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The truth and nothing but the truth about 390GTs

September 5 2000 at 7:38 PM
BB  (no login)

I cut my FE teeth with a 67 390 4spd 3.25:1 no power anything Mustang Fastback starting at 16 years old in 69 on the streets of NY.The street racing was rampent, one night we cruised by Baldwin Motion Chevrolet and there was door to door yellow Z-28s across the front of the dealership. You had High Performance Cars Magazine writing about the street racing with portable christmas trees. I ran everything from Cow Induction Chevelles. 428CJ Machs,LT1 Vettes,440 GTXs, Hurst Olds.389 6pack GTOs. etc and was never embarrased except by a friends 340 Duster w headers intake gears etc etc
Now the myth or truth-- Hot Rod 1966 cover has a red 65/6 AF/X Mustang burning out,: We test the 67 390 Mustang Four Speed! Open it up a loaded GT C6,A/C power loaded 3.0:1.non locker.Where the HELL did the 390 4spd go?
Ditto the Car&Driver test another loaded auto though they did say it was the fastest of the current Pony Cars.All 390 Mustang tests I have Road and track etc. were equally into GT cars except for one.
ENTER POPULAR HOTROD. They did a project that as 5-6 parts covered the buildup of a real 390 4spd 67 Mustang. Low and behold in the first issue they ran real 14.1 14.3s with a stock Mustang loosend up belts no air cleaner. What really pisses me off- I copied and sent DONALD the asshole FARR of SUPER FORD all the articles I had after they ran a Top Twenty Fastest Fords with no 390 Mustang.I even looked up the times and yes they had quoted times from header equiped drag slick equiped 4.56:1 Boss 302s and equally rediculus Boss 429s Hot Rod called it a DOG and went on to say that emmisions and Corp. BS collard the 429 Boss. Obviously the WEENIE does not care for the truth just the $$$$$$ Jerk weeds that Collect and Cream all over their said pinky waiving Collector Cars.OOOOOHHHH OOOHHHH its a BOSSS OOOHHHHH OOOHHHHH. Hands down the 390 GT Mustang was a quick car when compared to similar cars.
By the way my 390 GT had unique piston rings -chromed and a different width piston groove then std 4brl.


 
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AuthorReply

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BB...RIGHT!!

September 5 2000, 8:12 PM 

exactly man...they'll test a loaded non-posi Ford against a 4.33 geared ,rubber carpeted GTO and supposedly its equal 390 vs 389.
The muscle car shootouts can be worse with a freshly painted (no decals yet) stock eliminator Mopar 6 pak running a concours CobraJet with the owner afraid to take it past 3000rpm and risk burning the finish on the NewOldStock mufflers.
So old magazines it is for printed reference, and take it all with a grain of salt... if Mopar has a 12 page ad for ScatPak cars(type Scat into a search engine and see what ya get! YUK) then rents the track and has Ronnie Sox and Dick Landy wring the cars out...SURE, the cars run great...and whats a bit of timing and slicks... and headers.
Best test i've seen...in a 66 PopularHotRodding where they test a "427" Cobra (428) with flat exhaust manifolds and pea-shooter exh. pipes and it runs low 12's
The 390 tests im sure are usually done at Denver during a heat wave with 3 people in the car .

 
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BB
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MOOOOPAR stuff

September 5 2000, 8:36 PM 

Tom Ive run a dozen or so ebay auctions mostly FE and the one and only Moooooopar was unique ....It was for a NOS set of Rare 68 Super Bees with the 68 only bumble bee stripes. I took great pictures and said Im into Fords and could not say any more as I did not know. Well the auction started at $20 and went to $38.29 with like 18 bidders. I got as many as 20 questions from them, The guy that was low bid wanted me to work with him on the stated shipping fee of $5.00 in the ad.
Ironicly I have a similar original NOS 1965 GT Mustang decal set dated 69. I can tell you the Fords will show more dough and virtually no questions.

 
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The Truth As Car Craft Found-1970

September 6 2000, 1:02 AM 

BB,you got me thinking about an old article in of all places CAR CRAFT.Back in Oct.1970 they did a piece on a 428CJ Mustang called "Snake Bite Kit"
They took a 69 Ram-Air 428CJ Mustang,C6,and 3.25 Traction-Loc to the old Orange County IR.to test.Here's what they did,installed 28.5x7 cheater slicks,and disconnected the mufflers.Playing with tire pressure,launch&shift RPM,the best it ran was a 14.00@102.46,with 25 lbs.air,launch@1500,and shifting@5800.
Next day they did simple strip tuning.Set initial timing@10,plugged vacum advance,quicker opening secondary spring,primary jets 68's to 72's,secondary 79's to 83's,1/2 spacer under the carb,165 thermostat,and a set of BF22's gapped 30.The best of 5 runs was a 13.49@104.76.
Then they felt the 'Stang needed more gear,headers,and traction.Put in 4.56's,Jardine headers with 14" extensions,and Mr.Gasket slapper bars.With more track tuning,jets,pressure,and hotter tires,they got the CJ to run a best of 12.53@110.97.
Not too bad of performance for about 500 dollars back then.Was amazed that CC even did this kind of test on a Ford,given thier pro-Gm attitude.

 
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Alan
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Track test

September 6 2000, 12:36 PM 

Dan, That is very unusual as most magazines wouldn't go to any length to get more out their Ford road tester. But a GTO or a 396 Chevelle or a Road Runner, well, that was a different matter. For that they went to great lengths and then waxed so fondly about what great "potential" lay hidden inside that wonderful engine. Makes you want to puke, you know what I mean? What makes me feel good today is the fact that Road Runners aren't around , Chevy is peddling Z-34's or whatever they are and Camaro and Firebird can't reach half of Mustang sales even if they are COMBINED!! So, up General Motors, long live the 'Stang and I love my '66 390 Fairlane GT.
AlanE

 
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Dan Bell
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Track Test

September 6 2000, 4:11 PM 

Alan,that's the same thing I thought.Seems that those Peterson mags were testing apples to oranges back then,for some reason(might of been Fords fault)the GM's usually had 4 speeds,better gears and came from one of GM's performance dealers.Would have been interesting if they got a Ford from one of their more progressive dealers,Tasca,Robie,Harvey,Coleman,or Bargeman.
My 2nd car was a 67 Fairlane 500 H/T,390 4 speed,4bbl,and a 3.50 gear.With a few mods,CJ cam,adj.rockers,600 Holly,better exhaust(but no headers)427 duel point,and some fine tuning,this was good enough to beat my share of GM muscle.Had more than one GTO,442 or 325HP Chevelle owner not beliving it was a 390.Wish I had ran on the strip but at that time was dumb and stupid,just was doing the "Red Lite GP".
So when I saw that article on the 428CJ in CC was stunned that they did such a long test and after the results you think the guy lost his job?,it sorta showed up some GM cars,and CC was not know to be FOMOCO friendly!

 
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Alan
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Truth

September 6 2000, 12:19 PM 

BB, You are sooo right. i have an article that I researched about the 390 performance history that I'de like to send you. I would post it here but its long. Oh what the heck. The 390's Performance Years - Wimp or Winner?


If you are a Ford guy, you might have heard the following story from a Chevy or Pontiac guy from time to time. The 427 Galaxies or 428 Mustangs went pretty good but the 390 was a dog. Some magazines of that era had a bias toward GM products and they would cast the 390 as a non performing boat anchor in their road tests and articles, so over time, the 390 picked up the reputation of being a bit of a stone. One magazine, Super Stock and Drag Illustrated, was not at all subtle. They wanted nothing to do with the 390 and said so. Consider the following exchange between a reader and the Editor in the June '67 issue. The reader writes, "…you as yet haven't tested one of the hottest numbers out of Detroit yet, this being the 390 Mustang 2 + 2. Why don't you run a series of articles on setting up this car for the street and strip?".
Super Stock magazine replied, "We have not tested, and will not test a 390 Mustang because we don't see how this car, which has repeatedly tested in the 15 second bracket, can be called a high performance car. - Ed."
Not a high performance car? Wow. I was growing up on Long Island during that time and I know what I saw happen at the race track and I read other magazines too. It didn't always agree with what the publisher wanted you to believe.

I wanted to know more about the 390 from its introduction to its last performance incarnation, so I acquired popular magazines and periodicals from 1961 through 1968 to get a clearer picture of exactly what the unbiased track record of the 390 was in order to separate what was fact from what was fiction (opinion?)

So, was the 390 a wimp or a winner? What follows is what I found after going through every page and every story of dozens of magazines and periodicals of that period of time.

The 390 was introduced in the fall of 1960 and carried a 375 H.P. rating with a solid lifter cam. A 330 H.P. version, also with solid lifters, was offered for law enforcement (police interceptor) although it could also be ordered by the public. In 1961, just prior to the NHRA Winternationals, a 6V (venturi), intake with 3 Holley 2 bbls. was introduced and Ford tagged it with an optimistic 401 H.P. rating. When the Winternationals dust had settled in early February of 1961, it came down to a 409 Chevy and a 390 Galaxie. The big 390 Ford did very well, but lost a close race in the final round for the gold. However, this doesn't really tell the whole story. Galaxies and Starliners were 150-200 lbs. heavier than Chevy's BelAir and Biscayne body styles. In addition, the only transmission you could get with your Galaxie then was a column mounted 3 - speed. The Chevys had less weight to pull and the advantage of a slick shifting 4 -speed. In spite of the 390's disadvantages, they posted best times of 13.33 @ 106.16 mph compared to 13.20 @ 108 mph for the Chevys. Wow! Not bad for a boat anchor. What also needs mentioning here is the extremely low production numbers for Chevys 409 in 1961. For all intents and purposes, the 409 was such a low volume item, it really should not have been called STOCK. Chevy made a total of about 115 cars with the 409 engine. Many of them went to the pros. The average street Chevy guy had to order his car with the 348 cubic inch engine that carried a 350 H.P. rating and it didn't get the job done against the 390. The Fords routinely beat the 348's in 1961. On the street, 390 Galaxies and Starliners ruled. In addition, the October issue of Car Craft dubbed the 390 - 401 to be Detroit's hottest street engine and published a tune up guide that included headers, ignition, and valve lash among other things. The result for this 3-speed car with, 4.29 rear and open headers, was : (13.31 @ 105.96) , (13.24 @ 107.18) , and a (13.34 @ 106.84.)
390's won a variety of NHRA Divisional, Record and Bonus Points drags in '61. The August issue of Hot Rod shows a 390 eliminating a 409 and going on to win the Super Stock title at a Hobbs, New Mexico Southcentral divisional meet. Also, in the July '62 issue of Hot Rod, Vern Jones took his Starliner to a big Super Stock win over Arnie Beswick's Passionate Poncho 389 Pontiac in a large Southeast Regional and National Record meet that drew all the top professionals. Jones turned 13.41 @106 mph for his win and went home not only with the class win but bagged the overall Stock Eliminator win as well.
At the Indy Nationals, the BIGGEST race of the year, a 390 Starliner, campaigned by Ed Martin Ford and driven by Don Turner, came away with a win in a new class called Optional Super/Stock Automatic. Not bad for a boat anchor.

In the years 1961 -1963, the police interceptor 390, 330 H.P. found happiness in A/S or B/S many times. A couple of these cars were regular winners at my home track with e.t.'s in the 13.5 - 13.8 range. In 1962, a box top Galaxie was entered in A/S at an NHRA national meet that attracted all of the nations best cars. He took the class win but unfortunately was disqualified for illegal valve spring tension. If the book says 255 lbs. open and you are checked with 258 lbs. you lose. In any case, that's not bad for a boat anchor.

The 390 played a minor role over the next several years as the 406 and 427 cars dominated the spotlight. It didn't resurface again until 1966 when it was developed for use in the Fairlane GT. This time around it came to the party with a redesigned upper half (heads and intake) that featured a high velocity port design, (the same concept that is used for the 5.0 late model Mustangs), new high lift hydraulic cam and a 600 cfm Holley. From the factory, this combination suffered from a constrictive single transverse muffler arrangement. Right off the showroom floor, however, they went pretty good with magazine tests always in the 15.2 to 15.7 range at 92 - 93 mph. All of these tests were run with the very inefficient C-6 and dead 3.25 rear axle gearing. After the usual performance enhancements of headers, 4.11 or 4.56 gears, 7" tires, and some tune-up tweaking, the 390's did very well in NHRA C/Stock and D/Stock class racing. They didn't do well on the street, where you raced whatever pulled up next to you. The 335 H.P. Fairlanes, being down on factory rated horsepower, had to go up against higher horsepower machinery such as the 360 H.P. Chevelles and 360 H.P. GTO's with 3-2 bbls including ram-air systems. These cars were B/Stockers given their higher factory rated HP. Even Buicks rated higher at 340 H.P. Go to the track, however, and you would have found the 4-speed 390 in C/S or D/S a formidable foe for similarly equipped single 4 barrel GTO's and an absolute NO CONTEST when it came to the automatics. Mark it: Automatic GTO's were just no match for a 390 Fairlane GTA or a Cyclone GTA.

In a 1966 issue of Car and Driver, the magazine editors assembled a group of 6 muscle cars for a shootout. They were: Pontiac GTO (360 H.P. 4-speed), Buick Skylark (340 H.P. auto.), SS Chevelle (360 H.P. 4-speed), Olds 442 (350 H.P. 4-speed), and our heroes, the Fairlane GTA (335 H.P.), and Mercury Cyclone 4-speed (335 H.P.). When the testing was over, the Cyclone blasted a 13.98 @ 103 mph. The best selling and most popular muscle car that year, the GTO, came in second at a 14.05 @ 105 while the automatic Fairlane GTA posted the third best time of 14.26 @ 99 mph. Not bad for a boat anchor.

The June 1966 issue of Car Craft featured a detailed and revealing look at how a Cyclone GT was prepared for drag strip duty. The engine was disassembled and clearances were adjusted for maximum performance. Traction bars were added along with headers and gears. The Cyclone responded with an outstanding 12.97 @ 108 mph. The '67 versions of the 390 did even better in NHRA stock eliminator as both a Fairlane and a Cyclone won their respective classes at a major Nationals event going into the 12.80's to do their deed. Not a bad e.t. for a boat anchor.

In 1967, Popular Hot Rodding acquired a 390 Mustang GTA fastback as a project car. With a C-6 automatic and dead 3.25 gears, they baselined the car at 14.10 @ 100 mph. For the next six months, they changed gears, intakes, carbs, cams, headers, tires and a variety of other items that you or I might swap out on our cars, that transformed the car into a truly fast street machine, eventually posting a best of 13.29 @ 103 mph. All during the test, the project Mustang GTA remained a daily driven street car reliably bringing its driver to work and home every day while leaving the shifter in drive. On the weekends, it was a nasty race car that won more than it's share of races. Month after month, the author stated that the 390 GTA was not only competitive but embarrassed many cars with bigger engines. After 17,000 miles and 350 passes down the track, it was retired.

And finally, that same year, the team of Chesson and Terry , Gladstone N.J. took the NATIONAL e.t. record with a B/SA Mustang GTA blistering the track with a 12.79. Holy Cow! How about that? The 390 was the undisputed owner of the NHRA national e.t. record in B/SA. Well, if the 390 was a dog, what did that make the GTO or the SS Chevelle? Fill in the blank here. >_________________

In all the '66 - '67 magazines I looked at, and there were a bunch, I did not come across a better performance from a GTO or 442 or a 383 Road Runner or anything else that would have been classified as C/Stock or D/stock. I could be wrong, but I do not believe a GTO won a single class at a National meet during those years nor posted a time better than the Royal Pontiac professionally prepared B/S ram-air GTO of 13.04 @ 107 that I found in a Car Craft magazine.

And that brings us to today. 390 Fairlanes and Mustangs are much more scarce than they used to be thirty something years ago, but there are some of them still running competitively in NHRA stock eliminator. If you don't believe me, log on to the official NHRA website and go to the Stock Eliminator National Records page. There you will find, as of July, 2000, the E/Stock National Record held by Scott Hilton in a '67 Mustang. How fast and Quick did he go? How about a 10.69 at 124.09, set in Sacramento, California, in May of this year. I wonder what the Editor of Super Stock and Drag Illustrated would say now? It's not a high performance car? Well, that's definitely not bad for a boat anchor.
I would also like to mention that the '67 Fairlane 427 belonging to Robert Pond, with 410 HP, single 4 barrel, currently holds the A/Stock National Record at an unbeiveable 10.09 @ 132.52 mph. Robert set this record in Boise, Idaho and has his sights set on becoming the first "stocker" to run in the "nines".

My conclusion. The 390 may not have been a world beater, but it certainly was a fast car capable of taking care of business and making its owner very proud. The truth is, the 390 was an excellent, if not outstanding, combination and it did very well in drag racing as well as NASCAR.
The next time some Pontiac GTO or Chevy Malibu guy tells me the 390 was a dog, I'll say you are right, a pit bull that chewed up a lot of the General's finest.

Alan

 
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Thanks for a well written and informative post! n/m

September 6 2000, 1:19 PM 

n/m

 
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tom406
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Yes, thanks for a thorough, well researched analysis....

September 6 2000, 2:28 PM 

The GTO greatly benefitted from Jim Wangers'/Royal Pontiacs promotion and "exceptional" tuning capabilities, (the epitome of which would be the 421 in place of the 389 in the "red car" that Car&Driver wrung out early on). Pontiac, under John DeLorean and the guidance of Wangers, made sure that no 2sp automatic, 2.93 geared GTO convertibles (or the like) made it into the press pool after they were embarrassed by one such road test in '64. Again, here's where Ford would have been well served by some decision-makers in house who understood street/drag racing, and tried to work the press cars and the press guys, accordingly.

 
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tom406
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Yes, thanks for a thorough, well researched analysis....

September 6 2000, 2:35 PM 

The GTO greatly benefitted from Jim Wangers'/Royal Pontiacs promotion and "exceptional" tuning capabilities, (the epitome of which would be the 421 in place of the 389 in the "red car" that Car&Driver wrung out early on). Pontiac, under John DeLorean and the guidance of Wangers, made sure that no 2sp automatic, 2.93 geared GTO convertibles (or the like) made it into the press pool after they were embarrassed by one such road test in '64. Again, here's where Ford would have been well served by some decision-makers in house who understood street/drag racing, and tried to work the press cars and the press guys, accordingly.

This is where I wish for more "power" to Tasca or even a guy like Les Ritchey, if they could have been the Royal/Wangers power within Ford, the legacy could have been much different. Sure Wangers and Tasca are egocentric guys who aren't shy about tooting their own horn and take individual credit for what might have been a larger group effort, but they DID get things done, significant things.

 
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exactly

September 6 2000, 3:23 PM 

i agree with 406Tom on this.Wangers and Royal Pontiac simply worked the press better.

 
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John
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Wouldn't you be nice to the one who bought you lunch?

September 6 2000, 7:26 PM 

They worked the press by springing for lavish catered lunches and lots of schmoosing with the people who could make or break a car line. I once read in one of these rags that in one test of a 390 Fairlane GTA they used 2nd gear because they couldn't control wheel spin in low gear when leaving the line. 2nd gear????? now that seems fair. I think it still ran a 15.20

 
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Dan Bell
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Truth

September 6 2000, 3:47 PM 

Alan,you forgot to mention that the 427 Fairlane,410 horse motor has to run 1 4 barrel,while the other cars in that class get to use 2x4's,an a Max-wedge.Hmmmm me thinks NHRA has a high regard for the ole 427FE,seems it has about the same factored HP as a 2x4 Max-wedge.Make's one wonder don't it.

 
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Alan
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Truth

September 6 2000, 5:29 PM 

Dan, If I had to pick 2 engines that are above all others in their time period, one would have to be the small block chevy, but the other would be the FE. It produced more power than any other true wedge of its time and has outlasted the 409 chevy, 383-426 mopar, 389-421 pontiac, etc, etc.
I didn't know that the mopars are allowed to use 2-4's. That somehow seems unfair.
Alan

 
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joe ligon
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car and driver test

September 6 2000, 7:43 PM 

first off if we're going to whine about apples and oranges let's put all the facts out there. i've got that march 1966 issue of C&D in front of me now. that cyclone was prepped by bud moore and the fairlane came from holman & moody while the goat was equally prepped. so this is one test where ford came armed for bear and gm basicaly did not. and even though prepped the cars passed compression and displacement tests. which hopefully means they were 390's and not 427's. so let's at least be honest enough to admit that when asked to supply cars ford wasn't out to shoot blanks that's not saying the mags didn't purposefully choose dogs either.


joe

 
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the Selectshift Merc-o-matic

September 6 2000, 8:52 PM 

yeah Mercury was really pushing the new Cyclones, and Ford was pushing the GTA Fairlanes,guess they figured the 4 speeds didnt need advertising . Some ringers got slipped out for sure, they simply dont run 103 in the 1/4 stock, but 97mph is realistic.

 
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Dan Bell
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Car&Driver Test

September 7 2000, 12:11 AM 

Joe,got that one too,Ford was not beyond slipping in a "prepped" car but for the most part they were just sending over the base GTA.

 
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Alan
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C & D

September 7 2000, 12:42 PM 

Joe, But the GTO WAS prepared by Royal Oak, or Jim Wangners or whoever. It also came with tripower and a 360 HP rating. What do you think the GT would have done to a single four barrel GTO rated at 335 HP? Alan

 
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joe ligon
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small point

September 8 2000, 7:58 AM 

you'll notice my original post says that the goat was equally prepped because i didn't know who(Royal Oak, or Jim Wangners or whoever) did the prepping i was refering to the chevelle,442,buick when i said " so this is one test where ford came armed for bear and gm basicaly did not."

joe

 
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Alan
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Prepped

September 8 2000, 12:54 PM 

Joe, Indeed, those cars you mention were not prepped. Just goes to show you how important prep is or not important it is depending on what side you favor. Most mags were sympathetic to GM and Chrysler. I can't tell you how many road tests I read were the testers did all kinds of little things to their darlings and wouldn't even open the hood of the Fords.

Alan

 
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