This Father’s Day, I had hoped to drive my 1974 Mustang II (the Soul Survivor) up to the Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Regrettably, a major oil leak put the Survivor down for the count, and I had to explore plan B- flying to Denver and hitching a ride up the hill. Thanks to a kind offer from Bob Teets, owner of this quite rare 1968 Mustang that has both the High Country Special package as well as the unusual two-barrel X-Code 390 V8. I not only got a ride, but time behind the wheel of this beautiful coupe.
Here’s a shot over the hood of my borrowed steed, as we headed west out of Denver. For those unfamiliar with Colorado geography, Steamboat Springs is located about 125 miles northwest of Denver. The quickest route takes you west about 60 miles on I-70, followed by a run north out of Dillon for about 90 miles. The first leg of the route climbs to the Eisenhower Tunnel, which is located at the top of the Rocky Mountains, at an altitude of 11,158 feet above sea level.
This second shot gives you some idea of the challenges presented by the Colorado Mountains. Although I was a good ten miles past the Hogback (Denver’s portal into the Rockies), I was headed down hill, dropping down from Genesee into the Clear Creek River canyon. Colorado averages the highest altitude of any state, and it’s mountain roads often cross from one watershed to another, running up one ridge only to drop back into a valley. This taxes both driveline and brakes, while at the same time the thin air means less oxygen for combustion, reduced heat transfer, and a lower boiling point. Thanks to all these issues, you frequently see cars parked on the shoulder of I-70, done in by the stresses of high altitude driving.
Other cars, but not Bob’s High Country Special. The HCS was simply an appearance package, so buyers could choose any engine package available in the Mustang, from the base 6 to the 428 Cobra Jet. Lucky me, Bob’s car came from the factory with a quite rare X-Code 390 FE V8, which has a two-barrel carburetor along with high compression, and rated at 280 (gross) hp. The X-Code 390 was a mid-year addition to the engine line-up. With 6.4 liters to provide twisting power, that little Mustang never ran out of breath. Bob prefers driving his other 1968 High Country Special (packing a 428 Cobra Jet), but I was very satisfied with the “limited” power available in this 390 powered car.
In Dillon, Colorado, a series of stoplights separated me from my convoy. Heading north out of town, I ended up with half a dozen cars between me and my friends. Since State Highway 9 only provides a single lane in each direction, I found myself doing the two lane passing dance, exploring full throttle acceleration with my little pony. Even at 8,500 feet in elevation, the motor provided plenty of jump, and I quickly passed the blocking traffic, joined up with my friends, and continued North to the Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup (RMMR).
Since moving to California ten years ago, I’ve tried to make it back to Steamboat every Father’s Day. The organizers do a great job with the car show, but the real attraction is spending a weekend in Steamboat Springs. The weather in June is always perfect, and visiting ski towns after the winter masses depart means decreased crowds and increased satisfaction.
On Saturday, Bob was tied up helping with event parking, so I had to rise early and drive his Mustang into town. The RMMR is a Main Street show, so by 10 AM Steamboat Springs has 500 show cars positioned up and down it’s business district. We were set up about dead center in town, so I pointed my camera both north and south, to give you a sense of the size of the show, as well as the intimate feel of this Main Street show.
After six paragraphs of travelogue, I suppose I should share some pictures of the car. This 1968 model was the final year of the High Country Special, and this shot shows most of its unique features. In addition to the Shelby style taillights, trunk lid spoiler and quarter panel scoop, the High Country Special included side stripes and a special badge.
Up front, Ford did not use Shelby body parts. Instead they removed the grille crossbars, and mounted Lucas Fog Lamps in grille opening. Most cars came with standard ’68 hood with turn signal indicators mounted in two indentations. If you want to get a better look at this signature Mustang feature, review the over the hood pictures at the top of this post.
To wrap up our exterior pictures, I took this close-up of the High Country Special badge. In 1968, Ford also brought out the California Special, which included the same body modifications. Ford built these two regional specials at the same time, but instead of a scoop badge, the West Coast car included chrome script on the fender reading “California Special.” Because Ford built many more California Specials, Mustang fans are more familiar with them, and may think they provided the inspiration for the High Country Special. However, in 1968 Ford had been building the Colorado model for three years, making it the inspiration for the California Special.
It’s been a few years since Bob restored this car, so it shows a little wear here and there. The steering wheel has some minor cracking and the vinyl at the top of the center stack is pulling away from the dashboard. Still, most of us would be more than happy to add this car to our stable. Bob keeps a John Denver 8-track in his tuner/tape player, but on the drive up, I chose not to test the drive mechanism. I’m not that familiar with the trim levels available back in 1968, but the full length console and factory tachometer tells me it must be a step or two up from the base Mustangs.
On Sunday we headed south, running through the open grazing lands in Routt County. Heading home after a long weekend is always a bit of a downer, which could explain why I began to notice a few issues. First off, the heater controls do not include a vent setting, mostly because there’s no dash mounted vent outlets. As a child of the seventies, I don’t remember driving any cars without this basic feature. Second, the recirculating ball steering lacks a certain precision. I’m sure I’ve driven better examples of this system, but based on this trip, I’ll stick with rack and pinion.
We did have one small traffic issue on the trip home, pictured here. This slow down occurred where US-6 merged with I-70, and we dealt with slow traffic from there to Idaho Springs, a distance of about 28 miles. The Colorado DOT warns of heavy traffic on this stretch of I-70 from 2 to 5 PM on Sunday afternoons but I took this picture at about noon. This weekend traffic is far worse in the winter months, and the locals tell me it has really put a damper on weekend ski trips. At the end of the day, I had a great trip- I hope you enjoyed this report as much as I enjoyed the weekend. I wanted to once again thank Bob Teets for the chance to drive his great car. For more on the High Country Mustangs and to see pictures of Bob’s 428 CJ, check out this article at the Mustang 360° web site: Rocky Mountain Highs.