Spoiler alert: I did a 3300-mile road trip in 10 days with my 1995 Mustang GT convertible, and I survived. Not only that, the car survived too, but if you read my article a few weeks back on the 10th Annual Sturgis Mustang Rally you already knew that. What you don’t know is that I encountered sunny skies and warm temperatures, blistering heat with tropical humidity levels, and torrential rainfall which did reveal a critical flaw in the driver side weather strip on the convertible top.
I also made no less than 13 stops for petrol over the course of the trip, and I know you’re all wondering just what kind of horrendous fuel mileage this old 5.0-litre V8 muscle car managed to get. Don’t worry, I’ll get to that. But first you need to know a bit about the trip.
Why drive to Michigan?
The main objective for the trip was to get this old Mustang from western South Dakota to Michigan and back without incident. I have a pseudo-secret life that revolves around marketing and PR for a company in Michigan, and I needed to be on-site for a special event. Ordinarily I’d hop a flight, but not this time. I’d been driving the Mustang all summer and felt confident it could make the journey, but 21 years can make things like rubber hoses and wiring harness a tad unpredictable.
It’s not like I went easy on the car. I took full advantage of South Dakota’s generous 80mph speed limits in both directions. While in Michigan I went full rally mode on gravel roads, then pounded through the broken roads in southeast Michigan. And while I can neither confirm nor deny occasional hooning activities, I did have to clean quite a bit of rubber from the rear fenders once I got home.
Despite the age, and the weather, my heavy right foot and penchant for full-throttle acceleration runs, the old 1995 Mustang made the trip without incident. Even with air con set to full in stop-and-go traffic with 95-degree heat, the engine never got remotely close to overheating. Extended highway runs with the engine at 3000rpm (redline is 5800) were handled without even a minor hiccup. The older pushrod 5.0-litre V8s are known to use some oil as they age, but this one used less than a half-quart for the 3300-mile trip. That’s as good - if not a bit better- than when these engines were new.
I was expecting the solid rear axle and original (yes original) suspension bits to pound my spine into dust but it didn’t happen. You wouldn’t mistake this old Mustang for a new Merc, especially on the horrendous roads around southeast Michigan. But I was truly shocked at just how comfortable I was for the duration of the trip. Even the solid rear axle wasn’t that terrible to deal with. It would occasionally hop and/or yaw over serious bumps, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of this car at every opportunity.
The only minor glitch was a small water leak from the top at the driver window after a half-hour monsoon during a whopper of a thunderstorm. Turns out the weather stripping for the driver window has the smallest of gaps, and with a saturated top the water would run inside and dribble down my leg. Considering the hotel I pulled into had a couple guys on Harleys trying to dry themselves off enough to even go inside, I considered myself fortunate.
Aside from getting to mid-Michigan for a week of work, I had a few other objectives for this mid-summer road trip: taking the S.S. Badger ferry across Lake Michigan, a Mustang photo op at the old Packard Plant in Detroit, and crossing the Mackinac Bridge for a Lake Michigan cruise along US 2 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Rather than drive around Lake Michigan, I booked passage on a 1950s steam-powered ferry called the S.S. Badger. I’d never been on a big-ish boat before, and the Badger had a red-eye overnight crossing from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Ludington, Michigan. It fit perfect with my first-day schedule - I covered the 950 miles from Rapid City to the ferry in 13 hours and was still an hour early to board.
The ferry cut almost 300 miles from my trip, but more importantly, the four-hour crossing time gave me a chance for some sleep. I handed over $150 for myself, the car, a stateroom with a bed, and a vodka tonic. I was out before the ship left the dock, and I awoke just in time to see a beautiful sunrise over Ludington.
Detroit Packard Plant
For those who aren’t familiar, the old Packard Plant has become something of a metaphor for the city of Detroit. Built in the early 20th century it was once the most modern manufacturing facility in the world. The plant closed in the 1950s while Detroit was still in its prime, but both the plant, the neighborhood around the plant and the city have steadily declined through the decades, decaying to become ruins and shells of their former glory.
Curiously though, the old Packard Plant is also a metaphor for the defiant resilience of Detroit, a city that’s bruised and torn but just won’t die. Though it’s utterly ruined and shattered, the plant’s structure is actually quite sound. Investors have a plan to renovate the 40-acre area, though such plans have come and gone through the years with no success.
It’s in a properly terrifying neighborhood, but in the middle of the day I felt comfortable enough to stage the Mustang for a photo op with the plant’s famous walkway in the background. As I was pulling the camera from my case a couple friendly-looking gentlemen materialized out of nowhere and were headed in my direction.
Perhaps they thought I’d broken down and were coming to help, but the baseball bat one was carrying suggested they might be interested in something else. I was determined to get my photo however, so I jumped out of the car, grabbed three shots, then got the hell out of town before shots of a much different variety started ringing out.
A quick blast north on I-75 got me to Mackinaw City and the Big Mac. Not the infamous double-decker burger from McDonalds - I’m talking about the longest suspension bridge not just in the United States, but the entire western hemisphere. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco gets all the glory, but the Mackinac Bridge is five miles long with 2.5 miles held up just by steel cables.
Connecting Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula to St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula, the bridge is an engineering wonder that’s now almost 60 years old. Once you reach the suspension portion, the inside lanes of the four-lane road are mesh steel so wind can pass through the roadway. It’s designed to move 35 feet side-to-side in extreme winds, and since the bridge is 200 feet over the water at its maximum height, the view is tremendous for anyone not afraid of heights. That’s especially true since you can actually see through the inside lane, right down to the water. And since I was crossing on a gorgeous summer afternoon, visibility was not a problem.
And that’s pretty much it. Well, except for the fuel stops. A word of warning for all you CTzens across the pond. You’re probably not going to like this.
I averaged just over 20mpg, which I consider a win for an old Ford V8 built during a time when petrol in the United States was less than $1 per gallon. I’m also running a much shorter final drive gear ratio versus a stock 1995 GT, which really bumps engine RPM up at highway speeds.
With some basic arithmetic, 3300 miles at an average of 20mpg comes out to 165 gallons of premium petrol consumed by the Mustang. My average cost-per-gallon for 91-93 octane premium was $2.70, for a total fuel cost for the entire 3300-mile trip coming out to $450.00, or about £350.00.
I’ve owned plenty of cars, including two other Mustang convertibles before this one. I’ve taken quite a few road trips, both for work and for play. None have been as enjoyable as this 3300-mile blitz across the High Plains, the Midwest, and the Great Lakes. This old car surprised me with its comfort, the fuel mileage wasn’t terrible, and was just flat-out fun-to-drive. But this car also had something you won’t find in new cars - character.
That only comes through age and mileage, and it can mean the difference between a good road trip, and something you’ll remember for a long, long time.