This Mustang will be a new tale for fresh faces and familiar to fellow DriveTribe refugees. Nearly five years have done quite a number on this little blue car since the day I hauled it off the used car lot at my nearby Toyota dealer. So much has been done yet so much has been left on the table for years. Where to even begin.
Well, how do I like it so far? The car is alright. Okay, I’m kidding, I love it. Well, I love and hate it. But I love it more than I hate it. It’s a trusty workhorse and capable performer, but it’s also a conniving bastard, and I await its betrayal (damn these MT-82 gearboxes to Oblivion). I’ve worked hard at sprucing this thing up via a catalog’s worth of go-fast goodies, and I’ll give it this. I’m proud of how far it has come from the glorified rental car it once was, and I’m grateful for the journey it has taken me on.
When I brought my Mustang home in the Fall of 2017, I told myself I’d drive it as-is for at least a year to gauge how it felt in its unmolested form as a 2013 V6 with a stick and the Performance Package. Yeah, right. While less than five years doesn’t sound that long, I was young, stupid, and impatient then. That “year” lasted about three months before it received Eibach Pro dampers and a Maximum Motorsports panhard bar foolishly paired with cheap but effective lowering springs. The stock car was a solid handler in the nearby mountains, but an S197-generation Mustang can always go for a whole lot more. Being another broke-ish college student with a decent but still-meager salary, I couldn’t afford to “build it right,” as older me would’ve told myself, but I made sure to drop time and dough where it counted most… Sort of.
Throughout thousands of miles, I mostly walked the line between “overachieving everyman’s enthusiast car” and “polished turd.” My car would remain in a lightly-tinkered state of mild suspension goodies and some OEM+ dress-up for roughly two years. I was still on stock wheels with all-season performance tires rocking a shitty Pypes axle-back I had installed within the first month which was starting to be a pain in my ass. I had high hopes, and there was always a bucket list of to-dos for the Mustang, but life happens. I succumbed to the more important demands of work, school, and a social life. The tinkering screeched to a halt, and stagnation took root.
As undoubtedly extraordinary and vivid as a hobby like cars was, I was a kid with a wandering attention span and other things he wanted to do, and in some cases, they were things I needed to do. Since the start of the hiatus, I rebooted a failed disaster-fuck of a college career with a fresh major, ramped up my Air National Guard duties with a deployment to northern Africa, reveled in a promotion at my old civilian gig, and spent more time with friends and family. The Mustang then became a car. Still a fun car, but just a car in the basic sense of lifeless transportation.
By late 2020, I was in a better place to finally realize my vision. Although I was beginning to contemplate trading up for something newer, it was better late than never to lengthen the build sheet. It was time to further alter my glorified rent-a-car with a new suite of everything. Call it an overplayed, cliché metaphor for myself as I had started partaking in therapy at that time following a rough patch defined by heartbreak, self-loathing, and dissatisfaction with who I was as a person. I wanted to grow, so I thought I’d take my car with me.
2020 and 2021 became years of gradual but appreciable growth for me, financially and maturity-wise, and my car was evolving from the sidelines. A short-shifter and shifter bracket cleans up the shift feel of that craptastic MT-82 gearbox Mustang owners love to hate. GT500-style wheels wrapped in God’s gifts, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, plants horsepower to the pavement. An aggressive yet unobtrusive MBRP cat-back, a cold-air intake, and an enlarged throttle body give the robust 3.7L Cyclone V6 some extra oomph without dipping into V8-levels of money. Higher-quality springs, extra chassis bracing, and monstrous sway bars fit for a super-duty truck round off the handling department, better complimenting the dampers and elevating this car from ho-hum handler to a legitimate BRZ-fighter.
Safe to say my interest was rekindled.
The result of all these added trinkets? About as expected, which is to say it’s fan-freaking-tastic. I never bought this thing as an alternative to a V8 muscle car. I may be stupid, but I’m not that stupid. I instead saw this as a more comfortable, grand-tourer-like alternative to a Nissan Z or FR-S, and now I have something that can compete with them in the twisties for the same coin.
Recent canyon runs with some good friends highlighted how transformative some bolt-on goodies could be. The Michelins stuck to the asphalt with sheer malice. Body motions, while still present, were so unfathomably controlled at speed that my friends and I couldn’t believe it was still an S197 Mustang underneath. The power could press you into the seat, but it was just barely enough to keep up with some tweaked hot hatches and a Lotus Elise (I still can’t believe it either). Hey, it’s still a V6, after all.
The last couple of years were a mental and emotional roller-coaster, but I’m glad that, for the first time in a while, I’m actually okay. I’m confident that I’m the best version of myself today, and I’m equally ecstatic to believe that my Mustang is its best version since it was new with a warranty. It has taught me to be a better driver and whisked me away to new places to make new friends while reconnecting with old ones. I’m pretty sure you can’t slap a price on that.
I’m not one to get ultra-super emotional with my cars, but this thing deserved to grow with me, and I’m proud that it has. Therapy was undoubtedly beneficial, and my network of companions was more caring and willing to make me smile than younger, cynical me once thought. But during that period of learning, there were no better tools for joy and adventure than this car and roads untraveled.
Is it still a “polished turd?” Yeah, kind of. As respected auto journalist, Matt Farah, would preach, you can’t un-shitbox a shitbox. I’m still getting intimate with these classic Ford plastics regularly, and that sketchy transmission is, uh, still chugging along. But I’ve heard automotive journalists toss around this same verbiage time and time again: You go to war with the weapons you have, not the weapons you want.
Yes, I still aspire for a fresh experience in new metal, especially after the most eternal-feeling five years of my life, but that would mean ending a story that’s only half-finished. There are still roads to explore and apexes to shred with these newfound limits. And besides, the car market still sucks, there’s no debating that. So yes, I’ll be making do with the weapon I have for now, and so should you if you’re having second thoughts about your own cars.
Wring it out! Beat the snot out of it! At least take it on more adventures because I promise that there’s always something new and refreshing to be done. The storybooks of our cars are never complete as long as they’re still roadworthy, and even as we dream of new cars or even new projects, we still owe it to our current machines to ensure that our chapters with them are actually complete.
Allowing my car to grow as a machine while I grew as a person has laid out new pages for new stories, wherever that may be and whoever will be at my side. Next up for this year will hopefully be a couple of road trips and maybe even its first track day, so fingers crossed. There will be something different in the driveway someday soon (praying that the S650 Mustang drives wonderfully), but for now, I still have just a few more chapters to tell with this little blue car.Published in Car Stories
This is some excellent writing. I love the story. You present it so well.
Jeric, I’m glad you’ve done the journey you have, of self-discovery, and in such an emotionally intelligent manner that others can learn from you. Thanks for sharing your story. I know you gave me the courage to come forth with mental health discussions. It’s so much healthier if we all talk about these things. We all learn and grow together! Just like that you and that blue car have. Props!!!!!