Because we both needed some time away from the real world of deadlines and bills, my friend Mark Young and I recently took his '66 Mustang for a 360-mile drive through North and South Carolina. Our goal was to visit four awesome vintage Mustang collections in one day, a trick we accomplished by connecting the Charlotte, North Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina areas into one big triangle.
I've known Mark, a mechanical design engineer and fourth-generation Ford fanatic, since 2004 when he won a copy of The Saleen Book: 20 Years of Saleen Mustangs as a club event door prize and asked me to sign it. We soon discovered we shared a passionate enthusiasm for '65-'68 Mustang fastbacks. In our opinion, the September 9, 1964, debut of the 2+2 should be commemorated as a national holiday because that body style transformed the new Mustang from European-style sexy to over-the-top gorgeous. The folding rear seat created an affordable sports car capable of taking an adventuresome young couple on a high-speed vacation across America. It was a budget Ferrari, without the reliability issues. One wonders if the Shelby Mustang would have been born had there been no fastback on which to base it. Still, the standard hardtop outsold the more expensive fastback by quite a margin. Buyers only took home 77,079 fastbacks in 1965 (13.7 percent of total Mustang sales), 35,698 in 1966 (5.8 percent), 71,042 in 1967 (15 percent), and 42,581 in 1968 (13.4 percent), making them as rare as convertibles from the same years.
Our first stop, Classic Auto Rides in Monroe, North Carolina, turned up a couple of dozen first-gen beauties. Greg and Marissa Sullins and son Blake own this hobby-turned-business southeast of Charlotte that deals exclusively with Fords, but specializes in high-performance Mustangs. That Acapulco Blue ’69 Boss 302 is Greg’s latest acquisition, sharing the fastback row with a documented ’69 GT 350 Hertz, a ’67 GT 500, a ’68 GT 500, and a realistic replica of a ’65 GT 350R. Blake drives the R clone at track events.
Mark Young gives his ’66 K-code GT fastback a shakedown run after prepping it for our tour through North and South Carolina. The 360-mile drive would be its first long trip since the owner rebuilt the Hi-Po V-8 three years ago.
Greg is fanatical about Shelbys and likes to collect them in unique combinations. For example, when we visited, his Hertz collection included this ’66 GT 350 fastback, ’06 GT-H coupe, and a ’07 GT-H convertible—all in matching black-with-gold color schemes! Greg’s homages to old-and-new also include his ’67and ’07 GT 500s in complementary blue with white and ’68 and ’08 GT 500KRs.
Heading south on South Carolina’s Highway 21 gave Mark’s ’66 a chance to stretch its legs. To my surprise, the old-tech bias-ply redline tires ran smooth and straight at cruising speeds.
The most desirable non-Shelby fastbacks were those equipped with the 271hp High-Performance (Hi-Po for short) 289 V-8 known today as the "K-code," for its designation in the car's VIN. In 1965, choosing the 271-horse option added more than $300 to the cost of a $2,300 coupe or $2,500 convertible or fastback, and Ford reduced the factory powertrain warranty to three months or 4,000 miles. With those economic factors working against them, K-code engines were only installed in 7,273 Mustangs in 1965, 5,469 in 1966, and 489 in their final year of 1967.
Mark owns one of the 503 '66 Mustangs ordered with both the fastback body and Hi-Po engine. He bought the Nightmist Blue GT in 2006 from a longtime family friend who passed along volumes of paperwork that literally document every tank of fuel, service, oil change, and tire replacement performed on the car. With a Rally-Pac, deluxe seatbelts, deluxe steering wheel, AM radio, limited-slip differential, four-speed, and 6.95x14 four-ply redline tires, the window sticker in Mark's paperwork folders reveals a hefty $3,580.06 retail price.
When I pitched him my idea of the Fastback Fantasy Tour, in which we would visit collections of Mustangs wearing our favorite body style, Mark volunteered we take his '66 to break in the K-code's recent mechanical rebuild. At 6:00 a.m. on a Monday, we headed south out of Charlotte. Thirteen hours later, we returned to Charlotte in time to meet our wives for dinner. These pictures depict only a fraction of the fun we had.
Interested though we are in all things historical, our short tour of the half-square-mile Ridgeway was prompted not by Civil War nostalgia but by the sight of a primitive mini-submarine dry-docked in a parking lot by the highway. It was yellow, presumably to aid the inevitable recovery efforts. A Model T sat next to the sub. For a few moments, the black T and the blue GT eyeballed each other—Ford’s most successful car model (15 million Tin Lizzies) sizing up the second most successful (9 million Mustangs).
It is rare to find a ’65 GT 350 in need of restoration, but Chad’s ’65 has been off the road since 1971 and wears faded Wimbledon White paint from the factory. Its owner at the time intended to make it a race car but never did. There are small dings and chips on the Shelby fastback, and the original Cragar wheels have a good deal of surface rust. Chad told us he is not in a hurry to return the GT 350 to factory condition; he enjoys its unique unrestored status.
We finished the Fastback Fantasy Tour with a visit to Earl Tindol’s private collection about 20 miles west of Charlotte. Earl’s road to success as one of the Carolinas’ most successful Ford dealers was not paved, smooth, or straight. Growing up very poor, his father was a technician for Ford, and Earl remembers the joy of making an extra 25 cents for each carburetor he rebuilt for his dad. His ambition from a young age was to be a Ford dealer. He wound up at Al Ewing Ford near Orlando, Florida, in 1967 at the height of the American muscle car movement and the booming economy that accompanied the start of Walt Disney’s new theme park. As the store’s high-performance manager, Earl sold copious amounts of Ford muscle, including an amazing 75 of the 754 ’69 Talladegas built to qualify for NASCAR competition—in other words, 10 percent of that model’s production run! From there, Earl built 12 dealerships throughout North and South Carolina and Florida, but he retired a few years ago to devote more time to his famil
Seen here during our brief stop at the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the Nightmist Blue fastback is in excellent mechanical shape after Mark’s thorough overhaul. Its 271hp, 289 V-8 performed without hesitation on 91-octane pump gas. Most ’60s-era performance cars don’t compare favorably to today’s computerized muscle machines, but the K-code is still a thrill to drive with its mechanical lifter music and mid- to high-range thrust. Clutch effort on the old Pony is on par with modern high-output drivetrains, maybe lighter. Ford made no effort to distance the driver from the transmission back then; the right hand feels every gear change in the Mustang’s four-speed. According to a Sports Car Graphic test, when new, a Hi-Po with 4.11 rear gears could hit 0-to-60 in 7.5 seconds. Mark’s car was ordered with the 3.50 gear ratio for a relaxed highway ride and better fuel economy.
Earl told us he loves to collect cars that have great human-interest stories behind them. This Rangoon Red ’65 GT 350, for example, was purchased new by a man in Southern California who had lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident. Carroll Shelby directly handled the sale, which was followed by installation of hand controls. After the original owner’s death, his sister changed the car in some minor cosmetic ways and rarely drove it until offering it to Earl in the mid ’90s. He has since restored it to perfection.
We capped our long driving day by meeting our wives for dinner at the Diamond Restaurant, which is located in the Plaza Midwood area of Charlotte. Charlotte is a great town to live in if you like to eat, and the Diamond has been a source of hearty southern cooking since opening its doors in 1945. The tiny brick building seats only a few dozen diners at a time, and the sounds and smells from the kitchen only serve to increase the appetite. New owners have kept the old favorites and added some high-concept vegetarian dishes, which means that anybody can find something on the menu. Because Plaza Midwood is home to a wide range of social classes and lifestyles, Diamond customers are a random mix. We saw buttoned-down accountants with gold watches sitting next to tattooed musicians with nose rings, and everybody was having a good time. The food and atmosphere have made the Diamond a favorite local spot for the Bowlings and Youngs.
Classic Auto Rides, LLC