What is crazier, driving 8,000 miles in a $250 station wagon (and expecting to make it), or lending your brand new 2016 Ford Mustang GT, for 26 days, to two strangers to whom you’ve only ever corresponded by email?
[You’re reading part of the Mustang Challenge series, a loosely bound concept that was created to inspire others to get out and explore the country in their cars. In this Mustang Challenge, two Canadians are touring the USA for the first time, traveling for 26 days through 13 different US cities while traversing over 8,000 miles behind the wheel of a 2016 Mustang GT. This is one post in a series of many. To read the previous articles and to follow the series, jump to the bottom of this page.]
If someone asked me this question, I’m not sure I’d be able to pick. Both ideas sound to be certifiably insane. Alas, this is the exact situation my friend Alex and I have put ourselves in. Welcome to the Mustang Challenge.
Deciding To Go on a Road Trip
You see, like many youthful North Americans before us, Alex and I have been planning, since April, to do the traveling staple that is the road trip. Both of us are at a point in our lives where we’ve finished school, are tired of our part-time jobs and, frankly, are ready to enter the real world. Well, almost ready. At present, however, we have entered a very unusual period.
Some may call it in limbo, the twilight zone, or a gray area if you will; very little obligation and commitment, a bit of extra cash in each of our respective bank accounts, and a very flexible schedule. Whatever it is, the realization of this rare combination of circumstance prompted the idea to travel, and wanting to play in our own backyard this time round, we decided what better way to explore the vastness of the continental United States than in a car that has no business being further than 100 miles from home? Classic road trip indeed.
We’re Trading For a ’16 Mustang GT
The $250 station wagon mentioned above? Yes, that thing exists. And that thing happens to be a 2004 Ford Focus wagon (ZTW, fully loaded!), and I happen to be the owner of it. I picked it up, no joke, for $250 with two sets of tires, 95,000 mi on the odo and a fat stack of recent repairs bills (for example, someone before me was kind enough to spend $1200 on a clutch and associated labor back in 2013 – thanks!).
I didn’t really want a 2004 Focus (I mean, who does?), but I needed something cheap and with a big trunk. After somehow stumbling upon the ad for it on the internet (listed at $1000), I called the owner, verified verbally that it did run and consequently scheduled myself to see it later that day. My buddy John and I showed up promptly at 6PM ready to give the miserable wreck a thorough inspection.
Focusing On the Problems
We looked at all the usual stuff, asked the usual questions (any known problems?) and then, out of the corner of his mouth, the seller casually mentions the car randomly shuts off while driving, but no big deal, because you can just turn the key and it will fire back up.
A normal person, upon hearing this, would probably say thank you very much have a nice day and leave. But John and I are suckers, we’re hot shot car guys and we think we smell a deal. We take the car for a test drive, it ran OK, didn’t stall, all major systems were functioning (even the A/C). We arrive back, hop out and I pull John to the side. Knowing what I’m going to ask, he laughs and says “buy it”.
For good measure (and to really make the seller understand I knew what I was doing) I gently kicked the front tire one last time with my foot, resulting in one of the few remaining pieces of rocker panel to fall off. I looked up at the seller, and because I’m a stone cold negotiator, offered him $250 cash money – a monstrous $50 under what he had previously told us was his take it or leave it price. We transferred it over to my name the next day.
Now, he was certainly right about the stalling part. For about the first 4 or 5 weeks of ownership, the car would randomly shut off whilst in motion. Usually when I was on the highway. No big deal, it just makes my otherwise boring drive a little more exciting. He was also right about it restarting – it usually did so easy enough, but there were a few occasions where I had to wait 15 minutes or so before it would finally fire up. Luckily for me, one day when I was poking around in the engine bay, I happened to notice a strange wire spliced into the ignition coil. I removed it and cleaned the MAF sensor at the same time, and the Focus has not stalled in the 9000 miles since.
Picking a Car For a Cross Country Trip
Initially, Alex and I considered, at great length, on buying something like a Grand Cherokee for our trip. The Focus, despite actually being reliable, sucks (it is a good conversation piece, though). A Grand Cherokee would offer us a big trunk, lots of cabin space, a good ride and the ability to go off road (there are some really cool trails in Oregon). It seemed like the ideal long haul cruiser. However, we soon realized this would not work out, as the thought of spending extra dough to pick up a Cherokee made us nauseous.
The Grand Cherokee idea was quickly born and quickly scrapped, leaving us with my little wagon that could. Laughable? Definitely. Possible? Certainly. Bearable? Not too sure. Nonetheless, we made a list of some upgrades we would do to make the ride more comfortable and quiet. And then, the aha moment.
What if we could get someone to lend us a new car, something, anything recent would be better than my tired Focus. With this thought in mind, we racked our brains for contacts.
Finding Hope In An Unlikely Place
Enter American Muscle. Having been a freelance writer for them for the past few years, we had a potential immediate “in”. We composed an email at light speed and sent it off, the gist of it being, “lend us a sweet car and we’ll give you some killer exposure” (worded more eloquently, of course). The response was quick to come back. “Interesting idea”, writes Zach, “but insurance is too problematic for something like this”. A classic cookie cutter corporate answer, without doubt.
Down but not out, we wrote back and dropped the name “Andrew” into our response. Andrew was a previous handler of mine (would email me my writing assignments) for a good period of time, and as far as pen pals go, we had a pretty good relationship. He enjoys hockey as much as Alex and I, and despite his weak chirps (pretty sure all he ever says is hoser), his knowledge is passable. Furthermore, I had an inkling that he had progressed within the company.
This inkling was correct, and on the next Saturday afternoon, we received a very long, very detailed email from Andrew himself. He loved the idea. We were stoked; perhaps this ridiculous idea of ours had wings!
Most shocking of all, however, was that written in Andrew’s email, he seemed to infer that he would lend us his personal 2016 Mustang GT in exchange for my wagon. Somewhat confused (his own Mustang???) and definitely under the impression he was off his rocker, we nonetheless said sure and requested more detail. When opportunity comes knocking, you must answer!
A few more emails back and forth and we had the semblance of a very real plan. Yes, Andrew was seriously offering up his Mustang for us to use, and he’d take my Focus as his daily for the duration that we are away. Hands down, this sounds like the most one-sided deal ever.
Readying Up For the Ride
Having had an 87 Mustang GT as my first car (and I did quite a few long drives in it), I can only imagine how great it will be to take a 2016 5.0 through 8,000 miles. Ample power, enough room up front (small trunk though) and decent gas mileage should make the 2016 Mustang a pretty good steed for our extended driving fiasco.
Our only major concern is that recently, I have been getting over a gastrointestinal infection, and as such, I have somewhat of a weak stomach. There is a small risk of having to stop somewhere and get an emergency interior detail. While on the subject, due to the illness I have lost roughly 20 lbs. I think it would be a hilarious personal challenge to try and regain some of this weight throughout the trip – I mean, America is famous for its portions, right?! 20 lbs in 26 days is not doable (at least in a healthy fashion), but somewhere between 6-8 lbs should be realistic.
The Grand Plan For the Trip
There we have it. We’ve secured a 2016 Mustang GT, liberated our schedule for 4 weeks and planned a heck of a trip. We will kick off the trip on the east coast, starting at the AmericanMuscle Car Show just outside Philadelphia. We then begin our trek west, hitting cities such as Nashville and New Orleans, before getting to the west coast in the Los Angeles area.
Vegas is of course on the map somewhere in there, and Alex and I are particularly excited to visit Portland, Oregon. Blazing down the open road, eating good food, meeting a lot of new people in some fantastic cities – this trip will be a blast. If all goes well, we might find even ourselves at a racetrack or two, engine roaring and tires burning as we bomb down the 1320.
And the more I think about it, the more I laugh. Andrew, from American Muscle, who previously had never met us in person, will be lending us his 2016 Mustang GT for the better part of a month, based on a couple of emails. On top of that, we’re not even American citizens. We’re from the great white north. If that isn’t the definition of crazy, I don’t know what is.
8,000 miles, 26 days, 13 cities, 2 studs, one car – what could go wrong?