US Road Trip Travelog: 9th February 2005

1973 Mustang Convertible
1973 Mustang Convertible.

Having awoken to the sound of the Tannoy ("Carl, please pick up line 7", or similar) at the pickup truck dealership, I called Gateway and arranged to test drive the Mustang in a few hours. When I arrived it was as in the photo above, hooked-up to a battery charger. Charlie had already put some air in the tyres. It refused to start for a long time, until the standard battery charger was swapped for a higher boost one and enough petrol had been poured straight into the carburetor to run the average family car for a week. Once started we tested all the electrics and other options:

On the plus side, the power roof went up and down ok though it had obviously been chaffing a bit on one side and worn away the edging. Then we went out for the test drive. Charlie drove first and I sat in the passenger seat. I have to say I wasn't overly impressed. As well as the interior being a bit bland, the wind noise meant we had to shout at each other above a moderate speed. My turn at the wheel. I've never driven a big old American car, and it's a bit of a shock. The steering is so ridiculously over-assisted that I have no idea which way the wheels are pointing. The engine seems gutless and there's a funny transmission vibration. Worse still, the brakes are scarily bad - I'm using far too much effort, bracing myself in the seat, to just get it to slow down. Oddly, when I take my foot off the accelerator it doesn't actually go much slower for a very long time.

I'm not going to buy this car. Charlie suggests we stop at a local auto-repair place to see about getting the faults corrected. When we go to leave the battery is dead, and needs another serious boost. I don't even want to drive it back and thankfully Charlie takes the wheel. I don't think it's a bad car - the mileage is only 70,000 or so and the original bodywork is in great shape - but I think it would need some work to bring it up to scratch. It would make someone a great 'summer use only' car, and I think it would be a good investment as these cars are much too cheap at the moment compared to earlier Mustangs.

Back at Gateway and a bit disheartened. Charlie didn't say anything, but I think he was a bit disappointed with the Mustang as well. He asks if I'd like to try another car. I hesitate, because I don't want to waste his time and I know that, with the road conditions outside, the cars will need cleaning when they come back. The only other car I really like that they have it stock is that '63 Riviera (as seen on yesterday's page). I suggest that, if it'll start, we try that one.

It starts on the second or third attempt, with no assistance and not having run for a while. The sound is fantastic - this is a huge V8 with twin exhausts and is not strangled by emission controls like the 70's cars. The interior is also something special, with big comfortable leather seats (only available on '63 Rivieras) and a great 60's dash. All the electrics work, though the back windows are a bit slow, and the air conditioning even gets cold. A bit of air in the front tyres and we head off for a test drive, with me at the wheel this time from the outset.

The power steering is light, but not lifeless, but the thing that most impresses from the outset is the power. This Riviera is seriously quick for a 42-year-old 'luxury' car, and quick even by modern standards. I do feel a bit sorry for Charlie, though, as the first time I hit the brakes he almost goes through the windscreen. The brakes are very powerful and the pedal is ultra-sensitive. The interior is a great place to be being very light and, I think, quite stylish. When we head out on the Interstate, though, a problem occurs. As I'm playing with the power there's suddenly a terrible buzzing sound from the dashboard, which has us both worried. Until I remember these models had a speed indicator warning system, which you can set by a knob on the speedometer. The previous owner had set it around 70 or so and, er, I was exceeding that. I turn the indicator warning up to 90 and the sound goes away.

When we get back to Gateway, Charlie goes off to have his lunch and I go over the bodywork with a magnet and shine a torch at the underside. Anyone who knows me well will know that I haven't got a clue what I'm doing, but I'm keen to pretend anyway. The bodywork has been resprayed recently, and I've no doubt there's some rust and filler under there, but it seems a reasonable job. The tyres are new all round, as are the front shocks and the back sections of both exhausts. The engine bay isn't pretty - it's the original engine - but there are no cracked hoses or obvious problems. The leather in the front seats is a bit tired and the driver's seat has a few bits where it's actually split.

I'm going to try to buy it, I know that. I knew that as soon as I drove it. I talk it over with Charlie and, after my usual pathetic haggling attempts, settle on $9000. This is a lot for a Riviera (though $4000 less than the asking price of that Mustang) but I always knew I'd be paying a premium to buy from a dealer rather than privately. And if we can get around the whole registration / licence plates issue without me having to deal with Illinois DMV then I'm more than happy to pay a premium.

Then, for me, it's hold-your-breath time as the ladies at Gateway deal online with Illinois DMV to arrange the transfer of ownership. There is a potential problem with my being an Illinois resident but not having an Illinois driver's licence but, it seems, that even though the field exists as a requirement on the State's online forms it is possible to enter N/A and it'll still accept it. And my 'local' address has passed muster. With the paperwork done, another intake of breath as my credit card gets processed. I was worried that Intelligent Finance might refuse such a large debit from abroad, and could see myself with long and involved phone calls to the UK. That morning I'd transferred some money to my credit card account, though, and it all went through smoothly.

My new car
My new car.

And then it's all done, and I've bought a car. The 90-day temporary plates are handed to me, along with the paperwork needed in case Roscoe P want's to know if this is, indeed, my automobile. The proper licence plates and title of ownership will be sent to the mailbox in Decatur, hopefully in time for me to collect them before heading back to the UK mid-April. I'll leave the car at Gateway for the moment as I need to drive back up the I55 (I'm getting to know it like the back of hand) to Springfield to sort out the insurance and get AAA breakdown recovery.

On the drive back up to Springfield it starts snowing quite heavily. Rather than go to an out-of-town motel I head towards the centre and look for a hotel with a bar nearby that does food (having not eaten all day). I find Cecil's - pronounced 'Seesills' - Bar next to a Best Inn and that's all I need for today. The snow seems to have stopped after a few inches so I hope I can start heading south tomorrow before it gets any worse.

US Road Trip Travelog: 10th February 2005 >