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1969 Ford Mustang SportsRoof - Family Affair
This dormant Mustang was given a new life when marriage came knocking
There is a lot to be said for getting your hands dirty working on a car with your son, or daughter. It’s usually a positive way to spend time together, and strengthen a relationship. Beyond the bonding experience, life lessons like hard work and problem solving are equally learned. In 2001, New Yorker George Riese, and his son Dennis, decided to tackle the father and son project that you see here. Dennis recalls, “My father and I bought this car in 2001. He heard about a ’69 Mustang that a guy in the neighborhood had that was for sale. We took a ride to see it the next day. The car was sitting in his driveway, uncovered, for many years, and it was a far cry from being road worthy.” Undaunted by the Mustang’s rough condition, Dennis further explains, “We bought the car knowing it needed a lot of work, but since my father restored cars as a hobby his whole life, he figured this would be the perfect car with which he could teach me the ins and outs of welding and restoration.”
For Dennis, this was his first opportunity to work on a car. At the time, he was balancing school, work, and the Mustang. George, on the other hand, devoted most of his time to working on the car. As the restoration progressed, they swapped out the grenaded 302ci mill for a 351ci Cleveland, and installed another C4 tranny. They also addressed some of the rust issues on the car and eventually got the Mustang in primer, to the point where it was ready for a coat of paint.
“A few days before it was going to get painted, my father got very sick,” Dennis recalls. “We went to the doctor and he was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. He passed away six weeks after being diagnosed.” As a result of the loss of his father, the Mustang ended up under a cover in Dennis’ driveway for the next eight years. In the back of his mind, the plan was to eventually start working on it at some point.
With the prospect of marriage on the horizon, Francesca, Dennis’ fiancé at the time, was the one that re-ignited the Mustang flame.
“We were planning our wedding and we booked a photographer,” Dennis points out. “In signing the contract, the photographer mentioned that our package included an engagement shot. I told him there was no way I was going to a beach and draw a heart in the sand. Francesca brought up my father’s Mustang and said that it would be great to take pictures with the car. That way my father could be included in the wedding in some way.” She gave Dennis the motivation to get the car done. He had a one-year window to complete the car for their engagement photos.
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Dennis became a man on a mission. He started the restoration process by contacting his friend, Peter Fandaros, owner of Pete’s Auto Care (Lynbrook, New York), with the hope of securing a location to perform the work. Peter agreed, and set some shop space aside for him to get it done. Once the car was in the shop, and the disassembly process started, he quickly realized how extensive the damage was. He explains, “As soon as I put the car on the lift for the first time, I found that all those years sitting under that cover rotted the whole car. The car needed even more work than when my father bought it.” The extensive rust damage meant an even bigger commitment on his part. Doing the bulk of the work himself meant spending long hours and many lost weekends to get the Mustang completed.
Once Dennis knew what he was facing, he realized that the best course to take was to completely gut the car and put it on a rotisserie. He tackled body first by cutting out the rotted metal. The list of replacement parts read like an aftermarket sheetmetal dealer’s dream. He replaced the torque boxes, framerails, toe boards, floors, lower cowl, wheelwells, both rear quarters, rear tailpanel, door skins, and most of the sheetmetal in the engine compartment. Once the body was whole again, he blasted the underneath of the car with epoxy primer, followed by a coat of POR-15, and then topped it off with a coat of Raptor spray-on truck bed liner. He also decided to do some subtle body modifications by removing the door lock cylinder holes, smoothing out the line between the quarters and the sail panel, and most noticeably, eliminating the body line between the quarters and the tail light extensions. He also adds that, “the car wasn’t a factory shaker, so I took the original hood, bought a template for the shaker opening location, and cut it out.” With the body healthy again, Dennis was free to address the other issues with the car.
Under the hood, the 351 Cleveland was tired; rebuild or replace were his options. Pressed for time, Dennis opted for a crate 351 Windsor from Carolina Machine Engines in Johnston, South Carolina. After it was delivered, he detailed the new mill, along with all the ancillary components mated to it. The C4 was also tossed in favor of a T5 manual box, while a Ford 8-inch Traction-Lok rear was chosen to handle the delivery of the newfound ponies. The addition of Hooker Competition headers mated to a full MagnaFlow exhaust system ensured that the spent gases exit efficiently. The rest of the drivetrain was also upgraded. A complete ’05 Mustang GT disc brake setup replaced the antiquated Ford units, while a TCP coilover conversion and leaf springs gave the ’69 a nastier stance. Elegant AFS Mustang Mach 1 wheels wrapped in sticky Nitto skins completed that look.
The interior, like the rest of the car, was also ravaged by the elements and in need of a refresh. For that task, Dennis had James Zabatta II at Phoenix Interiors (Franklin Square, New York) do the stitching. Up front, the Mustang received a Sport Seat conversion. He also installed a gauge cluster from Year One. The hand brake was relocated, and an ’05 Mustang GT center console installed, along with the installation of power windows, and power locks with a keyless entry system. The AM radio couldn’t cut it anymore, so he installed a Pioneer Double-DIN DVD/NAV system that allows him to plug in his iPod, or pull down some tunes from Sirius. Outside, he installed H4 headlight assemblies, Xenon driving lights, and sequential LED taillights.
When it came time to lay down some paint, Dennis took the Mustang to Body Works Collision in Lynbrook, New York. He points out, “The only part of the car I didn’t have my hands on was the paint.” After the body prep, Vick Ram applied a two-tone combination of Spies Heckler KAD Nissan Gun Metallic and Black basecoat/clearcoat paint. “I couldn’t believe this was the same car my father and I worked on nearly 10 years ago,” he fondly remembers. “It was an emotional moment for me to finally see the car back together.”
The imposed deadline was met with two weeks to spare. Francesca was instrumental in maintaining the workflow at an even pace. She spent countless hours online researching, and ordering the parts needed to ensure that their engagement photos would happen as planned. For Dennis, beyond meeting their deadline, he adds that, “I wish my father was here to enjoy this with me. I know if he was around, he would be proud of me, and even a little impressed about what I have done to his car.”
Dennis and Francesca Riese’s ’69 Ford Mustang SportsRoof
Ford 351 Windsor block, crate engine from Carolina Machine Engines, (Johnston, SC)
Ford OEM nodular iron crankshaft, Magnafluxed, reground, micro polished, balanced
Ford OEM steel connecting rods, Magnafluxed, balanced
Keith Black Hypereutectic pistons
Perfect Circle piston rings
Comp Cams hydraulic flat tappet camshaft
RHS Cyclone iron cylinder heads, bowl blended, pocket ported, multi-angle valve job, Elgin valves, 2.02-inch intake/1.60-inch exhaust valves
Procomp stainless steel roller rocker arms
Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum intake manifold
Quick Fuel 650-cfm four-barrel carburetor
MSD Pro-Billet mechanical advance distributor
Classic Auto Air Perfect fit Elite electronically controlled air conditioning system
10.0:1 compression ratio
Ford T5 five-speed manual gearbox
King Cobra clutch/pressure plate
Center Force flywheel
Steeda Tri-Ax short throw shifter
Modern Driveline hydraulic clutch pedal conversion
Ford 8-inch rearend
Richmond 3.55:1 gears
Powertrax No-Slip differential
Stock 28-spline axles
Hooker Headers, 15⁄8-inch primary tubes, 3-inch collectors
Full MagnaFlow 2.5-inch custom stainless steel exhaust
Front: TCP coilover conversion, 1.125-inch antisway bar, KYB Gas-A-Just Shocks
Rear: 2-inch lowering leaf springs, polyurethane bushings, KYB Gas-A-Just Shocks
Unisteer power steering rack-and-pinion
Front: ’05 Mustang GT disc, 12.4-inch vented rotors, two-piston calipers
Rear: ’05 Mustang GT disc, 11.75-inch vented rotors, single-piston calipers
Front: AFS Mustang Mach 1 aluminum wheels, 18x9, 26mm offset
Rear: AFS Mustang Mach 1 aluminum wheels, 18x9, 40mm offset
Front: Nitto NT555, P245/40/ZR18
Rear: Nitto NT555, P275/40/ZR18
Restored original style interior upholstered by Phoenix Interiors (Franklin Square, NY); Mach 1 seats upgraded to sport seats; Year One six-gauge instrument cluster; ’05 Mustang GT center console; relocated parking brake; Grant hardwood 13-inch steering wheel; Pioneer Double-DIN DVD/Navigation system with iPod dock and Sirius radio, power locks, and keyless entry system
Spies Heckler Nissan Gun Metallic and black basecoat/clearcoat applied by Body Works Collision (Lynbrook, NY); smoothed door lock cylinder; welded lines between quarters and sail panels, smoothed rear quarter extensions; functional shaker hood; sequential LED taillights; H4 headlight conversion; Xenon driving lights