COAL: 1995 Ford Mustang GT Convertible – The Last 302

My daughter came home from school one day and told me how her friend needed help with his car.  I offered to help and she relayed this to him.  Over the next month or so the details came to me – via my daughter – in fits and starts.  The car did not break down, it was involved in an accident.  Only the very front of the car was damaged.  It was a Mustang.  It was not insured.

At this same time, the questions slowly morphed from: Could it be fixed?  To: Could I help him find used parts?  Later: Could I help him fix it?  And finally: Would I be willing to fix it if he paid me?

I decided that I needed to actually see the car.  Besides, there had been weeks of third party Q & A and my daughter was sick and tired of being the middleman.  I discovered a few things.  The reason the process took so long was that the mother would complain to the son about the broken-down car.  The son would then talk to my daughter, she would then talk to me, and then the process would reverse itself.  Not efficient communication.

When I arrived, the teen owner wasn’t home.  I found a 1995 Mustang GT convertible.  It was a 5-speed car with leather seats.   It was in decent shape except for the hood, bumper, core support, radiator, headlights, and grill.  Inside, I saw that the airbags had deployed.  Mom seemed relieved that I finally came over.  She had been admonishing her son to get rid of the car.  Dad arrived home a few minutes later.  He was also under the impression that I was there to remove the car.  I had to explain to them my side of the story.  He had only been asking me for advice, then help.   We all agreed that I needed to buy the car and haul it away ASAP.

When the young man came home, he was disappointed that the sale was being finalized.   He wanted to get the Mustang back on the road.  He was driving a completely beat out Ford Ranger.  The Mustang was bad, but that old Ranger appeared to have spent significant time in Afghanistan or somewhere worse.

I wanted to find out about the status of the title.  If the authorities were called and/or wrote an accident report, the car could have a salvage title.  This makes a car very difficult to sell, so it directly affects the value.   Turns out, there was no official record of the accident.  The title was clean.  Apparently, he rear-ended a Dodge dually in traffic.  The boy hit the truck squarely on the trailer hitch.  The truck received no damage and its driver seemed to have somewhere else to be.  Our young friend had called a rollback tow truck and had it hauled home.

As a side note, remember that a bad Carfax almost always means a bad car, but a good Carfax does not mean the car is accident-free.  This Mustang was proof of that.

1995 was the last year of the old-school 5.0 often referred to as the “Windsor”.  It was replaced in ‘96 by the OHC 4.6 which Ford claimed was just as powerful, although no one in their right mind ever believed this.  IIRC 1996 was the first year of OBD II and the old 302 was not going to be compliant, or Ford wasn’t going to bother.

A bit of Ford 302 trivia:  The 5.0 H.O. was rated for less and less horsepower from 1987 through 1995.  The change from Speed Density to Mass Air calibration made it lose horsepower, the camshaft was revised in ’89 or ’90 and it lost a little more.  Then in 1994, the upper portion of the intake manifold had to be revised to fit under the revised Mustang hood and a few more ponies were lost.  The funny thing was that these last, “weaker” 5.0s were still stronger than the first 4.6s.

Later, when I advertised the car for sale, I put “Last of the 5.0s” on the sign in the window.

Back at this time (about ten years ago) junkyards were full of SN 95 Mustangs and all the parts were readily available.  The parts I needed were common front-end pieces.  They could be sourced from a V6 or V8 model, hardtop or convertible.  The air bags could come from any Mustang, the covers just needed to be the correct color.

I picked up all the easy-to-get pieces quickly.  I even found matching air bags and a good airbag module in the junkyard.  The only thing I lacked was a core support.  These were welded in, so getting one was going to be slightly more challenging.  Instead of going to the nationwide/corporate junkyard, I went across town to a small “Mom and Pop’s” type-place.  This junkyard had a much smaller selection, and it was hard to pay because there was not always someone at the checkout window when you were done.

I found a Mustang and then I went and found “Pop”.  I told him what I needed and he grunted something and got on his giant front-end-loader (with forks on the front) and away he went.  A minute later the Mustang came around the corner, about ten feet in the air, bouncing on the forks of that Caterpillar.

He plopped the Mustang down in the “work area” (which was just a slab of concrete with slightly less crap lying around).  He wheeled over an oxy-acetylene cart, handed me a pair of sunglasses and said something like: “Don’t kill y’sef.” and then added: “Goin’ to git lunch.”

He had no idea who I was, nor my skill set.  I wondered how many people he let do this, as I began cutting.  A few minutes later I had the core support out and hauled it up front.  Of course, there was no one to pay at the window.

I had that Mustang back together a couple of weeks later.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  The transmission was slipping badly in my daily driver, so I transferred the license plate over to the Mustang and used it for a while.  I almost always drove with the top down (I had removed the smashed A/C condenser, and never got around to replacing it).  The five-speed made it fun to drive, and the car still had close to 200 horsepower.

A few months later a father and son pair came to buy it.  I had to tell them about the previous accident, but they didn’t seem to care.   They had plans.  There were plans to replace the aging top and update the audio system.  The elder of the two said something about souping up the old 302.  I smiled.