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.