Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mustang II, de novo

From its birth in 1964, the Ford Mustang was destined for stardom. With its timeless lines, promise of fun and thrifty price tag the popularity of this “personal coupe” caused such a stir upon its debut that it became the template for a new genre of automobile. Soon every other American auto manufacturer was prepping their assembly lines to churn out similar machines. These machines - whether they were Camaros, Firebirds or Barracudas - were all in essence a variation of the same formula, a formula that combined style, prowess and affordability into a small chassis with a big engine. The era of the Pony Car had begun.

The first Mustangs sold superbly. Ford moved a million units during the first two years of production. This rush to Ford’s show rooms was undoubtedly helped by movies like the James Bond flick “Goldfinger,” which featured English model Tania Mallet behind the wheel of a White ’65 Mustang drop-top, or the legendary “Bullit” with Steven McQueen chasing down the baddies in his iconic, green ’68 Fastback. Without that trademark Mustang, Lt. Frank Bullit would have been just another badge in a Dodge Police Interceptor. Movies like these and later ones such as the original “Gone in 60 Seconds” – which gave top-billing to a ’73 Mach I named Eleanor – cemented the authenticity of the Mustang as a staple of Americana.

Hollywood, however, had little to say about the generation of Mustangs produced between 1974 and 1978. (Well, Farrah Fawcett drove a ’76 Mustang Cobra in the "Charlie's Angels" TV series. That counts for something, right?)

Likewise, collectors and enthusiasts regard this iteration of Ford’s pony car – known as the Mustang II – with something less than disinterest. Critics are quick to condemn the Mustang II as an underpowered, undersized, re-badged Pinto lacking of the class and sport of the original. Even late model, fox-chassis ponies from the ‘90s and ‘80s - with their boxy lines and horseless grills - get more respect. Perhaps, judgment has been passed to eagerly for the facts, when considered, reveal the much reviled Mustang II to have been – like its older brethren - a popular and sporty car for its time and – unlike its predecessors – to have been a worthy offering by Ford during that dynamic time in the American auto market when Muscle cars diminished and sporty imports reigned.

So, let us now praise the unloved and overlooked Mustang II. This often forgotten and disregarded pony car roamed the American landscape during the mid to late ‘70s, a time when spiking oil prices and newly contrived emissions laws had dropped the curtain on the American Muscle Car era. As unemployment rates and fuel prices spiked, Americans found themselves facing the inevitable headache that follows a decade of free love, drugs and horsepower. The good times were over and so too were the days of K-Code Mustangs and special GM RPO cars like the 454 Monte Carlo SS. The iconic, high-powered cars of the 60s were fading away. By 1974, the Barracuda, Charger and Challenger were dead as were the AMX and GTO.

Meanwhile, the once svelte lines of the Thunderbird and Cougar bulked up to lumbering RV-like proportions. Worse yet, as the bloat continued power dwindled. The ’74 Cougar XR-7 (they were all XR-7s that year) came standard with a 148hp 351 cubic-inch V8. Going large was no help either. The high option for the Cougar, a big block 460 cubic-inch V8 produced a paltry 216 ponies.

Even America’s premiere sports car, the Corvette, suffered drastic power deflation. With the mandated change to unleaded fuel and the addition of emission controls and catalytic converters, the output of the Corvette’s strongest engine dropped from 425hp in 1973 to 205hp in 1975. To think, today, a ho-hum grocery-getting V6 Honda Accord comes with more than 240hp. Indeed, these were dark days.

It was out of this era that the scaled-down, redesigned Mustang II emerged. With an advanced suspension, lighter body and improved fuel economy, the Mustang II offered sporty fun during a time when the other domestics only offered swollen and uninspired clunkers.

It would, however, be an exaggeration to claim that the Mustang II was the light at the end of the tunnel during what was, perhaps, the grimmest of times in automotive history. It is more reasonable to argue that the innovative Mustang II was, like the original ’64 1/2 Mustang, an avatar for a new design philosophy and a necessary link between the asphalt kicking, big-block brandishing brutes of the ‘60s and the more sophisticated, leaner and eco-friendly performers to come during the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond.

It is interesting to note that Lee Iacocca - best known for his work at Chrysler and recently for his book Where Have All the Leaders Gone - not only oversaw the design of the original Mustang but was the lead man behind the development of the Mustang II. In the late ‘60s, Iacocca set out – like he had with the first Mustang - to create an exemplary automobile.

Since its inception in 1964, the proportions of the Mustang had been swelling. What once had been a compact – the original ‘64 ½ weighing in at 2605 pounds - had, by 1973, grown into a 3500 pound fat boy. In fact, preliminary design sketches for the ’74 Mustang called for an even larger, well-appointed coup with vault-like cabin space.

But, Iacocca steered the direction of the Mustang design team toward producing a compact, fuel efficient, sports coup long before there was any hint that OPEC would stoke up oil prices.

Perhaps, he divined that consumer interest was shifting from large, pony cars and toward sporty, ultra-compacts that were often imports. In fact, sales for sporty compacts like the Toyota Celica, Opel Mantra and Ford’s own Capri were up during the early ‘70s, meanwhile, Mustang sales were down.

Or, perhaps, as Randy Leffingwell - author of Mustang: 40 Years - relays, Lee Iacocca was all but asked to downsize the Mustang. It was at the May 23, 1968 Ford stockholders meeting – a meeting that Lee Iacocca, then executive vice president of North American Operations, attended - when Anna Muccioli – an artist married to a Ford employee with 600 shares of the companies stock - badgered Chairman Henry Ford II about the company’s policy of transforming sporty compacts into large-scale sedans. “I have just one complaint,” she stated, “Thunderbird came out years ago. It was a beautiful sports car. And then you blew it up to a point where it lost its identity. Now the same thing is happening to the Mustang…Why can’t you just leave a sports car small?”

The Chairman assured Mrs. Muccioli that her opinions would be kept in mind and that Ford – by the time she was ready to purchase her next car - would have a product for her.

To which Muccioli responded, “Just leave the Mustang small. Let’s not blow that one up.”

Indeed, Iacocca’s final product was pocket-sized when compared to it predecessors. The Mustang II was 20-inches shorter, four inches narrower, one inch lower and about 500 pounds lighter than the ’71 to ’73 model. It was even shorter than the original ’64 ½ Mustang by nearly 7 inches, as well, it was two inches thinner and about an inch lower. Despite being a much smaller car than its forerunners, Ford’s new two-plus-two was still very much a Mustang in appearance with its short trunk/long hood layout that featured the signature tri-facet tail-lights, canting pony embellished grill and faux side vents.

It was Andy Warhol who said, “Success is what sells.” By this measure, the 1974 Mustang II was a success for it sold. Ford moved 385,993 copies of the diminutive Mustang II, which was more than the combined sales of the “blown-up” ’72 and ’73 model. Further, first year sales of the Mustang II were not that far off of first year sales for the original Mustang. In fact, the car was so well received by all – including the motor press - that the editors of Motor Trend named it their Car of The Year (Their only complaint being the lack of a V8 engine on the option list.) Incidentally, the only other Mustang to earn Car of The Year was the 1993 model.

But, in 1975, Ford pardoned the V-8. Instead of having to chose between the anemic 88hp, 139 cubic-inch, four-cylinder or the wheezy 105hp, 169 cubic-inch, six-cylinder, buyers could now opt for a 139hp 5.0 liter V-8. This, Ford's first "metric" engine, would evolve into the premiere power plant of the Fox chassis Mustangs of the 80s and 90s. (By the way, the 5.0 liter V-8 - for those of you who refuse to give up the Imperial system - had a displacement of 302 cubic-inches.)

In 1975, however, acceleration was far from brisk, but the V-8 was back to offer at least the essence of sport. And, to enhance this essence, Ford went all out with its new King Cobra II option package.

No, this package did not include a tire-cooking 429 cubic-inch V8 like the '72 Mustang Cobra, but it did feature flashy mesh rims, flamboyant body cladding and elaborate tape work that made the Pontiac Trans Am's Eagle-embellished hood appear mild.

Garish spoilers and paint aside, the Mustang II was a sporty, well-handling car for the time - this due to the incorporation of a front-mounted sub-frame and redesigned compact, front suspension.

The impetus behind this redesign was space. The Mustang II was, after all, dramatically smaller than previous Mustangs. In order to accommodate Ford's line up of power plants, room needed to be created under the hood. The engineers removed the space consuming strut towers from the engine bay by replacing the old strut set up with an independent, coil-over strut assemble that was mounted between the upper and lower control arms. The result, when coupled with rack-and-pinion steering, was a smooth riding and well-handling design. Hot rodders discovered this versatility of design and began employing the Mustang II suspension on applications as varied as early '50s Chevys to '32 Ford Coupes. As the salvage yards sold off their last Mustang II front ends demand for these dwindling parts spawned a niche-like after market. Even today, after market performance companies do lucrative business supplying modern hot rodders with reproductions of this now thirty-year-old design.

But, the Mustang II is more than just a parts car. In order to reduce the vehicle's emissions, Ford deliberately de-tuned the Mustang II by fitting it with a small, two-barrel carburetter and restrictive catalitic converter. With a bit of tinkering and a few parts, these handicaps can be undone.

It was 1986 and I was nine-years-old the first - and only - time I rode in my cousins black '78 Mustang Cobra II. And though he throttled me on a regular basis, I so wanted to be him or at least to have his car. Under normal circumstances, I was not allowed near his car, unless of course, he was forcing me to clean its tires with my tongue. This particular day, however, he had taken a break from abusing me in order to demonstrate just how cool his Mustang really was. With duel un-muffled straight pipes - there was certainly no catalytic converter - and a transplanted 351 cubic-inch Cleveland that barely fit under the hood, that car hauled. Now, I can't tell you what that car's best quarter-mile trap speed was, but I can clearly remember my cousin unleashing that Mustang at a street light and - with unnerving clarity - I recall - as we accelerated - the oppressive sensation of my face going numb because all the blood in my head was being squeezed into the hinter-portion of my brain. I have never since felt anything like this. Well, there was that time over Germany in a sailplane. The last I heard of my cousin, he was going to jail for stealing a load of plywood, and the flat bed truck under it. Sadly, I know not what became of that car.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Last weekend, for fun, and because it was necessary, I changed the fuel injectors in the white Jetta. This is the car - if the reader recalls (Hi mom!) - that lost two manifold studs last summer. Take heart, replacing fuel injectors is far easier than replacing exhaust studs. I’ll go into this procedure in just a moment, but first, a word on the Digifant fuel injection system.

The Digifant Engine Management system is a computer-controlled fuel injection system designed by Volkswagen and first introduced in 1986 on its aptly named van: the Vanagan. A year later the system became standard on Volkswagen Golfs and Jettas equipped with 8-Valve, gasoline-powered four-cylinder engines. The sporty Golf GTi and Jetta GLi, both powered by 16-valve four cylinders, retained a mechanical/electrical hybrid fuel injection system known as CIS-Motronic. It is also important to note that the Digifant system employed on the Golf/Jetta platform – with the exception of Golfs and Jettas sold in California after 1991 - was a variant of the original Digifant system and was, therefore, known as Digifant II.

The Digifant II system is often criticized by Volkswagen enthusiasts. The main complaint being that the finicky system is prone to frequent component failure and allied performance and drivability issues. These criticisms are not without merit, however, it is equally important to recognize the attributes of this injection system. In the Jetta and Golf models, Digifant II directly replaced the antiquated - if not abnormally reliable - family of Bosch mechanical, fuel injection systems known simply as CIS - which stands for Continuous Injection System. All CIS systems relied upon an air-vein to measure intake airflow and to control fuel flow through a mechanical fuel distributor and injectors. Though rugged and reliable, the CIS system was not designed to account for factors such as intake air temperature and specific throttle position and is, therefore, limited in its ability to tailor fuel delivery for every situation. It is true that later iterations of the CIS system incorporated electronic controls that worked in tandem with the CIS mechanics. These controls included – among other things - an oxygen sensor tied into a frequency valve to monitor and control fuel/air mixture as well as a full-throttle enrichment switch to prevent lean-running during full-throttle acceleration. However, the Digifant system integrated all of these features into a fully digital system.

Starting in 1993, with the introduction of the third generation of the Golf/Jetta platform, Digifant II was replaced by the Motronic fuel delivery system. Variations of the Digifant system, however, continued to be employed by other Volkswagen models including the Fox, Corrado and the Mexican produced classic Beetle.

This is not as boring as you think it is.

At the heart of the Digifant II system is a computer brain better known as an electronic control unit (ECU). The ECU regulates fuel injection and engine timing based on inputs received by a suite of sensors that measure – among other things – throttle position, coolant temperature, intake air temperature and oxygen content in the exhaust.

Fuel injection is controlled via electronically actuated fuel injectors that are housed in a common fuel rail. Each cylinder is supplied by a single, solenoid-operated injector which sprays a fine mist of fuel toward the backside of each intake valve. Each injector is energized through the ignition coil and grounded through the ECU to complete the circuit. The amount of fuel injected into the cylinder is metered by the duration of time that the injectors are open. The ECU determines this duration by measuring engine load (this data is provided by the Air Flow Sensor) and engine speed (this data is provided by the hall sender in the distributor). The data is then compared to a map, or table of values, stored in the ECU’s memory. The map consists of 16 points for load and 16 points for speed. These 256 primary values are then modified to account for data concerning coolant temperature, intake air temperature, oxygen content of the exhaust and throttle position, allowing the ECU to select from 65,000 possible injector duration points. (To think, my dad used to complain about how tricky carburetors were.)

From reading all that crap above, one could get the impression that fuel injectors are a precision part, and, that if an engine’s injectors are leaky, dirty and not spraying properly the so equipped car will have drivability issues. That was my conclusion. After inspecting and testing the injectors, I realized that the old fuel-slingers were no longer making the grade. The first signs of trouble were a decrease in power and a persistent smell of gas in the motor oil. These symptoms alone could point to any condition that would allow excess fuel to wash past the piston rings and into the oil pan. However, performing a simple injector leak test uncovered the root of the problem to be – duh – a leaky injector.

To do this at home, you will need the Bentley manual! Follow the procedures for removing the fuel rail. It’s a straight forward project that requires you to remove the air box and intake plenum, idle stabilizer valve, after-run fan switch and a few vacuum hoses to get at the fuel rail. Once there, disconnect the fuel feed, fuel return line and signal input connection from the fuel rail. By the way, this is not a good time to light a blunt or burn incense. Next, remove the two Allen bolts that hold the fuel rail in place and pry the fuel rail and injectors free by wiggling the assembly side to side while pulling away from the engine head. If this doesn’t work, stop being a sally and pull harder.

Once the rail is removed, reattach the two fuel lines. For this test, do not reattach the fuel rail’s signal connector. Now have your lackey brother, despondent girlfriend or favorite pet goat turn the ignition to the on position. Do no engage the starter. You’ll hear the fuel pump turn on for an interval of time as fuel pressure builds in the system. Hold the rail so that the injector tips are pointed down and watch to see if the injectors leak. The standard is two drops per injector per minute. Anymore than this and the offending injector needs to be replaced. I found that only one injector was leaky. But, since the injectors were eighteen-years-old and – more than likely – near the end of their operational life, I opted to replace all four.

The injectors are held on the fuel rail via small clips that can be pried off with a flat-head screw driver (one of my all-time favorite tools). Also, each injector is wired into a small wiring harness that is part of the fuel rail assembly. When disconnecting the injectors from their individual electrical connections, take note of how the connector clip is fitted as it is a one-way deal. The injectors, once freed from the wire loom and retaining clips, slip easily out of the fuel rail ports.

If your injectors pass the leak test, refer to the Bentley manual for injector spray testing and continuity testing.

Otherwise, installation is the reverse of removal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

In our post-modern age of technological accomplishment we still use toilet paper and have yet to mass-produce a flying car. What the hell? Maybe in the year 2008, though I doubt it, we will remedy these two issues.