In the Summer of 1979, I was zoom-zooming my Mazda RX-2 around, doing summer jobs while home from college. For whatever unexplained reason, my parents decided that they were done with the family Mustang, and would I like it? Humina, Humina, yup, yup, yup. My sister was also of car driving age, the Mazda had been reliable and still didn’t have too many miles on it, so a grand bargain was reached. I would put together (or oversee the putting together of) a refurbished first generation Mustang, I would then swap it with my parents in exchange for the Fastback, and I would sell the RX-2 to my sister for cash, to fund the Mustang to build out and swap.
Back to our used car, used Lincoln dealer, who located, at wholesale, a 1966 notchback coupe for us. After having it carefully gone through, a straight-six, three-speed, drum brake equipped Mustang notchback was ready for exchange. The grand car swap was ready to be made.
This offered a great opportunity to do a Mustang comparo. I found the six cylinder/three speed combo a more attractive package overall, more smooth low end torque and less shifting, but the drum brakes were awful. The notchback had much better over-the-shoulder rear visibility, and the trunk was larger.
A big difference was in the tires. The Fastback had C78-14 bias-ply tires, essentially 185/80s on very tall sidewalls. The notch was equipped with E70-14 radial tires, more like 205/70s. The difference in response and road manners was huge, attributable partly to the tire size, and partly to the construction. In the future, 70-series radials were the answer.
The car was a bit crude in function, and I knew that going in. But the looks and the overall package made it worth it. After all, driving to work or back to college was mostly all about putting it in a straight line and letting it roll. How much steering feel and dynamic handling does that take? The only somewhat non-negotiable for me was the brakes, and the 4-puck Kelsey-Hayes front disc system was awesome. A little chrome roundel on the brake pedal pad, emblazoned with “DISC BRAKES”, reminded me of that every time I got into the car.
The car had a nice combination of features. 289 V-8 with the four-speed, the “accent package” (chrome strips under the doors and pinstripes), an AM radio, white sidewall tires with “knockoff” wheel covers, and the front discs. The V-8 was only about $100 over the six, and the front discs only another $60 or so. The simple AM radio was another almost $60 (the radio was optional). I think I know where the profit margin lies.
Once I got back to school, the bright red car was a particular source of conversation. Most of the cars there were hand-me-downs or otherwise nothing special. This is where I ran into an unexpected and vexing issue. It began attracting attention of the Midnight Auto Supply sort. Over time, I lost the spark plug wires, the radiator cap, and the battery. I bought a cheap but fitted and lockable car cover, but it still called attention to itself in the outdoor parking lots, as no one else had a car cover. And the locking mechanism was a cable from side to side under the center of the car. The lock prevented the car cover from being stolen (which was not the issue), but still allowed free access to the engine room through the unlocked hood.
Back in 1980, cars and parts that were often stolen were not of the unusual and hard-to-find sort, that could be fenced on the on-line auction sites. Stolen cars and parts were generally of the common but out-of-production type, which were in demand and easy to fence locally by word-of-mouth and the street corner. Older VWs, early 60’s Chevys, and first generation Mustangs were prime targets. Also, I went to school in an L.A. suburb that was directly adjacent to an extremely high crime/high gang/high violence part of town. Auto thefts, locally, were very high, even by So-Cal standards. My car was prime theft material, and was a prominent sitting duck. What to do?
The car’s function was to get me to school and back. But I also considered it irreplaceable. I liked the Fastbacks, but that particular example was the one I cherished, and, if lost, could not ever be replaced.
I pondered the situation, and considered things such as removing the distributor innards, getting a car alarm, or revising a sort of locking hood mechanism. At the end of the day, it would still be vulnerable to vandalism and the theft of small stuff like gas caps and badges. A family in my parents’ neighborhood had a bad experience that sealed the deal for me. They owned a cherry original ‘53 Chevy Bel Air from new, and had it stolen out of the high school parking lot while their son had been driving it to school, as I was away at college with the Mustang. I just couldn’t stand to likely endure something similar with the Mustang. I needed to keep it under lock and key, tucked away, while I was off at school. Thus I had to consider how to become a one-person, two-car family. If I was frugal and careful, I could probably make it work. I always worked summer jobs, and also always worked part-time when school was in session, during both high school and college. I was not wealthy, but always had a bit of jingle in my jeans. Back to the recurring question, what to buy. As you will see, the answer to that question made all the difference, going forward, in unexpected ways.
In the meantime, the Mustang story carries on. I stashed it at my parents’ house, off and on in rented garages and lock-ups, and in my grandmother’s garage for a time. I drove it now and again on weekends, and as a back-up when car #2 was out of commission. The Mustang could carry things like skis or lumber when the back seat was folded down and the trap-door from the trunk was open, so it was used for odd jobs. And, yes, I still own it today. I am much more than a two-car (and a one-person) family today, and the Mustang still holds pride of place in my car barn. I am 61 now, and this car has been in my life since before I was 5. Truly a COAL, for my life.