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Survivor 1973 Ford Mustang Convertible
Born Survivor: Russ and Kathy Furstnow’s 1973 convertible was hidden away in storage for 24 years by the original dealer
We’re inspired by good survivor car stories at Mustang Monthly and this survivor story is no exception. Avid Mustang enthusiasts Russ and Kathy Furstnow call Northern Arizona home. Deeply nestled in the dry and pristine West at 7,000 feet at the base of the San Francisco Mountains, Arizona’s deep north is a near perfect climate for car storage—it is dry and it doesn’t get very hot in the summertime.
In the spring of 1973, Jim Babbit of Jim Babbit Ford in Flagstaff ordered a new 1973 Mustang convertible for his daughter, Susan. He had the car fitted with a rollbar for her safety. She drove the car daily until 1982 when it was covered up and stored in Babbitt Ford’s warehouse where it would sit for 24 years.
In June of 2006, the car was finally sold by a Babbit Ford salesman, Steve Weatherby, to a private buyer who ultimately sold it to Russ and Kathy. It doesn’t take much notice to see how unusual this well-preserved convertible is. The odometer shows just 73,000 original, undisturbed miles. In 1973, the Mustang convertible’s last year, Ford bucked and built 134,817 units, including 11,853 convertibles at the Dearborn assembly plant—the Mustang’s only plant that year. Convertible production spiked in 1973 when word hit the streets there would never be another Mustang convertible built; of course we know now that wasn’t true. However, in 1973 it looked like the end for the Mustang convertible. And in some respects, it seemed like the end for Mustang.
Of 11,853 convertibles, Ford built just 390 of them with the 266hp (SAE Net) 351C-4V Cobra Jet engine in Ivy Glow Metallic with the Décor Group with Avocado Sebring Knit/Corinthian Vinyl Bucket Seats, according to Russ. What makes this early ’70s drop-top a great story is the regular preventative maintenance conducted by Babbitt Ford until it was parked in 1982. What’s more, the only original factory parts ever replaced were the Motorcraft spark plugs, ignition wires, and filters. Everything else remains factory original. “This car is completely rust free,” Russ tells Mustang Monthly. “It has the original interior, top, floor mats, mufflers, shock absorbers, and other original components.”
Russ tells us the car was generously optioned from the factory—power top, tilt steering wheel, console, floor mats, Selectaire air conditioning, AM/8-track, color-keyed racing mirrors, tinted glass, Interior Décor Group, competition suspension, power steering, and GR78x14 white sidewall radial tires. It was ordered on March 27, 1973, and rolled off the Dearborn line one month later on April 27, 1973, three days ahead of schedule, according to the coveted Marti Report.
The 351 Cleveland engine introduced three years earlier in 1970 was proving to be a powerful and legendary Ford mill. What made the 351C different than other Ford engines were its poly-angle (canted) valve heads, large intake ports, 12/6 o’clock bolt pattern fuel pump, rugged block with thick main webs, and throaty bark at the tailpipe. On top is Ford’s notorious Motorcraft 4300D carburetor and special spread-bore dual-plane intake manifold. The Cleveland’s cylinder heads are modeled after the 429/460 big-block, sporting a very similar canted-valve design, which made the broad-shouldered small-block behave like a big-block.
What made the 351C different for 1973 were its open chamber 4V heads, which didn’t enjoy the same quench and squeeze as their preceding closed-chamber heads. These open chambers enabled the 351C-4V engine to run on regular fuel, but they were very prone to spark knock even under mild acceleration. Because the SAE changed the way horsepower and torque were measured, 1973’s power numbers were disappointing to many of us who had been used to higher horsepower and torque numbers.
Nonetheless, when you’re driving a 351C-4V Mustang, it delivers a throaty burble at the dual exhaust tips. Under hard acceleration, the 351C delivers power unlike anything else Ford had going in 1973. Most unusual for 1973 is the four-speed Top Loader hiding in the tunnel splined into 3.25:1 open 9-inch cogs. Acceleration onto the interstate is crisp and impressive, even at 7,000 feet. The 1971-’73 Mustang gets plenty of criticism for its size, however, Mustang had never been a better road car than it was in 1973. Its wide track and long wheelbase made it the best Mustang cruiser ever bucked on a Ford assembly line. Drop the top, hit the road, and experience the best Mustang weekend getaway machine Ford had ever done.
The Mustang driving experience in 1973 wasn’t only about a powerful Cleveland, four-speed, and stretched dimensions. It was also about extraordinary interior comfort with high-back bucket seats, right-sized console and armrest, improved sound proofing, in-dash factory climate control, and a state-of-the-art (for the time) sound system. On the open road, Russ and Kathy can pass the hours chatting and actually hear each other. Looking out over the longest Mustang hood ever, they take in the rich Ivy Glow finish that offers incredible depth, thanks to the control and size of aluminum particles in the finish.
When buyers ordered the 351C engine, competition suspension was mandatory, which made it standard equipment. Variable ratio Saginaw power steering made the Mustang’s steering crisp and predictable. Tilt steering makes for a driver-tailored drive. The Décor Group yields molded door panels and rich Avocado Comfortweave seat upholstery. Most appealing is the Hurst shifter mid-ship, which puts a driver in real touch with power and the road.
You might be thinking “nice restoration” as you cruise these pages. However, this isn’t a restoration. It is an original survivor car. What are different are the wheels and tires. In safe storage are the original steel wheels and corporate caps and trim rings. Russ concluded the car would look real sharp with period-style American Torq Thrust wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires, which make the car even sportier.
Of course people ask Russ if he has any plans to restore the car. He doesn’t. Russ told us the car is a terrific time capsule that captures the genuine feel and spirit of the early ’70s before fuel prices took off and our world changed overnight. He and Kathy grab that spirit where they can, hitting the road in this car as often as they can. Much as it was originally designed, the 1973 Mustang convertible is a great road car that should be driven. And make no mistake, Russ and Kathy will continue to serve a great and faithful stewardship to this car for as long as they can.
1973 Mustang Convertible Snapshot
- 134,817 total production
- 11,853 convertibles
- 390 produced in Ivy Glow with Avocado Décor Group and 351C-4V and four-speed
- 351C4V Cobra Jet with 266 hp (SAE Net)
- Ford Top Loader four-speed transmission
- 3.25:1 conventional 9-inch axle
- Competition suspension
- Front power disc brakes
- American Racing Torq Thrust five-spoke wheels with BFGoodrich Radial T/As
- Ivy Glow Metallic Paint, PN 5072-A
- Décor Group with Avocado Sebring Knit/Corinthian Vinyl Bucket Seats
- Standard instrumentation
- Tilt steering wheel
- Selectaire air conditioning
- Color-keyed racing mirrors
- Tinted glass
- White power Top with glass backlite