Growing up, I always wanted just one car to suit me for the rest of my life – that car was a 1966 Ford Mustang coupe. Everyone wants the fastback models or the various iterations of the Shelby Mustangs, but from the moment I began taking an interest in cars while in Primary School, this was the car of my dreams and the car I knew would one day be mine.
When my father was in high school in the early 1970's, he borrowed money from my uncle to purchase his first car, which was a black on black 1966 Ford Mustang coupe. This car was his pride and joy – 289 V8, Cruise-O-Matic C4 transmission, and a 4-barrel FoMoCo carburetor. He spent most of the money he earned while working in high school on the car, first to pay back my uncle, then to have a diamond tuck interior put in, to buy some slotted mag wheels, and to have a custom lacquer paint job applied. My parents went on their first date in that car, and in 1978, they drove away from their wedding in it as well. A few years after being married, dad bought a 1966 Ford F-100 and mom bought a Fox Body Mustang, while the 66' went to sleep in the barn.
That was the car I knew growing up – covered in dust and bee droppings, sitting on slick, dry rotted Cooper tires, smelling of bad gas and musty interior bits, while sitting next to some hand plows and garden fertilizer. Even so, it was always the apple of my eye and the most beautiful car I had ever seen. As a ten year old boy, I would sit in the car and daydream about driving it, knowing that one day I would be old enough to fix it up and call it my own.
I grew up in a white collar Atlanta suburb, in an old, blue collar family. Most of the teenagers from the local high schools drove nicer cars than my parents did at the time and for the most part the only kids who took Automotive Technology classes were those looking for an "easy" course to fill a gap on their transcript. I enrolled in the introductory class as a freshman out of genuine interest and desire to learn how to restore my dream car. During this time was also when I started working in a retail store at minimum wage, sinking every paycheck I could into that dirty, old Mustang, learning from my mistakes in the process. I would spend a class period at school each day working on cars, and come home to further learn what I could from my dad and uncle who are not really gear heads in the mechanical sense, but had learned out of the necessity of growing up poor.
Sophomore year came around and with it, my sixteenth birthday. The countless hours I had spent doing trial and error repair on the Mustang were about to pay off, but I was out of money and the car was in desperate need of a paint job. As many dads do, mine always threw his pocket change into glass jars every night and told me that before I started driving the car on the road, we would roll up his coinage and get the best paint job put on it we could afford with that money. After a few hours of rolling, we ended up with around $1200 and took the car to the shop.
I wish I had more pictures documenting my first venture into car repair and restoration, but this journey began in the year 2000, and since they were still an expensive luxury, we had not bought a digital camera just yet. Because of this, all of the pictures I have were taken after the mild restoration work was completed, between 2002 and 2004.
There was a sense of pride I have yet to experience again the first time I actually drove the Mustang. My Mustang. The Mustang which held so much family history, meant the world to me as a child, and was now finally the reality of a dream coming true for me. I did not want to change much on the car from the way my dad had it before me. I kept the mag wheels, the diamond tuck interior, and even ran it with those old bias-ply Cooper tires for a few months after finishing the car. The thing is, I did not want to modify the car, but preserve the history of what I knew the black beauty to have always been. Attention? Yes, I immediately had all sorts of attention from people at my school as well as those on the road around me. My first love was now my greatest accomplishment.
Moving forward a few years, I had started college, was working full time, and no longer had the spare moments to properly maintain the Mustang since I was now driving something a bit more practical. I parked it on the carport at my parents' house, put it under a cover and there she stayed for a few years. I moved out of their home sometime after getting my first well-paying job and shortly after had the Mustang towed to my garage because in those years of sitting, the already jittery C4 transmission had rotted it's friction material to essentially nothing.
After my friend and I pushed my beloved dream car into my garage that day, I made the decision to make one modification I had always wanted to do, but never had the resources or knowledge to accomplish prior to that point. It was time to swap the automatic for a manual. Being a numbers matching, all original car, I bagged and labeled every single bolt that came off the Mustang that would not need to be used in the conversion.
The car is currently sitting right here:
After getting the Toploader transmission, linkage, pedals, and other little bits installed with the help of a friend whom I was teaching as we went, I lost my job due to a massive layoff in my company and have had to focus on other things for the past two and a half years. I now work with my dad again, just like I did in college, and am trying everything I can with my business experience to grow his company and so far things are going pretty well, but slowly. Having the resources to finish the car though? I am not quite there yet.
I named her Emily, and I see her sitting there everyday as if she is saying:
"It's ok. I waited for you longer than this the first time – I can wait a little longer."
This is how I acquired my dream car.
A rare combination of history and devotion is what made me a gear head.
Having a love for the experience is what sustains me.
Being a gear head is more than knowledge - it is a continual education and a common bond between people who respect the effort put into their projects and are not afraid of a greasy handshake every now and then. I have owned other cars over the years, but my Mustang (in any state) will always be my pinnacle of automotive adoration.
Grace and Peace,