Meet the Horse



I have always hated this car.

Not the Ford Mustang, mind you, nor the ubiquitous Fox body, but this specific car. It's not because it came from the factory cursed with a heavy and under-powered 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine or an entirely worthless four-speed automatic gearbox. No, I hated this car because once, while I was off pretending to pay attention at college, my father traded two whole International Scout II trucks, their titles and a scad load of new old stock parts for this: a secretary special hatchback Mustang. It made me ill.

Sorry, son. I've sold you to a brace of machete-wielding Somali pirates.

As a vested devotee of all things International Harvester, this was a sin of inconceivable magnitude. I would have been less crushed if he had sat me down, looked me square in the eye and told me in his most earnest and paternal tones that he spent his working days feeding laundry baskets of kittens to a wood chipper instead of wielding Autocad in a cubical as a structural engineer. Or that, "Sorry, son. I've sold you to a brace of machete-wielding Somali pirates to pay off a blood oath."

Confusion. Anger. The betrayal was made all the more painful by the news that the new owner of the two IH bruisers had simply thrown the stack of brand-new 345 heads into the back and hauled the Scouts straight to the crusher for scrap. The locals say you can still hear my teenage screams rolling around the darkened hills of Virginia on a still night.
To my father's credit, and viewed bereft of the lenses of teenage angst and romanticism, the swap made sense. The good men and women of the Virginia State Police had all but forbidden us from driving the baby blue '79 Rallye on public streets. There's something about having only one door that, inexplicably enough, seems to make officers nervous, and the second green '78 had hosted an impromptu barbecue underhood during a carb swap one crisp Fall afternoon. The Mustang, meanwhile, not only ran well but looked surprisingly good inside and out. Or, at least it did some nine years ago.

Project Ugly Horse: 1989 Ford Mustang LX
Project Ugly Horse: 1989 Ford Mustang LXProject Ugly Horse: 1989 Ford Mustang LXProject Ugly Horse: 1989 Ford Mustang LX

At first, Dad planned to turn the '89 LX into an economical little runabout for commuting to and from work. But, as usual, our best intentions languished in my parents' driveway, and after our push mower launched a pair of satellite-guided rocks into both pieces of passenger side glass at the same time, we defaulted to a secondary plot: gutting the machine and turning it into a white trash themed LeMons racer. Plans were hatched. Cats, rodents and other small fauna took up roost in the cabin while we began scavenging parts for the ultimate cheater Fox body.

I glowed at the thought of sentencing the Mustang to a not-so-glorious death by LeMons.

As the garage cluttered with a turbocharged 2.3 from a Thunderbird and a five-speed manual, I couldn't get over the coiling hatred I felt in my gut for the Mustang. The car stood as a constant reminder of the death of the two trucks I loved. My first turn behind a steering wheel was spent at the big blue tiller of the '79, and the IH had ferried our family through three houses and as many states over the years. It was as much a part of the family as our two dogs, and, by that time, it had been melted into three or four Aveos. I glowed at the thought of sentencing the Mustang to a not-so-glorious death by LeMons.

Long before that could happen, the LeMons team idea got T-boned by a variety of life events, and the Mustang continued to sit open-windowed and lifeless just off of the gravel in my parents' driveway. During one Christmas visit, Dad and I stood around the car bullshitting before the wife and I headed back to Knoxville. A thin coat of mold, filth and frost covered the battered paint, flaked to bare, rusted metal in places and peeling in others. The headlights had jaundiced opaque under the beating of 10 summer suns, and the passenger side marker stood smashed and bare-bulbed. Sitting on four flat and dry-rotted tires, the old Horse couldn't help but look sad and defeated. Inside, a layer of oak leaves a foot thick played host to beetles, spiders and ants, all acting out their microcosmic dramas under the withered skeletons of the three-inch saplings growing in the passenger floorboard.

His words set off a slow chemical burn of possibilities in my mind.

Since returning from the Targa Newfoundland the previous September, I had been hooked on the notion of buying a low-buck project to turn into a track beater. Dad and I passed Craigslist ads back and forth during the work day on a regular basis. A Miata here, a Civic there. The odd Nissan Hardbody or Mustang SVO, if we were feeling spendy.

"You want the Mustang?" He asked out of the blue. He had been on a life-cleansing warpath for the better part of a year, chucking crumpled cardboard boxes and shedding the detritus of midlife wherever he could.

His words set off a slow chemical burn of possibilities in my mind. Keep it ugly, low power. Lots of suspension, tires, brakes and a solid cage for some much-needed rigidity. Have fun. Put it into a wall, laugh and pick up another shell on the way home. On paper, it's the perfect recipe. At around 2,800 pounds, this Fox body is lightweight enough, and the bonus of front engine, rear-wheel drive is nothing to ignore, either.

"How much?" This was getting dangerous.

"For $475, you can have it, the engine and the trans if you haul it all off."

Project Ugly Horse: 1989 Ford Mustang LX
Project Ugly Horse: 1989 Ford Mustang LXProject Ugly Horse: 1989 Ford Mustang LX

A week later, I had the car loaded up onto a rented trailer and towing contentedly behind the F-250. I had my project car.

Project Ugly Horse: Part II
Project Ugly Horse: Part III

Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of posts that will follow this car from derelict hulk to semi-functional track machine. Keep your eyes peeled for regular monthly updates, and feel free to ask questions in the comments. I promise I won't answer with, "Because racecar."


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 133 Comments
      RobbieAG
      • 2 Years Ago
      I like the fact that you're doing something different - a 4 cylinder build of a Fox body rather than the typical 5.0 V8.
        NightFlight
        • 2 Years Ago
        @RobbieAG
        That makes two of us, for both of your posts. I liked the IH story as well, actually that was by far one of the best pieces I've ever read on Autoblog. Hands down.
      phurst
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sounds like a fun project, and it will be a lot of fun for us to follow along. If you feel it helps offset your Ford/IH karmic sins, I traded a dented, rusted, beat to hell, **** brown '83 ford F-100 for my '69 800A. It was rusting away on a farm in Charlottesville. had to trailer it home, but I drive it nearly daily now :)
        Zach Bowman
        • 2 Years Ago
        @phurst
        Killer. I'm in the middle of helping a friend stitch back together a '69, 304. If you have any photos, I'd love to see them.
          Zach Bowman
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Zach Bowman
          Hell yes. Looks great.
          phurst
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Zach Bowman
          Here you go: http://s42.photobucket.com/albums/e332/pearsonhurst/Scout/ Now that she's mechanically sound, it will soon be time to start on the cosmetics. It has a whopping 49k original miles :)
      ihc_lvr
      • 2 Years Ago
      car? Mustang?!?!? What about the feaking SCOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUTS???????
      RobbieAG
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm looking forward to further installments of this. I enjoyed your telling the story of your International pickup sometime back.
      4gasem
      • 2 Years Ago
      Oh oh oh... You're killing me... I want MORE!! NOW!!! lol Well written and can't wait...
      scott
      • 1 Year Ago
      what a loser. ih was one of the biggest pos ever made
        Dennis
        • 1 Year Ago
        @scott
        Big POS's don't stay in production for 14 years like this one did. This car had a lot of good things about it along with the bad.
      michael.sandoz
      • 2 Years Ago
      I was fortunate in High school to have a 1984 Mustang GT/Turbo. For 2 years Ford put that combination you are talking about into the Mustang. 2.3Iitre turbo from the T-bird with a 5 sp manual, GT suspension set-up with the Michelin TRX Tires on those cool Alloy rims. It was a very cool ride and handled quite well for the day. A more modern spring and tire combo and it could have been a fantastic handler. The engine was mounted right up against the firewall and the weight distribution was spot on. It was quite rare, they only made something like 1100 one year and 600 the next. I look forward to reading about your track project. Brings back some good memories.
        e46mike
        • 2 Years Ago
        @michael.sandoz
        Those were awesome cars! My good friend in high school had an '83 Capri RS Turbo, that thing rocked!
        domingorobusto
        • 2 Years Ago
        @michael.sandoz
        My dad bought my mom an 84 Turbo GT (in the awesomest color combo ever, beige and black!) when I was 14 with the intention that it would become mine when I turned 16. I learned to drive in that car, and it began my life long love of turbocharged vehicles. I was super excited for it to become mine, with visions of front mount intercoolers and T60s dancing in my head. But then an old lady ran a light and t-boned my mom in it 4 months before my 16th birthday. Turned it into a bananna. Made me so sad. I ended up with a 78 Fairmont with the 2.3T out of a 88 Turbo Coupe in it. A damn fun car, but I always wonder about the Mustang that could have been :(
      GreaseMonkeySRT
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great article. Can't wait to read more.
      jt2
      • 1 Year Ago
      I had an 89 mustang, 5.0L with a five speed transmission. I loved that car! I cried when it was stolen in 96 and stripped and left on a street in So Philly. I couldn't even part it out, they had already done it!
      aldebaran042363
      • 1 Year Ago
      these mustangs were worthless and ugly when they were new, still are today ! the last good looking mustang was built in 1973. after that the mustang II was a real joke. but hey... if it wasn't for these cars chevy wouldn't have much to beat up on !
      freebds
      • 2 Years Ago
      My dad had an old Scout II when I was a kid. He worked as day manager at a parts store back then. So he was able to keep that thing on the road at a discount price. It had the inline-6 with a 3-speed on the floor. He drove that thing everywhere. The back part was just a big play pen for me and my sister. I had a lot of good times in that truck. He sold it and bought a Bronco. He instantly regretted it. He likes to tell the story of how he bought the Scout for 350 dollars at junk yard. It had been T-boned by a Semi and all it needed was a new door. He said it took three guys to lift the door and mount it into place. He liked to brag about how it was made from "battleship plating". I miss that truck...
      ELG
      • 2 Years Ago
      you paid money for that? actual, legal tender, money? after all that? your dad took you for a sucker
        ELG
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ELG
        ps- nicely written though, I enjoyed the story.
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