White Knuckles and Elbow Grease

Exactly what is “elbow grease,” anyway? My mother uses the idiom regularly. A member of what everybody calls the Greatest Generation, she grew up during the Depression. Back then, long hours of manual work on farms and in factories was common. But the phrase became popular long before—it can be traced back almost 350 years—and it’s typically used to imply a vigorous effort at scrubbing or cleaning. Before the days of modern spray-on polishes, getting a high-quality shine on a piece of furniture or a car took a lot of “elbow grease.”

Remember the original “Karate Kid,” starring Ralph Macchio? “Wax on, wax off” was how Mr. Miyagi taught the youngster to use some elbow grease.

I got a good lesson myself last month when I entered the convertible in a Mustang Club of America national show—a first for me. There are five such events in 2013, including a Grand National at the end of summer in Orlando. The one I registered for was held at a great venue: the Crowne Plaza Golf and Tennis Resort in Asheville, North Carolina, over the July 4th holiday weekend. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I will drive hundreds of miles to participate in a show held in an attractive setting, and the Asheville event did not disappoint.

Two days before departing for the show, I arranged to have the Mustang cleaned from top to bottom by a local business, Pop’s Mobile Detailing. The team worked in my driveway for more than three hours, washing and hand-waxing the exterior, cleaning the backseat area, and detailing the engine compartment. (I enjoy doing my own work on the things I can reach while sitting down, so I cleaned most of the interior and the trunk.) Some might question the wisdom of going to all that trouble before getting on the road; but from past experience, I’ve learned that it’s much easier to wipe down an engine compartment with a days’ worth of road grime than one with six months’ worth. The same goes double for an exterior with a fresh coat of wax: cleanup is a snap with little more than a clean microfiber cloth and some rinse water.

Usually, that is. The problem with the MCA show in Asheville was getting there—alive. As almost everyone in the eastern United States is all too aware, this July has been one of the wettest on record. I left for Asheville on Wednesday, the 3rd, stopping an hour up the road to join up with Russell and Jeannie Weaver, who were trailering an unrestored, low-mileage 1966 fastback to the show. We set off from Cottondale, Florida and encountered only light rain for the first couple of hours, but south of Atlanta we ran into a torrential downpour the likes of which I have rarely seen in more than 35 years of driving. The effect was like driving under the flow from a bathtub faucet, with visibility cut to a matter of feet. The Mustang’s 46-year-old wiper arms struggled even on “hi” speed, and despite an upgraded a/c system, the windows fogged up because of the ambient temperature. Fortunately the traffic on I-85 was not terribly heavy, and all of the drivers around me slowed to a steady, cautious pace with their flashers on. Still, for a span of about two hours, it was a white-knuckle drive.

For all the challenges, I was happy to discover that the new windshield, installed last year, did not leak at all. Only a small amount of water crept in (or blew in) at the inevitable gaps between the header and the door windows. The trunk got a bit wet, too, but the leak was minimal compared to the horror stories I heard from other vintage Mustangers that weekend—even those driving hardtops—who literally had to bail water out of their trunks. All in all, I was proud of the way the convertible “leak-checked” under the worst possible conditions. (Even so, I brought along an elasticized cover, which kept the car dry while it was parked.)

The sun played hide-and-seek all afternoon on Saturday. I got the car clean, but also got the worst sunburn I've had in years

The sun played hide-and-seek all afternoon on Saturday. I got the car clean, but also got the worst sunburn I’ve had in years

On Saturday, I started to prep the car early for judging. The heavy rains had left a haze of interstate grime on just about everything, but the cleanup wasn’t too tedious. I had some help from volunteers who touched up areas out of my reach. Russell and Jeannie did a great job on the convertible top: really made it “pop.” The car was entered in the Modified “A” class, which meant the undercarriage was not judged. As a first-timer to a national show, I had received some helpful advice regarding the modified classes, which award points for each modification based on its complexity—everything from 1 point for a simple attachment to 4 points for complicated alterations. Over the years I have made so many mods that the list I handed to the judges was a page and a half long. Some were made in the interest of personalization or appearance (the chrome stuff under the hood, the aftermarket aluminum rims, etc.), but most were done to enhance the comfort, safety, and convenience of the Mustang for long trips.

The end result was that I earned a lot of points for the mods; enough that, together with the points for appearance and cleanliness, the Mustang earned a Gold—yahoo!—her first time out at a national level show.

A nice award from MCA as a result of using some elbow grease

A nice award from MCA as a result of using some elbow grease

As nice as the achievement felt, it couldn’t compare with the fun of continuing up to Pennsylvania to visit with my siblings and celebrate my mother’s 88th birthday. Unfortunately it rained nearly every day, but I did hit a stretch of rural highway in Virginia that was “between showers” and pretty as a postcard on that July afternoon. It didn’t last: an hour later, in Winchester, I hit more torrential rain.

Virginia 1

What’s around the next curve? As green as Ireland and just as pretty, the stretch of Rte 231 (Blue Ridge Turnpike) between Madison and Sperryville, Virginia is a great cruise–one of the nicest rural highways in the mid-Atlantic area.

By the time I returned to Florida, five days later, I had logged about 2,500 miles on the journey. The visits were fun, the show was a blast, and the award was great—but I never put the top down during the entire trip. No complaints: it was still an outstanding cruise in a vintage car that seems completely at ease while clocking mile after mile.

On August 6, we’ll start the biggest trip of the year: a run of about three weeks that will include a windshield tour of New England—all the way to the tip of Maine. Stand by for some more rural highway blogs, and help me by crossing some extra fingers for fair weather. I’ve had to wipe down the car far more often this year because of the constant rain.

And I’m running out of elbow grease.