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.