On day two of my classic Mustang road trip with Ford Motor Co.'s top two designers, Moray Callum and I were concerning ourselves with the future. Not just the future of cars, cities, and design; but our own imminent futures. Because we were driving a half-century-old car, with antiquated brakes, insufficient tires, and zero safety devices—and it was snowing. And our windshield wipers had just quit.
This is Part Two of my vintage Mustang road trip with the top two designers at Ford Motor Co. Check out Part One here. Ford wanted me to ride along so badly, the company provided for my travel to Dearborn and two nights' accommodation. The company was unable, however, to arrange for decent weather. Buckle that 50-year-old seatbelt.
When we last left off on our Mustang adventure, we'd rumbled into Rochester, NY just after midnight, after leaving Dearborn, MI at 10AM. The 1965 Mustang I'd been riding in with Chris Svensson, Ford Motor Co.'s director of design for the Americas, was a champ. The 67 Mustang, driven by Ford's head of design Moray Callum, was breaking down with the regularity of Old Faithful. Today, I'd be riding with Moray in the temperamental 67.
Moray Callum's 1967 Mustang.
After trailering the 67 for the last 60 miles of our first day, Moray and mechanic Matt Patrice had woken up at 6AM to try to fix the temperamental car's flagging electrical system. By 10 o'clock, when designer Chris Svensson, Motor Trend's Scott Burgess, and I arrived at the trailer-turned-workshop, Moray and Matt had settled on the same solution as yesterday: drive until the battery died, then swap in a fresh one from the charger in the chase truck. Repeat for 300 miles.
We would know the battery was dying when the windshield wipers slowed to a crawl.
As our manual transmission, manual steering, crank-windowed 67 Mustang roared out of the hotel parking lot into a trademark Central New York mix of frozen precipitation and misery, I asked Moray what a world of driverless cars might look like.
"If the lawyers will ever let us have autonomous cars, then in theory, I think a couple things could happen," he replied. "Pretty soon we'll have cars that are able to avoid each other. But that'll only work for cars that can talk to each other. So then we'll see if you'll have a unique set of roads for that kind of technology for specific cars, or if we'll ban old cars completely, which is slightly worrying."
The 67's windshield wipers quit wiping. Moray fiddled with the switch. "But I suppose the promising thing about that is, if you imagine cars can't collide with each other, we can take all the safety devices off, take all the pedestrian protection off, all that, and actually be a bit more creative with cars again."
The wipers popped back into action. "Imagine the weight you put into cars to make them collision-proof, or for the consequence of a collision. If there's never going to be a collision you could take all of that away. That could be quite interesting."
You'd be left with a 1967 Mustang, I thought.
Port Byron, NY
We pulled into a rest stop off the New York State Thruway. The miserable weather, alternating between rain and snow, demanded full concentration at the wheel from Moray and Chris, but both cars were running strong. On the road, Moray's 67 wasn't quite as loud as Chris's 65, though neither could be characterized as quiet.
Unlike modern cars that that almost seem ashamed of their gasoline-fueled guts, these Mustangs always remind you that they're powered by a series of small explosions.
In the rest area parking lot, a guy in a black leather jacket emblazoned with a red, white and blue "Mustang" insignia took a long, slow walk around our two cars. This had become a familiar sight. Everywhere we'd stopped, people came up to chat about the Mustangs. Nearly all of them had a Mustang story, whether it was about a parent, a sibling, a neighbor, or a younger version of themselves. Separately, I made this observation to both Chris and Moray. Their reactions were the same: they loved it.
"Isn't that amazing?" Moray asked. "I think that's what makes the Mustang iconic. That's an overused word, but the Mustang is such an American thing."
This was the one time I wanted the wipers to stop. They didn't.
We drove on. The windshield wipers were nearly cooperating. The snow had turned to mostly rain. Which was only a partial improvement: both the 65 and 67 Mustangs leak a not-insignificant amount of water through the bottom of the windshield and onto the driver and passenger's feet. Matt told us this was just a characteristic quirk of the era. Not to mention, neither car's windows completely sealed—in Moray's 67, with my window cranked all the way up, there was still a gap between the top of the window and the door frame.
I could see why my parents, who grew up driving cars like these, always insisted I call home after a car trip of more than an hour.
Moray and I got to talking about hybrids and electric cars, and how car design could change in a future where vehicles aren't strictly powered by gasoline. "It's interesting to see what Tesla's done," Moray said. "They had the opportunity to do a completely new shape of car if they wanted to. What they really did was just take all the elements we already know make a car look better, and did it."
The windshield wipers quit briefly, then resumed. "And I think that's probably the way it's going to have to start. People still have certain rules about what cars should look like, and quite frankly it may be less experimental than we'd like them to be in terms of how a car could look."
"I think with different powertrains, combined with [self-driving] cars not hitting each other, you could actually really get back to the old days of the coach builder designing your own body for you. If the roller skate [the car's chassis] just has all the safety systems on it, and the collision avoidance system, you could get back to people having their own uniquely designed cars."
Aside from the 67's battery charging problems, and the errant dribble of rain sneaking inside, both Chris and Moray's cars were doing an admirable job keeping up with modern traffic. When everything was working right, the cars didn't feel at all out of place cruising down the interstate at 70 MPH, despite both cars being closer in age to the Model T than to the 2014 jellybeans we rumbled past.
The only area where the vintage 'Stangs both felt wholly antiquated was in electronic gadgetry. Both Chris's 65 and Moray's 67 had hidden smartphone connectivity (Bluetooth in the 65, auxiliary input cable in the 67), but their dashboards were bereft of the knobs, buttons, speakers, and screens we associate with car interiors today.
I spent the whole day searching for the seat heater button, but never found it
"Is it hard incorporating the latest entertainment technology in car interiors?" I asked.
"It's a challenge that's bigger than a lot of people think," Moray replied. "A lot of people think it's as simple as putting an iPad up there, but the whole distraction aspect of that is completely different than what an iPad is. You can't make it overly entertaining because you don't want people to be looking at it, you don't want it to cause accidents."
"I think we really need to understand what information the customer needs and how much is overkill. As designers and engineers we tend to like to give people as much information as we can give them. We need to go back and ask ourselves, just because we can do it, should we do it?"
Just south of Syracuse, our windshield wipers started to slow down noticeably; the tell-tale sign the 67's battery was dying. I called Chris and Scott, riding in the 65 ahead of us, and asked them to tell us whether our headlights had gotten dim.
When Moray pulled out the headlight switch, the 67's engine bogged down and backfired violently. Our battery was out of juice. Moray managed to limp the dying Mustang to the side of an off-ramp before the engine quit.
While we waited for Matt to come with our next battery, Chris and Scott drove the annoyingly reliable 65 a quarter-mile down the road to get gas. Helpfully, they discovered a Subway and took an impromptu 30-minute lunch break.
Absent the constant roar of the thirsty 390-cubic-inch V8, Moray and I no longer had to shout to hear each other. I asked him about the parallels between car design and architecture.
"It's all about communicating function," Moray said. "I think of Frank Gehry for example, I think he opened up a new life for architecture in terms of flexibility, how much form and shape can change a building. And he probably broke a lot of rules. But I think that's part of this job, there are a lot of unspoken rules in car design as well."
I thought I heard Chris and Scott coming to join us, but it was just a passing farm truck. After two days of near-constant auditory assault, all these Ford V8's were starting to sound the same.
Moray continued. "The same thing that Frank Gehry's done in buildings I think's happened in cars as well. And it probably started off with what Chris Bangle did at BMW, really sort of questioning the traditionalist approach and actually doing something a little different. And that's been taken to different lengths by different companies, some more positively than others."
Matt arrived with our replacement battery. He had it swapped in under a minute. He'd had a lot of practice in the past 24 hours.
New Milford, PA
We got going again, but the 67 didn't seem happy. There was a new sound on top of the usual booming engine note, a loud clattering that made the freshly-rebuilt V8 sound like a 200,000 mile survivor.
We clocked another 80 miles, but by our next fuel stop the 67 was in a sorry state. It left a shimmering smear of oil on the concrete as Moray filled up the tank. The rain showed no sign of stopping, and we had another 160 miles to go before we reached New York City. Reluctantly, Moray threw in the towel. After 500 miles of heroic effort, Matt and the truck driver Nate loaded the 67 into the trailer. Moray and I would finish the journey in the luxurious back seat of the chase truck, with Chris and Scott following in the 65.
— Robert Sorokanich (@RSorokanich) April 15, 2014
After the raucous environment of the classic Mustangs, the truck seemed like a rolling luxury suite. Despite hauling a 48-foot trailer carrying nearly 3,000 pounds of dead Mustang weight, I could hardly hear the truck's engine, even as we merged onto Route 81. Moray, having gone to bed late and woken up early in an effort to get the 67 sorted, dozed off immediately. I plugged in my laptop and started writing. A late-model Ford F-450 King Ranch, with its opulent leather and abundant power outlets, makes an excellent office. Coming from the 67, the truck felt like a Lear Jet.
But if the Alternator Fairy had come down and bestowed working electronics on our 67, I'd have hopped back into the old beast in a heartbeat. In a modern car, even the driver starts to feel like a passenger. From the shotgun seat of the 67, where I served as navigator, windshield de-fogger, and blind side traffic monitor, I felt like part of the drive—even though I never laid a finger on the steering wheel.
Which is why I'm relieved that Ford's top two designers are such adamant car guys. I'm even glad they refused to bring along modern backup cars, despite the frequent breakdowns more than doubling the time it took us to complete our voyage. There were no safety nets on this trip.
With Moray and Chris at the wheel, the future of car design looks pretty bright. As long as our windshield wipers cooperate.
Many thanks to Moray Callum, Chris Svensson, and Ford Motor Company for inviting me along on this trip.
Images by Robert Sorokanich