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.

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.