Life To The Car, Death To The Slusher

Miss Part I of Project Ugly Horse? Read it here.

Daniel was not happy. The melting frost had turned the dirt/mold mixture on the Mustang's rear quarter panel into a sort of frog-sweat slime, and his right hand was now covered in the goo. He stopped pushing, looked at the contagion and glared.

I'd decided my new life goal was to pass a 911 on the track with this car looking exactly as it does right now.

"You need to wash this thing, Bowman."

Asking a friend to ride four hours north in a standard-cab Ford F-250 to pick up a crappy car was one thing. Asking him to risk his life against a thin coat of psychomagnotheric goo was something else entirely.

I had already made it clear I planned to preserve the, um, patina on the Mustang, mold and all. After all, you can't recreate the kind of personality this car has going on. With its surface rust, grime and general air of dereliction, the machine looks like it would be happier rotting in a field somewhere than tearing up a road course. Which is why I love it. By the time I talked Daniel into rolling the car onto the U-Haul trailer, I'd already decided my new life goal is to pass a 911 on the track with this car looking exactly as it does right now.

The term, kids, is fugly.

Of course, by the time we got the Mustang back to the house and into the garage some 300 miles later, it was clear this car wasn't going to be passing a shopping cart without some basic rehabilitation. One whiff of the fuel filler neck revealed the tank to be a sullen wake of dead gasoline and rust. The slow dirge smell of varnish wafted from the car's ass end every time I strolled past, leaving me with two options. I could either pull the factory tank, have it boiled out at a local radiator shop and resealed, or I could buy a new one. One call to the local parts store revealed I could have a brand-new Dorman replacement for under $100. Sold.

The original pieces looked like props from an early episode of Tales from the Crypt.

The new fuel pump and filter matched that cost, but since the original pieces looked like props from an early episode of Tales from the Crypt, I thought it best to go ahead and replace them while I was elbow-deep in the fuel system. The entire procedure from tires-up to tires-down took about an hour and a half, even as I contemplated the complexities of the Ford fuel line lock system. Make no mistake, there is no greater tool for replacing a fuel tank than a low-buck transmission jack. It will change your life.

Seeing as how my lovely abode is positioned exactly above my single-door tandem garage, I became acutely aware of the possibility of unleashing an infestation or two upon the house by storing the car inside. I set to gutting the Horse with all the fervor of a man possessed, hampered only by one stubborn rear seat belt bolt that required some persuasion with the grinder. The front seats were the first to go, and with the factory carpet and trim expunged, I dropped in a Corbeau Evo seat my father and I had sourced some years prior into the driver's side well.

Project Ugly Horse Seatbelt Removal
Project Ugly Horse SeatingProject Ugly Horse from the rear hatch

By the time I had finished, I'd managed to fill the shop vac twice and pile the bed of the F-250 high with '80s upholstery and blue plastic bits. There's nastiness, and then there's what I yanked from the cabin of this car. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a pang of guilt as I chucked the interior into a local dumpster, but the reality is no one wants a headliner seasoned with the distinct and unappetizing smell of cat butt.

I set up a perimeter of roach and rodent traps of varying potency around the car and prayed the wife wouldn't be awoken in the middle of the night by a curious beetle or friendly field mouse. I had no contingency plan for that situation, but I imagined it ending with me sleeping propped up in that fancy Corbeau seat. Outside.

I noticed a not-so-thin trail of fluid following my path.

With the fuel system sorted and the cabin scrubbed with bleach and Simple Green, I grabbed a new Optima Red Top battery, changed the oil, dumped a few gallons in the tank and hit the key after turning the engine over by hand. Against all logic, the car started. Immediately. It didn't sputter or cough or smoke, even with at least 155,000 neglectful miles on the clock.

After a cursory glance at all the necessary fluids, I popped the car in Reverse and headed for a quick sprint down the road. After all, I had driven a Fox body exactly once in my life, and that car belonged to a father who was more concerned about my intentions with his Mustang than my aims with his daughter. Smart man.

Project Ugly Horse leakThe Ugly Horse's maiden voyage was successful in the sense that it got me down the road and back without any significant drama. Except that when I turned around to come home, I noticed a not-so-thin trail of fluid following my path like a depressing version of Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs.

The engine didn't seem to be bothered by this development, but the four-speed automatic had its qualms with the situation. Ladies and gentlemen, like so many Mustang automatics before it, this slusher was puking fluid. After wheeling into the garage, I shoved a drip pan under the car and watched with astonishment as more automatic transmission fluid than I thought mechanically possible gushed from gearbox.

Even so, feeling the car move under its own power was a rush. The steering was overly light and the brakes were soft enough to make me think I was stepping into a pile of wet down pillows every time I went to scrub speed. The dash lights had long gone dark, and with the interior freed of its precious insulation, the thrash of the 2.3-liter four-cylinder got telegraphed straight through the firewall and up my jaw to rattle around in my skull.

I was in love.

I had planned to just sort of bomb around in the beater Horse until I could dredge up some funds for a five-speed swap, but it looked like the car had other plans. This machine was done with its limp-noodle gearbox. I did some investigating online and decided to have the T5 that came with the car rebuilt before going into this machine. I dropped it off at a local shop and waited for the call to come pick it up.

Next step? Put three pedals where once there were only two.

Project Ugly Horse: Part I
Project Ugly Horse: Part III