Thu, Nov 08, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Hit the road, Kit-Kat

She may be temperamental, she may leave you stranded,but there's no chance of dumping this 1966 Mustang GT Coupe.

By Brent Hopkins  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Los Angeles

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE LOS ANGELES

Three years ago, I fell in love with a beautiful older woman. She was high-spirited and alternated between making my day and breaking my heart.

I call her Katherine.

She's a 1966 Mustang GT Coupe, springtime yellow and powered by a 4,700cm3 V-8 that screams like a jealous girlfriend. She's curvaceous, sleek and as pretty as the day she rolled off a San Jose assembly line midway through the Johnson administration, the same year the Beach Boys found Good Vibrations and Nancy Sinatra's boots were made for walking.

I'm not the first man to liken a car to a woman: Henry Ford had his Tin Lizzy, and I'd bet Karl Benz had a pet name for his Patent Motor Car - Patty, perhaps? I'm probably not even the first to liken an undependable car to a fractious gal.

But, boy, does the analogy fit with Katherine - Katybelle or Kit-Kat, if she's been kind to me; unprintable things if she's not.

On those days when she's gliding along on those rally wheels and the four-barrel carb's mixing gasoline and air into a beautiful, hallucinogenic blend, I love her.

But like a sassy cowgirl with a devilishly raised eyebrow, she demands my attention. If I don't watch her gauges, keep her out of the rain and say nice things about her, she reminds me who's in charge.

Ever since I was a little boy, I've wanted to drive a Mustang. The look, the sound, even the name, with its delicious feeling as it pops forth from your lips - they're seductive.

I found her a few years ago by accident, stumbling into Mustangs Only in Culver City while lost on assignment. She was off in the corner, one of the only four-speeds on the lot, and I sat in her slick, black, vinyl seats and dreamed. The original owner's manual was still in the glove box with the San Pedro address printed inside the cover.

For the next year, the memory of her nagged at me. I was writing a story involving an old pony car at the time and wanted to know what it really felt like behind the wheel. I foolishly went back and asked for a test-drive - strictly for educational purposes, I told myself.

Jim, the owner of the lot, handed me the keys, climbed in beside me, and we went for a drive.

Suddenly, I had a burning desire to get rid of my perfectly functional 1993 Acura Integra for a no-power-steering, no-FM-radio, nothing-but-Michigan-muscle sled 13 years my senior. I shopped around, looked in magazines, drove a few others.

But there was no one like her. I picked her up March 17 - 39 years to the day after she left the now-defunct Soderstrom Ford. I named her in honor of my crazy great-aunt.

On the way home, two extremely prophetic things happened: I found myself next to a Ferrari and the driver was totally checking me out with envious eyes. And I found that neither headlight worked. So began my first trip to Pep Boys, a place with which I've become intimately familiar.

For a year, she was my daily ride, giving me endless memories, both great and terrible.

She left me stranded in countless places, oftentimes because I'd not paid her the proper respect and attention. On a particularly memorable trip back from San Diego in a horrendous rainstorm, she filled up with water as my buddy Derrick and I yelled over the roar of the engine and tried to stay warm.

A few months later, he was bound for Iraq as an Army Ranger. I will never forget that night, with all the frustrations of that car, as long as I live.

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