Mustang MonthlyProject Vehicles
Fear and Loathing in the World’s Most Hated Mustang: Part Three
“What kind of rat bastard psychotic would play that song right now, at this moment?”
Hunter’s words again rattled around in my cranium as the Pandora classic rock station pumped Mustang Sally through the wireless speaker, situated on the trans tunnel just in front of the shifter. I know, it’s a staple of the Mustang show world, but I swear if I hear that song at a car show one more time I’m going to do things that will end up on the NBC Nightly News. And not on the happy-ending final segment—no, it’ll be the subject of the “can you believe this massacre just happened?” program opener.
At the end of part two of this adventure, we had just left a Ford dealership in Aurora, NE on a hope and a prayer in the hopes that a new fuel filter would solve the intermittent miss and the knowledge that I’d be changing the points when we finally got to Denver…if we got to Denver.
No offense meant to anyone that lives there, but I-80 through Nebraska and then onto I-76 in northeast Colorado is perhaps the most boring stretch of highway in the entire country—even I-10 through Texas occasionally takes you through some sort of civilization—but other than the miss and occasional cough from the 2.8 the drive was uneventful until about an hour out of Denver, long after the sun had set on us for the day. Like an idiot, I was enjoying the drive and rocking out to Pandora playing Motley Crue through the Bluetooth speaker I bought for the trip and hadn’t paid attention to the gas gauge, which was now on Empty—a level that I hadn’t experienced in this car yet. We all know how finicky gas gauges are in old cars—you never know what “empty” really is on the gauge until the first time you run out of gas. Some cars, when the gauge gets a tick under the ¼-full mark you better be on the lookout for a gas station, while other cars will go well past E before they run out. Then of course are the sociopathic gas gauges that seem to have zero grasp on reality—in those cases you have to hope that the odometer is working so you can gauge the fuel level based on how far you’ve driven. None of these scenarios had been tested on this car yet, so when I noticed that the needle was already touching the E, it made for some anxious moments.
Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, an exit sign that was literally in the middle of nowhere with a little “gas station” icon appeared. It was now well past 9:00pm, and dark, but the angst began to slip away, replaced by a calm that one can only relate to after they’ve found a gas station while running on E. Of course the station was dark, pumps turned off, and the lady working in the restaurant was locking the door as I walked up. After a conversation hollered through the glass, she informed me that there was another station about 15 miles down the road. Terrific.
Every second of those next 15 minutes I was convinced that AAA was going to get another call but my li’l buddy came through again, rationing his fuel just enough to make it. At 11:00 pm that night, I passed Mile High Stadium (actually Sports Authority Field or something like that—it’s always going to be Mile High Stadium to me, so suck it) on I-25 in Denver, and pulled into my friend Tony’s driveway in Lakewood just before midnight, greeted with a stiff drink and a cot to sleep on for the night.
Saturday was Halloween, and after a reasonably stressful couple of days I decided to take the weekend off and carve pumpkins with Tony and his girlfriend Kathy—the cute girl he’s had a life-crippling crush on since 1982 but has yet to seal the deal with. As we sat in the garage destroying pumpkins, Rodney (that’s his Forever Name now) sat just a few feet away, with a look that I interpreted as, “Why in the hell are you carving those stupid vegetables when I’m in need of your attention?!” I felt guilty for a few seconds then turned back to my attempt at carving the Van Halen logo into my pumpkin. It turned out as well as you’d expect, meaning this is one pumpkin that I won’t be upset about when it gets smashed by the neighborhood delinquents.
That night we sat on Tony’s parents’ porch in Littleton and handed out candy to the kids, then went inside and played some games with Rose and Tony Sr. before it was time to head back to the bachelor pad in Lakewood. Sunday was Bronco Game Time but poor little Rodney was begging for some lovin’ so I broke out the tools and went to work attempting to once again diagnose where that damned miss was coming from. I knew the points were wasted, so in went a new set, at which point I realized that I hadn’t actually touched a set of points since probably high school, and that was on a Chevy small-block with the little window in the distributor cap that made quick work of setting the point gap/dwell. After fiddling with those stupid points for an hour trying to get a proper gap and making a mental note to never again own a points distributor, I took Rodney for a test drive. That’s when the transmission refused to shift into third gear.
DAMMIT! What now?!
The automatic hadn’t slipped even a little bit the entire trip, so why would it start acting up now? The fluid was good on the dipstick and didn’t smell like an ashtray so the answer alluded me. Thinking it was just a sad coincidence and that we may be done, I parked Rodney on the side of Tony’s driveway, took a defeated picture, and posted it to my personal Facebook page, then began researching costs to ship a Mustang II from Denver to Burbank (which turns out to be more than I paid for the damn car). That’s when Facebook friend Bob Cattelino mentioned the vacuum modulator and I wanted to punch myself in the throat while simultaneously self-kicking my nuts. “Of course!” I had removed the vacuum line to the modulator to get better access to the distributor during the points swap and forgot to plug it back in. Could it really be that easy? Yes it was, and I now owe Bob a huge favor for him pointing out my stupidity. We were back in the game! And the miss was gone with the 2.8 purring like a kitten on a perpetual petting machine (does that exist yet, because if not I may have just envisioned my Million Dollar Idea!). It still had zero power, but at least it did it in style now.
Monday morning began the slow climb up the Rockies, the first real test that I would be putting Rodney through. Oh sure, he had traversed Middle American mostly without incident, but that long, steep climb up I-70 from Denver to the top of Loveland Pass was going to be a chore. Leave it to Facebook “friends” to pound that fact in, with frequent “Never gonna make it!” and “That POS is NOT going to make it over the mountains!”
Thanks guys, really appreciate it. Dicks.
On a characteristically gorgeous Colorado autumn day, we began to ascend the grade up the hill and Rodney handled it fine, though we were relegated to the right lane with the big rigs, only occasionally passing a few that were heavily loaded down with cargo. I hadn’t noticed even a wisp of smoke up until this point. As the 2.8 lumbered up the hill, there was a mist of blue smoke trailing us, but it didn’t seem to get worse with the miles and the oil pressure gauge (which actually worked) showed no concern, so we soldiered on.
The initial grade evens out as you approach Idaho Springs about 25 miles up the hill, at which point we ran into construction that narrowed the Westbound side down to a single lane. Rodney needed some gas and an oil check and his driver’s bladder needed to be drained at that point, so we pulled off for all three. A quick check under the hood and on the dipstick showed that all was good, so back on the road we went for the final push to the summit. The chugging attitude and smoke screen were still present but not terrible and making it to the entry of the Eisenhower Tunnel at the top of Loveland Pass, 11,155 feet above sea level, was the first truly victorious moment of the drive.
I have fond childhood memories of traveling through this 1.6-mile tunnel in the ’70s on the way to Breckenridge or Copper Mountain to ski, while my friends and I would try to hold our breath all the way through the tunnel. I never could do it, and the mental thought train that we all go through in a daily basis ended up at the station of me vowing to never again hold my breath on this trip and just live in the moment, live with what was to come, and not worry so much. It was a bit liberating, and a mental decision that would come into play in a big way later that day.
Once Rodney made it out the other side, we pulled over for a victorious photo op, making sure to post it on Facebook as a raised middle finger to all those doubters. That felt good.
The horrible brakes made coming down the other side a bit of a nail-biter. If you want to teach a new driver how not to be involved in a rear-ender, take away their brakes and make them drive down a hill in traffic. Trust me, they’ll either figure it out quick or die. Driving through Dillon, Vail, and then into Eagle was a truly joyous trip. The weather was Tourism Bureau-perfect, the Aspen trees were in their fall-to-winter color change meaning they lit up the hills in a beautiful, screaming yellow hue that you have to witness in person to believe, and with the heavyweight hill-climb behind him Rodney was purring right along. With the windows down and rolling through the hills, I reminisced about the many past drives I’ve had over this road, and all was good with the world. This moment is the pinnacle point of any good cross-country drive—when all is good and happy, there are only positives in the moment, and you realize that you’ll remember this very second for the rest of your life. I understood that feeling while it was happening, and it made whatever catastrophe may or may not lay ahead worth it.
When I also realized was that Glenwood Canyon was coming up, so I pulled off at a rest stop and attached a Replay camera to the top of Rodney’s windshield, in order to capture on video the stunning beauty of the Canyon drive going into Glenwood Springs. That video is posted here, and for my money there is not a prettier stretch of highway anywhere in the country, and that includes the oft-mentioned California Highway 1 through Big Sur. Highway 1 can indeed be spectacular (when it’s not fogged in) but I’ll take Glenwood Canyon any day.
From there we traveled I-70 Westward into Grand Junction, not far from the Utah border. Both Rodney and I were empty, so we stopped to fill us both up and then we were off into the night.
“Finish the F&*$ing story man! What happened?”
Catch up on the rest of Project Rodney: