When a Mustang purist sees a 1967 Mustang riding on 36-inch swampers, a couple of different thoughts come to mind. For us off-roaders, it’s all about the fun, but for the Mustang purist, well, maybe not so much. If you happen to be one of those purists, you are probably in the wrong place for this particular story. Read on at your own risk.
When scanning the trail for cool builds at a Gambler 500 event, a Mustang sticks out like a sore thumb. While equipped with decent horsepower and rear-wheel-drive, they don’t exactly scream off-road machine. Nevertheless, that’s what makes them interesting to a Gambler 500 driver. The fun and impractical are what make Gambler 500 builds stand out. We would say that Ryan Otto’s 1967 Mustang is definitely an interesting choice.
Gambler 500 events are weekend-long, rally-style, off-road navigational challenges. They are not races. Drivers gamble that their chosen vehicle will make it to the waypoints provided. Cool points are provided to those that bring an especially impractical or fun car. Examples include deuce and a half trucks, Toyota Corollas, and even smart cars.
Gambler 500 events have taken place in many states across both the United States as well as Canada, but the original event takes place in Chemult, Oregon. The OG event, as it’s referred to, emphasizes that fun is greater than any established set of rules.
Tate Morgan started the Gambler 500 in his hometown state of Oregon in 2014 as a challenge to see how far 500-dollar cars could go off-road. Since then, the event has grown exponentially and has become just as much about good land stewardship. A prize is handed down to the participant that collects the most trash on the trails during the event. As you can see, it’s not about having the biggest or baddest thing on the trail; it’s really just about having fun.
Ryan Otto and his Mustang looked like they were having plenty of fun. Ryan shared, “We rode recovery with my brother in his van in 2017 for the Recoil Team. We learned that people have their quirks and they sometimes put them in their cars.” Managing your interactions with humans can be a challenge at any event. At something like the Gambler 500, it can be a downright pleasure or a daunting task.
The Mustang was Ryan’s first car when he turned 18 years old. He originally put quite a bit of work into it, and it turned out to be a pretty nice ride. Ryan explained, “It sat by the wayside in my backyard for over 20 years.” After coming to the Gambler 500 in 2017, Ryan decided it was time to go and drag it out for some Gambling of his own. He admitted, “I got back from the Gambler and just had to get it out. So I pulled it out of the weeds and started wrenching on it.”
The car has been highly modified with a ton of work done by Ryan. He points out that it remains 100-percent Mustang, though. Big rubber was mandatory on the build, so Ryan started with the 36-inch Super Swampers. He then changed the differential gears to 3.80:1 to compensate for the larger tires. The stock 289 cubic-inch V8 with the original two-barrel carburetor remains under the hood and operating pretty well. Ryan is proud of the fact that all of the numbers match, and we can agree that it’s really awesome.
A custom coon tail on the antenna sets the ride even further apart. A long list of stock replacement parts also accompanies all of the outside sticker decorations. The stickers cover up a bit of the fact that Ryan searched for cheap body panels everywhere. The blue fenders, blue hood, and green body panels are all testaments to Ryan’s prowess as a parts scavenger. The red grill and crumpled bumpers sort of complete the overall salvage look of this gambler. Ryan said, “I just went around looking for cheap used parts. Bent-up parts are still good. Just straighten them out and get them to go on there. Then you just go ahead and go.”
The entire build took approximately one year. Ryan explains it as going from one Gambler to the other. He said, “Every night when I got home and on weekends, this was it.” Ryan spent a lot of long nights on the roof of the car. He explained with a laugh that, “It took about three layers of sheet metal and three layers of glue to build the roof. We also used about 400 screws.” And how did the car come to be named “Glue Factory?” Simple – per Ryan’s estimate, that the roof contains approximately a gallon of construction adhesive.
No “I” In “Team”
Last year, Ryan won the award for most RC-like car. You can tell he takes pride in that award and it is well deserved. However, he never gambles alone. His team includes a friend with a 1972 Pinto. As he described it, “It’s a dead horse kind of thing!” He also has another friend with a 1984 Ford Bronco that has been strictly adhering to a budget of less than 500 dollars. He didn’t make it to the OG gambler this year. Ryan joked, “He didn’t spend over 500 bucks, so he must be a winner, right?”
The Gambler 500 has never really been about a specific budget. The organizers have repeatedly said that fun is always greater than rules. Just because it isn’t a rule, doesn’t mean that people won’t take it upon themselves to impose structure. Just because you stay under a specific budget, doesn’t mean you will have fun. Conversely, overspending doesn’t guarantee fun either. The best times lie somewhere in between.
Break Down Or Break Dance
Breaking down is part of the Gambler experience and Ryan has had many issues this year. His ignition went out on Day One. For the rest of the Gambler, he just bypassed the ignition by jumping the starter solenoid with a set of cables. That’s some Gambler innovation right there.
In addition to the loss of his ignition, Ryan experienced some overheating issues. He said with a smile, “It was a brand new radiator last year, so I’m not sure what’s going on. The important thing is that we would just stop and let it cool down some every once in a while. Like four times. Nah, we’re here and we made it, so…”
While these are relatively simple solutions, they do demonstrate the kind of problem-solving and adaptation skills that are necessary on a Gambler. These skills have value and it’s nice to see them being put to good use.
Ryan plans to get home and give the car a good once-over. He stated, “I don’t know what’s going on with it. We’ll get it home and start wrenching on it. I guarantee it will be ready for next year!”
We know why we like Gambler events, but we are also curious about why other people do. Ryan revealed, “I love the distortion. The distortion of the people and the distortion of the cars. I also love having a ride I can wrench on and treat how I want. It makes wrenching on cars fun when you don’t have to get to work on Monday with it. That makes it a lot more fun.”
We couldn’t agree more. We’ve all been in that situation where we tried to have just a little bit too much fun with our daily driver. That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know that it’s bad is something you never forget. Part of the allure to these events is that you can take cheap cars that you don’t need for your Monday morning commute and really have fun with them. Then again, maybe the guy who shows up with his daily driver and gambles it all weekend is having a better time than we are. There’s only one way to know for sure – Always be gambling.