Owner’s Review and Roadtrip Preparation—Jonathan Bee

In this blog series, MCUK interviews the owners of classic muscle cars. We sometimes discuss the cars themselves and their performance, but also the memories they create and how muscle cars fit in our busy modern lifestyles.

Joining us this week is Jonathan Bee, an ex-RAF civil servant with a 1965 Ford Mustang. He tells us about his roadtrips in the US and Europe, along with his top tips for roadtrip preparation.

So Jonathan, where you are in life and how you came about the muscle car world.

I got into cars because of my dad making me watch films like Vanishing Point when I was younger. At twenty-two, I was working three jobs: I was dog walking, part-time air force and civil servant. I saved up and bought an imported ’65 Mustang, which I’ve now owned for ten years.

I’ve done various road trips as well—not necessarily in the Mustang but often in a hire car in the United States. In 2014, I did a big road trip around California in a V6 rental; we did about 3,000 miles in two weeks. We’ve since been to Florida and California on work trips. Then, in 2018, my wife decided that it would be a good idea to get a modern Mustang, so we got a modern 2018 Mustang convertible. We took that to Europe on a 4,000 mile road trip, making it as far East as Budapest and criss-crossing in the Alpine mountain paths on the way back.

So that’s how I got into it and stayed into it!

Tell us about your Mustang(s).

We’ve managed to keep both over the years. The engine of the ‘65 needed replacing because it was so old and knackered, which set me back a little bit, but since then it’s been fairly faultless. Despite a few heating issues, I’m glad to say it’s now a turn-key car again.

The classic gets a lot more attention on the road, because it doesn’t slow anyone down and it’s been in so many films – more films than most film stars I think! The difference between owning a classic and a modern Mustang is that we often play ‘what’s that new noise?’ or ‘what’s that smell?’ in the old one! Sometimes it could be a belt slipping or a crack, and you have to get out and see if anything fell off! Also, drivability is very different, especially with the 2016 one having rear suspension. You can drive it like a sports car, which is not as dangerous, whereas the ‘65 mustang was a GT spec originally, so it has slightly stiffer springs and stiffer suspension. 

For cars with fantastic speed and power capabilities, UK roads must be quite restrictive.

Well the modern one is a lot easier to drive quickly because it’s got that power available. The older one takes more effort to get there, in terms of speed. You can’t often drive fast on UK country roads, but occasionally I go out on what I call a ‘dawn rave’ with a friend, where we go out at the crack of dawn and go out for a country road blast in Hampshire and Sussex. That’s when we find that the roads are nice and quiet, so you don’t feel like you’re harming anyone else.

You mentioned roadtrips in the US and Europe, could you tell us more?

My first road trip driving a rental Mustang in the States was in 2014. I’d just come back from some work overseas and booked a trip with my best friend – it’s important to have a good co-driver if you’re going to put long mileage in and getting trust issues from hiring a powerful car.!

We flew into Las Vegas, immediately got into the car and drove across the Mojave to Palm Springs. We went from Palm Springs across to LA, around a little town called Idyllwild on the top of a mountain, picking up the various air museums and picking up the coast road all the way up to San Francisco. We then crossed to Lake Tahoe, spending a whole day there to take in the views. Then from Reno we went down to an amazing ski resort town tucked away in California, with desert views while you’re up in the Alpine trees. From there, we crisscrossed Death Valley (amazing views and shocking temperatures—one of the hottest parts of the world). 

Then from there we finished in Las Vegas for three days. I happened to time the trip with the Mustang’s 50th birthday party which was being held in Las Vegas Speedway, so we went for a day to see all of the amazing collectors’ Shelbys and all sorts. So a Mustang-themed road trip, finishing on the Mustang’s 50th birthday party!

What tips do you have for people planning road trips?

Buy a paper map. It’s very useful because you can lay it out across the lounge floor and do some hands-on planning. It often gives you driving time in either miles or hours in between the major towns when you’re doing distance like that, wich was very helpful. 

And while it definitely helps to plan out your route on Google Maps, that wouldn’t necessarily have the landmarks or the bits you want to see. The fastest route isn’t always best! You might want to pick out the small desert towns to get photographs of sunrises and sunsets. A paper map is really useful for that. 

That said, you can set up Google Maps to do a multi-day trip with multiple locations, so you can see how long a route is going to take and where there are tolls, for example. Mountain passes can take a lot longer than Google Maps says it does because they’re so windy and a Mustang is a large car. 

You also need a driving schedule. I asked my friend what was the longest distance hed driven in one go and he said four hours, after which he was knackered. So we said, OK, let’s stick to four hours each a day with two hours between each swap-over. This also helps to plan out roughly what you want to do from day-to-day. Some days we did big days with 8-9 hours of driving, but it’s a lot easier in the States because it’s automatic and it’s straight-line, point-and-go, whereas in the UK it’s a lot more complicated to drive eight hours!

Research your accommodation when you can. We didn’t book as much accommodation as we could because I’d heard about Motel 6’s, which are pretty hit-and-miss. In one of them, we got woken up by loud knocks at the door inviting us to parties at three in the morning, then screams at four in the morning, so we decided to get out of there! But actually that was a really good morning, because we managed to see Death Valley at sunrise—on our own, because we’d got up so early! 

The Motel 6’s were all right because generally they were cheap and there was one in every town, so if we felt like driving more for the day we could look up the next one that would come up. 

We used Airbnb in Vegas, which is a massive saving compared to staying in a major hotels on the strip. You’re more likely to get sleep in an Airbnb and you also get shown around by a local. We took the host out for drinks and he showed us some of the local spots, where it wasn’t so expensive. I’d highly recommend that for people trying to keep budgets down, because really the expense of this trip was coming from renting a decent car.

So that was the Americana experience. What about your trip around Europe?

That one took longer in time but was about the same sort of distance. My wife and I wanted to make it about mountaineering, even though it was slightly awkward taking a muscle car to the Alps! We had to take lots of mountaineering kit as well; trying to fit it all into a convertible with overnight bags was interesting. 

I had just finished a big lump of work and decided on a career break, so I had about a month off. In the end, it was great: we road-tripped for two weeks and mountaineered for another two.

Another tip: get a toll pass for France. It makes life a lot easier to just drive through the tolls and not risk scraping your alloys while you’re trying to throw coins into the bin on the side of the road! Especially when the coin meter is on a right-hand-side-driving country and you’re in a right-hand-drive Mustang. 

We went over the Stelvio Pass, which as you get closer to the top has a sign at each turn that says what the acute angle is in degrees. There are eight-degree turns up there (!) where you’re pretty much turning back on yourself around the hairpin. That was an adrenaline rush! It’s quite a big car and you have cars coming the other way as well; it looks thrilling on Top Gear when they close the road off and the police all clear it, but steering it is not fun.

Other passes were a lot more fun. When we crisscrossed back, we went across Switzerland and over the Furka Pass in Switzerland, which is where James Bond chased a DB5 (virtually a Ford Mustang) in Goldfinger. There, the road was a lot more flowing, the bends were a lot easier to see around and there was a sheer drop on one side, but at least you could see it! 

Another tip: pack for what you’ll need according to circumstance. The combination of road-tripping, mountaineering and city breaks meant that we had to pack the bags a little differently. We packed overnight bags that tucked into the side of the boot quite nicely so we could get them in and out. We had one for dirty and one for clean; we’d do the washing every few days to keep up with it. 

Airbnb is great in Europe. Since we arranged the trip ourselves and broke up the trip with different types of activities, it saves you a lot of money and gets you into contact with people, who usually give great advice. We also used mountain huts for accommodation, which again are much cheaper than hotels. We would park the car at the bottom of a valley before hiking up for eight hours with an overnight bag and a sleeping bag liner. They give you blankets and food and you go out walking for the rest of the day. 

City breaks are great, but plan ahead. Sometimes we drove into the cities, sometimes we parked outside and rode in on a bus so I didn’t have to weave a wide car around the inner streets. That’s what I’d recommend: plan a bit further ahead and use park-and-rides.

Lastly, get a vignette for travelling across Europe. You can get in trouble if you enter a country without paying the local road tax, which comes in the form of a window sticker. In Switzerland, it’s only on the motorways, but we made a mistake in Slovenia and had to pay a fine. So, keep extra hot on that when you cross the borders on the Sat Nav, which you can easily do without realising. That’s the one thing that’s different in Europe than the States. You can cross the States without having to pay any local fees. 

What were your favourite stops during that specific trip?

My single favourite one is somewhere I’m trying to keep quiet, because it’s so remote and lovely and not filled with tourists that I’m going to keep that one to myself!

But I like Switzerland; it’s nice to drive through. One of the highlights of the trip was when I got to the top of the Stelvio Pass. It was hard work even with power steering and I needed to let my heart rate calm down. We actually pulled up in the car park next to another Mustang, all liveried up with stickers, whose owner we ended up convoying with through the tunnels and the different mountain roads. It was unexpected and we made a good friend out of it.

Speaking of connecting with people, you are the founder of the Instagram account @classicstangsgb. Apparently, it’s the official branch of the Californian @classicstangs, so what’s your mission on there?

@ClassicStangs was founded in the US a few years ago and they’ve managed to get a bit of a global following. So you’ve got Classic ‘Stangs Germany, Classic ‘Stangs Peru, Ecuador… really anywhere that’s got pre-seventies classic Mustangs have joined Instagram and started their own country group. I thought I’d get one started here, so I set up a GB handle. So far, we’re growing in following and I’m trying to start a meet next year to get an inaugural Classic ‘Stangs group together. It’s a great way to connect with people looking to buy and they’re all like-minded and interested in photography and meet-ups. Perhaps we’ll all come over to Henfield for a visit (to MCUK) on one of the road trips.

I’ve used @classicstangsgb to post links to our founder’s podcast. We had lots of wonderful comments from around the world, including a group from Peru who were interested in the topic—it’s unusual and great to see!

What advice would you give to other classic car owners out there? 

Firstly, I’d say take your classic car to as many shows as possible. Go out and see how noisy things are, see what you’d be able to cope with on a long-distance trip. The communities are great, you can share stories and knowledge. I met another ’65 GT owner in September—it was great because we got to talk about the same car squeaks we each had! 

Prior to ownership, I’d say keep shopping around. I’ve since been to see ten or fifteen different cars and I can say I wouldn’t buy any of them because I’m so happy with my own. See as many as possible if you’re looking to buy. Also, find a trustworthy garage that you are willing to leave it with if need be. I try to do the little things myself, but sometimes I run out of time and knowledge.

Thank you very much, Jonathan! To follow Jonathan’s classic car activities and meet-ups, follow him on @classicstangsgb on Instagram.

Jonathan’s Top Tips For Roadtrip Preparation

  1. Organised a driving schedule with your driving partner. 
  2. Buy a paper map.
  3. Plan your accommodation ahead, but also day-to-day as your schedule changes.
  4. Pack according to circumstance, and only what you need if space is tight.
  5. Avoid (literally) tight spots in cities bu taking advantage of park-and-ride systems.
  6. Get a toll pass for France.
  7. Buy a vignette for travelling across Europe.
  8. Use Airbnb and talk to people!

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