I'm not a typical car guy.
I don't drink alcohol, I don't like to watch sports, and I certainly don't enjoy sitting around.
I like to think, I enjoy being active, and, of course, I absolutely love to drive and race.
I also have a propensity for tinkering and often find myself embroiled in something that begins as a small task and ends up blossoming into a huge, challenging project. Fortunately, I appreciate the value of a good challenge.
I'm very goal oriented, but I also realize those goals are built on little details, and I delve into those details with relish.
Although I recognize the importance of the past and keep a careful eye on the future, I choose to live in the present, because I'm aware that that's the only place a person can truly be alive, make use of the lessons of the past, and effect the shape of the future.
While all of that helps to create a fulfilling life, for me, my greatest satisfaction comes from awareness, learning, and exploration.
Passion for the Muscle Car
Automobiles haven't been a life-long passion of mine. I didn't gain an interest in them until I was 15.
The reason was simple: I didn't drive.
When I did start to drive, I had a predisposition for classic Muscle Cars. That predisposition stemmed from my two biggest early influences: my Mother and my Grandfather.
My Mother drove a '66 Mustang – which was her first car, and the car I would learn to drive in. By no means over-powered, it had a 200 inline six and a C4 automatic, but the weight balance, suspension design, and an inability to spin the tires made tossing it into corners an immense pleasure.
My Grandfather, a retired chemist, drove a '67 El Camino with a 283 V8 he'd modified for gas mileage and power, backed by a Powerglide automatic transmission. Although he passed just after I got my driver's license, he had a major influence on my automotive experiences and continues to have an impact on me to this very day.
It was my Grandfather who instilled two lessons in me before I even cared about cars:
- Classic cars were built better than modern cars – and at that time, it was most certainly true.
- Four-cylinders are for motorcycles, V8s are for cars.
Along with other influences, it would be those two guiding principles that would play a significant role in the first car I bought, but the first and the largest would be my Mother's '66 Mustang. The '66 was my first love, however, it wouldn't be my only before I started hunting for my own.
After the death of my Grandfather, I spent a lot of time trying to find my own way and it was during that time that I found my first automotive love all my own: the 1970 Corvette with an LS5 454. It was because of that Corvette and a newfound passion for performance that I learned a new axiom by which to judge cars: there's no replacement for displacement.
When I started hunting for my own car I already knew there was no way I could afford a Corvette, no matter how much my 16 year old heart had a crush on it, so I chose the next best thing, my first automotive love, a '66 Mustang, and as per my Grandfather's ideals, it would have to have a V8.
Which specific Mustang I chose, however, was in no small part affected by the engine that was stuffed in it.
It was nicknamed "the 351." Because, in the place of the factory 289, was a 351 Windsor. I bought it in February of 1993 and the love I had for it was real. Even with the rust, gray primer spots, and hideous white vinyl top.
Even with a C4 automatic and a 2.80:1 rear end, it was way too much car for a 16-year old still learning to drive. Just to put it into perspective a 1970 Chevelle with a 454 – what many people consider to be the pinnacle of Muscle Cars – has an 8.8:1 cubic inch to weight ratio. That Mustang had an 8:1 even. And the smaller the number, the larger the engine by comparison.
Saddled with a two-barrel carb and exhaust manifolds, it was still a bruiser to drive. That 2.80:1 rear end had an open differential, and it would spin its right rear chrome mag if I floored it at 60.
It ended up being that car – more than anything else – that informed my idea of what a car should be like and is still the car against which I judge all others.
Although my first car is long gone, I still look back on it fondly. It cemented in me a strong passion for the automobile, American Muscle Cars, Sports Cars, and Supercars.
This is the most recent photo of me – I think. It was taken in April of 2014. Photo: Brad Whelan. Click image to enlarge.
This photo was taken in 2003, after my first successful launch of Classics and Performance. Click image to enlarge.
Going to the Sun Road
What does a tight, winding road high in the Rockies have to do with the development of Classics and Performance?
It would be my love of adventuring and road tripping that would eventually lead to my fondness for cars. As I mention on my biography page, I didn't always love cars, I grew to love them rather rapidly once I was able to drive. However, I began road tripping at a very young age, probably before, but certainly by the age of four, when I first traversed this road.
This is Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. It is world renowned, a white knuckler, and stunning beyond description. You have to see it in person to understand.
It was those road trips I was forced to go on as a child that would eventually play a significant role in my appreciation of cars, driving, and the freedom that accompanied them – when I was finally able to take the wheel, myself, as a teenager.
From there, it was an affinity for classic Mustangs, Muscle Cars, speed, and racing that would cement my affection.
The development of Classics and Performance was just a natural outgrowth. Click image to enlarge.
Grandpa's El Camino
My Grandfather and his '67 El Camino were two of my earliest automotive influences. I grew up with stories of the adventures he had in it, of the things he did to modify it, and spent much of my childhood riding around in it. It had a 283 V8, a Powerglide automatic transmission, and a 3.08:1 Posi-Traction rear end. He grew up with cars, himself, and was an auto mechanic in his younger years, before eventually working as a lab technician and a head of quality control. It was his influence that pushed me to both pursue lifelong education and have a love of cars. A non-conformist at heart, he also taught me to think for myself and to look inward for guidance. Coupled with his love of intellectual adventure, I learned many a unique life-skill that has shaped much of what I am today. Click image to enlarge.
The Original 351
My first car was a '66 Mustang coupe packing a 351W, backed by a C4 automatic, and a 2.80:1 open rear end. It didn't have much horsepower, but it was a beast to drive. The original color was Vintage Burgundy, but it was painted a much darker shade at some point in its life, and was covered in spots of gray primer. It also had an atrocious white vinyl top and chrome mags, but not Cragar's – they were a knock off made by American Racing. By the time I sent it on its way to someone who sent it to the big scrap heap in the sky, it was in pretty sorry condition. I still wished I would have kept it, though. Click image to enlarge.
It was about 10 AM on a Sunday morning in February of 1999 when a car ad in the paper was brought to my attention. It was a Shadow Blue Metallic '87 Mustang LX sedan with a 5.0 V8 and a T5 5-speed manual. I was a college student at that point and needed reliable transportation to get me to school. It would become my third car, my most successful project, and it didn't end up on the big scrap heap in the sky. Although I no longer have it, it found a good home with my cousin. I would later discover the merits of not having a project car as a commuter car and vice-versa. Much later. Long before I learned this lesson, this car went down and I spent a few years turning it into a 347-powered bruiser, deciding I wanted more, then selling it to my cousin to fund my "preferred ride." Click image to enlarge.
A Valuable Lesson
My first GT Mustang was of the '66 variety. The long and the short of the whole "Ryan wants a '66" story goes something like this: My first car was in bad shape (body, etc), and I thought it would be more economically, time, and energy effective to replace it with something in better shape to start with. I also wanted a manual instead of an auto – therefore I traded it for the Turquoise '66 in a round-about way and it promptly got totaled. After I got out of college, I decided to forge forward with my dream. Desiring an even better platform to begin with, I bought a '66 GT coupe which had fast ratio steering, front disc brakes, a manual transmission, and a 4-barrel 289 – all with a better body, well at least, condition anyway. Problem was, I wasn't a big fan of the looks of GT coupes. I like GT fastbacks and standard coupes, but not so much the blending of the two. I convinced myself this was a good idea on paper, but it was just never what I wanted. I wanted my first car with a manual. So, lots of money later, it went to a better home. Expensive lesson learned. The moral: don't compromise, get what you really want, be happy. Click image to enlarge.
Unlike my first GT, the '95 GT was one I really wanted.
As a kid, I thought the Fox body cars of the '70s,'80s, & '90s were sacrilege. Then came along the '93 Cobra and the return of the running mustang to the grill. That was better. Then the '94 was produced and I felt like the Mustang had returned to its roots. It was curvy and aggressive with cues from the '60s original – it looked like a Mustang again and I found myself completely enamored with the car.
Of course, at the time, I had no way of affording one, so I bided my time. Not ten years later I found myself the nearly perfect version: GT, black, low miles, manual transmission – it was a match made in heaven.
Although not perfect, it was an excellent car. It cornered just the way I wanted it too, it had excellent brakes, and a healthy – if not completely invigorating – pushrod 5.0 V8.
If there are any complaints about this car, the only one that really sticks out for me is that, in the originals, the driver sat in the car, with the center of balance at right about hip level, making it feel completely responsive, as if everything runs through your gut, the newer one still has the problem the earlier Fox Bodies do, you feel like you're sitting on the car with the center of gravity below your butt, thus taking you out of connection with the car.
Otherwise, this was what I thought the Fox Bodies always should have been.
And I still have it to this day.
But it's my baby. Click image to enlarge.
The New 351
The New 351 is a return to my roots of a sort.
As I've mentioned, the '66 Mustang I wanted was a replica of my first car, a plain-Jane coupe with a manual. I swapped the '66 GT for this car.
One night, my cousin and I went out to pick up the new '66 coupe, took the '66 GT to do it, swapped the two and drove home in the New 351. They were the same color and the new car was in much better – although by no means great or even good – shape, and it was like I went out and returned with the same car in better condition.
This car's purpose is to become a replica of the Original 351 – at least in the most personally significant areas – while having the options I'd really wanted on the original car. Although right now it's packing a 289 V8 and a 3-speed manual, it will eventually house a 351W and a 4-speed – and not be covered in Ivy Green, I loathe Ivy Green...so much. Instead, it will either be Vintage Burgundy, Raven Black, or possibly a darker shade of burgundy to better match the original.
Like the GT, it sits – a bit destitute – in need of repairs. Okay, "repairs" makes it sound better than it is. It requires a total restoration.
Like everything else, I'm working on it.
Like a snail.
A very, very determined, completely obstinate, snail. Click image to enlarge.
'89 LX SSP
Another expensive, painful lesson learned: The '89 Mustang LX sedan I purchased as an "improved" platform to build my dream "5.0" from. This was the car I replaced the 347 with. It was an eBay acquisition – and a very, very bad one at that. I wanted a black car, and this one promised to give me that canvas to work from. It was an SSP car, an ex-Florida Highway Patrol car, in fact. The paint was shit, the interior was nasty, it had been in a flood, was severely rusted out in a major structural area, and was in need of so much TLC, I got out from under it before it drug me under. Click image to enlarge.
After the debacle of the '89 LX SSP, I learned my lesson and decided that buying something I could see and drive would be a wiser decision. That same year I ran across a high-mileage, super clean '93 LX Hatchback I now affectionately refer to simply as "the LX."
When I first test drove the car, it was almost all original with nearly 160,000 miles on the odometer. It drove like a dream. However, a SNAFU with the paperwork caused me to back away from the deal.
It just so happened that my cousin came across an ad on Craigslist placed by the owner, months later, looking for me.
He was ready to make the sale.
In the interim months, he had begun heavily modifying it, but nothing that couldn't be unbolted, so we struck a deal and I finally had the replacement for my original LX, the 347. This car is black with a black cloth interior, a 5.0 and a 5-speed, but what makes this car truly unique is the work the dealership did before the original owner took delivery: they installed Kenny Brown chassis pieces to stiffen up the body. Although not an actual Kenny Brown car, the added pieces do make for both a wonderful driving experience and give the car a unique "original pedigree" of a sort.
Like most of my other projects, it is currently in pieces, but it's slated to be the next car I complete...just as soon as I have the facilities to do it...and the machinery...and the equipment...and the tools.
Minor stuff like that. Click image to enlarge.
'97 Saturn SL
It was February of 2006 when I made the unfortunate decision to buy this amazing 1997 Saturn SL.
My '66 Mustang, the New 351, blew a head gasket – well, ok, blew it more...it seems it had a partially blown head gasket when I bought it – and it was going to require some major surgery to repair. To make the situation that much worse, the rest of the engine, clutch, and transmission were in bad shape, too, and I needed transportation quickly.
This is a shitty position to buy a car from.
As a result, I bought the first pile that had low enough miles and the ability to propel itself in a forward direction.
I ended up spending too much on it and the engine forever burned oil, it just didn't do it when I drove it initially. The real irony is that even after I replaced the engine because it was dying, the used replacement engine also burned oil.
Turns out it was a known issue with the engineering of the 1.9L SOHC Saturns – just not known to me until it was too late.
To compound it, the car was a front-wheel drive four-banger with four doors and I have a strong aversion to four door cars, front wheel drive, and four-cylinder engines.
Consequently, "the Saturn," became an extremely pejorative term for me.
On the positive side, it did have a manual transmission and got upwards of 40mpg.
When the second engine was on its last legs, I dumped it...for another Saturn of all things, and, oddly enough, that Saturn – the SL2 – I ended up loving to pieces.
No, really. Click image to enlarge.
This car – another 1987 Ford Mustang LX Sedan – has just north of 14,000 original miles on it.
It's underside also looks like it's been resting under the ocean since WWII.
When the purchase of my first Saturn left a thoroughly repugnant taste in my mouth, I decided to try to do something about it. Not only did I not particularly like the car, but it was obviously working its way – albeit, slowly – toward its own demise.
After months of searching for a worthy replacement, it was starting to feel like a fruitless venture when I came across this low-mile '87 LX.
It was from Massachusetts where, as I'm sure many people are familiar with the knowledge, the winters are harsh and the snowy roads maintained with even harsher methods – at least for the sheet metal of automobiles. Which ultimately means any automobile coming from that area of the country is – as many car enthusiasts know and no disrespect to those residing in that state – suspect.
After many emails back and forth, the owner swore up and down that the car was in excellent condition and that the only rust on the vehicle was what he had shown in the photos he had posted in the eBay listing.
We made a deal.
I had the car shipped.
I received the car and found that the undercarriage was toast – and I mean everything. The sheet metal, the brakes, the suspension and steering, and the entire rear end – even the oil pan.
It was against my better judgement to buy another car without thoroughly inspecting it in person after my last debacle on eBay with the '89 LX SSP, but I had hopes that this time I had found a good one.
So much for bringing in a car that I could use as my daily driver, this thing was a monumental project.
The only redeeming value was a combination of its otherwise pristine condition, extremely low miles, and that the body wasn't rusted through – well, all but a small spot on the lip of the trunk and a much larger section along the lip of the trunk lid, which I was already aware of.
I made a valiant effort to put it on the road after I bought in September of 2006, but I found myself running out of time before I could finish it. As a result, "the Survivor" as I've dubbed it, is sitting in pieces awaiting my tender ministrations.
It's been waiting since 2007. Click image to enlarge.
When the second engine began giving up the ghost in the '97 Saturn SL and the needed repairs were stacking up, I decided the best choice was to replace it with something more reliable.
With my newfound knowledge of the original Saturns and their quirks, I had a pretty good idea that this 2002 Saturn SL2 I found online was something I could work with, so off I went to find it.
Again, I was in a bad position from which to make a purchase, and this time I was facing down a rising market for small, fuel-efficient cars.
She was a gem, though.
In fact, the only reason I found it was that someone in the dealership had gotten overzealous and posted it before it was even through inspection. I was literally the first person on the phone and through the door.
All that meant one thing and one thing only: they weren't going to budge on the price and I was reluctantly forced to buy it at a premium.
I was still glad I did.
I really loved this car.
It accelerated with ease, it had good brakes, decent handling, and was great on gas. All-in-all, a fun, solid, well-rounded daily driver with the added bonus of extremely low miles.
This was the second time it was like I went off and had a car redone, but oh man, what a rebuild.
It was honestly worth every penny.
Then, not a year later, it was totaled by a hit and run driver.
But, that heralded the coming of my constant companion of the last four years: the Cobalt SS/SC.
Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some, and sometimes you do them both at the same time. Click image to enlarge.
The Cobalt SS/SC
After the death of the Saturn SL2 in August, 2013 at the hands of a hit-and-run driver, I was left without transportation.
The local market for compact, fuel-efficient cars hadn't cooled in the least, and I was having a heck of a time finding something to replace it with. That is, until I came across this car: a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged.
It was rough around the edges, but, that was the only thing that brought it down into my price range.
This was another one that someone at a dealership had gotten overzealous with and posted before it passed inspection. It was sitting in the inventory of a local Toyota dealership when I called on it, but they hadn't even had a chance to look at it and I was told they would call once they had. Days passed and I hadn't heard about it again. I figured it was gone – and I was right, except for the reason: The Toyota dealership wasn't willing to sell it and had pawned it off to another local lot, which I also was on the ball about getting a hold of.
I can understand why: the head had been replaced and there had been a number of major repairs on its service record: a glaring issue since it was a low-mileage, 55,000-mile car – and it needed more. It was also originally a Canadian car. Again, finding myself in a terrible situation from which to buy a car, I counted my lucky stars and brought it home.
Since then it has needed everything from an entire front suspension (a known Cobalt issue I was already aware of prior to purchasing it), to a second cylinder head – and a whole slew full of little odds and ends – but otherwise, it's been a fantastic daily driver.
The Cobalt SS/SCs and the Saturn Ion Redlines are limited-production models with EcoTec 2.0L I4s with twin-screw roots blowers on them – along with being outfitted with track-oriented suspensions and brakes. They were developed with the specific purpose of dominating the sport compact market both on the street and the track, and they drive a lot like old Muscle Cars – the engines respond similar to '60s V8s, but with comparatively more top-end and RPM capability.
Basically they get good gas mileage and are a hoot to drive – even on road trips. Click image to enlarge.
Driving to Glacier
Here's a shot of me driving the GT to Glacier on vacation. We were pulling out of Libby, Montana, heading for that night's stop right outside the park in a small town called West Glacier. I missed the exit because it had changed so much since I'd last been there a decade before that I no longer recognized the area. We ended up pulling in long about 9:30 that night. In most places, that's not a problem, but in West Glacier, the hotel clerk goes home at 9. This was taken at the end of July, 2004. Photo: Patricia Kalin. Click image to enlarge.
My '95 Mustang GT and I
Again, this photo was taken at the end of July, 2004 – right outside the motel room the day after we arrived in West Glacier. After waking, the first thing on our agenda was exploring the town and the surrounding wilderness. Unbeknownst to us, there was a black bear living in the woods right outside of town – I didn't find that out until we were heading home. We had more trouble with bears on that trip than I'd care to experience. FYI, the book "Night of the Grizzlies" is a true story and it happened in Glacier National Park. Photo: Patricia Kalin. Click image to enlarge.
Brake Tear Down
At the beginning of February, 2006 I was in the process of removing the rear end from my 1993 Ford Mustang LX Hatchback so that I could install a rear end with 4.10:1 gears. A gear set I had figured would be optimal for the 347 I was planning to install. As you can see in the photo, the previous owner of the car had already done some modification work and had installed '94 and later disc brakes all the way around. Although the system needed work to finish it, it was an excellent choice for the way I was building the car at the time. Click image to enlarge.
Pinion Bearing Assembly
On a Sunday night in September of 2006, I was busy (and tiredly) pressing a pinion gear bearing onto the pinion gear for a rear end build for the '93. At the time, I was looking for a new car but had no idea I was about to find an '87 Mustang Sedan. Click image to enlarge.