mikedd969 Reader
11/25/19 9:48 p.m.

A few weeks ago, I’m on the phone with my beautiful wife and a part of the conversation goes like this:


SWMBO: “Guess what??”


Me: “Turkey Butt??” (I’m so funny…..)


SWMBO: “No you dork!! I bought a car today!!!”


Me: “You did what?”


SWMBO: “I bought a car. A convertible one! Remember how much fun we had in Hawaii driving around in that convertible?”


Me: “Well yeah, but…..well….I have so many questions…..”


SWMBO: “Remember my friend Kendra in Kentucky?” (we are both from the Elizabethtown KY area) “She finally bought a new car, and I bought her old one from her”


Me: “The white convertible Mustang?”


SWMBO: “Yep, that one.”


Me: “Um…..ok. Well, how much?” (Preparing myself for the worst)


SWMBO: “$600!!!”


Me: “Wow! OK, you had me worried there for a minute. Well, I know Kendra, so I’m sure it’s been well taken care of, how many miles are on it?”


SWMBO: “I don’t remember. She said needs a new fuel pump, but other than that the only thing wrong with it is that the convertible top needs to be fixed, the rear glass has come loose and was letting water into the trunk, so she put a tarp over it and bought a new car.  I'm sure you can fix it up for us.”


And so…..the (unexpected) adventure begins…….


My beautiful wife of 21 years and I have somewhat unusual living arrangements these days. Our house, where I currently live, is in Alabama, on the beautiful Gulf Coast just north of Gulf Shores. We’ve been here for a little over 15 years now. My wife has been living and working in the SF Bay area in California for almost 3 years or so now. Some folks find it odd, but it has worked out pretty well for us. She is a Registered Nurse, and a NICU specialist and recently landed an incredible job at Stanford University’s children’s hospital, which is great for her professionally and great for us financially. We’ll probably continue this unorthodox arrangement at least until my daughter graduates from college (she’s a Junior at Mississippi State), then I’ll either move out west, or we will both relocate somewhere, probably close to wherever our daughter winds up.


She REALLY enjoyed driving around Oahu in the rental VW convertible when we were out there this summer, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, and we do need a second car here in Alabama for her to drive when she’s here, so I figured, at $600, there was minimal risk. I’m all-in I guess….as if I had a choice.


The vehicle in question is a 2003 Mustang Convertible V6 (3.8) automatic in Wimbledon White, with a Saddle or Parchment (not 100% sure which) leather interior, and convertible top. Not sure of the trim level, but as I said, it’s got leather seats and the “Mach 360” sound system (minus the original head unit). I actually remember this car from when Kendra, my wife’s best friend from their teenage years bought it new in 2003. I just never expected to own it......


My awesome In-Laws still live there in Elizabethtown KY, and were kind enough to assist us in this adventure. Rich, my FIL took a look at it and confirmed that it would start right up, but would only run for 30-60 seconds, then it would die. But it ran well when it ran. We had it towed to their place, and he and I, over the phone and text, managed to confirm the fuel pump as the likely culprit.


I got on Rock Auto and ordered a new pump, filter, and filler-neck grommet. FIL installed them for me and the car starts runs and drives. The rear tires were pretty bald, so a new pair was obtained and installed and I began making plans to get the car from KY to AL, and deal with all the PITA red-tape involved in transferring the title and registration across state lines. This was complicated by the fact that the car, and the previous owner were in KY, one of the new owners (me) was in AL and the other (SWMBO) was in CA, and also that I hadn’t done a title and registration transfer like this, across state lines in a VERY long time. That has been an adventure in red-tape, disinterested government workers, managing my blood-pressure and it’s still not 100% resolved as of this post, but we are close.


Fast forward to today, SWMBO and I are both in KY for the Thanksgiving holiday. I flew one-way and will be driving the Mustang 579 miles home to AL the weekend after Thanksgiving. There are undeniable elements of “Roadkill” to this plan……but what could possibly go wrong???? cheeky


So yesterday I got my first look at this car since my wife’s friend bought it in 2003.


First impressions:


The body is in amazing condition for a 16 year old car with 212K on the clock. Absolutely zero rust, no real dings or scrapes that I can see.  The interior is worn, but in decent condition, no rips or tears in the upholstery, even the carpet is pretty good and should clean up nicely. I haven’t had the chance to get underneath, but based on the condition of the body, I don’t expect any nasty surprises.


Noted defects:


As expected, the convertible top is in (very) bad shape. It is undoubtedly the same one it came with in 2003. It’s threadbare, hard as a rock, and the back window glass is coming loose on the top and the bottom. The trunk was full of water when my FIL got it, it’s been cleaned up (no rust!!), and he even cleaned all the rust off the jack and tools, then sandblasted and painted them for me. Did I mention that I have to world’s best father in law?? He’s in the closing stages of his own project, turning a very sad, rusty 1970 VW Beetle into a Baja Bug. I’m trying to talk him into posting a build thread on here, it’s fantastic work, particularly considering he has no garage, just a stand-alone carport.


The paint is chipping and flaking off in several places. White paints seem to be particularly susceptible to this sort of thing I have noticed.  My 2015 Fit has the same problems, but Honda is going to be fixing that as part of a recall as soon as I can turn the car over to them for a week or so.


It’s louder than it should be. Sounds like there is an exhaust leak, muffler may be shot. We will have to see about that.


Coolant and oil were low.


Valve cover gaskets are weeping a little.


The pulleys on the front drive have some oil on them, but I can’t readily see the cause. The front main seal appears to be dry, so I'll have to figure out what that's all about.


A few interior items need attention. The switch panel on the driver’s door has a hole in it and needs to be replaced. The boot for the E-brake is torn and just in bad shape. We already knew that the driver’s side electric window doesn’t work.


I took it for a very short drive today. There is no license plate or registration on the car currently, so I didn’t want to go too far, and I didn’t have any coolant to top it off, so the whole trip was about 2 miles of windy back road leading to my in-law’s house.


It actually runs and drives pretty well. No smoke on startup or while driving. I’ve never driven one of these before, but power is more than I expected. It handles pretty well, but I can tell that I’ll probably be replacing some of the steering and suspension soft-parts. Transmission shifts a little hard, but no slipping that I could detect. ABS light is on, and I forgot to bring my code-scanner, so that will have to wait.


The brakes are horrible. Really bad. No grinding, the pads appear to have some meat left on them, and the pedal is firm, but it just doesn’t stop very well at all. Not truly dangerous, but I’ll have to be careful until I get them sorted out.


It’s also suffering from what as I understand it, is a common problem with these cars. The drivers side rear corner is sagging a bit. It’ll probably need new rear springs. It appears that these are a little hard to come by….still researching that.


So what’s the plan? Well, first, get it home to AL. Second, get my son’s girlfriend’s 2000 Malibu out of my garage. I’m in the middle of replacing the head gaskets on that car. Then get the Mustang in there and go over it top to bottom and make a list.


Brakes first. See what, if any, ABS codes are showing, pray that it’s not the ABS module, because those, unlike most of the parts for this car, are NOT cheap.


Next, a general service. Plugs, wires, fluids, hoses, (I’m going to replace the serpentine belt and change the oil before I drive it home) and all that.


I already have a new window-motor, if that is indeed the problem on the driver’s side. My old totaled 99 Ranger is still in my driveway and uses the same motor.  I can probably also harvest switches and stuff like that from it if needed.


I already ordered a new aftermarket top and rear glass window. $379 from CJ Pony Parts, (Black Friday special). I’ve never changed a convertible top on a car like this one. I did one on an 60’s Alfa Romeo Spider many years ago, but that was a lot less complex than this one. I’ve seen several very informative Youtube videos of this and it looks do-able.  All the shops around me want about $700 in labor alone to change it. I’ll admit to being a little intimidated by the prospect. I’m pretty good with ordinary wrenching. If the engine needed a rebuild I’d be confident, but I have never done any real upholstery work before. I’ll also be working single-handed, and it looks like it’d be much easier with another person to help. The really nice lady at one of the local shops has offered free advice if I get stuck.


Then I’ll get me some Dupli-Color and tackle the places with the chipped and peeling paint.


Once the weather warms up a bit, I’ll strip out the seats and give them a good clean, treat the leather, pull out the carpet and give it a good pressure-washing. I’ll replace the few broken or damaged interior trim parts as I come across good deals on replacement pieces.


All in all, this seems like a decent car for $600. It’s not what I’d have chosen as a project. I’d much rather have it with a manual transmission, but it should be a good occasional-use/weekend driving car, and it’ll be something that SWMBO can drive when she’s in AL.


So, with all that said, I really know next to nothing about these cars. Until today, I’d never even driven one, so I will be very grateful for any advice, tips, and information that anyone here on GRM can offer. Planning on keeping the spend as low as I can. I’m not looking to turn this little car into anything it’s not, no autocrossing or racing, just a driver that I’m not embarrassed to be seen in. If I can keep it and use it as indented for a while, and still sell it for close to what I will have invested, that’ll be a win in my book.












mr2s2000elise Dork
11/26/19 12:43 a.m.

Read the whole story 

congrats on the mustang 

dculberson MegaDork
11/26/19 3:57 a.m.

My wife has never surprised me with a car!!

mikedd969 Reader
11/26/19 6:39 a.m.

In reply to mr2s2000elise :


mikedd969 Reader
11/26/19 6:40 a.m.

In reply to dculberson :

What can I say, I'm a lucky guy.  smiley

Ranger50 UltimaDork
11/26/19 7:28 a.m.

Typical car from the area and era.

Good score as it seems anymore anything under a grand running and mostly driveable have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Apexcarver UltimaDork
11/26/19 7:44 a.m.

If memory serves, theres a rubber snorkel off the airbox pointed into the fender. If you remove it, you pick up a few ponies and only get a bit more intake noise (which is actually a win-win).


3.8's have weak-ish head gaskets, but I think the later ones were better than the earlier ones (my mom had a 94 V6 auto convertible, it blew headgaskets twice before we got rid of it). 


They arent fast, they are a bit floppy in stock form, but are a decent place to gobble up some miles. 

mikedd969 Reader
11/26/19 2:31 p.m.

In reply to Apexcarver :

Thanks for the information!!  I have no aspirations of great performance for this car, it'll just be for occasional transportation and weekend fair-weather cruising.  I do expect that whenever I need to replace any suspension rubber bits, I will probably opt for poly bushings rather than rubber, that just makes good sense in my book.


As far a "fast" goes, my daily driver is a 2015 Honda Fit with the 6-speed manual.  It is definitely NOT fast, but it actually manages to feel way faster and sportier than it really is, and IMHO it's an absolute blast to drive. From a "get up and go" standpoint, this Mustang has a ton more seat of the pants power than my Honda does.  I am a big believer in the fun and advantages of "learning to drive a slow car fast".  

mikedd969 Reader
12/3/19 6:02 p.m.

Well, she has arrived at her new home here on the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast!!  I flew to KY to spend the week of Thanksgiving with family and my wife, who flew in from California.  

There were a few items that needed addressing before I hit the road.  

One of the front wheels had apparently thrown it's balance weight, because there was none on the wheel at all so I had the tires balanced. 

It was going to be raining pretty much all day on the first leg of the trip, KY to Starkville MS to visit my daughter, so I had to do something about that leaking rear window.  A 1/4" dowel, a plastic garbage bag and duct tape sealed up the hole along the top of the window glass, and some pieces of plastic cut from the lid of a storage container, some 3M double-sided tape and an entire tube of clear silicone caulking sealed up the bottom corners pretty well.  It rained cats and dogs almost the entire way to Mississippi and as far as I can tell, there was no major water ingress.

The brakes were truly awful, and, as I discovered when the car was put up in the air for the tire balancing, the front brakes were sticking......badly.  The rotors looked OK, but I put new pads, brake hoses and eventually, some remanufactured calipers on the car.  MUCH better.  ABS still doesn't work, and the ABS light on the dashboard is on, so I'll have to investigate that.  The brake fluid is backer than the inside of midnight (nasty), so in an abundance of caution, I will replace the master cylinder, rebuild the rear calipers and change the brake fluid when I get the chance.  Big thanks to my brother for the use of his garage and tools.  It should have been a simple job, but one of the reman calipers was defective right out of the box.  The sealing surface for the banjo bolt and washer on the caliper body hadn't been machined, at all, so it leaked like a sieve, that delayed my departure by a few hours, because by the time I discovered the problem, all the auto parts stores were closed.


The car performed like a champ on the highway!  In fact, the further I drove, the better she ran.  ~22MPG at "holiday safe" cruising speeds.  smiley  Still a slight hesitation/stumble/surge at partial throttle on the highway, but not to any worrying degree. The seat foam on the driver's seat bottom needs some refreshing, it's pretty worn.  Other than that, it was a great place to gobble up some highway miles.  No complaints.

I got the title transfer done today, and new AL license plates.  I probably won't get around to doing much with the car until after the Holidays because I'll be in San Jose CA for most of December.  

I already have parts arriving! The new convertible top and rear window will be here today, I also received 2 replacement keyless entry fobs in the mail.  Time to start my "parts spreadsheet" and figure out a master plan.

Here she is, in all her glory, at one of our local landmarks, the mighty USS Alabama!!  


egnorant SuperDork
12/4/19 7:35 a.m.

Being a fan of both Mustangs and well driven used cars, I approve! 

Having just Coparted a 2003 Mustang and having a couple others of this generation I will add my 2 cents worth.

The top. I have replaced several tops and they are hard to do but very doable. It can be frustrating at times, but if you follow the instructions and check 3 times before you cut you should be fine.

Tune up is straightforward and should smooth things out. Plugs, wires, a couple of tanks with injector cleaner with filters and fluids will set you up. Transmission fluid might need changed. Code reading is your friend!

I had an ABS light with weak brakes and it was a broken wire on the drivers side ABS sensor. But it had been hit on the wheel while parked and mangled the wheel parts area.

Suspension woes seem rare but the shock/struts often wear out without much drama and would be a good upgrade. Poly bushings may be overkill but they add a bit of fun when you get silly! Had a broken sway bar end link and the bushing were rough, but how much was wear and how much was collision damage is unknown.

Careful with the interior plastics! This may be more of a hot Texas thing, but the parts seem brittle and the clips seem to fly into another dimension when taken apart. Same with underhood rubber hoses and vacuum lines.

Head gasket issue was fixed by 2003 so no worries there. I see a charger on the battery and the corrosion on the aluminum parts under the hood is an effect of a car that sat and discharged the battery. 

All my seats have that squashed drivers seat and maybe can be part of a package deal if you go pro with the top.

Paint...no help here! I suck at paint. Polishing out the headlights, tail lights and windows are nice touches.

Looks like a good driving fixer upper! 


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