my ultracool Mustang

Betsy the Stripper

Betsy was born in January, 1970. She was originally built with zero options— that's why she's called a "stripper". The term originated in the '60s when cars were built or ordered without optional extras in order to save weight for dragstrip racing. Over the years it came to mean any car that is "stripped" of options. Either way, this particular car was born naked— no extras, no power anything, just a simple base-model fastback Mustang.

One snowy winter night just before she turned 23, I found her lying in the gutter in south Omaha. She was only 4 feet, 2 inches tall, and weighed less than 2800 pounds. I took her home, and we started to get to know each other a little better.

Betsy had been beat up a few times on the road of life. At some point in her youth, it seems Betsy was rolled. Ford didn't offer vinyl as a factory option on their '70 Sportsroofs, but vinyl was often used by fabricators to cover up bad metalwork. And under her skin, inside the left sail panel, you can still find a lot of bent metal.

I went on to discover that besides being rolled over, the car had at some time been banged in her rear end—and smashed hard in the front.

The car was repaired after these incidents, the years passed, and eventually a man bought it as a 'Sweet Sixteen' birthday present for his daughter. She's the one who named the car "Betsy", and I didn't want to confuse the car by changing its name.

When I bought the car, this girl showed me some photographs of her boyfriend and his big ol' 4x4 truck, all muddy in the mud and getting muddy. I tried to hide my horror at seeing the car—my new car—in the background of some of the photos. Apparently Betsy had been mud-wrestling, too... and lost.

That's right... Betsy the Stripper was in some dirty pictures.

class winner first place

This shocking abuse was further proved after I got her home; I began the clean-up by using a garden trowel to shovel dirt out of the trunk.

The clean-up has continued for twenty-six years (and probably won't ever be finished). Every part on the car needed to be fixed or replaced. Usually both. Often twice. Some still.

Betsy suffers from rustophilia— she's allergic to water. Prolonged exposure makes her break out in a weird orange-brown rash. Then I have to apply ointment, custom-mixed by PPG Automotive Finishes.

Betsy's long arduous road to recovery continues, but we've had some good times along the way. Like the time we were just flyin' along through a dark, moonless night on a highway in the middle of nowhere, and I was suddenly struck blind! It is not cool when everything instantly goes black at 65 miles an hour...

Turns out Betsy had a brand-new headlight switch, but needed a new high-beam switch to go with it.

Then there was the time I had just had the brakes rebuilt. That same day, a Camaro stopped short in front of us. I stomped on the stop pedal and bang! nothing happened and I had to ditch the car into somebody's yard.

She has manual drum brakes and a heavy clutch. Driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic— especially in a winter ice storm— is a great way to build your leg muscles. And while stomping and jamming with both feet, cranking on the manual steering box helps tone your upper body.

Betsy has always her own special room in my house, and once we put on the wheels and the wings, my friend Ned said she had turned into a slut. But I think he just wants to spend the night with her...

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The Sacred
by Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need
to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

What's a "liter"?

Gazing into a cornfield, Betsy wears an authentic 1970 Sarpy County license plate

Betsy's next owner, with assorted hardware

America dreams driving. In these dreams you are alone. Flying low and loud and fast down a long straightrazor stretch of Nebraska interstate, perhaps in late autumn, headed west, sharp cold just coming on, the desolate geometry of those golden stubble fields strobing past you, the sun wobbling low and weak on the horizon, your windshield embroidered with the glare of it, and in your rearview mirror the sky behind you as blue and deep as a bruise. The earth spins beneath you. All the shining instrumentality of uncomplicated power falls easily to hand.

Your body dissolves into the machine and you are no more and no less than acceleration itself. The brute music of the engine rises up through the floorboards and the soles of your feet and into your blood until your heart pounds with it, the world blurs and the vast web of human complication dissolves somewhere far behind you and there is no past and no future and nothing bad can ever catch you. Nothing can touch you. That's the American dream. That's freedom.

from Sunday Money by Jeff MacGregor, © 2005, ISBN 0-06-009471-0

Betsy takes a trip to Ceresco, 2006

More people—our second trip to Ceresco, 2007

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