by Dave Goff
This story starts with a telephone call I received one night in 2012 from a former work acquaintance who remembered my interest in Mustangs. She was in the process of moving her elderly mother from Florida to North Carolina and as they were closing up the house, decided to address the future of her deceased father's '65 Mustang fastback. Unfortunately, what had once been the pride and joy of an auto mechanics instructor had been slowly rusting away outdoors in the humid south Florida atmosphere beneath layers of wet carpet, rotted tarps, and pine needles. Upon looking at several photos of the rusty hulk, I quickly decided that the project was bigger than my limited resources and my even more limited skills. Enter my brother-in-law, Dean, who has never seen a project car that has too much rust, because he has the skills and the tools to cut out rust and replace it with good sheet metal. He suggested we make a road trip to see the car up close and personal. Upon further inspection in Vero Beach, even Dean decided the car was a lost cause, and as we walked away, my friend said, "Just give me something and take the car with you." Dean gave her $300 cash, and the next several hours were spent prying the car loose from the ground and dragging it onto the trailer. My job was to watch out for rattlesnakes! On the way home from Florida, we joked about what folks thought of the two idiots hauling such a rough-looking Mustang 2+2, but mostly we were worried about rusty pieces flying off the car at highway speed and damaging a car that may be following too close!
The highlight of the long trip home came during our first gas stop, when the old 'Stang attracted the attention of a local drunk staggering through the parking lot. He spent the next long while telling us he had one just like ours closed up in his body shop just across the road. He repeated himself quite a few times and was still talking as we pulled away. We decided that if his car was just like Dean's we should probably feel real sorry for him! As we pulled back into Canton many hours later, we stopped to show Dean's Dad, Roy, what we had hoped would have been our next Mustang project (It looked better in the dark!). At least it still had its D-code, 289-4v engine intact, which will become more important in just a bit.
While we were in Florida, Roy had gotten a phone call from a nephew whose father-in-law, Doug, in Chapel Hill had a '64 1/2 Mustang convertible project car for sale. The car had been sitting unfinished in his driveway long enough that his wife had finally ordered it gone. Like most Mustang stories, there was good news and bad news. Bad News: The car had originally belonged to Doug's best buddy who had relocated to Vermont and passed away. The car sat outside during several Vermont winters where goats had actually eaten away the convertible top. At some point during it's history, the original drive train had been replaced by a 351-W and a Toploader 4-speed. In addition, someone had sewn up a set of stylish blue and white seat covers and hog-ringed them right on top of the factory seat covers.
Are you patiently waiting on the good news part of the story? Keep waiting. The car, still located in Vermont, had been given to Doug, who opted to have the car "restored" by a Vermont shop. After spending thousands of dollars to have new floorpans installed, new sheet metal bolted and welded on, and major body work supposedly done, he saw pictures of the car, decided to stop pouring money into the long-distance project, and paid one more pot of money to have the car delivered to Chapel Hill. When Roy called Doug to discuss the car, he learned the owner was very "proud" of both the motor and transmission upgrades, while we would have preferred the car to have its original drive train in place. The good news came when Roy asked for information from the car's original door data plate. As the owner read him the specifics, Roy wrote, VIN 5F08D101275, Color - H (Caspian Blue), Trim - 42 (White with Blue Appointments), Date - 16C (Scheduled Build Date of March 16, 1964). While we were intrigued by the fact that the convertible was originally a 289-4v, automatic, beautiful dark blue with white top and interior, two other facts from the data plate caught our attention. To have a serial number as low as 101275 meant that the convertible was assigned vehicle number 1275 prior to moving down the Dearborn Assembly Plant line, and that total included Falcons, Fairlanes, and Mustangs (Assembly lines started with number 100000 each year). Mustang Job One was built on Monday, March 9, 1964, so for this car to have a scheduled build date of Monday, March 16 indicated that it was built either the sixth or seventh day of Mustang production, depending on how many days of the week the Dearborn Assembly Plant was working. I've asked several Mustang authorities that question and they believe the plant was running on Saturdays but not Sundays. If we were dealing with a '67 or later Mustang, we could request the actual build date via a Marti Report, but unfortunately Ford failed to maintain production records on the '65 and '66 Mustangs.
So our next move was to see the car in person to help Roy determine if this would be the next project car. Upon arrival in Chapel Hill, I was pleased to see the car was in primer (which meant to my untrained eye that it was ready for paint!) and to see the car stacked full of parts. Roy and Dean with their experienced eyes noted numerous problems with the body work and how many '64 1/2-specific parts were missing from the car (minor details like a correct hood, both horns, a drive shaft, a generator, seat belts, and a generator-specific steering wheel) (plus the wrong engine and transmission). In addition, the body work appeared sub-par (nothing seemed to fit properly) which led to question what might be hidden under the primer. After adding the cost of a new convertible top, new interior, and a paint job to the asking price of the car, Roy decided to walk away from the "Week One Convertible." We spent most of the trip home discussing the reasons we had decided what we decided and by the time we got home, we had convinced ourselves that we had made the correct call.
But in the back of our minds, I think we all hated to see this piece of Mustang history go uncompleted, or end up in the hands of a street-rodder, or worse yet, sold for scrap. So when I called Roy and Dean to suggest that we split the purchase price and restoration cost between the three of us, we all felt better! Doug accepted our offer and the car was trailered to Dean's shop in Canton. When I called to make sure the trip had gone well, Dean told me that all went well until they were unloading the car. Remember that the car had no drive shaft? As the car was being rolled off the trailer, it came unhooked and crashed slowly into the wall of the shop. As Dean put it, "Your third of the car just got damaged!" Even more body work ahead!
In 2012, we set a goal of having the car ready for the 50th Anniversary. Over the next two years: we purchased a complete parts car from Larry Vandawalker and a second parts car that had been totaled when a tree fell on it (I'm after Dean to make a Mustang trailer out of the rear clip!); Dean and Roy worked tirelessly to fix the million small and large things required by a ground-up restoration, including swapping the D-code engine from the rusty Florida fastback (and giving the fastback the 351-W) and using the rebuilt C-4 transmission from my GTA since I had upgraded to a late-model AOD; Gina searched the internet to locate the only white generator steering wheel in the country; we scoured Craig's List until we located a correct set of seat belts and sent them off to Ssnake-Oyl to be restored (talk about sticker shock!); Gina and I, having previously done the black seats in both our other cars, tackled the white re-upholstery (after learning that Ford '64 1/2 white really isn't true white); Dean, after many months, is satisfied with his body work so we could wet-sand the final primer coat, tape off the car (no dark blue paint in the white interior, please!), and finally, Dave mixed the high dollar metallic paint so Dean can stay in the paint booth spraying. After the beautiful Caspian Blue paint had mostly cured, the team got involved in the tedious process of wet sanding, rinsing, buffing, rinsing, touch-up detailing, and polishing. Later the car was trailered to and from Kannapolis for the white top installation. The new white seats were bolted in, and final assembly began.
Roy contends that this car "fought back" on the restoration process at every turn. He has worked on lots of Mustangs, but this one presented its own set of challenges! We had to return numerous pieces and parts because of poor quality, including the first steering wheel, several fenders, and two upholstery sets. We tried several repro trunk lids, none of which fit properly. Dean finally had to weld a strip of sheet metal to the side of a brand new lid, just to get it to fit and line up properly. Nobody said it would be easy!
As the car neared completion, she was registered for the 50th Anniversary Celebration and for the Pony Drive that was scheduled to leave from Asheville on Wednesday, April 16, not thirty minutes from where the car had been brought back to life. The Pony Drive caravan had driven through sleet and snow coming through Tennessee the day before we met them. It was below freezing in Asheville that morning, but at least the sun was shining! The three of us looked like the Bobbsey Triplets dressed in our matching red, white, and blue 50th Anniversary Mustang shirts (thanks to Cracker Barrel!). Dean and I were in the convertible, while Roy followed in his '86 Mustang SVO. The trip to Charlotte was uneventful and it was great to see the CRMC members channeling the Pony Drive cars into Charlotte Motor Speedway for parade laps. Our son, John, had driven down in his '06 Vista Blue GT, and he joined us motoring around the track. That was probably the happiest moment of the 50th Celebration for me - three generations of us circling the Speedway - Dave and Dean debuting the "Week One Mustang" freezing with the top down and the heater on, Roy in his every-Sunday-to-church SVO that loves a good racetrack, and John in his late model GT with cold air kit, lowering springs, and Borla exhaust.
We're glad to have that restoration behind us! But it was really great to have the car as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration. Roy is now working on Dean's fastback, Dean is resto-modding a '37 Ford for his wife, and Dave is typing Mustang stories! Thanks for reading this one.