Dateline Michigan, 1989. I’m a 12-year-old kid on a Huffy 12-speed, on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Indiana Street. There is a house on the southeast corner, and in the driveway sits a car exactly like this one. The owner, to my eyes, is a 2,000-year-old woman. The car is pristine and ungaraged, a real trick in Michigan’s harsh winter climate. What 2,000-year-old woman drives a Grabber Orange base model Mustang? Unfortunately, I never find out.
I’ve been around Mustangs since birth; my Grandpa Vic bought my ’65 hardtop for my Mom in 1968, so it has been in my family 46 years. Mom and Dad still drive Mustangs today: an ’88 and a ’12. So for all of my love of offbeat machinery, I still am drawn to the galloping horse. In attempt to defend this apparent paradox–the offbeat Mustang–I’ve assembled a few photographs of Mustangs that aren’t too common today. Most car show ’70 Mustangs are Mach 1s and Boss 302s, but it seems like base and Grande hardtops (and base Sportsroofs) are tougher to find.
I love the late 60s and early 70s vibe, and it’s almost solely based on the available color palette that the auto industry offered. The hardtop pictured in this brochure is bedecked in that ubiquitous refrigerator-like Harvest Gold, which is probably “Yellow” in reality. To me, it looks like a scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, sunstreaked, like every moment was an hour or two before sunset.
Almost equally “70s” were the loud Grabber colors, like the Orange on the ’70 hardtop of my memories. I never ended up talking to the lady who owned it, and I assumed she passed soon afterward, because her car AND house disappeared almost overnight. I took this picture at a Ford show about 30 minutes from my home, and I wonder if it’s the same car. There can’t be too many like it. It’s too bad I didn’t take a picture of the interior, because it looks like it’s a matching red/orange (Vermillion, as Ford called it). Today, interiors are mostly dull black or gray, but in 1970, it was party time! This hardtop had the sober 302-2V, rated at 220 horsepower, which was plenty of power for almost every type of driving. I have miles and miles of experience behind the wheel of small-block Ford propelled vehicles, and they’re great engines.
Almost equally uncommon in today’s “tribute” world is a base 1970 Sportsroof model. This nice example with standard wheel covers exhibits a more subdued “Medium Blue Metallic.” Other than the arguably more attractive roofline, this Mustang seems to be optioned much like the orange hardtop above, and it likely is 302-propelled as well. I’m still undecided as to whether I prefer the four-headlight 1969 model or the cleaner 1970. I think the ’69 is definitely more menacing, but the ’70 seems more coherent.
The base Sportsroof shown in the brochure with a lucky coach appears to be painted “Yellow,” which, strangely enough, didn’t have a cutesy name.
The final 1970 Mustang in my car show trifecta is this “Bright (or Medium) Gold Metallic” Grande model. Only in the early 70s would a car maker offer more than one gold. This one has some added cost options, like fancy wheel covers that look about 250 times more awesome than the base ones. It also has a strange, but also strangely alluring, toupee-style half vinyl roof. It’s like a reverse mullet.
The Grande interior was quite a step up from the base Mustang’s. It had “Houndstooth” print bucket seats that look like some of my dad’s old sport coats from years back, a sporty console and a whole bunch of fake wood trim. Grandes also came with extra sound deadener over the base Mustangs. I don’t know which engine propels this one, but I’d like to think it was the optional 351-2V, which would have likely been a Cleveland in 1970, but who knows with Ford? Only Ford would create four different engines with the same cubic inch displacement (the 351s were actually 352s, with their 4.00 inch bore and 3.5 inch stroke equaling 351.86 cubic inches, identical to the FE-based 352).
According to my materials, Ford produced just over 197,000 Mustangs in 1970, far from the nearly 700,000 1965 models. The 1970s had much more competition from other makes, however. Of those 1970s, 82,000 were hardtops, about 46,000 base Sportsroofs, and only 13,000 were the deluxe Grande models, so they can’t be too common today.
Even as a 12-year-old, I sensed that my neighbor’s base ’70 wasn’t quite as special as my ’65 (I was already messing around with it at that time). It was a neat oddity, but not too much more. Today, I find that weird orange hardtop to be far more interesting than I did then. It was a way to be mainstream odd, and that’s not a bad way to be.
Just FYI: If you have any interest in first generation Mustangs, a great resource is the Mustang Recognition Guide above. My parents got me a copy when I was in the third grade, and I read it until the binding broke. When I was older, I bought another copy. It’s been out since the 1970s, I believe, and contains codes, color names, and all kinds of neat facts about early Mustangs.