It doesn’t matter what you drive, or where you live. All you have to do is give us your name and a valid email address via this form, also seen below. (And while you’re at it, we always value your feedback about the show.) Choose the book you’d like to call your own. Winners will be chosen at random.
The winner will be contacted via email. So yes, we will be collecting emails. I give you my personal assurance that The Thing About Cars will never use your email address for anything other than contacting you for TTAC purposes. We will never sell your email address to anyone. Entries will be collected until Thursday, December 5, 2019. The winner will be announced during the episode we anticipate publishing the following week. Thank you, and good luck!
The company sent me to
Colorado for a few days. That was already a nice break from the
usual, as Colorado is one of my favourite places to visit. It has
great scenery, lots of great twisty roads, and I have dear friends
there who I don’t get to see near often enough. Would my rental
car be on par with the other things in Colorado to which I was
looking forward? Or would the question of the day be, which Dodge
Caravan would you like? Don’t laugh, that’s pretty close to the
situation the last time I visited Chicago.
There were only three of
us on the rental car shuttle. One disappeared to another row, the
other zeroed-in quickly on a red Camaro. I was in last place due to
the amount of stuff I had to carry, and I strode the row with some
trepidation, noting all the chunky SUVs and vans and dull sedans.
Then, miracle of miracles, I spotted a Mustang! It was a beautiful
dark metallic grey convertible and I knew that it needed me. After
loading my gear I started the engine to get the aircon going and tune
the radio and adjust everything, and a moment after starting I
noticed that something didn’t sound quite right, a bit noisier than
it should be. Was the exhaust system broken? I tickled the pedal to
check- was that a rumbly burble? Oh my. Look on the side in front
of the door, and sure enough, it says 5.0! And a GT badge on the
back end! A Five-O Ford right here in the regular section, not over
there in the special upgrade section. How could it be? I decided to
take my chances and drove away with it. The gate attendant assured
me that all was well, that the car was where it was due to some
administrata that I won’t bore you with except to say that the
upshot was that I got this V-8 Mustang for the price of the
turbo-four Mustangs I’ve driven in the past. So there I was, in
Colorado with a Mustang GT convertible, and nowhere to be until the
next morning. What would you do? Naturally, I took it to Pike’s
Pike’s Peak is famous for having an annual hill-climb racing event that lasts a week and features every class from Lightweight Motorcycle to Unlimited Car. The road up the mountain is a 28-mile, two-lane ribbon of asphalt that starts out pretty tame but once above a certain altitude it has a lot of steep grades and tight turns, as in chasing-your-own-tail-light-tight hairpins.
There are also very few guardrails and only limited shoulders, and many places where going off the pavement will result in a long and steep tumble, which is of course combined with scenery that will make you want to watch anything BUT the road. The summit is at 14115 feet above sea level, one of only three places in the United States where you can drive your car to above 14000 feet. Speed limits are low, and higher up in the thin air neither your engine nor your brakes will be able to cool themselves as effectively as at lower altitude. Add in the usual tourist traffic, and the reality is that most of the time you can’t go very fast- but it doesn’t take much speed to screw up on this kind of mountain road. Unless you go to some really unusual places, this is probably the most dangerous road you’ll ever drive.
The cruise down the
interstate to Colorado Springs was effortless. Colorado has some 75
MPH speed limits on I-25 and the Mustang’s cruise control handled
them easily. The forecast for the day predicted a high of 100F, so I
left the top up and kept the aircon working hard. The vented seat
kept cool air at my back, and that’s a very nice thing. Once off
the Interstate it’s a few more miles to the Pike’s Peak Highway
toll-gate, and the road curves through some canyons and passes
interesting places like Garden of the Gods and Manitou Cliff
Dwelling. A few miles shy of the toll-gate I pulled over and dropped
the top. I figured the adventure ahead was worth some sweat,
although it really wasn’t bad since the Mustang’s vents allow the
air to be directed almost anywhere you want it, better than in most
cars, and keeping the side windows raised helps create a ‘bubble’
of more comfortable air. But it didn’t take long for things to get
more comfortable anyway, since the temperature falls as you climb,
and I would later observe about 30 degrees difference at the summit.
So how did the Mustang do
on Pike’s Peak? It did just fine, and it didn’t miss a beat at
all. The miracle of modern electronic engine management kept it
accelerating eagerly at every altitude, and I had no issues with
brake fade. In fact, there’s a mandatory brake temperature
checkpoint on the way down, where a park ranger takes a second to aim
an infrared thermometer at your left front brake. “You’re good,
you’re doing it right,” the ranger said with a smile as he waved
me away. That brings up technique. One thing I did do during both
the climb and the descent was use the manual-shift capability of the
Mustang’s automatic transmission. I’m not generally a fan of
so-called ‘flappy paddle’ shifting, but combine it with the sort
of throttle-technique that you’d use shifting a real manual
transmission and I was able to get very precise shift-responses in
either direction. I mostly used second and third gears on the way
up, with first now and then in the tighter turns. The descent was
mostly just second and first, since gravity’s pull is strong on the
But if you get away from
the numbers and the details, how was the experience? The best
single-word answer is FUN! I’ve been up Pike’s Peak a couple of
times in the past, once on a motorcycle and once in a VW Mk IV GTI
1.8T, and this time was as fun as those. A powerful convertible is a
really great way to experience high-mountain driving, probably
beating the motorcycle by a narrow margin since I didn’t have to
wear a helmet and therefore had the wind in my hair at all times.
Whatever conveyance you use on the Peak, horsepower is your friend
because in most places you don’t have much distance to change
speeds, so whenever you can steal a little speed it’s good to be
able to take it. Of course you want great handling too, so if your
car is optimized for drag-racing, it’s probably not the ideal
choice. But get yourself in that curve-handling state of mind, start
twisting the wheel, and you’ll have a great time. It may be a
dangerous road, but don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be just
fine. I find that there’s a certain rhythm to the hairpins, not in
how one comes after another, but in the very similar way that each
hairpin is constructed. They have a similar radius and a similar
grade, so the right timing of throttle and steering will work over
and over again.
Relax at the summit. Find
a place to park up there and take the time to walk around, enjoy the
views, and by all means, go into the gift-shop and get yourself some
liquid refreshment and definitely get some of the donuts they make
there. They can’t be replicated at low altitude and they’re
delicious, so enjoy this special treat. The calories plus some
hydration will recharge you for the drive down, which can be every
bit as enjoyable as the drive up. On the way down it can be tempting
to put the car or bike into neutral and let it coast, but this is
probably not the best idea due to how fast brakes can get hot in the
thin air. Use low gears to keep your vehicle from runaway speeds and
still allow you to use some throttle on the less-steep parts between
turns. At some point you’ll pass the tree-line, and I find that I
notice the trees coming back on the way down more than I notice them
going away on the way up. Stop where it’s safe and take plenty of
pictures- the views are spectacular!
course I had other fun too with the Mustang while I was in Colorado,
like picking up my friend Craig from his office to go have a bite and
a beer before returning him to finish the evening part of his shift.
We made sure to leave some tire-marks in a distant parking lot before
we parted. I was also able to visit my fried Ross and go for a spin
in a couple of Lotus Elans he owns, and the contrast between their
light, zippy quickness and the Mustang’s heavy powerfulness was
really something to behold: great fun at two very different extremes.
But eventually all things must come to an end, and so it was with a
bit of sadness that I bid the Mustang farewell at the airport. I
couldn’t have had a better rental-car for driving a fun,
challenging, performance-intensive road. I really, truly enjoyed my
high-altitude adventures with this ponycar and if you get the chance,
you will too!
It doesn’t matter what you drive, or where you live. All you have to do is give us your name and a valid email address via this form. (And while you’re at it, we always value your feedback about the show.) One lucky listener will be selected to win their very own Seal Skin Cover, courtesy of Warren Jobs and the Seal Skin Covers company.
The winner will be contacted via email. So yes, we will be collecting emails. I give you my personal assurance that The Thing About Cars will never use your email address for anything other than contacting you for TTAC purposes. We will never sell your email address to anyone.
Entries will be collected until August 31, 2019. The winner will be announced during the episode we anticipate publishing on September 23. Thank you, and good luck!