Bess by John L. Neel

 I grew up in Alabama, in the days of fast muscle cars, inspired by our hometown heroes Bobby and Donny Allison.   Mom loved fast cars, so I learned to drive V8 Chevys, Dodges, and Fords.   My dream cars were Chevelles, Camaros, Challengers, and, like every kid my age, Mustangs.

Then the 1970s came with emission control and cars took a turn for the worse in horsepower and design.   We all know the story.   America lost its balls.   Horsepower came from Italy, Germany, Great Britain.   Reliability came from Japan.

The Camaro and Challenger disappeared.   The Mustang II was so bad, even Farrah Fawcett in a swimsuit couldn't sell it.

In 2005, Ford decided enough was enough and built a retro-styled Mustang, taking cues from the late 1960s cars, and giving it a small block V-8 with 300 hp and as much torque.   It was beautiful, fast, surprisingly agile, and light.   This was a bare-bones car and...they built it right.

I had to have one.

Kady had a nice Toyota 4-Runner, still in great shape, and I had been driving a Toyota MR-2, a car I wish I still had, for thirteen years, so I began the process of getting Kady on board with the idea.   I showed her artist conceptions, told her all about the cars I had driven in the past, I reminded her that the Mustang was always my dream car.

When Ford released it, it was everything I hoped it would be.   I began shopping, unofficially.   Every time I passed a Ford dealership, I would stop.   I could never find a V-8; people were snatching them up like candy.   Dealerships were forced to take a certain number of six-cylinder cars for each GT, I don't remember how many, maybe three or four.   There were plenty of coups on the lot, so I got a good look at the inside of the car and the lines.

I wanted one badly.

While in Alabama, on summer furlough from VMI, I went on a search for my GT, with every sly and slippery intention of buying one.   I went to three dealerships and No GT.   At Adamson Ford, downtown, I found two 400+ horse power Saleens, but I didn't like the car.   Saleen had made their own modifications to the car that took away from the retro styling that I loved.   They really buggered up the taillights.

Adamson Ford told me to try Town and Country Ford in Bessemer .  .  .  way on the far west side of Birmingham.   I went there the following day.   They had two GTs on the lot, a yellow, and I couldn't see me in a yellow car, and a white, and I didn't want another white car.   The salesman, Mr. Pope, asked me if I had taken a look at the Roush Mustangs in the lot.   "Roush Mustangs?!"

He took to the front of the lot and there they were, eight Roush Mustangs in every color, with Racing Stripes, and Roush banners on the windshield.   In all my research, I hadn't read where Roush was doing anything to the car, but what they had done was make the car look more like a 1970 Mustang with a front dam and spoiler, side molding, and a read fascia with spoiler.   There was faux carbon fiber on the dash, Roush Pedals, Roush Gauge Cluster, Roush Floor Mats, and Roush Leather Seats.   These cars were what Roush was calling their Roush Sport, normally aspirated, only eye-candy improvements.   They wouldn't supercharge their cars until 2006.

I was in love! There was one car that stood out above the rest, a Mineral Gray car with no racing stripes.   I sat in it, cranked it up, and called Kady and told her come to Bessemer.   She showed up about 30 minutes later with Sylvia and SS.   When she saw the car, or maybe it was the look on my face, she told me to buy it if I wanted it.   GREAT WIFE!

I slept on it overnight, a huge waste of time, and picked her up the next morning.


My first trip was that day, driving on I-20, out to the Lake House, a terrible route that took me through construction, heavy traffic, and concrete barriers.   I was a nervous wreck.

Out at the Lake House, everyone loved the car and wanted a ride.   No one would drive it.   I asked Bee if she would pose with it, and she agreed, beginning a tradition of girls posing with my car.

On my way back to Lexington, I began to realize how much people loved Mustangs.   One car pulled up on my seven o'clock and stayed there.   I was irritated until they began to slowly pass and I realized that a girl was literally hanging out of her window taking photos of my car.   As I drove into Lexington, a group of kids handing out in the Kroger parking lot began bowing to the car and chanting "we're not worthy." There has never been a wash day, ever, when someone didn't stop to talk to me about my car or to talk to me about their Mustang...that they still wish they had.


Once the Corps returned, Bess became a favorite topic when talking to Cadets.   They loved her and respected her, evident by the fact that she was never keyed.   Cadets enjoyed riding in her and I let a few of the First Captains and a couple of others drive her.   The Commandant even let me drive her in Barracks for photos.

The first person to drive her, other than me, was E.   She took Bess around the Parade Ground at VMI, you could still do that in 2005, for a couple of laps, hitting 55 in a 15 zone.   E can drive and E doesn't care.

Since buying her, I have made a few improvements, which I decided to keep purely Roush:

To begin, I removed her Town and Country sticker, very carefully, revealing her name, "Bess," from the letters left from removing Bessemer.   I left those letters on the car.

I installed a Roush Stage two Suspension, lowering Bess's front-end an inch and rear-end a half-inch.   Her handling is much stiffer and sure.

A Roush Cold Air Intake helps her breathe easier and adds a few horsepower.   I decided early on not to Supercharge her; I prefer the rumble of a naturally aspirated V8 to the whine of a supercharged engine.

A Roush Short Throw Shifter, though very "notchy," makes shifts faster and more fun.

And, then there is the Bess Juju...a combination of trinkets and charms, hanging from the mirror, that keep her safe bad things like, rocks thrown by trucks, me and my shitty backing, and Carnie Trailers.   These Talismans include:

  • My Dog Tags
  • First, and now too small, Wedding Ring from Kady
  • Wrapped strands from E's Hair
  • Turkish Prayer Beads
  • Celtic Cross from Mordoan, a gift from friend, Gülümser, in Izmir
  • St.  Michael's Medal, 82nd Airborne
  • St.  Meen and St.  Mary Medals from St.  Mere Eglise, France
  • A Key from KS and Jay's Wedding
  • Turk Nazar Boncuğu (Evil Eyes), looking in every direction, a gift from friend Serife in Konya

Bess is fun to drive but I like to go fast, too fast.   Since retiring, I have made a decided effort to slow down, stop racing and hold Bess to 5mph over the limit.   I'm doing pretty well.

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