The Personalized Plate

(NOTE: The following is a work of historical fiction.)

Bill Farrell was not a car guy, and he knew it. He was painfully aware of it because his father, Thomas P. (Tommy) Farrell II, had been a car guy, and never let Bill, his only child, forget it.

Tommy came of age in the early days of hotrodding: shoehorning worked-over flatheads into chopped Deuce coupes was all he and his Army buddies wanted to do once the war ended. Laying rubber and chasing girls (not necessarily in that order) helped them forget the horrors of World War Two. They were just happy they survived.

Tommy wasn’t really one for much chasing. His high school squeeze, Helen, was waiting for him at the end of the war. But Helen was done waiting; she told Tommy in no uncertain terms that if he wanted her, he needed to get down on one knee “and be a man about it”. And so he did, and so they did: by the summer of ’46, the knot was tied, and it wasn’t long after that Helen was “with child”.

Tommy secretly hoped for a boy. Helen claimed she didn’t care, but growing up as the only girl in a family of five children, she dreamed of a daughter. On the 7th of July 1947, a son was born to Thomas and Helen Farrell. Tommy knew all along that if he had a son, he’d be named “Thomas P. Farrell III”. (The P stood for Patrick, and his Irish grandparents told him the name came from St. Patrick, even if he didn’t himself believe it.)

Helen had a secret she never told her husband: before Helen’s mother passed away, while Tommy was at war, Helen promised her mother that if she ever had a son, he would be named William, after Helen’s father, who succumbed to cancer when Helen was just 12.

In a way that only wives can do, Helen gently but firmly informed her husband that she wanted their son named after her dad. Tommy actually fought it for a day, then gave in, knowing he would never win. As something of a consolation prize, their son was given his dad’s name as a middle name.

For reasons which remained unspoken, and which were eventually taken to their graves, Tommy and Helen stopped trying to have another offspring. Bill was an only child.

He was a typical boy, playing with the typical toys of the time. Yet any attempt by Bill’s dad to coerce the youngster into joining him in the garage fell on deaf ears. Bill (“William” in school, and never “Billy” at home) would rather watch that new-fangled TV, for which Tommy had no use. So Tommy continued to fiddle with his Deuce in the garage, while Bill played with Lincoln Logs and watched Saturday morning cartoons.

Fast-forward to 1963: Bill, at the age of 16, was eligible for his driver’s license, and succeeded in passing his driver’s test on the first try. His mom’s car, a ’62 Dodge Dart 440 station wagon with automatic, was what he preferred to drive. His dad’s daily driver, a ’59 Chevy Biscayne 2-door post with 3-on-the-tree, would have been first choice for most teenage boys, but Bill didn’t know how to shift with a clutch, and showed zero interest in learning.

Always meticulous, the boy did enjoy the wash-and-wax ritual, and treated his mother’s wagon to a fresh coat of Simonize at least twice a year. He may not have been the consummate car guy, but he wanted his ride to be clean while he was behind the wheel.

There was one way he was very much like his dad: Bill met a girl, Sally, in high school, and it wasn’t long before they were going steady. By the time each of them was 20, they knew they wanted to spend their lives together. In the autumn of 1967, Bill and Sally married.

The newlyweds stayed in town, and took advantage of both sets of parents living nearby, very handy when Andrew (1969) and Eileen (1971) were born. Their house, at 7 Hemlock Court, in their leafy New Jersey suburb, had a two-car garage, of which Bill’s dad was unendingly jealous. Although Tommy could always afford to provide a vehicle for both Helen and him, he never managed to own property with more than a one-car garage. He burned up a bit more when he saw his son and daughter-in-law use the garage for bicycles and lawn furniture rather than automobiles.

Bill’s automotive choices were always practical. He liked full-size Fords as family cars, and had a series of them throughout the decade of the ‘70s, usually in brown or green. But between two gas crises and diminishing vehicular quality, Bill began to sour on cars from the Blue Oval. One day a new dealership opened in town, selling these nice-looking Japanese front-wheel-drive sedans. By 1978, Bill bought one of the first Honda Accords in his neighborhood, and he never looked back.

Before the decade of the ‘80s arrived, both of Bill’s parents passed away from natural causes.

Bill never so much as changed his own oil (“that’s what dealer service departments are for”), but it still haunted him that he never lived up to his dad’s image as a “car guy”. One day, he noticed a car in the parking lot at work with 3 letters, followed by a number. That’s it! He told himself that he’d honor his father in his own way by getting a personalized plate, featuring his initials and his lucky number “7” (he was born on 7/7/47, and his house number was 7).

In New Jersey, car owners are allowed to transfer plates from one vehicle to the next, and that’s just what Bill did. His home state eventually redesigned their license plates, moving from the non-reflectorized “straw & black” to reflectorized plates in different shades. Still, Bill held onto his cherished tag, moving it from Accord to Accord. (He occasionally selected a different exterior color, but stayed with the same model.)

Both Andrew and Eileen grew up to be polite young adults, and like their parents and grandparents before them, each of them married young. Andrew and his bride Sandy moved to Indiana for her job. They also decided, for reasons kept to themselves, to remain childless. Eileen married Robb, and they moved two towns away from her folks. Bill and Sally became convinced they would never become grandparents, but Robb and Eileen were only postponing things until they got settled in their careers. They had two boys in quick succession, Tyler (2002) and Jordan (2005).

By the second decade of the 21st century, Bill Farrell wasn’t old by any stretch of the imagination, but he did feel himself slowing down. He drove less, mainly because he realized his eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. One day, approaching his car in the mall parking lot, he thought his eyes deceived him. A group of young boys was running away from his car, giggling. He thought he might have been imagining it. Then a few months later, some high school girls were using their phones (“how does a phone have a camera in it anyway?”) to take their pictures next to his car. “What could be interesting about an old Honda?” he asked himself.

Because his car was more than a few years old, and because Sally drove a newer Acura, they tended to use her car whenever they visited Eileen, Robb, and the boys. One day, since the Accord had just come back from the car wash and was blocking her car, they decided to hop into his car for the ride to visit their grandkids.

As soon as they arrived, Bill was heard to exclaim “gosh darned if these kids can’t get their noses unglued from their phones!” His daughter just shrugged her shoulders as he implored the boys to join him for a game of catch. Finally, Jordan, who had just turned 10, said, “sure Grandpa, let’s go outside”. Gramps replied, “OK, but no fastballs! And don’t hit my car with any wild pitches!”

Everyone else stayed in the air conditioning. Bill and his grandson got no further than 10 feet from the driveway when Jordan, catching his first-ever glimpse of his grandfather’s car, could not stop the hysterical laughing. Bill was equally stunned and annoyed. What in hell could be so funny? When the belly laughs finally subsided enough for Jordan to speak, he felt that he had to whisper the truth to his grandfather.

All that Bill could manage to muster in response was “texting?? Is that like email on the phone?” Beyond that, Jordan’s grandfather was speechless. And so it came to pass that William Thomas Farrell, who was so proud of the manner in which he honored his father’s memory, learned the irony of his personalized plate from his own young grandson.


This is a real photo, taken of a real car, with a real license plate (no Photoshop usage here). While driving in Flemington NJ during July of 2017, I saw this plate and fired off a shot with my phone before the car was out of my sight. The story almost wrote itself around this obviously-old NJ plate on the Accord.

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

New Jersey Drops Emissions Testing for 1995 and Older Vehicles

Sometime last year, a story made the news in New Jersey, which seemed to garner little attention in the press. The State Government announced that during calendar year 2017, “older vehicles” would no longer be subject to mandatory emissions inspection.

A quick refresher for those who do not reside in the Garden State: for years, NJ subjected passenger cars to an annual inspection, consisting of both safety-related items such as tires, lights, horn, etc., and emissions testing, covering both a tailpipe sniff and a fuel filler cap integrity check. A few years ago, the law changed from an annual inspection to a biannual one. A few years after that, the safety portion of the inspection was dropped.

The announcement from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission allowed that 1995 and older cars would no longer require any type of inspection. Model year 1996 and newer cars would continue as before, needing an emissions test every two years.

Was the 1995-1996 cutoff arbitrary? Not at all. The Federal Government requires that 1996 and newer passenger cars possess “On Board Diagnostic” (OBD) testing capability with a standardized access plug, and standardized Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs). The 1996 nationwide requirement was actually a Phase Two level. So-called OBD I was a California requirement, but never a Federal requirement. Even if not mandatory, most 1991-1995 cars have some sort of rudimentary ability to read DTCs through an OBD system.

What does this technical discussion have to do with the State of NJ? Simple: cost. For a NJ inspection station to test emissions, two sets of equipment were needed: one to read OBD I (1995 and older), and one to read OBD II (1996 and newer). There is no compatibility between the two. The State Government saw this as nothing more than a money-saving decision. By eliminating testing for the older cars, only one set of test equipment must be purchased.

The newest vehicles which no longer need to pass an inspection are 22 years old. Since the average age of light-duty vehicles on the road today is 11 years, one can rationalize that as a percentage of the highway population, there are relatively few cars which may become “gross polluters”. (For what it’s worth, the NJ law as written still requires vehicle owners to maintain their cars, and further states that drivers can be cited for “malfunctioning or missing equipment”.)

Speaking from personal experience: my 1993 Mazda Miata, which I’ve owned since 1996, had always passed NJ emissions, until it failed in 2015. There were no warning lights, nor did the car behave any differently. It turned out that the car needed an oxygen sensor (for which there is no regular replacement interval). Had I not had the vehicle inspected, how would I have known?

Without getting too political, this comes down to a difference of opinion between those who believe in greater individual responsibility, versus those who believe that our government does occasionally need to act in order to protect the greater good. In this case, I see both sides. I actually have a bigger issue with the removal of all safety inspections. Cars alongside me on the road may have bald tires, worn-out brakes, and inoperative headlights, but are still operating legally (and yes, as stated above, they can be cited for obvious defects. When is the last time that happened in New Jersey?).

The new law regarding the emissions testing for 1995 and older vehicles went into effect on May 1, 2017. Owners of affected vehicles were told that the state would be mailing notices. As the owner of such an affected vehicle, I got my notice last week:

 

It’s in the glove box, but I didn’t check to be certain that the VINs match!

 

Yesterday, I took a razor blade to the inspection sticker, scraped it off for the last time, and spent quite a few minutes cleaning 24 years’ worth of adhesive residue. The new notice went into the glove box (thank goodness the state didn’t require that it be displayed on the dashboard), and I stood back to admire the newly-bare windshield glass.

My 1993 Miata looks just like all Miatas built from 1990 through 1997. How long might it be before I’m stopped for driving with a missing inspection sticker?

My ’93 next to one of Mazda’s newest, the CX-5; note the relative heights!

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

2006: Adventures with Mustangs, Mine and Others

Since purchasing my ’68 Mustang California Special (aka GT/CS) in 2003, my desire had been to use the car as much as possible in automotive-themed events. As related earlier, we drove the car to Nashville for the Mustang’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2004. In 2005, rally brother Steve and I returned to the New England 1000 classic car rally after a 4-year hiatus, where the Mustang proved to be a powerful and reliable performer.

Before the 2006 driving season commenced, I needed to do something about the sloppiness in the car’s front end. While I held no illusions that this car would ever steer like a rack-and-pinion equipped sports car, the amount of freeplay in the steering seemed excessive, even by 1960s American car standards. A check of ball joints and bushings found enough wear to warrant the installation of new upper and lower control arms. (I opted to forego the Shelby-invented trick of relocating the upper control arms by one inch, effectively lowering the front suspension.) With the new suspension pieces bolted up, I happily observed that the dead spot at the top of the wheel was reduced by half.

The Garden State Region Mustang Club held its annual car show at a local Ford dealer in April of each year. In spite of poor weather, my car was there, mixed in among ponies both old and new.

My GT/CS takes its place among its siblings (note new 2006 yellow convertible on ramps)

In July, we joined the Mustang Club of New England at a show in New Hampshire. It was 95 degrees on Route 95, but that big 390 kept its cool. It was neat to discover at least one other California Special in attendance, a pale yellow car restored to a condition several levels better than mine. I took copious notes.

Hood up, ready for judges

 

For once, another California Special was at the same show as me

In the fall, my wife and I had a Mustang adventure of a quite different nature. We decided to take a week’s vacation in Arizona. As I made the travel plans and investigated rental choices, I noted that Hertz was now renting the Shelby Mustang GT-H, a throwback to the original Shelby Mustang rent-a-racers of the 1960s. I signed up for one.

Upon my arrival at the Hertz counter in Phoenix, I was not prepared for the strict lecture coming from the rental agency employee in delivering the car to me. He said in effect: “I’m going to show you every Shelby-specific item on this car, from the hood pins, to the Shelby-signed plates, to the guy wire securing the engine to the body (this to prevent, yes, engine swaps). You must sign here to verify that all these Shelby components are present, and you are liable if the car is returned with any of these missing!” Holy chicken farmer. I was afraid to leave the car in the hotel parking lot!

This was my first time driving this current-generation Mustang

The car looked sharp in its black-and-gold livery, and was an absolute blast to drive. Even with an automatic, the fun factor was off the scale. The car made all the right sounds, and the steering, brakes, and handling were eons above my ’68, no surprise given the almost 40-year spread between the two Mustangs. For the first time in decades of renting cars, I didn’t want to return the rental.

We found a scenic rest area for photos

 

I lucked out; the light was just right for this picture

By the end of 2006, Steve and I were already talking about repeating the use of the ‘Stang in the 2007 NE 1000. I was game. The car was up to it, but there were still a few things on my punch list to attend to.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Turning wrenches on your old car: When things go right

My first full year as the owner of a 1968 Mustang California Special was proceeding nicely. In April of 2004, the car successfully completed a 2,200 mile round-trip to Nashville for the MCA (Mustang Club of America) 40th anniversary event.

A month later, on Memorial Day Weekend, the Garden State Region Mustang Club (GSRMC) extended an invitation to attend a Ford Motor Company-sponsored event in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, NY, site of the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, and site of the introduction of the first Mustang. The response from club members was enthusiastic, so early on Sunday morning of that weekend a large lineup of Mustangs caravanned through midtown Manhattan, arriving at the park by 10 a.m. Besides the GSRMC, the only other Mustang club invited was the Long Island club. Estimates of the total Mustang count was close to 100. My GT/CS was the only one of its kind there.

Waiting for the parade to start

 

For Ford, this was a marketing and PR stunt, as the all-new 2005 Mustang, which would not enter production until September, was represented by a pre-production prototype. Ford was looking for photo ops, so a ’64 ½ convertible was staged across from the 2005 ‘Stang. The stainless-steel Unisphere, one of the few remaining relics from the ’64-’65 fair, loomed in the background. A photographer, hired for the occasion, perched on a 10-ft. tall ladder.

One at a time, each owner was invited to drive his/her car across the cameraman’s field of view, stop between the two posed cars, lean out the window, smile, and move on. As you might imagine, this took some time. I used the downtime to take some of my own photos as we crawled in the queue. Eventually, I had my picture taken, and headed home.

 

The official photo; cloudy all day, the rain held off until the drive home

Rally brother Steve and I had started to make some noise about possibly driving the Mustang in next year’s New England 1000 rally. With that on my mind, it seemed that the winter of 2004-2005 would be the ideal time to tackle the leaky heater core. My collector cars are usually off the road for the winter, so I would have the time I’d need to get this done.

On a Mustang with factory air such as mine, the heater core and A/C evaporator reside together in a fiberglass box under the passenger side dash. Following the factory-recommended procedure, I began the disassembly that would grant me access to said box. My A/C was inoperative, with zero pressure in the system, so no further harm was inflicted onto the ozone layer when I broke open the evaporator connections.

Much of the dashboard and instrument cluster needed to be removed, so I used this as an opportunity to replace other worn parts (more about that in a bit). Most of the wrenching was straight-forward. If there was a tricky part, it was keeping track of the various color-coded vacuum lines that operate the blend doors. I knew that new vacuum line kits were available, so that was added to the shopping list.

Heater box birthed from car; dum-dum repair at corner was dumb

With the box out of the car, my heart sank to see that it was cracked; actually, a chunk was missing from one corner. I also knew that boxes were not available in the aftermarket, so the heater box was repaired with fiberglass matting and epoxy glue.

Fiberglass fix didn’t need to be pretty

Along with a new heater core, I was able to order a new foam heater box kit. All blend doors as well as the core itself got new foam seals. Having come this far, I thought better of reinstalling the dash pad, which was warped, and the woodgrain instrument cluster surround, which had lost most of its chrome. These parts were readily available from various suppliers, so new ones were ordered and installed.

Wood and clamps hold foam while glue dries

Near the end, I worked as long as my patience would allow to line up the new aftermarket dash pieces. Of course, they did not fit as well as the originals. Eventually, I got it to the point that only I would notice any misalignment.

Repaired box about to be reinstalled. A/C evaporator was also new

Did the new heater core work? You know the drill: Add fresh antifreeze; turn on the heat; pray that nothing leaks.

Nothing leaked. The car had tremendous heat output, and anyone riding in the front seats would have toasty dry toes. This would turn out to be a huge benefit during the running of the 2005 New England 1000.

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

Driving the GT/CS to Nashville for the Mustang’s 40th Anniversary

With the recently-acquired Mustang in the garage for the winter of 2003-2004, I set out to do three things in preparation for the 2004 driving season: join the local Mustang club, subscribe to Mustang Monthly magazine, and obtain as many vendor parts catalogs as possible.

The N.J.-based club was the GSRMC (Garden State Region Mustang Club), and soon after joining, its President invited me to submit an article about my car, as we both surmised it was the only GT/CS in the club.

Cover car!
Cover car!

Prior exposure at events like Carlisle had shown that (especially compared to Isetta vendors) there were dozens of Mustang parts suppliers, so any needed part should be only a phone call or mouse click away. I was soon to learn otherwise.

As weather allowed, I would slip into the garage to perform some preventative maintenance: tune-up, oil change, coolant hoses & clamps, etc. Removing the air cleaner lead to the discovery, missed by me and unmentioned by previous owner Tony, that the heater hoses were disconnected from the heater core at the firewall. Against my better judgment, I reconnected them, filled the system, started it up, and ran the heater. All was dry, so I let it be.

As I placed orders for my Mustang-specific parts, I sampled various vendors, including Mustangs Unlimited, CJ Pony Parts, Virginia Classic Mustang, and NPD. Two truths became apparent: first, the quality of aftermarket parts varied widely, and was not always good, to the point that substandard parts were returned; and second, the idea that any part could be found at any vendor was hindered by my engine.

The “X code” 390 2-barrel FE-block was so rare that most Mustang suppliers did not carry parts for it. (Some catalogs, and some otherwise-well-written tomes on the Mustang did not even acknowledge that Ford used this engine in Mustangs!) Out of 317,000 1968 Mustangs, the X-code engine was put into 476 of them (2/10ths of 1%). Among California Specials, 75, or about 2%, used it. Either way, that makes for one rare engine.

The vast majority of its parts are shared with the S-code 390 “GT” 4-barrel engine. The differences are all on top: intake manifold, carb, air cleaner, emission controls, and various connecting parts. For my needs, I was stymied at obtaining vacuum hose connection parts, and a replacement for the missing air cleaner snorkel. (Much later, I found that the snorkel was not being reproduced, and was available used for about $900. I didn’t buy it.)

Early in 2004, the Mustang Club of America (MCA) announced that it would be hosting a 40th anniversary celebration for the Mustang in April, with the event to be held at Nashville Speedway in Tennessee. (The Ford Mustang debuted at the New York World’s Fair in April 1964.) Checking with the GSRMC, there seemed to be lukewarm interest in attending. However, the New England Mustang Club was organizing a caravan, stopping at various points to pick up participants, and they would be stopping at CJ Pony Parts in Harrisburg PA. My wife was willing, so we signed up.

 

Portfolio cover for 40th anniversary show
Portfolio cover for 40th anniversary show

 

On a rainy April day, we headed out to Harrisburg. The group, at this point about a dozen strong, showed up a short time later. The New England crowd was friendly, and warmly welcomed us. (They promised a “wicked good” journey.) It was nice to have some company on the trip south. The Mustangs consisted primarily of first-generation cars and Fox bodies. Most were driven; several were trailered. As we traveled, other Mustangs joined, and soon there were close to 20 cars. The group was informed that our destination for the night was Harrisonburg VA, and that we would be in Nashville by the afternoon of the second day. The weather remained cool and damp, but we were comforted by fairly good heat output in our car.

That is, until my wife said something about green fluid leaking from the dash near her feet.

We pulled over, and several other drivers also stopped in solidarity. Fortunately, the coolant loss was small enough that the temp gauge stayed in the Normal range. With assistance from several helping hands, we routed the heater hoses in a “U”, bypassing the core. The leak stopped, but we had no heat. Within a few hours, grey skies gave way to sunshine, and a significant jump in the thermometer. By the time we reached Nashville, temps were in the 80s.

MCA 40th anniversary show field, Nashville TN
MCA 40th anniversary show field, Nashville TN

 

Show revelers happily tailgate on the gravel
Show revelers happily tailgate on the gravel

 

My GT/CS on the showfield; Speedway grandstand in background
My GT/CS on the show field; Speedway grandstand in background

This was the first time I had attended a show of this magnitude. Memory tells me that there were about 3,000 Mustangs in attendance. Once we entered the parking lot, it was first-come first-served to find a spot; except for some pre-chosen cars parked under cover, there was no attempt to organize the field. We parked and walked around. The Ford Motor Company was an official sponsor, so it was a treat to see one of the first Ford GTs. Edsel Ford II (son of Henry Ford II) was in attendance, and had a friendly greeting for anyone who came by his way.

A proud pose into one of the first GTs shown to the public
A proud pose in front of one of the first Ford GTs shown to the public

 

Mr. Edsel Ford II, son of Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford
Mr. Edsel Ford II, son of Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford

This was a 3-day show, and Day 2 was not that different from Day 1. Temperatures stayed in the 80s, and cars were kicking up a lot of dust in the gravel parking lot. The heat and the dust did not make walking an enjoyable endeavor. I did spot a number of other GT/CS cars, and when possible, introduced myself to the owners.

A photo of someone taking a photo
A photo of someone taking a photo

One evening, there was a caravan into downtown Nashville, where we saw a show at the Grand Ole Opry, and enjoyed some local BBQ. By Day 3, we were ready to head home. We drove sans caravan, stopping at a B&B on the way, and taking in the scenic views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive through Virginia.

The California Special poses outside of our B&B
The California Special poses outside of our B&B

We got home without further incident. The Mustang did 2,200 miles, flawless except for the leaky heater core (for which I should have known better). Now I knew what I’d be working on during the upcoming winter!

My wife takes in the beautiful Virginia scenery
My wife takes in the Virginia scenery, pleased that there is no more green fluid to deal with

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

The Purchase of My 1968 Mustang California Special

After participating in the New England 1000 classic car rally for four years straight, I took a break. Admittedly, this “break” was dictated by circumstances; Steve had moved to California, and I had sold the MGB, so I was without a rally-eligible ride. It was fun to take the little BMW Isetta to car shows and cruise nights, but a 13 horsepower microcar was no long-distance rally contender.

Sure, you can buzz around the neighborhood, you aren't going to rally in that thing, are you?
Sure, you can buzz around the block, but you aren’t going to rally in that thing, are you?

 

By 2003, the itch to get a drivable classic car had returned full strength. And I knew what I wanted. Much of the spring and summer of that year was spent searching online for a Ford Mustang California Special.

Why this particular Mustang? The story really starts in the early 1990s, while attending a Carlisle (PA) antique car event. Rounding a corner in the flea market, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of a Mustang coupe, the likes of which I had never seen before. From some angles, especially the rear, it looked like a Shelby Mustang. But this car was a 2-door notchback, and all of Shelby’s cars were either fastbacks or convertibles. My next thought was that someone had created a one-off tribute car. Whatever it was, I needed to find out more.

After returning home and conducting some research, I was fascinated to find out, for the first time, about this very special Mustang model. Here is the capsule version of that story:


In mid-1968, the Ford Motor Company recognized that increased competition from GM (Camaro, Firebird), Chrysler (Barracuda), and AMC (Javelin) was hurting Mustang sales. Ford, encouraged by their strong Los Angeles dealer network, agreed to create a special model, to be sold only in the state of California. The California Special (also known as GT/CS) option was a $194 trim package, only for coupes, and available with any engine. Initially, the plan was to build 6,000 units. When sales results did not keep up with forecasts, dealers throughout the west were allowed to order and sell the GT/CS. No cars were ever sold east of the Mississippi. Final production total was 3,867 units out of 249,447 ’68 coupes, representing about 1.5% of total coupe production.


Steve owned a book dedicated to the GT/CS, which he generously loaned me. From this book I learned that all of its distinguishing features were external: blacked out grille, fog lamps, hood locks, side stripes and scoops, rear spoiler, pop-open gas cap, and Shelby taillamps. This was a “Shelby look” Mustang at a fraction of the price of a real Shelby.

My infatuation was growing, and was further fueled by discovery of the www.californiaspecial.com website. The search for a car began, complicated by (no surprise) seeing that most of these cars were 2,000-3,000 miles away from me! Not many California Specials wandered far from their birth place.

After about 6 months of constant searching, this ad popped up on the californiaspecial.com website:

Tony's ad from August of 2003
Tony’s ad from July of 2003

 

Several factors were immediately attractive: the car was Lime Gold, the same as my ’67 Mustang (even though the ad incorrectly described the paint as Ivy Gold, which was the interior color), and it was in Maryland. Less attractive was the 390 (this is the cue for big block fans to boo and hiss, but I preferred the Ford 289-302 small block, one of the world’s best V8s), and the price, which was about 25% higher than my target. Before proceeding any further, I bought a Marti Report for the car.

Kevin Marti runs a business whereby customers supply him with a VIN from a classic Ford product, and he supplies a report detailing the production details for that specific car. He started his company by purchasing these records directly from the Ford Motor Company. There were many warnings about GT/CS clones, and knowledgeable online forum participants stressed that a Marti Report (only $17) was one sure way to guarantee that the California Special under consideration was not a fake (or as those who practice such shenanigans would call it, “a tribute car”).

 

The Marti Report for my GT/CS, X154014
The Marti Report for my GT/CS, X154014

 

The Marti Report for the car in Maryland not only confirmed that it was a real California Special; it showed the car to be highly optioned from the factory, with air conditioning, power steering, power disc brakes, GT package, deluxe interior, and center console. One further revelation from the report: the car was sold new in Hawaii! I rang up Tony, and one Sunday in August of 2003, took a ride to Germantown MD.

On my arrival at his home, Tony had the car parked outside. I spent at least two hours going through it, flashlight and screwdriver in hand. It was solid and complete, and drove well. There were some minor faults in the paint, and underhood looked like it needed a weekend’s worth of detail work, but there was a lot to like. Knowing there was no rush, I pitched a low-ball offer to him, convinced he’d never take it, and concluded with “think about it, and we can talk during the week”. As I took out my keys and walked toward my car, Tony yelled out from 20 feet “I’ll take it!” Oops. My gambit worked.

We did the whole money and paperwork part of the deal from our respective residences, and about two weeks later, plates in hand, my step-son John and I headed down in my Volvo. He drove the Volvo home, following me in the ’68. The car drove absolutely fine the entire way, until I pulled into my driveway, at which point the mechanical fuel pump sprung a leak! My timing could not have been luckier. It also gave me my first taste of the difficulty of working on that massive engine, as the A/C compressor needed to be swung out of the way to reach the pump. But the car was on the road again in short order.

I had big plans for the Mustang for 2004, 2005, and beyond. This car was going to be driven and enjoyed.

 

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

The 1972 MGB roadster

By the year 2001, my rally brother Steve and I had participated in three New England 1000 rally events: 1998, 1999, and 2000. We had every intention of making it “four in a row”, except, we had a small problem. After each running, we had excitedly exclaimed to our girlfriends how thrilling it had been to drive the bucolic highways and byways of New England in a classic convertible with like-minded enthusiasts. After all these years of listening to our exploits while they sat at home, they wanted in.

Okay.

For Steve, that meant gearing up the Tiger for yet another run, and given its exemplary performance so far, there seemed to be nothing that would prevent the Tiger from achieving a Grand Slam.

For me, that meant obtaining a rally-eligible car.

To car collectors, this is what is known as a “good problem to have”. Many a hobbyist will tell you that the thrill is in the hunt. While I generally agree, my hunt was complicated by the facts that a) I had just gotten engaged, and there was a wedding to plan; and b) we had just purchased a house, and were planning to move into it in March.

Okay.

What do we do when faced with such challenges? Of course: we confine our search for a rally car to the local area! So it was with a great amount of fortuitousness that I happened to see an online listing for a 1972 MGB roadster, in western Hunterdon County (only 30 minutes away) for sale for $5,000. I drove out to see the car; it had some issues; I conveniently ignored them. I offered the owner payment with a personal check; he accepted. I drove the B home. Things were looking up!

To prepare the car for the upcoming rally, I installed a set of Vredestein tires (I must like that brand, as the Alfa has Vredesteins on it), and while the tires were off, resprayed the painted wheels with wire-wheel paint from Moss Motors. An oil change, a quick tune-up, and we were rally-ready.

This MGB was my first British car. Like all Bs before and after, it had a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine, in my case, producing about 95 horsepower. Carburetion was via two SUs, complete with manual choke. Transmission was a 4-speed manual, without the desirable overdrive. The color was a true ‘70s pumpkin orange, complemented by a beige and black interior. (I was later informed that the seats were out of a later-model MGB.) Braking was discs in front, drums in rear, and steering was rack & pinion. As a 1972 model, its chrome bumpers were much better-looking than the big rubber bumpers soon to come. It was an easy car to drive, and a very easy car to work on.

The complete story of our participation in the 2001 New England 1000 rally will be covered in the next blog post. Suffice to say that after three years of joyously sharing seat time in that Sunbeam Tiger, this MG proved its mettle as a formidable (albeit slower) competitor.

Spring of 2001: the MGB on the front lawn of our new home
Spring of 2001: the MGB on the front lawn of our new home; note triple wipers

 

For such a compact car (153" long), interior was roomy
For such a compact car (153″ long), interior was roomy

 

 

Interior shot shows wheel, seats, and 3rd version of B dash
Interior shot shows wheel, seats, and 3rd version of B dash

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.