Cross Country Jaunt

Finding the fun in a long-dormant friend

Jim Moore - April 18, 2013 10:00 AM


A peek in the glovebox reveals stacks of timeslips! 


I finally found a use for one of those little tool kits people give for gifts! A Walmart floorjack, various fluids, jumper cables. Didn’t need ANY of it!


Been a sitting awhile!


First stop: Quanah, Texas – named after the last Comanche chief. Only 175 miles from home, but better fill up with gas. Not sure how accurate the gauge is at this point.


There’s no telling what you’ll stumble into if you keep your eyes open! This Super Bee was ready to rock! 


Check out what the Super Bee was blocking! That’s going to be cool!




There was a time when coming up on a Camaro like this would mean “Game ON!”. This day, I’m older and wiser, I have another 1,100 miles to get through without breaking anything and new Camaros are a LOT faster than they were in ’88! 


Like I said, you never know what you’ll find. Would that make a cool party wagon or what?


Made it to Utah and just 308 miles to go. At least most of the snow has melted off the ’Stang. 


Moab, Utah: the colors are incredible! By the time this picture was taken we were seriously re-attached again! TOP Check out this fire truck.  


Check out this fire truck.


Almost every town was filled with vintage tin, such as trucks, cars, tractors, wagons and old oil field equipment.


 Talk about heavy duty! The engine looked like an early GM gas six-banger.


Image 1 of 16

It’s not uncommon for folks to pack up everything they own and move to a new home.

It could be for a new job, maybe a promotion, family needs, retirement … any number of reasons. With the new changes comes the requirement to pack up everything in the house you want to keep, and sell or give away everything you don’t need anymore.

But then you get to the garage, shop, driveway, back yard or storage building and come upon that the long-term project or the one that “I’m going to restore someday”. The toughest is the long abandoned one that has been with you so many years, you just can’t bear to part with it … it really is part of the family!

Relocating to another state for work, I was hammering out all the details of moving my real hot rod ’67 Vette, all the shop equipment, etc. In addition, I have an ’88 5.0 Mustang that I bought new as a daily driver on a rainy Houston day. My four-year-old daughter Leyla was the first to call shotgun on the ride home and she’s claimed the Mustang as hers ever since. From that day on, the ’Stang commuted 90 miles per day, hit the dragstrip on Wednesday nights and was involved in lots of street action on the weekends. It was also used by my family and my friends for cross country vacation trips, a commuter car for my wife, and then by my daughter in college.

Long before aftermarket heads were available, I home ported the stockers and made sure to reinstall them with OEM gaskets just in case warranty issues came up. A set of 3.08s replaced the factory 2.73s and then later, a set of 3.55s made their way onto the posi unit in the 8.8 rear axle. After originally gutting the cats and factory mufflers, I finally installed the obligatory Flowmasters that just seem to make the perfect sound on any V-8 Mustang. All of this added up to low 13s on McCreary dirt tracker tires or 12.90s on slicks. In the late ’80s, this was good stuff on the street!

Admittedly, it sat neglected over the last few years. Other cars came and went, but the Fox ’Stang remained in the standby fleet even after 200,000 miles. About 15 years ago, I rebuilt the T-5 trans with updated carbon fiber blocker rings (LOTS of power shifting had taken its toll), installed a Ford Motorsports clutch, new U-joints and some other maintenance items. Then the original paint did that ’80s peeling thing, so a hungry painter I knew did a quickie paint job. While the basecoat stuck very well, the clear started peeling badly. Then a lawnmower threw a rock through a quarter window. Times were tough. It was last registered 10 years ago.

But you can’t abandon family.

I decided that the 5.0 needed to get roadworthy and DRIVE the 1,200 miles from Texas to Utah. First was a new battery and a wiper motor. My buddy Ronnie Tanner provided a quarter window from his parts stash that was delivered by my other buddy Donny Grace when he came up to help. We pulled all the wheels and my wife Karen made a run to Pep Boys for a “Buy 3 Get One Free” tire sale while we were working.

We really didn’t do anything elaborate. It was running when I parked it years ago, right? I looked in the radiator to make sure it was still full and hadn’t leaked into all the cylinders. I tapped the key to turn the engine over a little at a time. I then pulled the coil wire and spun it until I saw oil pressure, which was very quick.

No fuel pump hum meant I was a victim of old gas turning to mush in the tank. Luckily, dropping the fuel tank on these cars is easy and my fears were quickly verified. It wasn’t really rusty inside, there were just tons of dead hydrocarbons coating everything. After cleaning the tank the best I could, I swapped the fuel pump, strainer and filter and then changed the engine oil/filter. The next turn of the key produced fuel pressure and I swear the engine turned about two turns and lit immediately! Not even a lifter tick. It just fired right up, sounding as good as ever and settled into a nice throaty idle as it blew mouse nests out of the tailpipes. After taking care of a few more details, we took it for a test spin and all was good. We didn’t touch the plugs/wires or anything else on the engine!

The next weekend, I took off for Utah after filling the gas tank. This apparently did a great job of loosening the rest of the gunk in the tank because 18 miles later, it lost power and coasted to a stop. It would only idle and take a slight load, which allowed me to limp back home at 35 mph. So much for Attempt #1!

After installing a new fuel tank, cleaning the gunk off the fuel pump screen and replacing the pre-screen and external filter again, I was back in business. A 90-mile test drive proved all was good and I readied myself for Attempt #2. Before leaving, I also replaced the master cylinder, which was showing signs of weakness.

Once again, I filled the tank and hit the road. Confidence grew as I flew by the last breakdown point and made my way onto Highway 287 towards Amarillo at a nice 75 mph clip. The trip across the Texas panhandle takes you through many small towns with all their original charm still intact. Many old courthouses, gas stations and downtowns still thrive, yet mixed in are some relics that appear to have locked their doors 60 years ago and never re-opened. Surrounding those buildings are some of the coolest cars and artifacts you can imagine if you keep your eyes open. I stopped to look at as many as I could, but soon realized I’d never get anywhere if I didn’t get moving. Especially since I had three more states to explore!

Darkness arrived as I approached Amarillo and if you’ve ever looked at a Texas map, you’ll see there are some huge expanses of space after you pass through. The ’Stang hadn’t missed a beat yet, so whether confident or foolhardy, I decided to push on towards Albuquerque.

Wow, does it get dark out there when there’s no moon! Once past the city lights, the stars are just incredibly brilliant. I was out among the 18-wheelers, dodging the slow ones as well as the fast ones as the “night games” of the trucking world moved into action. I-40 is one of the busiest trucking corridors in the U.S. and the little Mustang had to be on its game to hang with the big boys!

The car was running perfectly. I had been concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find any radio stations out there, but the ancient aftermarket radio/CD player I had installed for my daughter has a manual control that allowed me to sneak up on the stations and keep them locked in as I traveled. Instead of singing to myself, I was able to keep a steady flow of rock, classics, C&W and Christmas music streaming through the original less than stellar speakers. Once things got dark outside, I realized that about half the dash lights were burned out, so gotta put that on the to-do list.

I was still wide awake as Albuquerque came into view and since the car was still running so well, I really got froggy and decided to head on to Farmington, New Mexico. Now if you’ve never made that trip, in the daytime it’s about 200 miles through some incredible western scenery that crosses several Native American reservations. But at night, it makes that stretch between Amarillo and Albuquerque look like sunshine and lollipops. The only thing you’ll see is the other occasional vehicle and the empty little towns, and oh yeah, several casinos.

A cold front was pushing through and temps were dropping fast. This is when I noticed that the 160-degree thermostat was doing a great job of keeping the engine comfy, but not so good with the heater as outside temps dipped below 20. Note to self: might need the 180 unit back in for Utah.

Around midnight, I decided to catch some sleep in the parking lot of a little truck stop near Farmington. By positioning the car within view of the building but out of the big rigs’ path and a little luggage re-arranging to lay the seat back nearly flat, I was able to check out for a few hours.

I was back on the road by 5:30 a.m. and started the meandering trip across the northwest corner of New Mexico and across the southwest corner of Colorado toward Utah. Of course, this is when the snow started blowing in and the roads turned to pure ice.

And since it was early Sunday morning, I was the very first one to drive on them! Mustangs aren’t necessarily known for their snow prowess, but we were doing very well with driving traction. Now stopping was another issue, accompanied with a few dramatic turns and intersections, but nothing damaged.

The snow subsided as I crossed into Utah and the sun popped out as I entered the Moab desert region, which was once known as the “Uranium Capital of the World”. The rich colors exploded from the cliffs as I rounded each corner and the rock formations were incredible.

The next few hundred miles to Salt Lake City consisted of more killer scenery, a few snow blasts and a friendly Mustang that was just doing everything well. Gas mileage for the trip averaged 23.6 mpg and not a drop of oil burned. It was like the toys in the movie Toy Story, it just wanted to get it out and play again!

Ford did an incredible job with the early 5.0s: forged pistons, double roller timing chains, hydraulic roller cams, headers, strong drivelines and a good factory tune. The driveability of the package is great, you can lug it down to 1,000 rpm in fifth gear or scream it towards 6,000 rpm.

A good friend of mine recently commented on his 1984 ’Vette. When people asked him why he had such an “old” car for a daily driver, he said “I just like my car”. I hadn’t driven the 5.0 much in the last 20 years, but this one weekend reminded me why I’ve kept it all these years. I like my old car, too.

Don’t wait until you’re forced to get that old car running at the last minute. Remember why you bought it and why you’ve kept it. You might find that it’s not too tough to get it out of the toy box and play with it like it was meant to be. Remember, they’re like family.