Mustang

These are the Cliff Notes of my Alcan 5000 adventure in the Mustang. I wrote this for my work newsletter, so it’s written for a Ford audience, and it leaves out a lot of the smaller stories and adventures I had on this trip, but it gets to the heart of the fun and is as succinct a trip summary as I could write. Enjoy!


Driving the Dalton Highway was a wonderful experience, but it took its toll on the car.

Every two years, a group of cars and motorcycles embark on a long road rally, starting in the Seattle area and ending up in Fairbanks, Alaska. Known as the Alcan 5000, it alternates between a summer rally and a winter one. A friend of mine who signed up to do the summer Alcan 5000 (on a motorbike!) in 2018 convinced me to sign up too. It didn’t take much convincing, as driving to Alaska had long been on my bucket list.

Even better, there was a road rally class for vintage cars. I could run my favorite road trip machine, my ’66 Mustang, in the rally with other like-minded fools who eschewed smart Alaska-bound vehicle choices such as Subarus and Jeeps.

I signed up for the road rally in 2016 and had two years to prepare. When I interviewed for a different internal position at Ford at the beginning of 2018, the first thing I told my prospective boss was that I was going to be taking a month off of work for a trip, and that if that wasn’t okay, we could end the interview immediately. Luckily for me, he was cool with it.

After thrashing about preparing the car, with just three weeks to shakedown the car after a 5-speed transmission swap, I had to hit the road and headed west. I would not be shipping my car to Seattle – I was determined to drive it there and see some sights along the way.

I passed into Canada through Portal, North Dakota, and drove through Moosejaw and Calgary to arrive at Banff National Park. I did the touristy thing of hiking around Lake Louise and shooting pictures of the night sky, as well as non-touristy things such as replacing a broken speedometer cable and replacing the rear leaf springs on the car. Thank goodness for the U-Wrench in Calgary, where I was able to rent a lift by the hour, and The Mustang Shop, which had all of the replacement parts I needed.

From Banff National Park, I headed west, crossing the Canadian Rockies. I popped back into the States and headed to Seattle, where I picked up my codriver for the rally, who had flown in from Detroit.

The start of the Alcan 5000 was in Kirkland, Washington. The day of registration, I brought the Mustang to the starting hotel and got a chance to meet my competitors and see what they were driving.

I was not the only one there with a 60’s Ford. There was a beautiful robin’s egg blue Mercury Comet Caliente present, as well as a real-deal Shelby GT350H. The Mercury was well-prepped for over-the-road racing, with a roll cage, twin radio aerials on the rear fenders, a massive 30+ gallon fuel cell, and nearly all of the spares one could ever need for a small block Ford. The Shelby was previously a vintage road race car, now “converted” – massive air quotes necessary – to a road rally car; it still had stiff suspension and was slammed to the ground, and could wake up an entire city block with a crank of the key.

The other members of Team Ford.

My stock Mustang was nothing special in the company of these two cars. Despite this, us three Ford teams instantly bonded, if nothing for the fact that we could help each other out when the time came.

Another car running vintage was a Triumph TR6, run by a father/son pair that also hailed from Detroit. The pops was also crazy like me and drove his car out instead of having it shipped. Rounding out the vintage class were a pair of classic Minis.

Also representing Ford were also two engineers, who were originally supposed to join us in the vintage class with their engine-swapped Jaguar. However, they didn’t finish their car, so they took a modern SUV to the rally instead. At least they made it to the start; a friend of mine and fellow Ford colleague had tried driving his ’35 Ford pickup from Detroit to Kirkland, only to run into engine problems in Wisconsin, aborting their rally start and nursing the truck back home.

Day 1 of the road rally didn’t go all that well. My codriver and I did fine for the first road rally stage, located south of the Canadian border. We ran into trouble on the transit to the second road rally stage, getting caught in a 1-hour backup at the border crossing. In order to make it to the second rally stage start on time, I tailed an insane Canadian local in a pickup truck towing an empty trailer, the two of us racing up and down the mountains at 80 mph while I nervously watched my temperature gauge. We made it to the rally stage start a mere four minutes before our out time; the adrenaline was rushing so hard that we then proceeded to absolutely botch the second rally stage anyway.

After a disastrous Day 2 where we were once again badly off the ideal time, my codriver and I switched places. He became the driver, and I took over navigation duties. We did much, much better on the rest of the road rally legs. If I had been navigating from the beginning, we could have avoided the fiascos that were the first two days and had an overall rally podium.

Traveling into the Yukon.

The road rally stages were short affairs on each day, with most of the time spent in transit from place to place. We drove north through British Columbia, with one of our overnight stops being the small town of Stewart. The two-lane road leading into Stewart cuts right through a mountain range. The Fords, Mercury, and Triumph had somehow bunched together during the transit section, and we were all racing to the day’s check-in as the sun slowly sank behind the mountains. It’s an experience I will never forget: three V8s and a straight six, exhaust notes echoing through the hills as headlights carved, like laser beams, through the slowly encroaching darkness. We stopped briefly at a glacier to take pictures, where I set up my tripod and took a group picture of the four cars and teams, before we hopped back in and raced to the overnight hotel. We were the last four teams to check in that day.

The rally continued north into the Yukon, with a stop in Watson Lake, home of the famous Sign Post Forest. As someone who had ordered both a front and a rear plate for his Michigan vehicle, I stopped by the Sign Post Forest during the overnight, removed the bug-splattered front plate from my Mustang, and used some spare trim screws I had stashed away in the trunk to fasten the license plate to a post in the Forest. If you spot a Michigan plate reading “SWNGN66” on your own trip to the Sign Post Forest, now you know how it got there.

A stop by the Sign Post Forest.

My Mustang started giving me trouble by the time we had reached Teslin. We pulled into a gas station and filled her up, after which the car refused to start. While pondering my predicament, I decided to buy a Teslin sweatshirt from the gas station gift shop, the souvenir now an eternal reminder of exactly where I broke down. We push started the car, skipping the special rally control in Skagway, Alaska, and headed straight to Whitehorse.

We weren’t the only ones have issues with our old rides. One of the Minis had a transmission failure, resulting in the team abandoning their car and swapping to a rental car, with a plan to tow the Mini back home after the rally finished. The Shelby GT350H was having clutch issues, and the three Ford vehicles caravanned to Whitehorse and we promptly started wrenching upon arrival in the hotel parking lot.

Having had to fiddle with the manual clutch linkage in my Mustang for years before finally replacing it with a hydraulic setup during my transmission swap, I was more than familiar with its weaknesses. One of the linkage bushings had worn out, resulting in a lot of off-axis play, which resulted in the clutch linkage attempting to occupy the same space as the header when pushing the clutch pedal in. I grabbed a hammer and a long pry bar and started hammering away at the header to gain some clearance.

As I reached over the fender of the Shelby, I noticed that there were dozens of little pock marks where gravel thrown up from the front tire had impacted the fender from underneath and broken the paint on top. Then I realized that I was hammering away on a car that was worth more than my house. Still, better to see the world in your Shelby GT350H than to have it sit forlornly in the garage.

My spell was broken when another rallyist strode up and remarked, “Looks like you need a bigger hammer.” We got enough clearance after about 15 minutes of banging and prying.

Suddenly, my starter started working just fine when in the hotel parking lot. Unsure of what had “fixed” it, I took a hammer from my tool kit in the trunk and put it in the glovebox, just in case pounding on the starter was a workable fix for the next time the car failed to crank.

The rally continued north to Dawson City, where the city streets were dirt and the only way to cross the raging river next to it was a ferry. For a town that probably doesn’t typically see more than a dozen vehicles waiting to get across the river, it took nearly two hours for the single ferry to move all 100 rally and rally support vehicles across.

We crossed back into the United States at Little Gold, where we encountered some of the most enthusiastic and dedicated border agents I’ve ever seen. A sign next to the border dutifully notified us that the population of Little Gold at the time was 3.

I pulled into the line behind many of the other rallyists waiting for our turn to show our documents. Outside, a cold wind was blowing, with a heavy drizzle swirling around that made me very pleased that my old Mustang still had an excellent heater. They had one agent manning the single station window, and another agent outside checking documents too.

I was motioned to pull up to the agent standing outside in the miserable cold. I rolled my window down just a crack.

“Come on man,” said the border agent. “I’m out here, at least meet me halfway.”

I looked at him. Dressed in brown shorts, with a formerly pressed but now getting soaked light tan work shirt, a wide brimmed park ranger’s hat on his head, and a wide grin on his face, I couldn’t believe that someone dressed as such could look so upbeat in such terrible weather. He was right. I rolled my window all the way down.

Documents checked, we continued on, driving through the clouds in one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever done in my life. We were driving along the spine of a massive ridge, with nothing but steep green slopes on either side of the narrow road. Occasionally, you’d see through a break in the clouds and the fog that you were in the middle of a seemingly never ending series of rolling green hills. If you wanted to make a dream sequence for a Hollywood blockbuster, it could very well look and feel like this.

We overnighted at Copper Center, using that as a springboard for driving out to one of the special rally controls, the isolated town of McCarthy. I filled the Mustang’s gas tank at Kenny Lake, hoping to top it off at Chitina, 30 miles up the road. Unfortunately for me, the lone gas pump at Chitina wasn’t working, so I had to make the 190 mile round trip between Kenny Lake and McCarthy on a single tank of gas. Not a problem in any modern car, but potentially a problem with an ancient carbureted V8 and a stock 16 gallon fuel tank.

The road to McCarthy from Chitina follows the path of the railroad that once connected McCarthy and Kennecott to the rest of the world. In fact, the road is simply gravel dumped on top of the railroad ties – that have been left in place! – after the rails were removed. Suffice to say, it’s a very bumpy and very rough ride.

We were the only classic car entry foolish enough to attempt a journey out to McCarthy. In an attempt to save as much fuel as possible, I decided to drive the McCarthy road with the transmission shifted into 5th gear, and tested the theory that if you drive fast enough, you can “skip” over the potholes and the ride won’t be as rough. The ride was still pretty rough. Imagine the worst pothole ridden stretch of Michigan road you can think of, drive 45 mph over it, and do that for a full hour and a half. It was hell on the car and hell on our spines. But I didn’t lose a tire or a wheel, and nothing in the suspension or steering broke or bent. Thank goodness for 14” wheels and very tall sidewall tires…

We made it to McCarthy, leaving the Mustang in the visitor lot and taking a shuttle bus up to see the ruins of the Kennecott Mines. After exploring for the better part of a day, we returned to the Mustang for another hour and a half of spine crushing punishment to return to smooth pavement.

On the way out, we found a white 15-passenger van and trailer laying on its side in a ditch. About a dozen people, thankfully unhurt, were waiting by the side of the road for help. I volunteered to pull their van out of the ditch, saying “I’ve got a V8.” They laughed and politely refused my offer.

Arriving back at the lodge in Copper Center, we were treated to an amazing night sky. Everywhere else around us was blanketed by clouds, yet miraculously, we had clear skies above, giving us a perfect view of the northern lights as they danced above a faraway mountain range.

I grabbed my camera and spent two hours photographing the aurora above the landscape. Suddenly, I was inspired to do a self-portrait with the northern lights, and I wanted my car to be in the picture. I ran back to my hotel room, grabbed the keys to the Mustang, and left the hotel parking lot, taking the Mustang into the rocky trails surrounding the lodge in search of a good place to take the photo.

I found a suitable place out in a forest clearing and set my camera up. I kept shooting for another 30 minutes before exhaustion finally took over and I had to retire for the night. We were still running a road rally, after all, and there were still rally stages that I had to be fully awake and prepared for.

Mustang under the northern lights.

From Copper Center, the rally continued on to Fairbanks. The final special rally checkpoint that I was absolutely determined to hit was the Arctic Circle sign 200 miles north of the city.

With a full tank of gas, we left Fairbanks and headed north on the Dalton Highway. As it was a 400-mile round trip, we absolutely had to get fuel at the Yukon River Camp, in between Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle. If we couldn’t get fuel there, we’d be stuck, with not enough fuel to get to and return from the Arctic Circle sign, or have enough fuel to return back to Fairbanks.

Naturally, right before we arrived, some dolt had accidentally ripped the gas nozzle from the pump. Some of the rally bikes had to wait around for the gas nozzle to be replaced, and it was replaced right before we arrived in the Mustang. Whew, we almost got stranded on the banks of the Yukon River!

Then we did get stranded. I decided to park the Mustang next to the oil pipeline and take a picture, after which the Mustang refused to start. Damn. No amount of hitting the starter with the hammer would get the starter to turn. Embarrassingly, I had to ask some tourists at the nearby ranger shack to help me push the car up the slight hill to level ground, then push start the car.

We continued on to the Arctic Circle sign, arriving there without any mishaps. Before shutting off the car, I made sure to point the car downhill so I could pop the clutch and start the car again. We took silly pictures at the sign and chatted it up with the other rallyists that made it there.

The Mustang makes it to the Arctic Circle.

Before we left, me and my codriver took a group picture with the crazy motorbike friend that convinced us to go on this crazy adventure in the first place.

I drove the Mustang back to the Yukon River Camp, and without shutting the car off, filled the tank and continued on. I parked the car in the hotel parking lot, where it would not move for several hours, as I went back and forth between the parking lot and a local auto parts store trying to get the right replacement starter for the car. But I finally got a new starter in, and the car was ready to rock once more.

Rally over, my friends and I spent half a week camping and hiking in Denali National Park. Another quartet of friends flew in to Fairbanks to join us, resulting in a 7-person strong group, with three of us crammed into the Mustang, and the rest in a rental car. I booked campgrounds at the Teklanika RV campground, allowing us to drive directly into the park, which is otherwise not allowed. We spent a couple of days hiking and camping, finishing out the camping trip with a soak at the nearby Chena Hot Springs.

Everyone, save for two people, flew out from Fairbanks back home to the Lower 48. I handed the keys to the Mustang to my two Canadian friends, who then proceeded to spend another week and a half with the car, driving it back from Fairbanks to Detroit. After five weeks on the road, my Mustang finally pulled into my driveway, having added 10k miles to the odometer.

Check one item off the bucket list. It was an experience with friends and a beloved car that I will never forget.

Debating what to do with the Mustang

Four weeks ago, I handed my keys off to my friend Dan, hopped on an airplane, and flew from Fairbanks, Alaska back home to Detroit. Dan then proceeded to bring the car home for me, taking the car on his own adventures, driving the car from Alaska through Canada and finally back home to Detroit, pulling into my driveway three weeks ago.

“Canadian Dan,” as he is called in my circle of friends, is one hell of a wrench, a lover a beat up jalopies, and perhaps just as crazy as the friends who joined me for the Alcan 5000, and was the perfect guy to hire to “deliver” my car back home for me. When he offered to drive the car back for me sometime earlier this year, it was an easy decision to make; I wrote him a check for what I estimated would be the cost of shipping my Mustang back home via truck transport, and told him to have fun. He could do whatever he wanted with the car, I’d cover any additional parts and repair costs, and the only requirement was that the car eventually make it home.

During his trip back to Michigan, Dan had to do a little bit of work on the car to ensure its survival back to my driveway. And, by “a little bit of work” I mean do a basic tune-up of the car, replace nearly all of the ball joints in the suspension, tighten up everything that had rattled itself loose over the course of two weeks of hard driving on extremely rough roads at arguably foolish speeds, and put the spare tire on the car to replace a front tire that had nearly completely worn down the inside edge as a result of the very compromised suspension geometry.

Dan, tending to front suspension issues while in Calgary.

There were some things that went unresolved. Dan tightened up the wheel bearings as best he could, but he recommended that they be replaced as soon as possible. During our text message conversations, I told Dan to do as little as possible to the suspension, as the plan was to rip all of it out and replace it with new stuff. Anything he put on the car during his drive back home wouldn’t be on the car in a matter of months, if not weeks.

When the Mustang finally arrived back home, she was shuffled into the garage and promptly abandoned as I turned my attention to my Volvo 245 wagon and my Mazda Miata. I didn’t drive the Mustang until several days later, when I decided to take the Mustang out to Dollar Burgers night on a Sunday evening.

A funny thing happened as I drove the car the short 30 minutes to the bar — I found myself in the unusual position of not trusting the car, despite having spent 8,000 miles just weeks earlier pounding the roads with this car all the way up to the frontiers of Alaska. The car drove sort of the same as before, but everything was just a bit… off. The clutch effort was all wrong and the clutch pick up point was much lower than I remembered, and more worryingly, there was a constant low whine that would pick up in pitch as one approached highway speeds. I checked the clutch assembly after the drive and found that the push rod for the clutch master was being pushed off axis, and I’m pretty sure that constant whine I was hearing were the wheel bearings protesting their current condition.

After getting burgers and drinks that evening, I pulled the car into the garage, hooked it up to the battery tender, and let it sit. It’s been sitting in the garage ever since.

The Mustang as it currently sits, in limbo as I try to make up my mind.

The issues

No surprise, the car is in pretty poor condition. The paint, which I’ve beat up before doing local road rallies on rough roads and many thousands of highway miles, is looking much worse for wear now. The suspension, as noted earlier, is completely shot, and much needs to be replaced. I can’t be certain that nothing in the front suspension is bent until I take everything apart and inspect. The cheap KYB shocks, installed right before the road rally and meant to serve as placeholders before upgrading the suspension, are very much worn out.

Driving the Dalton Highway was a wonderful experience, but it took its toll on the car.

The biggest issue I have with the car, which honestly has been the “big issue” with the car for many years, is the body. The car is mostly rust free, but there is rust in the rear quarter panels forming, and I’m all but certain that there’s rust underneath the windshield and backlight seals, both of which look to be original to the car and probably have been slowly leaking water into the interior and the trunk for the past two decades.

Before the trip, I discovered that a seam in the floors right behind the driver seat that opened up, letting water splash onto the carpet in the rear driver side passenger footwell and soak the carpet anytime the car is driven through the rain. For me to be happy with the body, I’d want new rear fenders, new window seals all around (and to perform rust repair or treatment found during said seal replacement), and new floors on the car.

Redoing the body would also allow me to fix all of the little niggling things on the car that has bothered my OCD ever since I became knowledgeable about Mustangs. Whomever painted the car back from the non-stock dark metallic blue back to the stock celery green color went through all the trouble of doing a decent repaint, but couldn’t be bothered to put the badges in the right fucking place? The GT badge was placed in the wrong spot on both front fenders, and the Mustang letters were placed over the tape stripe (instead of the cutting the tape stripe out) — and were even spaced out totally incorrectly. The worst part? These badges and letters are pinned to the body, so someone went to the effort of putting them in the wrong place.

The engine, while still running strong, is definitely in need of some help as well. It used to be that it would only smoke on startup, but now there’s a constant fine white smoke coming from the tail pipes at all times. It burns about a quart of oil every 1k miles, and is probably due for a rebuild. I suppose I did get plenty of use out of the motor — it was rebuilt at some unknown point by the previous owner, and then I proceeded to put another 40k miles on the thing in the six years that I’ve owned it. I do wonder if I’m going to be in for a surprise when I open up this motor; judging by all of the “surprises” I’ve found on the body and the electrical system, I really shouldn’t be surprised if something weird comes up in the “I don’t have any specs for you, I just wrote a check to the engine builder and told them to make it better” motor.

The original Plan A: Fix this car

The original plan, upon return from Alaska, was to treat the car to the full rebuild it deserves. I’d remove the engine, remove the wiring harness, strip out the interior, and send the car away to a restoration shop for metal repair and paint. I’d get the car back and then reassemble it myself in the garage, fixing all of the little annoying things as I went along.

During the rebuild, I’d make the car the ultimate long distance cruiser I’ve always wanted it to be. Any poor condition interior parts would be replaced with new. I’d install three point belts to go with the headrest-equipped and heavily bolstered reclining seats I now have installed in the car. I’d clean up the audio wiring and figure out a better solution for the sound system. Maybe I’d add a tilt column steering wheel to make it easier for me and others to get in and out of the car.

On the ride and handling side, I wanted to go ahead and lower the car 1 inch all around, doing the Shelby drop on the front axle (better camber curve) and replacing the rear springs with lower, stiffer leafs. On the front, I’d either go with the traditional 600 in/lb coil springs, or go full hog and put in the Street or Track front coilover system that I really like. Either way, the front suspension would get all new arms and strut rods, and the tie rod ends would be replaced with modern-style tie rod ends with adjustments for fighting bump steer. Tying everything together would be the Maier Racing subframe connectors and their z-brace, with a Maier Racing panhard bar locating the rear axle. I wanted sort of a “Street Touring Lite” build for my Mustang — enough work to make it a little less floppy and a more predictable car to drive at the limit, but still comfortable enough to drive 10k miles in three weeks.

I’d do the most basic motor rebuild possible. I’m not looking for more power, just reliability. Stock heads, stock intake manifold, stock cast iron headers. Basic.

And finally, if the budget allowed for it, I’d put throttle body fuel injection on the motor and upgrade the fuel system to match. If I still had more money to burn, I’d put air conditioning in the car, the cherry on top for a fully functioning, extremely comfortable, long distance cruiser with the chops to keep up with sports cars on twisty roads.

The goal would be to rebuild the car in three years, getting it ready for the London to Lisbon road rally in Europe. One of the Alcan rallyists planted that idea in my head after talking about how he might take his rally-prepared Mercury overseas to do the rally. It’d be really cool for both of us to be there together.

Plan B: Get another Mustang

The only problem with my original plan is that it will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to rebuild this particular car. The fiscally sensitive side of me insists that the proper thing to do is abandon this Mustang and go buy another Mustang that someone else has already restored, and then proceed to do all of the fun things to that Mustang instead.

There’s no denying that Plan B would ultimately be a cheaper and faster route to a cool, road cruising and road-rallying Mustang. I wouldn’t have to spend any time or money or effort on bodywork, which would be the biggest drag on executing Plan A.

Going this route does deal a blow to the irrational, emotional side of me though. Me and this Mustang have been through a lot. It introduced me to new friends and solidified a friendship when I took it down to Charlotte, North Carolina for the 50th birthday celebration that the Mustang Club of America threw for the Ford Mustang, solidified another friendship when I took a friend out on a local road rally, not to mention all of the countless road trips I’ve taken with the car, with one cross-country road trip to California, Oregon, and back plus this recent trip to Alaska. I know every mechanical, electrical, and sheet metal niggle on this car, and has weathered all of the battle scars I’ve inflicted on the car — and there are a lot — without quitting.

Emotionally, this feels like my Mustang and it feels like I should “do it right” and fix it up.

But here comes to logical side of me, arguing that it’s just a conglomeration of metal and fabric and that it can be replaced with another assembly of metal and fabric. And I browse Hemmings and Craigslist and eBay, the excitement of submitting to my car ADD slowly creeps in as well.

I estimate that it would take $20-25k to do the body work on my car, and that’s before the cost and labor or putting the thing back together. That kind of money can buy a really nice Mustang coupe. I could even sample a different flavor of Mustang this time, and get a ’67 or ’68, cars marginally larger than my ’66 but with the benefit of not looking stupid on 17″ wheels and modern tires. There are choices abound.

Plan C: Get a different car

Alternatively, I could completely submit to my car ADD and simply get myself a completely “new” classic car. The itch for a Model A Ford has come back with a vengeance, and I’m still young enough that I could enjoy such a car doing dumb trips and adventures that perhaps I would be unwilling to do in the future when I’m 20 years older.

There are also a whole plethora of other more modern classic cars that I could sample and enjoy. I could save my pennies and instead of blowing $30k on a nicer Mustang, I could try and stretch and buy something a little different. I could get an 80’s air cooled Porsche 911 before they become truly unattainable for someone like me, or delve deeper into the world of British sports cars. Maybe the correct answer is that I buy another Morgan Plus 4, this time one that I wouldn’t have to rebuild and restore to be happy with.

I’m reminded though every time I go drive a different old classic car that there was a reason I ended up choosing a Mustang over all of the other fascinating (and pretty) options that I was considering at the time: Mustangs look cool, are easy to maintain, and most importantly, are easy to drive long distances. The Mustang has proven itself to be an excellent road trip car in a way that few other classic cars can match. Who knows? Maybe I’d try to run Plan C only to end up back at Plan B.

Maybe I’d choose something similar to a Mustang but different. There are plenty of options from the GM side of things — the Camaro the Grand Prix or GTO immediately come to mind.

Plan D: Sell the car, reduce the fleet down to two cars

I could just sell the Mustang (and the Volvo, though it’s slated for departure regardless of what happens to the Mustang) and not replace it.I would just have a Fiesta ST and a Miata. This would be the most fiscally sensible option, but it might be a bridge too far for someone who bought a house specifically for its four car garage…

Saving up money for the Mustang fund

So assuming I do either Plan A, B, or C, I’m going to need money. The amount of money will depend on how resource intensive I want this replacement or refurbishment to be.

I’ve got my budget planned out for next year, and I’ve tried to balance out all of my competing priorities into something that I’m happy with.

The problem is that, as I’ve gotten older, my priorities have shifted into something that younger me probably wouldn’t recognize. I’d like to, for example, redo the kitchen in my house. That alone would be a $10-12k proposition, and one I would never consider in my younger years, but here we are. That said, the budget is biased towards the Mustang, so if I need to limp along with my kitchen for a few more years, I can do so. But the fact that it’s now a thing I want to do is telling.

Also, I’m making a shift in my motorsports plans to something that may or may not end up being more expensive than the usual autocross stuff I do. I’ve been having a lot of fun running my Miata at the new SCCA Time Trials series, and plan to run as much of the new-for-2019 season as I possibly can. If things go well, then all I need to do for the Miata is feed it tires. If things don’t go well, I’ll have to budget for further improvements or — hopefully it doesn’t happen — repairs should I drive my car into a wall.

According to my budget, I’ll have $14k saved up for Mustang things by the end of next year. If I sell the Volvo, I can add $3-5k to that amount. Then I figure that I have $2k in unused car parts that I can sell, and about $1k in unused film cameras and lenses to rehome. Next year’s bonus, if we even get one, would go directly to the Mustang fund as well. I could have about $25k saved up for Mustang things by the end of next year, and that’s with me still maintaining my current 401k and investments savings rate and a couple thousand dollars for doing Time Trials stuff with the Miata. Anything else I save on top can go towards the Kitchen fund.

The time scales involved in saving up the money — borrowing money to restore a car is pretty stupid — to rebuild the Mustang seems daunting to me. I wonder if that’s going to be what pushes me over the edge to get rid of the current Mustang and get something else; instant gratification is a tempting seductress and it’s hard for me to resist.

In the meantime, the Mustang sits in garage with four blown shocks, two bad wheel bearings, and an engine constantly puffs out a thin white cloud of smoke. It’s still sitting there, waiting for me to make my decision…

When I got my Mustang back, the shop had installed the Maier Racing subframe connectors, z-brace, and panhard bar, and modified the OEM-type replacement exhaust I had gotten from National Parts Depot. However, clearances were tight, and in order to fit everything, the rear end of the car had to be lowered with a 1″ block in order to provide clearance for the driveshaft, and the exhaust had no clearance in several places, making contact with the z-brace.

After calling Maier Racing, I was informed that, yes, the car needed to be lowered about an inch in order to use the z-brace on the car. I suppose this is as good a time as any to go ahead and lower the car a bit and stiffen up the suspension some, with a 1″ drop all around and doing the Shelby drop for the front upper A-arm, which also nets me a better camber curve for the front wheels.

In the meantime, though, I had to do something about all of the clanking about when driving the car on the street. I finally decided that the easiest solution would be to simply remove the z-brace.

So that’s what I did tonight. Kinda sucks to spend money on a part, then more money on having it welded in, only to remove it two days after getting the car back. But I’ve got just two and a half weeks before the car leaves for Seattle, so simple and quick fixes are the name of the game now.

I’ll drive to work tomorrow and see if things have improved. I can’t imagine that they haven’t. Next up: fixing all of the electrical gremlins that have suddenly popped up on the car after the turn signal switch was replaced…

Hooray! I’m getting my Mustang back today! Drove it for the first time in about two years. There’s still plenty of work to be done, though…

Progress on the Mustang continues. Part of the exhaust has been fabbed. Next step is the installation of the panhard bar and then the routing of the exhaust through the panhard bar. And, of course, to top it all off, subframe connectors. I should be getting the car back sometime next week…

Whelp, time is up. Justin and Jason helped me button up the last couple of tasks I had on the whiteboard last night. Bled the clutch, gave up on the exhaust, and attempted to start the car. The good news: with a little bit of coaxing (and some starting fluid), the V8 roared to life after one and a half years of hibernation. The bad news: the clutch won’t disengage, so either there’s still a shit ton of air in the clutch hydraulics or I messed up the internal clutch slave installation. It’s halfway through the month, and my next three weekends are booked, so it’s time to call in the heavy cavalry: Scottie and his merry band of professional (read: not hacks like me) wrenches will have to set things right.

I’m so close to driving the car out of the garage. Brakes are all done. I still need to bleed the clutch and install the exhaust. After some more fiddling, I decided that I need to ditch my H-pipe and go buy another one. I also discovered that my brake lights aren’t working, so add one more thing to the to-do list. But once the clutch is done, I could theoretically drive the car around the block with open headers and no brake lights. (I’m sure the neighbors would love me…)

A little bit of progress tonight. I installed the driver seat, fit the center console, and tucked my auxiliary wiring behind the console. No carpet, as carpet isn’t necessary for the car to run, and I’m still deciding on whether or not I want to patch the floors before Alaska. You bet your ass I sat down in the drivers seat and did some daydreaming.

One thing that I did discover is that the Procar Rally seats that I bought sit really high. They are super comfortable, with really nice side bolsters, but the bolsters make it difficult to get in and out of the car, and my legs are right next to the steering wheel, with my hands hitting my thighs when I turn the wheel. I can lower the seat by a single mounting hole on the bracket, but that will only net me about half an inch, which I don’t think will be enough.

I don’t want to go back to the stock, unbolstered, no headrests stock seats though. Maybe if I have the floors replaced, I can have the shop lower the seat mounting boxes so I can use these seats. Or I might have to go to a different seat altogether.

Trip plans for the Alcan 5000

As work continues on the Mustang, I’m finalizing my plans for this year’s summer road trip.

A year and a half ago, my friend Dmitry decided to sign up for the Alcan 5000, a road rally that runs from Seattle, Washington, up through Canada on the Alaskan Highway, into Alaska, continuing north until you hit the Arctic Circle, and finishing down south in Fairbanks. Dmitry signed up for the rally on a motorcycle, because he’s nuts.

I’m not quite as nuts as he is. Therefore, I decided to sign up for the rally in a 50-year old car: my old ’66 Mustang. So I’m still arguably nuts, just not quite as nuts as Dmitry. A friend of mine, Mike Boryca, also signed up for the Alcan 5000 in a vintage car. I convinced my friend Brandon Boyd to serve as my navigator for the rally.

I had just completed an 8k mile road trip in the Mustang, traveling from Michigan to California, up to Washington State, and back to Michigan. A road trip to Alaska would be a similar distance, so the Mustang, already having proven itself a more-than-capable long distance road trip machine, would be perfect for the Alcan.

For the past year, I’ve been keeping track of my travel plans in a Google Doc, just like I did with my previous road trip in the Mustang. In the year since I started planning, a couple of people have joined in the adventure. For better or worse, these folks are already well versed in foolish adventures, either with me or on their own. (more…)

Nuts, both figuratively and literally! I neglected to buy hardware for hanging the mufflers, and I don’t have any 1/4″ nuts and bolts in my workbench cubbies that will work. Naturally, I discover this after all the local hardware stores have closed. Either way, the fitment of the exhaust so far has me quite worried — you may notice that the exhaust is slightly canted towards the passenger side of the car, which makes me suspect that the h-pipe I bought wasn’t bent correctly — so this exhaust job probably won’t be a single-evening type deal.

I have four things left to do on the car: 1) install the exhaust, 2) bolt the seat in, 3) bleed the brakes, and 4) bleed the clutch. Installation of the carpet, the passenger seat, and the hood can wait until I’ve taken the car around the block at least once.