Flip This Car: 1992 Ford Mustang LX 5.0 Convertible

By Christopher Smith

December 08, 2011


Through risk comes reward, or at least that’s the plan with this, the first all-new chapter in Winding Road’s Flip This Car saga since the ill-fated Subaru Legacy turbo graced these digital pages back in the summer. A fond welcome back to those who weathered the 14-month Buick Roadmaster saga, and for the rest of you spying this 20-year old Mustang and scratching your heads, let me explain. This ragtop is my car—my name is on the title and I’ll be the one digging it out of the ditch and footing the repair bill as I white-knuckle it through a Michigan winter.
It’s cool though; the white paint and white convertible top—well, it was white at one time—will be a nice match for my bloodless bony knuckles gripping the maroon steering wheel. Actually, I believe this two-door, rear-wheel drive, 3000-pound V-8 droptop is the perfect car for winter despite what my friends, co-workers, family members, neighbors, impersonal acquaintances, strangers at the gas station, both my  therapists, and anonymous teenagers in line at the local Gamestop think. Joking aside, I’m under no delusion that such a platform lends itself particularly well to plodding through piles of the white stuff, but here’s the thing. Everyone tends to think cars like these are out-of-control hockey pucks when it snows but don’t believe the hype. Proper tire selection is by far the determining factor in secure winter time travels, and though front or all-wheel drive platforms can offer traction advantages, a rear driver with good winter shoes can plod through the snow and ice with similar determination. And over the next few months, my Nokian-equipped Mustang and I will prove it.
Of course, surviving unscathed through the winter in a 5.0 Mustang convertible does involve some measure of risk. For starters, the original 20-year old convertible top is currently patched with duct tape and clear silicone. I think it’s more or less waterproof, but I haven’t really had the chance to test that theory. I’ve also yet to experience daily travels in truly cold temperatures, which for us northerners generally starts somewhere in the teens Fahrenheit. I had the chance for some relatively warm top-down cruising just after Thanksgiving and I can’t rule out some open-air antics while attending the 2012 Rally America Sno-Drift, but with the sketchy repairs currently applied to the aging canvas top it will likely stay up until I decide which of the 20,000 aftermarket tops will be the best replacement.
The bigger risk is, of course, my fat right foot. Snow tires will shepherd this car through the worst of winter, but I still need to suppress the inner child who killed 73 orange cones trying to control a 4300-pound Roadmaster last year at an SCCA Rallycross. At least now I’m piloting a machine with some measure of enthusiast DNA, even if it does rely on a four-speed automatic and live rear axle for motion. Actually, I’m quite happy with the feedback the Mustang gives me, perhaps because there’s not 30 yards of wet sponge dampening the motions at all four corners or 20 feet of Roadmaster trunk behind my head. I already have 500 miles of tarmac and dirt travels in the Mustang, and thus far I feel much more comfortable taunting the laws of physics. But I’m not planning to remove the tow strap stowed in the trunk anytime soon.
I’m getting ahead of myself; there will be plenty of time in later segments to discuss the Mustang's dynamics. Right now you need an introduction, so here’s the scoop—this 1992 Mustang LX 5.0-liter convertible has just over 118,000 miles and is completely stock, right down to the four-speed automatic and cloth interior a friend describes as porno red. According to the previous owner, it received considerable maintenance in the 12 years he owned it, and I believed him. In a short five-minute test drive I found a smooth and strong engine, a crisp-shifting automatic transmission free of shudder or slippage, tight steering, composed suspension, and an overall package that was surprisingly rattle-free for a 20-year old convertible. Part of that was due to recent suspension work that included new front springs (hence the nose-high stance) and shocks at all four corners, but even the interior was snug, solid, and devoid of curious noises.
Compare this to the other good condition cars I considered, such as a 1989 BMW 535i automatic that was adorned with M5 badges and accelerated like a dump truck. Or the 1994 Mercury Cougar XR7 V-8 that looked like a winner until I went to start it, at which point the seller casually mentioned a “bearing noise or something in the engine” that he assured me didn’t affect how the car drove. My personal favorite (possibly in the 10 years I’ve been doing this) came during a phone call on a 1987 Nissan 300ZX, when I asked if the timing belt had been replaced. “This doesn’t use a belt for the timing, you set that with the distributor,” was the quick response. On the bright side, that answer at least saved me a two-hour round trip to look at the car.
So yeah, when I happened upon this Mustang that was owned by a straight-talking enthusiast; a car that drove straight and true down the road and matched the seller’s description right down to the tear in the driver seat, I jumped all over it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not without flaws but with some exterior help and a few upgrades I’m very excited about the potential fun factor here. Just a comprehensive exterior recondition made a huge difference, and to help showcase that transformation, the photos with this introduction represent the car as I bought it, pre-detail. Part two will reveal the polished product and the beginning of the parts install, and having recently moved to a new home with a dedicated shop, I’m more capable than ever to get crazy with the elbow grease.
My biggest problem right now is where to start with the tomfoolery. The Mustang aftermarket is so large that it’s almost intimidating, and the enthusiast community behind the car is even larger. I’ve already dipped a toe into both as the 5.0’s future will include exhaust work, suspension upgrades, basic bolt-on power and of course restoration items like the new convertible top. Unlike the Buick, I have every intention of spending some money on this machine because, well, let’s just say I bought it for the right price. I’m keeping that number under wraps until the end of this series, but to give you an idea of the flip potential, I purchased this V-8 ragtop for less than the Buick’s $2100 selling price. Provided I don’t biff the undercarriage careening into a ditch or get sideswiped while ice racing (yes, ice racing), I could be looking at a very handsome profit come spring, AKA convertible season. Through risk comes reward.
New car. New shop. New FTC series. Yo VIP, let’s kick it.
+ Part Two
+ Part Three
+ Part Four
+ Part Five
+ Part Six
+ Flip This Car: Archive