How the Ford Mustang Saved the Backyard Mechanic


Growing up in the heyday of Foxbody Mustangs laid the foundation for my future as a gearhead; bored out 302 engines adorned with large Holley carbs, Trick Flow heads, E303 cams, and Hooker headers created this siren song calling me to the car community and the modding that came with it. The smell of the exhaust paired with the sound of large cams that sounded like they were going to stall at idle drew many enthusiasts like myself to the car community; more specifically, to the Mustang. The same siren song that drew me into car culture has been sung to countless people before me and continues to play on, drawing in younger generations; the question is, how long will this song continue to play?

At its core, the car enthusiast community thrives on how we make our cars different; different from the person in the lane next to you at the track, different from the person next to you at a meet, and even different than the person you park next to-way out in the back of the parking lot. We cultivate our identity in the car community by the modifications and tweaks we make to our vehicles, which ultimately becomes an
expression of ourselves.

Ingrained within the act of modifying your vehicle is the accomplishment of doing the work yourself; getting under your car, getting dirty, and turning a few wrenches. Since the dawn of the hot rodding era in the early 1950’s, part of the car culture experience has been working on your ride yourself instead of taking it to a shop. While long nights and countless weekends of having your Mustang propped up on race ramps while you lay on your back cutting, ripping, and hammering things into place sounds like torture to the average car owner, it is a point of pride and cherished ritual to your average car enthusiast. Freshly healed cuts and grease-covered hands are presented to others who understand and practice the same rituals as you do.

These rituals and practices that we revel in have come closer than ever to becoming extinct in the 21st century. The rise of modern technology has all but killed your weekend-warrior and the backyard mechanic. The days of working in your engine bay with a hammer and some other common tools are all but gone in newer cars. Simply adjusting a handful of things and seeing what ‘feels‘ right is now a thing of the past; no longer can you make a few adjustments to the carburetor or the distributor and feel a bump in performance.

Intricate and complex on board computer systems have become common-place in all vehicles now and often require technology and calibration that can only be offered through car dealers. While there can be alternatives and work-arounds to these issues, they often end up being costly. However hope still remains in the form of a blue oval: the Mustang. Through the Mustang’s easy to work on modular design, as well as the aftermarket support for it, the backyard mechanic has been able to survive and flourish in the 21st century.

Numerous domestic and foreign automakers make it difficult to modify their newer vehicles; while all of the Mustang’s various software has been openly-shared with the aftermarket making it easier to modify and create parts for, other automakers have went the exact opposite direction. A lack of communication from automakers and the aftermarket that supports their vehicles has left many car communities high and dry when it comes time to modify them.

The Mustang’s relationship with the aftermarket and community of enthusiasts is somewhat unique. Unlike its counterparts, the Mustang’s deep-rooted ties and connections with the aftermarket have allowed for different manufacturers to supply and create various parts. Before the 2015 Mustang was released, a varied assortment of different parts manufacturers were able to see the newest pony car for the first time so that they could begin developing parts for the S550 Mustang. Aftermarket manufacturers were given 2015 Mustangs in the weeks prior to the 2014 SEMA show so that they could begin developing new parts and products for the S550 platform that would then be presented at the show.

Having a vehicle where you can go out and purchase any make or model created in the last 50 years and then completely transform its looks and performance in your driveway, is a benefit afforded exclusively to the Mustang. Ford’s initiative in this area has led to creating an aftermarket that is friendly to not only parts manufacturers, but also to enthusiasts. Enthusiasts benefit from an affluence of parts that are reasonably priced and easy to find, something that we in the Mustang community often take for granted.

While the thought of turning a wrench on a newer vehicle can be an intimidating one to many people, it is not a point of concern for many of your Mustang owners. Although the Mustang has progressed greatly since the days of the Foxbody and before, it remains a relatively simple vehicle to work on and to modify. It often takes nothing more than being able to read some directions, having the parts, and having the time to modify almost any aspect of your Mustang.

The Mustang is arguably one of, if not the most influential cars in the do-it-yourself modding community. It offers hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to take part in the rituals of modifying your vehicle yourself, without the high price point and the limited resources that other specific car communities experience. Companies like Bama Performance have provided enthusiasts the possibility to tune their Mustang and make more power, reminiscent of the way that adjusting the carburetor and distributor provided more power to the hot rods
of previous eras.

In some ways, the Mustang has essentially altered and adapted the landscape of the enthusiast community. While new vehicles are released each year with new and improved technology, the Mustang has allowed the spirit of the enthusiast to live on by not making technology an unconquerable barrier for modding. However, it is difficult to say how long that may last.

With more pressure coming from different governing bodies and with more invasive legislation than before, even the legacy of the Mustang is at risk of succumbing to the restrictions of a limited aftermarket. While the 2015’s new “mani-cat” design has raised concern within the modding community, an engine like the EcoBoost offers more evidence to the contrary with the hope and potential it offers. A turbocharged 4-cylinder Mustang has opened up the door to a whole new world of modifications and possibilities that were previously non-existent. Still in its infancy, the EcoBoost Mustang market is a brand new landscape developing before our eyes.

While hobbyists, weekend-warriors, and backyard mechanics do face various looming threats, hope does remain for the community. Used Mustangs are readily available all throughout the United States, waiting for new owners and new gearheads who seek to modify their Mustang to their liking.

These Mustangs and the people who buy them, will continue to provide life to the car community as well as the backyard mechanic. New enthusiasts who buy these cars and modify them will take part in the same rituals that you once did, and cherish them as we all still do. Those same rituals will eventually create that siren song that once attracted us to the car community and will hopefully continue to attract future generations for a very long time.

 

One comment

  1. I saw this in the new catalog and right away I noticed a big problem. Let me start off by stating that I am not a “backyard mechanic,” but instead a professional auto technician of 20 years. I currently work at a major Ford dealership in Oklahoma, and I am a qualified and certified gasoline engine technician. We get a lot of customer cars, both modified and stock. Many of them are real head-turners, and their owners take very good care of them. Then there are the ones whose owners have taken it upon themselves to “mod” themselves. Often times, those are the ones that come to the shop repeatedly, sometimes on the back of a tow truck. Some come in for rear axle repairs after a failed attempt at installing gears, or a blown transmission for whatever reason. A few have even come in without the correct amount of oil in the engine. A common and recurring theme among these customers is that their cars got to this point because the owners read something on the internet.
    That brings me to this particular blog post. You are doing your readers and customers a severe disservice by writing and publishing this sort of thing. Mustangs, and thousands of other models of all makes of cars and trucks on the road today, are controlled by technology. Technology that shouldn’t be tampered with by people who don’t know what they’re doing, or by people who feel courageous after they’ve read a build thread on some Mustang fanboy forum. Modern cars definitely shouldn’t be tampered with by some putz with clean fingers, a faux-beard and a crescent wrench, like the low-budget male model in your article. The number one rule in auto repair is that if you don’t know, ask someone else. The number one rule from technicians to vehicle owners is that if you don’t know how to fix it, don’t try.
    And real car guys do not use the term “siren song” to describe the sound of a car’s exhaust.

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