by James Cotton
When I turned fifteen, my parents asked me what I wanted for my first car. Without hesitation I said I wanted a 1964 ½ Mustang convertible, red with a black top. I remember my Dad’s eyes lit up when I said that because when he was that age he wanted one so badly he could taste it. Over most of the next year we searched for the perfect Mustang for me. By perfect I mean one that did not need a lot of work, was not too expensive, and was as close as possible to what I asked for. I remember looking at a lot of 66 coupes that Dad would always say needed too much work.
One night Dad came home from work and said he’d found my car. After dinner we piled into our car and drove to Rockwell, NC and with flashlights, looked at a Wimbledon White 64 coupe with red interior and a 260 (the first and only V8 we looked at). The interior lights didn’t work, the brakes were very soft, but it ran almost perfectly. Dad told me on the way not to act too excited, but it was very hard not to since this was the first 64 ½ we’d seen and being March, we only had a few more months until my birthday in July. To a fifteen-year-old getting his first car, that was no time at all.
The couple that was selling the car was about to get married and needed money more than they needed a Mustang. I could tell that the car was the girl’s and she really did not want to sell it. I don’t remember if we brought it home the next day or a few days later, but soon it was sitting in our driveway.
As I’ve said, it did need a little bit of work, but nothing near the others we’d looked at. Dad and I spent the next Saturday in the front yard fixing wiring problems, getting the interior lights working, and taking inventory on what else needed to be done. I no longer remember what all we did, but I do remember rebuilding the carburetor and replacing the valve stem seals. A few weeks later we drove it to Charlotte Motor Speedway where it sat in the parking lot next to a white 65 while we walked around the 30th Anniversary Mustang show.
When I turned 16, I couldn’t have been any happier. I had the coolest car in the parking lot at Albemarle High School, or at least I thought I did. I drove the car every day for the next three years including back and forth to college for my freshman year at Western Carolina University (a four hour drive away) and the car never let me down.
The summer after my freshman year at WCU, I was working at Morrow Mountain State Park and one morning, on my way to work, I was not paying attention and failed the car. I tried to make a turn much too fast and ran straight into a telephone pole, hitting so hard that the intersection’s caution lights bounced off the road (so I was told).
I thought this was the end of my car, but I had made a vow when we got this car that I would never sell it. While we searched for the car I met many people who said, “I owned a Mustang once and I wish I’d never sold that car.” I vowed never to be one of those people. I wanted to be one who could say, “I owned a 64 Mustang when I was sixteen and there it is over there.” It took a little convincing to get Dad to let me hang on to it, especially when, a year later, we found another 64, this time a red convertible. The plan at first was to sell my car for parts and buy the convertible, but I wouldn’t have it. I did not want to break my vow. We did buy the convertible (which is now Dad’s car and I’ll let him tell about that one), but we kept mine.
It was four years later, in 2001, when I’d come home from college and it looked like I would be here for a while, that I brought up the idea of restoring the car. We talked to a local body shop about doing the bodywork and getting the car back to a rolling condition, and then we would do the rest. We would buy all the parts when they needed them. In retrospect, both Dad and I wish we’d done this differently, but at the time it seemed the way to go. Part of the deal with the body shop was that they would work on it in their spare time and when they did not have cars that people needed back. I’ll be honest; this became a source of annoyance for me, as I would go every week or every couple weeks to see if they’d done anything on my car,often finding that they had not.
Finally, three years later, in the spring of 2003, the bodywork was finished and we brought the car home. I remember it sitting in the garage waiting to be wired, have the engine finished, the interior put back in, and finally brought back to life, but there was still a problem. Dad’s Air National Guard unit had been activated and he was sitting in Kuwait at the time. I did not know enough about what I was doing to do anything on the car myself. So there it sat with me staring at it and dreaming of the day I could drive it again.
Well, finally Dad came home from Kuwait and we began working on finishing the car. It took another year.My goal was to have the car finished in time to go to the 40th Anniversary show but alas, that was not to happen either. In fact, we were finishing the car on the weekend of the 40th Anniversary, so I guess that was good enough. The completed car rolled out of the garage under its own power almost exactly 40 years from when Mustangs were first released.
I still own this car and still plan to keep my vow never to sell her, especially not after all the blood, sweat, and tears that have been put into her. I have owned her for twenty years and hope to one day pass her on to a younger generation in my family. She proudly sits in my garage next to her younger 2011 convertible grand child. Over the years I have had many occasions to say what I planned: “I owned a 64 Mustang when I was sixteen and there she sits right over there.”