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.