The vehicle pictured above is more than a car. It’s my family’s history, it’s my history. It’s the first date with my wife, my first oil change, and my first wrench turned. To really accurately capture the essence of what this car means to me would take more words than I care to share; therefore, on this 50th anniversary of the Mustang, and my birthday, I’ll share a few highlights.
Being born on April 17th, and coming from a Ford family, I was destined to be a Mustang owner. My maternal grandfather, Victor, bought the Mustang for my mother on October 1, 1968, making him the fourth owner in that short time period. My Mustang was scheduled for birth on April 2, 1965, and the local Ford dealer sold it on April 8th, according to the original owner’s manual. That dealer still exists–I bought my 2012 Focus there.
Mom drove the car for about seven years before the rust became bad enough for her and my dad to park it out at my paternal grandparents’ house, ungaraged, for another 10 years. Mom and Dad bought a brown ’74 Pinto to replace it, which had to feel like a real step down.
Dad occasionally started and drove the Mustang, and at four years old, I was actually afraid of the noise and refused to ride in it…not a good start to a long-term relationship! Mom and Dad had the car towed back home in about 1985, where it sat in a neighbor’s garage until they allowed me to start tinkering with it in 1988, when I was 11. The next year, when this picture was taken, Mom told me that if I wanted to fix the car up, I could have it.
It’s still the best present I’ve ever gotten from anyone. I already loved cars more than anything else, but it gave me an education. I learned cars by breaking just about everything one could imagine. And it all started that summer in 1988, when I sat behind the wheel, dreaming, and finally starting a long dormant 289 with a rotted exhaust system.
In 1991, my bowl haircut, my dad, and I finally started tearing the extremely rusty car apart to redo it. Dad was a shop teacher, so he did all the welding, and there was miles of it. We both learned, and we both made mistakes. By the time I started driving it in 1994, it didn’t have the straightest bodywork, but it served me well for 12 years and tens of thousands of miles before I decided to redo it again.
Here I am at 20, going out and looking stupid with my friends. We’d go to the casino, smoke cigars, and generally look like idiots. I drove the Mustang everywhere, and was largely unafraid to park it, drive it in the rain, and sometimes even leave it out in the snow. On October 2, 2000, thirty-two years and one day after Vic bought the car for my mom, I took my would-be wife out to lunch in it, 30 minutes after I met her.
In 2006, my wife and I took the Mustang on a 400-mile road trip, and I came home and tore it apart again. It needed new sheetmetal all over (even though this picture of it looks good), a process which took me four years, working around my other cars.
I installed new quarter panels, doors, fenders, cowl sheetmetal, and a thousand patches I made by hand. The new sheetmetal did not fit very well at all, which added to the time I took finishing the car.
I still managed to have some fun with my pride and joy while it was under construction, but the day after this picture was taken, I pulled out the driveline for the duration.
Things progressed bit by bit, and when I got tired of metalwork and bodywork, I moved on to one of the other cars, which always need work themselves. While all this was going on, I bought the Corvair and had the engine in my ’53 Buick rebuilt. I farmed out the Buick’s engine because my garage was no place to be building an engine at this time.
Eventually, I put the original engine and transmission in, because they ran well when I pulled them and they had years of reliable service behind them.
In 2009, my dad and I chemically stripped the Mustang, I gave it an epoxy coating, and I put it away for the winter. You can see the added metal at the bottom of the door and the slice I had to take out of the left quarter to make everything fit.
After getting most of the bodywork ready to go, I decided to have my bodyshop friends paint the car for me. They do good work at reasonable prices, and they’re just cool guys, so it was off to paint, finally, in 2010.
She came home looking better than ever, ready for me to put everything back together.
I had reupholstered the seats over the winter, so my wife got the bodyshop mess all cleaned out and I set out to install the headliner, carpet, and everything else.
It came out looking pretty good, good enough, at least, for my quality of driveable car.
I managed to take an “odd couple” photo or two of my unlikely garage mates.
I christened my long dormant friend with another 400-mile road trip, to the same area I had driven it just before I ripped it apart back in 2006.
Soon after I started driving the Mustang back in 1994, pitted valves killed cylinder #8, but I managed to find a set of salvage yard 289 heads for $100. My engine had a hard 61,000 miles on it at that point. Those heads lasted until 2012, and 134,000 miles, when the #8 exhaust valve recessed to a point where that cylinder again ceased to fire. The engine was tired enough that something needed to be done, so I tried a used engine that lasted 300 miles before scuffed pistons mysteriously brought a halt to that experiment. I like to think that the car rejected its heart transplant.
It had already been a bad year for the car, as its transmission finally failed just months before. I had a local shop rebuild the original C4 for me over the winter, and I reinstalled it months before my engine problems. In 2013, after removing the used engine, I sent that engine’s 351 heads out to be checked over at the machine shop, and sent my 289 block in for machining. It came home in time for me to assemble it and still enjoy the car for a few months last year.
A coat of paint makes everything look new.
Car and engine, ready to meet again.
Thus, I’ll end where I began. I have driven this lovely automobile more miles than anyone else in the world has, and am the sixth official owner; in fact, it’s only had three owners in the last forty-six years, fewer than it had in its first three. The owners included my grandpa, my dad, and me. Mom still loves to ride in her old car, and I still love, love, love to drive it whenever I can, even if it now has to share a garage with a bunch of other cars.
Forrest Gump said, “I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.” I do too. This little commonplace old car is my past, present, and future. I am more proud of it than I am of anything in the world. This may be a cliche week to be celebrating it, and a cliche day, but this car symbolizes me and all that I am and all that I am capable of. It, quite simply, is the most important inanimate object I’ll ever know.