The Desert Pony: Unleashing a 1965 Mustang Fastback in the Mojave
Photography by John Hebert
City living offers a myriad of phrenic and creative escapes. This package also includes a heap of physical restraints. Los Angeles, rife with automotive culture, is also renown for crippling traffic, a twinge of irony for car enthusiasts. Jordan Nodarse is an L.A. resident and the owner of a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback. His grandfather once owned a similar car.
“My grandma made him get rid of it. She always said it was too loud. And now, my neighbors are giving me the same complaints.” He laughs as he tells the story.
Nodarse is the founder of a denim company that prioritizes the use of sustainable materials and cruelty-free production. This personal ethos transcends business methods, inspiring Nodarse’s appreciation for anything vintage or forgotten.
“Nothing is trash. Everything can be repaired or repurposed, whether it’s a pair of jeans or an old muscle car.”
Always pining for open space and fresh activity, Nodarse is known for organizing communal outings. Never content to do it alone, he is keen on implicating other creative souls.
“I do my best to conceive of different ways I can involve my friends in a trip somewhere new, or a fresh way for us to work together. It’s become commonplace for people to postpone or downright cancel plans, but for us, days spent together are like an escape – a weekly uncaging.”
Fascinated by local drift-car drivers, Nodarse has dreamed of testing his car’s capacity to travel sideways, unhinged. The risk of damaging the original Fastback body in a collision tamed this ambition. By chance, he recently came across an old image of a second-generation Mustang being driven frantically on a dirt road. In this picture, he recognized the freedom of a boundless sandbox. An idea was ignited.
Roughly one-hundred miles outside of Los Angeles lies the Cuddeback Dry Lake Bed. Home to the gunnery range of Edwards Air Force Base, the Mojave landmark serves no other human purpose. Nodarse got on the phone with friend and photographer John Hebert, proposing a venture to the arid parcel of land, describing it as a semi-local alternative to salt flat racing. Struck by Hebert’s reciprocated excitement, the idea shifted from an eventuality to an immediate day trip. Hebert opted to bring along his 2005 Triumph Bonneville, a modified desert sled apt for the rugged riding they were anticipating. Mutual friend Michael Pieters was also enlisted, eager for the chance of piloting Hebert’s 450-pound street motorcycle far away from pavement.
Driving due north from the city the dusty terrain began to flatten, the landscape littered with wind turbines and gnarled desert shrubs. Telephone towers slid by metronomically, their wires leading back to population. The hazed outline of mountain ranges perforated the horizon ahead, swelling with every passing mile marker. First the highway shoulder disappeared – then the highway itself.
Arriving at Cuddeback Lake, the trio were immediately taken by the serenity. The shape of cars could be seen trudging on distant highways, needles of light glaring off of windshields, but there was a marked absence of sound. At first it seemed that the literal dirtiness of the lakebed could be avoided, but like wading into an ice-cold stream, caution was eventually flung aside and the vehicles descended into the grit.
Some folks own classic cars for the merits of preservation, or invisible ties of sentimentality. Some own them purely for the sake of ownership, and perceived valuation. Nodarse is a driver.
“Like my father and grandfather, I’m not afraid of using my car. I do enjoy working on it, and I know enough to keep it happy and maintained, but every week I’m behind the wheel. I’m okay with getting it dirty from time to time. I even lend it to out-of-town friends when they come for a visit.”
Having saved specifically for a classic machine, Nodarse found the ’65 Fastback in the town of Vancouver, Washington. It had been owned by an old-timer with the habit of racing cars while preserving their stock nature. Appropriate modifications were made to launch the Mustang down a drag strip competently. Modern suspension had been installed and the handling thoroughly sorted.
Nodarse took full advantage of these improvements as he coaxed the car onto the dried lake and opened up the modern 331 C.I. “stroker” crate motor. Tiles of scaly soil atomized beneath the tires, ribbons of dust skirting the fenders. Slashing the wooden steering wheel to either side caused iron plumes to swell around the black car like thunderheads. The 55-year-old Ford was put through its paces as Nodarse practiced S-curves and donuts for hours, improving his form, learning to anticipate the ever-shifting soil.
“The car has no power assisted steering, no traction control, and a manual transmission. Taking it off-road was a way for me to test my sense of balance and awareness. You gain a real understanding for the vehicle that you’ll never find on city streets.”
Pieters chased behind the freed Pony, keeping the Bonneville at a consistent distance. At first, he rode timidly, conscious of preserving the well-being of his friend’s bike. But with encouragement from Hebert, he gradually increased the Triumph’s speed, the rear tire bucking one way then the next, dancing and sliding in Nodarse’s rearview mirror.
The three rode until dusk, headlamps cutting through rust-colored clouds that they had created, golden orbs against the navy backdrop of distant hills. During a period of quarantine and lockdown protocol they had sought nothing more than open space, tracing the same California roads as Jim Morrison and Jack Kerouac, finding that the days of muscle cars and western trails exist beyond nostalgia. When the walls feel close, and the city streets too congested, grab a friend and take that long drive to nowhere in particular.