Mustang MonthlyNews & Views
Project Car Hell
Sometimes, a project car can surprise you and meet (and exceed) its stated goals
They always start with the best of intentions and a commitment to meet the eventual goals in a designed timeframe. But, boy oh boy, how often the train goes speeding off the rails and into a crowded subdivision.
I’m talking about the so-called “project car” that every automotive magazine does on a semi-regular basis. The idea is to build a car in the magazine using the hottest, newest, and best parts of our advertisers in an effort to a) show the readers how to do it; b) possibly show a new way to do it; c) build it in the latest style of a trend we see coming over the horizon; or d) build it to satisfy the ego of the editor in charge of the project. Too often, the actual (unstated) goal is the latter, but sometimes those cars turn out pretty cool….when they get finished.
I have personally built several project cars and been around hundreds more that my industry friends have built, and the levels of success among them vary greatly. I have seen projects meet and greatly exceed their initial goals, and I’ve witnessed the other end of the spectrum, oftentimes never even being finished. Sometimes they don’t get finished due to the relative volatility of the magazine business, as editors are laid off, fired, or moved to another magazine (hopefully a promotion to a bigger magazine) and therefore have neither the time nor the canvas to complete the project.
Magazine projects normally do get completed, though they can certainly be challenging. If you’ve ever built a car yourself, for a magazine or not, you understand the difficulties and expense (in both time and money) of building a car from the ground up. It’s hard enough when you’re working on your own car, but working with another person on their personal car adds a level of complication that can sometimes be too much to handle. That is why I have a rule that I’ll never agree to a project car owned by someone not on staff (and therefore we don’t have direct control over) or that I’ve never worked with before. Magazine editors have all been burned too many times and we have the thick skin to show for it.
But I ignored (forgot?) that rule when it came to Project Road Warrior. The 1965 Mustang was owned by Courtney Barber, who I had just gotten to know on a weeklong road trip in the car, and the work would be done about as far away from our Los Angeles as you can get, in Folly Beach, South Carolina, but for some odd reason I trusted that she would see the project to completion. So I went out on a limb taking her and the car on as a project, and even proclaimed in the pages of the magazine that we (she) would be putting the car through the ringer in a manner that would put other project cars to shame. Having been involved in some of those afore-mentioned still-borne projects, that was a tough proclamation for me to make. In print. Where it lives forever. And will most certainly be thrown back in my face if we fail.
There were some roadblocks in the project, and a few “uh oh” moments when it looked like we’d never get the car to the finish line, but in the end it all worked out and Courtney and her car have been barn-storming the continent—as this month’s cover story shows. Even with all the difficulties we encountered—moving shops several times and changing minds over parts to use—Project Road Warrior is one of those rare project cars that started and ended in successive issues of the magazine, as opposed to being drug out over the course of several years, skipping entire seasons due to complications. That we began the project in the December 2015 issue and it was driving (on the cover no less) in April 2016, with the buildup appearing in every issue between them, is more of a rare thing than you may realize.
I would say it’s a feather in my cap, but it’s not. The credit goes fully to Courtney, Dave Mahan at Stono Body Works, Kevin Kelly at Mojo Performance, Mark Treichler at Classic Speed & Custom, and everybody else that had a hand in helping turn Courtney’s ragged and rusty ’65 into the Calypso Green road warrior that it has become. And we met the stated goal: since the project has been finished, she’s traversed the country ten times (five round trips, six by the time you read this as she’s driving it to Las Vegas again for the 2016 SEMA show) and racked up about 50,000 miles on Project Road Warrior, making it one of the most successful magazine project cars of all time.
If you see an attractive blonde woman driving a stickered-up green ’65 Mustang coupe on the road this year, make sure to wave and holler out “Project Road Warrior!” If you can catch them, that is.