original GT500 spoiler is pricey the aftermarket makes plenty of affordable copies. Many suppliers offer them pre-painted in factory colors which save an expensive trip to the auto body shop. Ironically, I work for an auto body shop that could easily have painted one but the price difference for one in raw primer was not enough to make up the difference in just the cost of the paint. Though skeptical of the quality of the finish I elected to go the pre-painted route and ordered one in Tungsten Gray. The part arrived within a few days and I was pleased how good it looked out of the box. An hour or so later my Mustang looked vastly improved as shown in the photo above. The wing-thing now resides in a box in the rafters of my garage.

Many Mustang owners purchase an endless array of aftermarket doodads in an effort to personalize their car and make it their own. I look upon many of these modifications with everything from appreciation to disdain. I 'get' car customizing and haven't been immune to it myself but some of the choices people make in my opinion distract from the graceful perfection of the production car. I find it interesting--and admittedly flattering--that my choices of changes mimic some of the things the designers themselves had envisioned. The ducktail, round metal shift knob and Torq-thrust style wheels all parallel things the design team desired but were overruled on for production. I often wonder what the artisans who penned the S197 think of all the spoilers, vents and 'billet' accoutrements that many of their products have become festooned with.  

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Clip

I mentioned earlier that one of the things wrong with the Mustang was a loose piece of trim on the seat bottom. It is a plastic part that snaps into a clip. The clip snaps into the metal seat frame. The seat trim had been snagged by the previous owner and pulled from the clip. Attempts to snap it back into place proved ineffective and the trim piece itself appeared undamaged. Conclusion: the clip had broken.

I could see the pesky thing still lodged in the seat frame. It is metal and held in place by barbs that compress when it is pushed into position. A simple V-shaped part stamped from thin steel and then bent into shape it proved surprisingly difficult to remove. Ineffective as it was, I managed to completely mangle it after a lengthy removal involving several tools and some choice curse words. No matter; I picked up the phone and called the local Ford dealer for a replacement.

The news was unsatisfactory: Ford did not see fit to offer the clip as a separate part. I could order the seat trim itself which allegedly included the clip for around $80. The trim piece was fine; why should I have to pay $80 for a clip? Certainly there must be an alternative.

I work in the automotive business and our shop has a cabinet with several drawers of clips and fasteners. None held the tiny annoyance that I sought. I scoured online catalogs of vendors that sold similar items and found a place that--maybe--had something similar. Naturally, I would have to buy a box of fifty and also pay shipping. Still not acceptable. With creative word usage I performed an image search, hoping to find a match...and I did! I followed the image to a web page and ultimately discovered that it was a Ford part, with a Ford part number but was for use in a Econoline van in a totally different application. A call to the dealer told me I could indeed buy the a package of five. That was palatable, so I ordered them and found that, while not identical, when used on my Mustang it performed the needed task perfectly.

My persistence and detective work saved me nearly $70. The internet played no small part in my endeavor and I was amazed yet again at how useful it is for us car guys. Consider also the water leak I experienced; I had learned about it along with the proper fix before I even bought the car through web sites and videos. Fixing what could have been a unsettling issue took mere minutes. Finding parts has never been easier. No matter what problem you are experiencing with a vehicle chances are someone, somewhere, has had it before you and probably written about it.

Automobiles used to be simple devices. Though older cars were far less reliable than current ones the problems they had were all pretty similar as the designs were not very different. Today's more complex machines and proprietary engineering create bigger obstacles for both the home and professional mechanic. Without our wonderful system of online sharing nearly all of us would be beholden to a limited number of outlets, mostly new car dealerships that are typically all too eager to separate us from our money. "They" may make things more difficult (clips without part numbers) but we have a tremendous ally in our internet strangers.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Nobody's Perfect

The prior owner of the Mustang, Jeff, was the kind of owner you hope to buy a car from. He religiously had all the services performed at the proper intervals, fixed things when they broke or wore out and kept up the appearance of the car inside and out. It was obvious Jeff cared for the Mustang but, while he was fond of the car, I don't think he was a "car guy" to the extent that I and most of my friends are. This became apparent the first time I opened the hood. Though taken care of mechanically, the engine bay reflected disinterest; everything had a heavy coating of dusty grime that was simply the result of it never having been hosed down. Out of sight and out of mind to the casual car owner but almost offensive to someone like myself who enjoys the sight and feel of things mechanical. I think I had the car less than four hours when the engine compartment was squeaky clean once again.

Providing excellent care and being fanatical are two different things. I will classify myself in the latter to some extent but I'm hardly a toothbrush-in-the-crevices detailer. I like everything neat and tidy throughout along with functional harmony. As my new ownership turned from days to weeks I found a few things wrong with the Mustang.

In Earl Swift's stellar book Auto Biography he follows the complete life of a 1957 Chevrolet wagon through each of its owners. Swift recognizes that there are several stages in the lifespan of a typical vehicle. Paraphrasing, it is something like New, Slightly Used, Showing Wear, Slide Into Dereliction and Junk. Vehicles are much like the "broken window" theory with houses and neighborhoods; when a window is broken and left unrepaired the slide towards ruin accelerates. I've often looked at older vehicles in a truly sad state of repair and wondered what caused such wanton neglect? There is a time in every vehicle's history that it was shiny and new and the delight of the individual who purchased it. Over varying spans of time the owners will slowly lose interest in their expensive purchase allowing it to succumb to the elements, use and obsolescence. As all cars have become both more reliable and more generic I wonder if they have also rendered themselves more disposable?

The Mustang showed a few signs of the early stages of owner indifference despite the general upkeep. One item that incensed me was a failed clip on the lower seat side trim. Jeff had told me he snagged his pant leg on the piece one day and pulled it loose. Though perhaps not a conscious decision he had chosen to live with this detached part for years, not days. This clip would also become my nemesis; more about it in a future installment.

Leaving work one day after a heavy rainstorm I noticed water dripping onto the passenger floor mat from under the dash. Most owners would have reacted with anger or disappointment in seeing this, likely suspecting the previous owner of selling them a car with a troublesome issue. Since I had read everything there was on the internet about these cars prior to buying one I instantly knew what the problem was: a clogged drain grommet in the cowl. Still, I had to wonder how long Jeff may have lived with that leak (or had I been the 'lucky' guy to first experience it?). Removing the clog was very easy but led me to another item shown in the photograph above: the cabin filter.

The cabin filter has become a standard item on nearly every car these days, yet few people seem to know they exist; my Mustang's prior owner being one of them. This filter cleans the air coming into the interior, or 'cabin', of the vehicle. Most are hidden from view and some are quite difficult to access. Fortunately, Ford's engineers made it easy to access provided you knew where to look. Though most dealers are aware of their existence and eager to sell replacements the typical corner garage often is not. My Mustang, having long been out of warranty and no longer a regular visitor to a dealer service department had obviously not enjoyed a filter replacement for years. I could not, however, get too upset with the prior owner as even 'car guys' don't often think to check these for servicing.

Lastly, there is a piece of plastic trim in the trunk that spans the width of the car and covers the rear access to the taillamps. This piece was loose and I found that the plastic screw pins that were to keep it in place were broken. The car had once had bodywork done to the rear bumper and I found the broken screws bodged in place with some black goop. Replacements were easily obtained from Ford and cost a few dollars. Being in the auto body repair business myself this last issue was the most infuriating. The owner had entrusted his car to professionals to do good work and they failed him. I suspect he had no idea that a few plastic screws were the problem (in fact, the ones they had tried to use were not the correct ones).

Singularly, these issues are small and not a big deal. Once they are allowed to accumulate, however, the total can rapidly begin to diminish the owner's enjoyment and interest in the vehicle. This is how the downward slide begins and any owner should remain vigilant to keep their machine in good form.

For myself, these minor annoyances provided a good way to become more intimate with the car. A few minutes one afternoon installing a twenty dollars worth of new parts made the car better and provided me with a sense of accomplishment. Used car purchases are rarely perfect. The best we can do is to find the best example possible and be ready to curtail any further diminishment of quality.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Jeff's Mustang

In a prior entry I mentioned I have never purchased a new car. In 2005 I nearly did; such was the effect of the S197 Mustang on me. I could have succumbed to temptation and joined the millions of Americans who live in deep financial debt, the price paid for instant gratification. I am too practical (some may suggest 'too cheap') and was able to resist the pull. This did not stop me from fantasizing about entering a dealership and ordering the exact car I wanted. For the first time I would not have had to settle for what someone else had chosen. I would have selected the color, interior upholstery, drivetrain and other options. The car would have been mine, chosen by me to be exactly what I envisioned as perfection.

In 2015 as a used car shopper I struggled to find the car that would have been 'mine', or at least my current perception of what it should be. Sonic Blue exterior, gray cloth interior, spoiler delete, five speed manual transmission...and an undecided engine choice. I shopped...and shopped...and can count on my one hand a year later how many actually ticked most (but never all) of the boxes. The ones that came closest were always too expensive or too far away. The one color I absolutely, positively did not want was black--and I found dozens of them, cheap and always close by.

After a year of looking online, on car lots and in trade papers I was fatigued. My color obsession was taking the fun out of Mustang shopping. When I came across a Tungsten Gray six cylinder with a manual transmission still owned by the original purchaser, I blinked.

Jeff's car was everything a used car buyer should wish for: full service history, fastidiously maintained (the original carpet mats were in the trunk, unused) and with a recent clutch replacement it was offered at a price too good to ignore. I saw, I drove and I bought. Jeff's Mustang became my Mustang.

Well, on paper it was mine. I'm not so sure 'owner' is the proper term; I feel as if I'm more of a caretaker. This was an unusual purchase for me in the respect that I did not buy it from some faceless car lot or from the last in a string of prior owners. My Tungsten Gray Mustang came from the guy who bought it from the lot; the guy who decided this exact example was the car for him. He drove it for ten years, paid for its care, lavished it with above-average attention and only saw fit to part with it when life circumstances suggested it was time for something more family friendly. This was a reluctant sale; Jeff appeared to take no real pleasure in exchanging his car for a check. He told me its entire history and pointed out the few flaws that it had. He gave me the owners manual, all of his receipts and even a copy of the original window sticker (he admitted he had kept the genuine one as a keepsake). I caught him watching me drive it away after we had done the title work.

The car is not perfect after traveling 86,000 plus miles. There are a few broken interior pieces, a gouge on one wheel and a couple door dings. One item in particular I notice every time I drive it: the shift knob is starting to come apart from use. Tens of thousands of shifts, almost exclusively performed by Jeff.
Jeff's Mustang.

I know this wouldn't bother most people as few are as introspective about cars as I am. That shift knob is frayed not from my efforts. The quirks of this particular car come from one individual, not several. These small things are not a blurry combination of multiple owners. The character traits are singularly a result of Jeff's use. All of this makes the car Jeff's Mustang.

I look at the tatty knob and plan on replacing it mostly because I prefer a different kind. There is a small twinge of guilt at the thought that I will be taking that piece of Jeff out of his car and making it less his and more mine. This is admittedly silly because unless he reads my blog he will not know I have altered his car. I do wonder if he might not appreciate the change--or would instead be happy that someone cares enough about his car to make it better by giving it something new and fresh. Other questions come to mind as I contemplate swapping the trunk lid spoiler I dislike so much or change the grille to a GT style. Regardless of the potential alterations I'm not sure it will ever truly be 'my' Mustang. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

A year ago I sold a 1965 Ford pickup I had owned for ten years. It was my intent to restore the thing back to respectable condition but I came to realize time, money and ambition were all lacking. I chose to send it on to another owner who would hopefully provide what I did not. One thing that I had decided I would not restore was the steering wheel. The red paint had been worn away on portions of the rim from use by the previous three owners. The wheel told a story; not one that was clear but spoke of the physical connection between the machine and the people who piloted it. None of the other worn parts on the truck affected me the same way as that steering wheel. It is the one part of the truck I miss the most.

I may remove the shift knob from Jeff's Mustang but I will keep it stashed away. It has a story to tell to the next caretaker--or maybe Jeff will want his car back when I'm done enjoying it. I think it would be a rare treat to be able to pick up where things had been left.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Acceptance or Derision?

I'm going to jump ahead in my story and address the elephant in the room: I bought a V6.

Stop and examine your personal reaction to that. If this were any type of car other than a 'pony' car the engine choice wouldn't be significant. If I had purchased say, a Mazda 6, that I had chosen the four cylinder over the V6 would only garner a slightly raised eyebrow. In contrast, the minute most of us learn that a American pony car is optioned with the base engine vs a rumbling V8 we immediately dismiss it as an also-ran...a girl's car...a sad shadow of the real thing. As I sought to fill my Mustang void the question of The Engine came up frequently. 'Settling' for the V6 as a rabid car enthusiast would just be wrong. Did I not lust for the throaty burble of the 300 horsepower V8? Was that not part of the Mustang's appeal and mystique? Why would I want to face the automotive community's disdain for the pedestrian version and be dismissed as driving a poseur to the real thing?

The bigger question was, why did I care?

There are a slew of truly practical reasons why I ultimately went with the V6, but only after careful introspection on why the less practical V8 seemed to matter so much. When I really drilled down to what it was that I liked about the Mustang, what it meant to me and why I desired it so much I realized it wasn't about the engine. I liked the S197 because it looked right and it raised a middle finger to every other car then being produced that was a slave to the wind tunnel, EPA ratings and practicality. I was in love with a car, not an engine.

In my consumption of knowledge of all things Mustang I learned that Ford tried very hard to not have the base model V6 be an embarrassing also-ran. The engineers worked hard at making the V6 perform better than 'merely acceptable' and even spent a lot of time trying to make the exhaust sound right. The 4.0 is a sturdy, decent engine that produces 210 horsepower--10 more than the base V8 in 1967. Granted the S197 weighs 746 lbs more than the original 1967 car but I wondered how bad the V6 would really be? I located one with a manual transmission and after a brief drive came away impressed. No, it was no race car but the power delivery seemed nearly perfect for everyday driving. The missing 90 horsepower didn't bother me nearly as much as I expected. I had a decision to make between what made sense and what my car guy testosterone a car that itself didn't really make sense on a practical level.

Practical: lower cost, better fuel mileage, cheaper insurance. Also for myself there were other considerations, including the V8 would certainly cause hooliganism behind the wheel and I already had an actual legitimate race car. The old BMW I took to the track was fully outfitted with a roll cage and all sorts of protective gear and I feared a faster but less safe street driven Mustang would diminish its purpose. Lastly, the pages of Mustang performance catalogs were a irresistible temptation to spend giant wads of cash on things to make my future car 'better'. I knew from experience that my resistance to such enticements was non-existent.

Impractical: the sound of a V8 engine, the masculine aura such a car carried and the worry of ridicule from others for 'cheapening out' with a V6.
I became introspective over this last issue. Why did I care what anyone else thought? I knew why: in the past I had ridiculed and dismissed six cylinder pony cars as inferior...purposeless...a 'waste'. I was now faced with the uncomfortable fact that the car I really should have was the one I viewed as inferior. It made more sense to 'settle' for the V6 than pay nearly twice the price for what frankly amounted to vanity. This is not to suggest that the V8 powered GT is frivolous; if my circumstances were different I'd have no reservations about getting the GT or even a Shelby.

Delving ever deeper I came to see that a Mustang was a choice between two considerations: Did I want it for what it could do or did I want it for what it was? For example, I have a 2008 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. I did not purchase it for what it could do (low fuel mileage, inexpensive to operate), I bought it for what it was (a beautiful machine but impractical to ride nearly half the year where I live). In contrast, my pickup truck I own not for what it is (a masculine vehicle) but for what it can do (haul things). While the Mustang could do (provide reliable year-round transportation) so could dozens of other cars that all cost less and were more sensible. No, the Mustang was about what it was (an icon and delightful to look at and sit in). I was buying the Mustang for me--to satisfy a part of myself that is infatuated with everything about it. Why then did I care what anyone else thought of it or my choice in powertrain?

Almost since the invention of the automobile many people have used it as an extension of who they are. Wealthy people drove opulent Duesenbergs and Pierce-Arrows while practical people selected Fords and Dodges. As time progressed and choices became abundant people chose vehicles not just for transportation but as a means of enhancing their image to others. We all have stereotyped various cars with their owners--lifted trucks are about male compensation, Prius owners wear Birkenstocks and are vegans and BMW owners are arrogant idiots who don't use turn signals. Right or wrong these perceptions do exist. Mothers regularly choose ridiculous SUVs over practical minivans simply because the more judicious choice carries with it a stigma of middle class suburbia. The rough-and-ready appearance of SUVs (not to mention their increased height and bulk) lure many buyers into believing that it projects a more adventuresome image.

To some degree the same could be said for the bulk of Mustang GT buyers. People who love power and performance consider it a failure to accept the V6 even when, for 90% of general use, it is perfectly adequate. The stigma associated with 'failing' to obtain the GT probably drives sales as much as the increase in performance over the standard model.

Part of my coming to grips with getting older is blissfully caring significantly less about what other people think of me. However, the failure perception of not getting the GT troubled even me. Having driven the V6 and finding it actually better than I expected and completely suitable for the tasks I had for it I still struggled with not getting the 4.6 liter V8. So strong was automotive societal pressure that it was ingrained in my thinking that no self-respecting car guy would buy the 'lesser' car. Interesting how I could justify a foolish vehicle (Mustang) but ultimately not the foolish engine (V8).

I am pleased with my purchase and in my heart of hearts know that I need not justify it to anyone other than myself. Despite this I still worried that this contemplative blog would appear as me attempting to rationalize my choice to others. I can only emphasize that I made a choice and am happy with it. Anyone else's opinion doesn't matter to me...and it shouldn't to you, either.

August 22, 2015. The Mustang.

Today ends 10 years of pining...of longing...of inexplicable coveting. Today is Mustang day. Allow me to explain.

In September of 2004, Ford Motor Company introduced a new version of the iconic Mustang. Referred to as the S197 platform, it replaced the prior 'Fox' chassis Mustang that had roots back to 1979. The S197 was a totally new car which was way overdue, but Ford chose to go in a direction with the styling that some derided as a step backward. The rest of us were mesmerized.

I was born in 1965 and immediately had an obsession with all things automotive. Growing up in the 'malaise' period of the 1970s I saw the erratic and desperate American car industry fight to remain relevant as imports took over after the Arab oil embargo. My focus growing up was sports cars like the MGB, Triumph Spitfire and ultimately the Fiat 124, a car I owned several of during my early years of driving. Though they suffered from cheap construction and peculiar quirks these cars provided a wonderful driving experience at a low cost. Equally important, they were pleasant to look at; you knew at a glance what they were.

I held a certain level of disdain for American cars which in retrospect was forgivable. The 1970s were a terrible time for domestic cars both mechanically and stylistically. Some of you may remember such horrors as landau tops, opera lights and Ricardo Montalban shilling "Fine Corinthian Leather". Ugh.

Things had not always been this way, however. Shortly after the second World War, American manufacturers discovered that attractive styling sold cars as much as mechanical prowess. The 1950s ushered in a period of chrome, pastel colors and excess but I've always felt that these cars were a defining point in car design. Though a bit dated now, the cars of the 1950s are still very attractive and distinctively different.

The 1960s continued the trend somewhat and it was still easy to tell a Chevy from a Ford even at a distance. The designs became less flamboyant but still offered uniquely creased metal stampings that kept the various brands and models distinctive. Instead of offering one basic car such as a "1960 Ford" they began offering multiple models in a given year, such as the Falcon, Fairlane and Galaxy. Buyers had more choices, and nothing is more American than having choices.

With this in mind, Lee Iacocca created a niche car that completely altered the trajectory of American cars (he later did the same thing with the minivan) when he took a lowly Falcon and attached a racy European style coupe body to its chassis. Stories abound of dealers being swamped with eager buyers to the point of having to close the doors of their showrooms. 22,000 were sold the first day; within two years a million were rolling on America's highways. There simply had never been anything like it.

This all happened while I was still in diapers. By the time I really began to notice Mustangs they were old cars, supplanted by the much maligned but monetarily successful Mustang II. Perhaps I was swayed by the Mustang's European cousin the Capri. Another car built as a sporty car on a pedestrian chassis, the Capri was wildly successful on both sides of the Atlantic. The long hood/short deck silhouette stuck in my psyche as what a car should look like. Ultimately, I felt that the 67-68 Mustang fastback was the pinnacle of the pony car era.

By the time I reached driving age, however, vintage Mustangs were in a resurgence of popularity--thanks to the hideous, wheezing cars of the 1980s. Nice examples were far from my meager ability financially while those needing restoration were so bad due to rust that I knew I could never finish one. At one point I did buy a 1981 Mustang that was nothing like those I really desired and ultimately was horribly disappointing. I continued with my European sports cars and eventually bought an eerily similar shape in the form of a 1986 Audi GT. Long hood/short deck...but at the time I didn't make the connection. Though immensely popular, the Fox Mustangs tugged at me with only half the urge of the original. The later SN95 updated versions I found somewhere between disappointing and hideous. Original 1960s versions were attainable with my adult income but now were unsuitable for daily use for fear of rust damage and a driving experience that was more Old Pickup than Sports Car. I knew they were rattly, creaky, ill-handling cars with poor brakes and yet I still felt a pull every time I saw one. Then S197 happened.

I can't remember where I first saw one but I do know my instant reaction: They finally built one for me! The styling of the old mixed with the mechanics of the modern era; it was too good to be true! Surely they would be horrible in some way--but they weren't. Never in my life had I considered buying a new car but I began calculating what the payments would be and deciding on a color. The reality, however, was that it would be expensive and I'd be paying it off for an eternity...not to mention the insurance premiums.
So I watched from afar, much like a teenager pining for a girl who was dating someone else. New Mustangs appeared everywhere in 2005 and my head snapped around to gawk at each one. I'd had this reaction to other new cars over the years and I knew eventually the novelty would fade and I'd soon dismiss them as just another car

Nope; didn't happen. My head still swiveled every single time I saw one in the next five years at which point Ford chose to 'update' the design. I wasn't a fan of the restyle at first but it did eventually grow on me, though I find the rear too bulbous. The purity of the original 05-09 I continued to feel was superior and remained the object of my Mustang desire. The continued popularity and durability of the S197 kept prices high; coupled with my use of a company car through these years a 'toy' of this expense simply didn't fit the cards. Silently, I vowed that by the time I was 50 I'd treat myself to the car I simply couldn't shake from my craving. Life circumstances ultimately pushed me in the proper direction and midway through my 50th year I found myself in a position where I a) needed a car and b) could afford to indulge my unsatisfied Mustang passion.