My 56 F-100 was pretty cherry, and we were the cool guys in town. A very small town, no franchise fast food joints, hell the lumber yard closed opening weekend of deer season. It was not unlike a living in a real American Graffiti. Street racing in Marysville on Friday Nights, chasing around, partying at Greenhorn creek on Saturday nights.
Jim found a 383 Magnum 4-speed Roadrunner. Only one problem; a tree had fallen on it and it was wrecked pretty bad. He'd hauled it home anyway. His folks place didn't have a garage, so Jim built one. 20'x20', but stud walls. No insulation. Colder than hell in the winter, no heat. When it snowed it would actually get colder in the garage than it was outside. Wrenches were too cold to hold without gloves on. Jim's older sister decided she was going to give him her little 1965 Mustang Coupe. 6 banger, 3 on the floor, something to take a date out if they were not going wheeling. Clean, but needed paint, and a little TLC.
Jim has always been an out of the box thinker, and he is one of those guys that quite literally can build anything. And one day Jim gets to thinking, he has a running 383 and a 4-speed in a wrecked car, and a Mustang. He started brainstorming, and I encourage him and we work together a lot. (This has proven to be a dangerous combination over the years. Our wives can tell you we've spent small fortunes as a result of these brainstorming sessions)
Jim also had an account at the machine shop in town, and a Lincoln Buzzbox welder. Soon, the 6 cylinder is on the floor, the 383 is on a hoist, and Jim is scratching his head.The only way the big Chrysler was going in there was if he cut the shock towers out. So out they came. Flat sheet metal welded in their place. Jim boxed the Mustang front subframe, and patched the inner fenders.
I am only around on weekends, (college boy) and he is working so most work gets done on the weekends. We test fit the long block and trans for mounts, Then, it went off to the machine shop. An older guy we respected owned a tow company and lived down the street from Jim. He'd heard what we were up to. He walked down, told us were were nuts, that if we ever did manage to get the car running after a month or so the doors wouldn't close. The car would flex. "Go away old man We got this" .
But we need something to steer it. Answer, a straight axle. Off to the boneyard and an Econoline Van gives up its axle and steering gear. Next a mobile home gives up a set of leaf springs. Rather stiff, but hey, we won't need front shocks, right? The axle is too long, he shortens it, something else we are not supposed to do.
In a moment of clarity we spend a weekend stripping the interior and welding a full roll cage into the car. Not pretty, but we hoped it would be effective, and never necessary. Jim's sister comes by, sees the car completely disassembled and goes ballistic. Her sweet little car, with the doors that close with one click, is gone.
Oh well. I think she still blames me, the enabler.
Jim's Dad was retired. He'd come out to the garage at night to see what we were up to, and shake his head..."Jimmy you guys are crazy! What do you need that big engine for??"
"To chase the girls, Pop, to chase the girls."
Soon, the engine is ready.
The T-ram with the big velocity stacks looked sick to my 18 year old mind. (It impacted me forever, I still love the tunnel ram look) One night, we open the doors to the garage and light it off. The cherry bombs bolted to the header flanges are loud, the gear drive screams.
It is pure heaven.
Jim ties up a few lose ends as spring rolls around, I help when I can. We get it on the road. The car is absurdly fast, and actually handled well. Jim and his Mustang quickly become a legend on the streets of small town America. The fast guys in Marysville start to worry about the, "boys from the hills in that Mustang" I get tired of him forgetting to turn on the electric fuel pump. I put a sticker on the dash, next to the glove box door that says, "TURN THE GAS ON DUMMY"
Here are some old pics of the legend, pulled from a photo album and scanned just this week. I shot them with my Pocket Instamatic 120 in 1977. It was a beast, scary focking fast and I am still amazed we lived.
But life goes on, and our friendship is the stuff that only comes along a handful of times in life. He marries Erin in 1979, Cindy and I married in 1980. Vacations together, wives and kids are friends, and stories of the glory days of The Mustang and the '56 are told at every birthday party and BBQ, especially the ones when alcohol are involved. Our kids have heard the stories many times.
We build some bad ass sand rails together...but that is another story.
In our town, amongst our generation, saying the words "The Mustang" was all that was necessary to start the stories flowing, and the inevitable question "Where the hell is it?" soon follows.
No one knew.
In the last 4-5 years I've started working on putting my 56 back together. Jim, who has now owned the most respected transmission shop in town for 30 years is making noise about wanting to find a 65 Mustang, he wants to do it again, but do it better. His son, a gifted fab guy and rodder in his own right, has shown him Speedway's Gasser Straight axle kit...And the hook is set. I start looking for a shell, but people want a fortune for them and we don't want to cut up a cherry car, and Jim can't afford one that nice anyway. All the while, we keep looking, wondering where it is, if it even still exists. Years go by.
Last Tuesday morning an old acquaintance of ours comes in to Jim's shop, and tells him that he thinks he has seen The Mustang on Craigslist. Jim is not computer friendly, he calls me, I am in town and stop by his Transmission shop. I search Grass Valley Craigslist.
I find the ad, it has pictures.
It looks rough, someone has fiddled around with some primer, and the '66 grill and valance he had on it are gone, as is just about everything else...but the stance...man that stance, even with those funky little tires on it...
It looks like The Mustang.
"Damn Jim, that sure looks like it."
"Yeah it does. But I dunno man, do you really think? After all this time?"
We study the pictures. The straight axle looks right. There is a roll bar, but no cage. The ad says it has a 10 bolt in it. That is wrong.
Then, in an interior shot, I see something white by the glove box door.
"Do you remember that, "TURN THE GAS ON DUMMY" sticker I put on there? Look at that white spot in that picture"
"Yeah, I remember. Man it really does look like it, doesn't it. It is rough, but it does look like my car"
"Hell yes it does, and I am calling this guy, as in right focking now"
The guy answers the phone. He doesn't know much about the car, he says he has had it for a year or so.
"The car is an old Gasser, a race car I think. It has a roll bar in it, it is rough, it has a straight axle that has been shortened, no motor mounts. I got it on a bill of sale from some old hippy dude, he thought it was a race car"
I ask him if he is close to it, he says yes. I ask him to go out and open the door.
"Okay man I am here"
"Look at the dash, tell me what the little sticker next to the glove box door says"
"It says, "TURN THE GAS ON DUMMY"
I turn to Jim, I look him in the eye and tell my friend, "it is your car, buddy."
He looks stunned. Sorta outta it actually.
This car is two blocks from the Gas Station Jim worked at when he built it. Rat holed behind an old house.
We jump in my truck, and in 5 minutes we are walking into a back yard. I know at 30 ft. it is the car. I turn and look at Jim. I see tears welling up in my friend's eyes.
The guy is cool, but he is really going nuts wanting to know why I asked about that sticker.
Jim says, "I built this car 35 years ago, when I was 18. He helped me. He put that sticker on the dash because I always forgot to turn on the damn electric fuel pump."
Now the seller's jaw drops. He gets a smile as wide as mine, and we spend 15 minutes telling him the story of The Mustang. It turns out the guy's family may have been some of the boys from the valley we raced with back in the day.
The deal is done.
Jim was looking for a '65, one to build the way he'd always wanted to finish the car, nice interior and paint, and a real cage, but still with the heart of a hot rod.
But he didn't have a bunch of bucks to start with.
Tuesday, we found it. His car. The car. The Mustang. Here it is...rough, tired, but the doors still close with a sweet little snick, and I can guarantee you that that sticker will be on the dashboard for a long, long time.
Our first look at the car. My heart was pounding when I took this pic.
The sticker that an 18 year old FBT put on the dash 35 years ago to remind Jim to turn the damn fuel pump on. Absolute evidence that this is The Mustang.
The straight axle. If you look close you can see where we shortened it. Remember...we are talking about a car built by a 17-18 year old kid and his helper (me). We had a stick welder, a oxy/gas rig, a bench grinder and a hack saw, and a $200 dollar Craftsman tool box in a freezing ass garage with 2 60 watt light bulbs and one window.
On my trailer behind my truck, on it's way home.
The Mustang is home.
35 years later the two friends that have so many great memories tied up in it will bring it back to life, and Jim will get to finish it, to do justice to it. With all we've learned after 35 more years of living, and the tools we've acquired, we hope to do a cleaner job than we did the first time. We'll find another 9 inch and narrow it, tuck the tires instead of having them sticking out 3 inches, and they will be Hoosier Pro Street Radials, not Mickey Thompson bias plys, and they will be on a matching set of Cragar SS's. And it will get front disc brakes and a full interior. Jim's son is one hell of a paint/body man, so it will no doubt get a paint job, finally.
But it is still gonna have a straight axle, hopefully a chrome one from Speedway.
And it is still gonna have a big Chrysler, either a 383 or a 440 depending on what we can hunt up. And a nice full cage, we will cut out what is left of the one we built. Jim is thinking automatic this time, a 727. I am pushing for a stick, a 6 speed if we can figure out how to adapt one up to the 383 or 440.
And it is still gonna have a loud ass gear drive. And a Tunnel Ram. We will see if we can find a decent fiberglass hood for it.
The Mustang...she is gonna prance the streets of our now not-so-little town again. It will take us a couple of years I am sure, he isn't made of money and neither am I...but it will live again.
What are the odds that after the passing of 35 years the stars align and put a guy in the right place at the right time to make it his first automotive love, which is a legend in his hometown, his again?
And to be able to do it with the same friend who helped in the first place?
Gotta be up there with a lightning strike.
We will keep you posted. Jim is now motivated to build a new shop out at his ranch, and since we are now both middle aged men I don't think he will skimp on the insulation, or the lighting...
This afternoon after we unloaded it we sat in his yard and stared at it. We looked at the work we did as kids, laughed a little, and were just quiet for awhile.
When I left him I think he was still in a state of shock over finding it and the whole deal. I know I am still sorta stunned by it all.
As I pulled down the driveway to head for home he waved, and I saw him turn to walked back towards where it was parked...the wheels in his head are already turning.
Written by Jeff Glover