Sometimes enthusiasts get an itch for a project car. For me, that project car took the form of a Ford Mustang. I love Mustangs. They’re rowdy, imperfect, and tameable. They’re also cheap and pack decent power. I’d been scouring various online marketplaces for a Mustang within my modest budget ($5,000), and finally, after two days of arduous diligence, I found one on Facebook.
It was a dark blue, 2002 Mustang GT, with a manual transmission and a kept interior. No rips or tears, cracks or stains. This was like a unicorn, considering the year. There was, however, one glaring problem with the car. I sat on it for a day, then called the dealership and arranged for an appointment to see and test drive the car.
The fairy tale begins at the dealership
The next afternoon, I hop in my Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG and drive to the dealership. It’s close, only about 15 minutes. My heart hardly has any time to amp up. When I arrive, the cordial salesman greets me. We go to check out the car, and for once, the pictures didn’t lie. I’ve only bought used cars, most from the 1990s, and rarely do pictures look worse than the actual car.
True to the Facebook listing, the seats have no tears, the dashboard has no cracks, the carpet has no stains. One massive selling point for this particular Mustang is it was almost completely stock. It only had a K&N filter and a Bluetooth touchscreen head unit from Kenwood. It was like a fairy tale.
It feels like a Mustang GT with supercar brakes
The salesman gives me the keys, so I start it up, and everything works. I mean, everything. No warnings, no check engine lights, the A/C blows cold, all the gauges work, as does the touch screen. The fairy tale continues. I ask if I can have it inspected, and the salesman being his kind self, says “No problem!” and I take it to the first shop I find on Yelp. I’ve owned two previous Mustangs, both GTs from 1995, and this one felt exactly the same.
The clutch was forgiving and the shifting was standard Mustang fare, complete with the classic stubborn second gear. However, the biggest standout by far was the brakes. The salesman pointed out the car’s cross-drilled and slotted rotors in the front and the back. The pressure builds instantaneously and the car stops on a dime.
The Mustang’s 4.6-liter Modular V8’s condition
The ride is a bit bumpy, and considering the car’s height it feels like driving a monster truck, but it doesn’t matter. The first thing I was ever going to modify was suspension. I get it to the shop, and the mechanic can work on it right away. He gives me a choice, to either get a full inspection or a compression test.
Being the frugal person I am, I had to pick just one so I sided with the latter, and here’s why: 261,000 miles. At this point, I don’t know if the engine is stock or if it’s been replaced, but I had to know its condition. I can check for leaks and bad bushings around the car, but at this moment I wasn’t equipped to perform a compression test. So I opted for that.
Hours later I wake up on the shop couch. It’s a big leather relic, perched inside of the garage where the front desk is. The car is finally done, and the mechanic tells me the results. An old adage says consistency with each cylinder is more important than the actual numbers, and with this car, I don’t have to worry about either. Each cylinder tested at 180 PSI, which is well within factory spec. Another miracle down, and the fairy tale continues. I just need to keep an eye on that maintenance schedule.
A pleasant experience at the dealership
I drive it back to the dealership, and the salesman is waiting patiently. We exchange a few words about the price, and he’s agreeable. I hand him a stack of hundreds, and he hands me a set of keys. The car is mine, and the best part, the dealership takes care of all the paperwork, so I never have to set foot in the DMV. Phase 1 is complete. Now, all it needs is a proper evaluation, and I’m happy to oblige.