Last month my 1966 Ford Mustang had the honor of transporting an Indian wedding’s groom in his Baraat ceremony — a task that I knew would put the vehicle’s cooling system to the test. So I upgraded my fan, installed a shroud, and threw in a transmission cooler just in case. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to keep the temperatures down, and things nearly went off the rails.
A Baraat is basically a huge party/procession celebrating the groom. Taking place before the wedding ceremony, it involves the groom acting as the caboose of a gigantic dancing mob. Traditionally, a groom would ride a horse, but these days, cars are the common mode of transportation. Nick, the groom in this particular wedding, is a Jalopnik reader who decided he wanted a horse-named car — specifically the 1966 Ford Mustang I’ve been writing about ever since I fixed it this past spring.
I happily obliged, especially since Nick promised me payment in the form of an invitation to his rather lit wedding. I love weddings.
I had only one job: Clean the Mustang up a bit, arrive to the wedding, decorate the car (as is tradition), pick up the groom, and drive him around the parking lot behind an enormous group of his dancing friends and family. Seemed easy enough, though after driving the Mustang much of the summer, I was concerned that the vehicle couldn’t handle extremely-slow driving without thermal concerns.
So, as previously mentioned, I upgraded the cooling system, which already had a new radiator and thermostat. I installed a new five-blade fan and a shroud to help that fan pull air through the radiator. I also threw a small transmission cooler out front to keep the Ford C4 three-speed from boiling its ATF 4+ fluid.
With these mods in place, and the Mustang washed and waxed, I arrived to the wedding beaming with confidence — not just because I was certain my Mustang’s cooling system would hold up, but because damn the thing looked good:
I hung out with the groom and his groomsmen (including my friend Brian Kirby, whom you may all remember as the brilliant aerospace engineer who wrote about the best article on the internet about NASA’s Perseverance mission) in the hotel for a bit, and then it was game time.
The car decorator showed up a bit late and with no tape to fasten the floral arrangements, so we had to improvise. We shoved decorations into door jambs, tied them to window cranks and wiper arms, and I headed to the Baraat. I arrived a little late to an incredible scene. Nick, his fiancee, and their friends and family — a huge group of people — were hanging out in front of the wedding venue, getting absolutely turnt. A DJ hyped everyone up, cranking tunes from the towering speakers mounted to his pickup truck. It was unlike any wedding celebration I’d ever seen.
Family members took photos of the Groom next to the car; then Nick, wearing traditional garb and carrying a sword, hopped into the passenger’s seat.
The ridiculously energetic DJ jumped into the bed of a new-ish Ford F-150, next to the two tall speakers blaring music, and the truck began slowly driving around the parking lot leading Nick’s family and friends who danced just behind. Nick and I brought up the rear in the Mustang. I was having a great time, feeling the energy in the air, and basking in the sheer joy radiating from the man just a few inches to my right.
But I knew the Mustang was in trouble. I could feel it.
As soon as the procession started, and I realized just how slowly I’d have to drive the Mustang, it was apparent that even my upgraded thermal system wasn’t going to be able to hang. I’d tuned my carburetor quite nicely, but I’ll admit that the idle is maybe a few hundred RPM higher than I’d like. A lower idle caused stalling issues when cold, and even the higher idle I’d dialed in was still below 800 RPM (I think the recommended RPM is around 500 or 600 when in drive).
A couple hundred RPM shouldn’t make a giant difference, you wouldn’t think, but it certainly didn’t help. After warming the car up to prepare for the procession (to make sure that V8 ran as well as possible), I drove Nick behind his dancing family for 20 minutes at a rate of what felt like 0.00000000001 MPH. For a person with as much mechanical sympathy as I have, it was excruciating.
My right quad began aching as I pressed hard on the brake pedal, forcing the shoes against the small brake drums at each corner to prevent the vehicle from accelerating beyond our slow speed (I’m realizing that this may be the most opportune time to make a great Mustang-crowd joke – I will resist). With the higher idle spinning the automatic transmission’s torque converter up to a fairly high-ish speed, it felt to me like the 289 V8 was under quite a bit of load.
The result of that load was additional heat, which even my radiator could not reject into the ambient air. The transmission, too, was likely producing a decent amount of heat; thank god for that transmission cooler I’d installed.
The coolant temperature needle continued doing the Michael Jackson Anti-Gravity Lean. Drops of sweat began assembling on my forehead. “Congratulations man, this is amazing,” I said the groom. I made small-talk for a bit while occasionally glancing at the temperature gauge. The needle kept moving. The beads of sweat began to march in the negative-Z direction; I brushed them off and continued the small talk.
I dropped the transmission into neutral and listened as the glorious V8 revved freely, no longer wresting with the load of the transmission. The Mustang coasted slowly, but eventually the crowd began distancing itself from us, and I had to drop the car back into drive. I tried doing this as smoothly as possible so that Nick would have no idea that I was fighting against the clock.
The car jerked a bit when put the shifter into drive, the engine quieted down, and we proceeded forward a bit. After a few yards, I popped the T-handle shifter back into neutral, the engine revved higher, and we coasted. Then the car jerked as I put us back into drive. “So, lots of dancing, eh?” I remarked nervously, pulling my collar and hoping Nick wouldn’t notice the boiled Ethylene Glycol steaming out. He seemed totally oblivious to the dire state of the vehicle he was riding in.
His wedding procession was about to be interrupted by a Mustang shooting clouds of steam high into the air, dripping coolant all over the parking lot. He was about to have to walk the rest of the way — or would I have to carry him? I mean, the deal was that I’d transport him, so I think I would.
My small frame wasn’t built for groom-carrying, and that sword he was holding looked heavy. So I nursed the Mustang along, occasionally revving the motor in neutral to facilitate additional air and coolant flow. When Nick wasn’t looking, I turned on the heater. “Hehe, I’ll tell you what. The weather outside. A great day, right?! I bet it’s a little warm in that headdress, right?” I quipped, at this point having given up on holding the sweat flowing down my head at bay.
The temperature climbed, but a little more slowly.
The procession continued on for what felt like eternity, and I just kept awkwardly trying to make conversation to distract Nick from the fact that I was struggling to tame this red steed, and that his Baraat was about to go up in smoke (well, steam). This was his wedding day; I wanted him to be in the moment, not worry about engine coolant temperature.
The needle kept climbing. And climbing. And then it reached the top of my gauge, and I knew we were seconds from a geyser bursting out from underhood. But then, just when my engine was on the cusp of overheating, and just as the rate of sweat flowing down my face alarmingly matched the rate of coolant flow through my radiator, the car-gods showed mercy: I looked around, and we were back where we started. Nick’s friends and family were all looking at us; the Baraat was over.
I shoved the shifter into park, someone opened up the passenger-door, and Nick walked out. He and the scores of family and friends danced in a giant group. “Hey, come on out and dance with us!” someone yelled to me. “Sure! Yes, I’m coming. Just give me one second!” I responded, knowing full well that if I shut the Mustang’s engine off while it was this hot, the radiator would certainly boil over (when you shut an engine off, you lose all cooling since the water pump is no longer moving the coolant through the radiator, and the engine fan is no longer pulling air through the grille — and though engine heat rejection has gone to zero, it takes time for an engine to cool down. So you end up with a hot engine that’s not being cooled, a condition that is referred to as “heat soak.”)
I sat there for a few minutes and watched as the needle showed mercy on my soul, quickly retreating toward the cold end of the gauge. I then shut the motor off and joined in on the festivities.
What ensued was a magical wedding ceremony and a reception filled with epic levels of dancing. Everyone was getting in on it, including a little more “experienced” folks, who weren’t just doing the classic side-shuffle that I’d come to expect from people their age. No, no, these “wiser” members of Nick and his wife Neesha’s family were tearing it up. It was a remarkable sight to behold.
I, meanwhile, having poured a few quarts of my go-to joint lubricant, vodka-cranberry, down my head-spout, managed to get by on the dance floor, but only just. The reality is that, even if I’d consumed a full can of Cleveland’s Finest (PB Blaster), I’d still have been held back by my German ancestry. We’re just not built for motions beyond those needed to engineer machinery and brew beer.
Either nobody heard or nobody wanted to say anything about the squeaks, pops, and groans coming from my ball joints, tie rod ends, and bushings. Even the clicks resonating from my CV joints seemed to go unnoticed. I had a ball.
And so the day granted me two miracles: The Mustang’s crappy cooling system didn’t embarrass me at the amazing Indian wedding, and neither did my pathetic dance moves.