Back to the old cars for this week’s installment. Selling the Grand Marquis was quite a relief (and a hit to the bank account), but I was still interested in having another old car. This time I figured I’d make a choice that was more conventional, possibly easier to own, and definitely more fun than a Panther-body barge with a wounded transmission. This was a good idea, but it didn’t last…
The Fox body Mustang is a pretty safe choice for cheap collector wheels. They’re pretty plentiful, parts are available and cheap, and the possibilities for restoration or customization are endless. I started looking for one because my parents had owned several in the ’80s that we used as family cars. The back seat was not exactly the best place to be when you’re a 6-foot tall teenager who didn’t want to get too close to your sibling. My dad started with an ’84 Mustang GT in copper with the special TRX wheels, 5- speed manual, and the oh-so-80s T-tops. As I recall, we were able to get it barely used from a local dealer because it scared the daylights out of the person who bought it so they traded it in a year after they bought it. That car was definitely fast, but the ride was monumentally harsh (especially in the back seat). I also recall that the car had the Ford “Premium Sound” system that had an odd pull-down switch (like a headlight switch) beneath the steering wheel to turn Premium Sound on and off. The stereo was pretty sub-par with the Premium Sound on, and absolutely awful with it off. Never could figure out why they’d spend extra for a switch to make things worse. My dad traded that car in on an ’86 GT automatic, mostly because my mom didn’t want to drive stick (she said she didn’t have three feet so she wasn’t going to drive anything with three pedals). I did get to drive this one quite a bit as I’d gotten my license by ’86, and it was equally fun and equally harsh-riding, especially on bombed-out Ohio roads.
By the time I sold the Grand Marquis, the bad memories of the harsh ride and noisy interior had faded, leaving only the fond memories of being able to peg the (85-mph) speedo on that ’86. As fate would have it, an ’87 Mustang GT convertible in “Resale Red” showed up at the dealer where I bought the Town Car. The car had just over 40,000 miles on it, had the proper manual transmission, and was in great (but not perfect) shape. Since I couldn’t get to the dealership to view it in person, I learned from my Mercury mistake and asked for loads of undercarriage photos to ensure it wasn’t going to be another corrosion-laden money pit. The car was a bit on the expensive side (maybe $10k as I recall), but it was one of the nicest driver-quality GTs I’d found. I liked the idea of a convertible, too, especially for a weekend car. Around here, there are probably a couple of weeks out of the year where it’s not too hot or too cold to enjoy alfresco motoring, so a fun convertible was appealing. In a perfect world I’d have found a “four-eye” ’86 GT like my dad had, but you take what you can get. The ’87 was a bit nicer inside, as it was the first year for the redesigned instrument panel that wasn’t directly lifted from the Fairmont/Zephyr twins (like the austere orange ’78 Zephyr my wife had as her first car, with a rockin’ 85 hp from a 3.3 liter straight six).
As with any old car purchase, there were of course a few things to do once I got the car. I had the car delivered to my office, and I took one look at the age-cracked tires and got on the phone with a local tire shop (I didn’t want to go too far on these ancient tires). Of course, the Mustang GT used an odd sized tire (fairly wide, but with a small 15-inch rim), so my choices were limited and were various levels of expensive. Since I wasn’t in the mood to go big with some reproduction Goodyear Gatorback tires that are now offered for Mustangs that run about $300 a tire, I went with what fit and was in stock. Cosmetically the car was in great shape – some elbow grease on the paint and some shampoo on the seats and carpet was really all it took to make it look great. The top wasn’t torn or rotted, and the window seals were mostly intact. I got a few minor leaks from the door windows when I washed the car, but that’s not surprising for a 30 year old convertible.
Driving this car was certainly a throwback for me. The car handled much like the ones my family had in the ‘80s, the engine note was just the right amount of loud, and the car garnered a lot of thumbs-up from fellow motorists. The odd ignition switch interlock that manual transmission Fords of the day had was present here, and it didn’t take me long to get back in the habit of tripping it with my knee as I shut the engine off just like I did in my first Thunderbird. (You can just barely see the white switch in the dashboard photo above.) Maybe it was just the optimism of old age, but I thought the ’87 Mustang rode a bit better than I recalled our family Mustangs did. Would I want to drive the car every day? Probably not, but it sure was fun for a trip to Dairy Queen!
The convertible bodystyle was also a throwback – the last time I’d been in a convertible with any regularity was in the early ‘80s when my dad convinced my mom to let him buy a ’72 Olds Cutlass convertible as my first car (I think I was 12 or 13 at the time, so you can see the sales job). Fun with the top down, but not the greatest driving experience with the top up. Like that Cutlass, the Mustang came with an unlined top so things got pretty noisy at speed.
One of the biggest revelations for me was when I went online to look for some repair and restoration parts. Unlike my Thunderbird and Town Car with parts supply being mainly from unobtanium NOS sources, Fox-body Mustang parts were easy to get and reasonably priced. Reproduction interior parts for the Super Coupe? Forget it – the best you can get are used parts that may only be slightly nicer than what you already have. Reproduction Mustang interior parts? You bet – what year, what color, what style? We can have those at your doorstep tomorrow. The idea that I could replace knobs and switches that were worn, get OEM-style floormats and replacement carpets, exterior trim pieces – virtually anything I needed – was amazing to me. Even things like yellowed headlights and aged taillights could be replaced for very reasonable prices. The car didn’t need that much work when I got it, but it was good that I had the option to buy almost anything I needed.
The downside of owning a Fox-body Mustang is the flip side of the benefit – Ford made a ton of these cars, and people like driving them, so the car didn’t exactly stand out in the car shows. There are a lot of very nice Mustangs out there, so my car didn’t look unique like the Thunderbird or Town Car did. The Mustang crowd did make up for it by being a lot of fun at the shows. Back home, though, people did really like to see it on the road and I did get quite a few compliments on it.
After all that, you’d think that I would still have it, right? Well, not exactly. I ended up selling it after only owning it for about six months. The good part was that I was right in thinking I’d be able to sell it quickly if I had to and that I wouldn’t lose any money when I did. I was able to sell the car for about what I paid for it in the space of about a week. It wasn’t a popular choice to sell it – most of my coworkers asked me why I would give up a great car like that. What was my motivation? Well, another car on my bucket list came up, and it was one that a) I had wanted to own for a while, and b) was nearly impossible to find in any condition, let alone the relatively untouched original condition of the example I found online. Let this be a lesson – if you’re looking for old cars online, you’re going to find something that will follow you home, even if you’re “just looking.” We’ll talk about that car next week.