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1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 SportsRoof - Fast Company
This ’69 SportsRoof stood shoulder to shoulder with some of Ford’s biggest muscle on the Detroit Auto Show floor
Since 1907 the Cobo Hall Detroit Auto Show was, and still is, the world's premier automotive event where manufacturers show their newest models to dealers and the public. In 1968 Ford Motor Company was eager to unveil their new '69 Mustang, including the swoopy SportsRoof model. A tad bigger than the previous two body styles of ponycar, the new kid on the block continued the long hood/short deck design theme. Four headlights would be the first thing people would see and a kick up rear decklid would be the last. This car was one of the sleekest body styles ever to have rolled out of Detroit by any car company.
Ray Powers of Massachusetts is the very proud owner of what looks to be the earliest known '69 Mustang in existence, which you see here on these pages. Thanks to Marti Autoworks Ray found out it's one of only 16 Mach 1s built on the first day of production, which was at the Dearborn Assembly Plant (DAP) on August 16, 1968. It was the only plant producing cars that day. Total production for that day was 53 Mustangs and 65 Cougars, which also shared the production line.
Just 17 out of the 53 Mustangs produced that first day of production were 428 Cobra Jet powered. Out of those 17 428 Cobra Jet cars, 16 of them where produced in the Mach 1 trim level. Fourteen of those Mach 1s were Candy Apple Red and all had automatic transmissions. Ray's Mustang, bearing a VIN with production sequence of 100011 is the actual car that was on the floor of Ford's corporate display at the Cobo Hall Detroit Auto Show in 1968. Ray and his Mach 1 didn't meet until 1979. He explained, "I bought a new '68 G.T. 500, and three years later we needed a bit more interior room for a growing family and traded it for a Mercury Montego." After several years had passed, the infection known as "Mustangitis" resurfaced, causing Ray to start looking for another pony to hit the streets with. It didn't take him long to spy a local classified ad offering a '69 Mach 1 for sale; $1,500 later he once again had a Mustang in the barn. "The car didn't have an engine, so I located a 351 Cleveland, installed it, then started going to some local cruise nights," Ray tells us. Until then he wasn't aware of how special of a Mustang he had in his possession or how it managed to make the journey from the Detroit show to Spencer Ford in Massachusetts. "Somebody at one event explained to me that the car was an ‘R' code with the door data plate revealing a build date of July 4th (Independence Day) and a VIN with 100011." It turns out that July 4th is a Ford Motor Company symbolic date given to its introductory show cars. A date that every car produced that day shared because all 53 cars were destined to be introductory show units in several locations.
Long before Marti Autoworks there was only one source to find Dearborn production invoices and that was the late Lois Eminger. She worked for Ford and had the insight to ask for the invoices upon hearing that they were going to throw the hard copies out. This enabled Ray to get the original invoice for his car in 1991. Ray also asked Miss Eminger for a list of the first 10 cars produced before his car (being the 11th built). The results are this list showing all 11 cars and where they were destined to be used. If you look at the list closely you can see somewhat of a pattern. One SportsRoof and one M-code coupe sharing the same show stage. Some also went to dealerships, including the famous Tasca Ford of Rhode Island. After several years of sorting out the pedigree Ray decided that this one was a keeper and should be restored back to its original condition, as displayed in Cobo Hall.
Once the decision was made, Ray embarked on a 16-year project with the end result being this gorgeous Mach 1 with a history that's equally impressive. During the build one of the unique discoveries hidden by undercoating were a total of five ¼-inch rivets along the outside edge in both front framerails. Also, in an effort to make the show cars quiet, Ford went wild with the undercoating, which in some places was over a ¼-inch thick under the carpet with additional sound deadener under the dash area up to the windshield as well. We surmise the idea was for show cars the interior needed to be as quiet as possible. These introductory show units were also used for magazine articles, road test reviews, and photo shoots. It looks like all of these cars, as show units, were outfitted with several options. Ray's Mustang came equipped with AM/FM radio, vertical front bumper guards, power venting interior air control system, a tilt-away steering column, a fold down rear seat, the visibility group, tinted glass, deluxe seatbelts with warning lights, power steering, and optional 3.50:1 gear ratio. Out back on the decklid were the chrome MUSTANG letters with the usual Mach 1 graphics, or should we say the unusual graphic stripe? As it turns out all the early built cars did not say Mach 1 in the rear decklid stripe.
Under the hood resides the original 428 Cobra Jet that motivated the Mustang in and out of Cobo Hall way back in 1968. Ray explained how he located the engine. "Finding the original engine was a total surprise. A friend and I were looking for another engine for his '68 Shelby at a barn cleaner's house and discovered the Cobra Jet engine. Lo and behold, it was the numbers-matching piece for my car." After a rebuild, the big-block was mated to a C6 transmission and carefully lowered back down on the mounts. Aft of the C6 is the aforementioned 3:50 gears packed into the corporate 9-inch housing, utilizing 31-spline axles and a Traction-Lok unit to control wheel spin. The only part of this build that Ray didn't perform himself was the engine rebuild and the paint and bodywork, which was beautifully done by Rick Liseno at Westview Auto Body in Worcester, Massachusetts. Ray states, "I looked high and low and I ended up picking Westview Auto Body because the owner did not see my car as just another job; he loves muscle cars and has one himself."
It may look the part, but don't think for a moment that Ray's CJ is a trailer queen; as he has racked up 14,000 miles on the car tooling around the New England countryside. To quiet our begging he took us for a spin in the red SportsRoof and believe us, it's as close to a time machine as you can get. Not a rattle, squeak, or stumble when he dropped the hammer on 428 ci of Ford power.
If you could go back in time and happened to be at Cobo Hall checking out Ray's Mach 1 way back in 1968 you'd see Ray's car directly behind Mickey Thompson's Bonneville Salt Flat car, and all of that noise emitting from the other side of the facility, well that was none other than Jimi Hendrix. Both shows opened on November 30, 1968 at Cobo Hall. Does it get any better than "Purple Haze" and a bunch of Ford's finest? We don't think so.