Jerry Heasley
May 8, 2015

They only made 42 Mustang convertibles with the 429 Cobra Jet in 1971, yet this plumb sat un-plucked, parked on the side of a well-traveled road in Massachusetts near the town of Worcester for 29 years, covered, not running, and obviously out of service. For sure, people did stop and inquire about the car, but no one was successful until Chris Bartolomei. He must feel very special or just plain lucky.

Chris told us, “I’ve driven by this guy every day on my way to work for the past 29 years and it always sat in the same spot. The guy bought the car brand new in Maryland, moved to Massachusetts in 1981, and the car sat on the side of his house, not 50 feet off the road. He never even registered it.” Amazing.

Chris admits his cars of choice were Chevelles and he was never into Fords or Mustangs. That means he was not one of the legion of people who stopped to try to buy this extremely rare classic Mustang, which was a youthful 10 years old when first parked in 1981. But circumstances brought Chris to meet the original owner of one of the rarest of the rare in classic Mustangs.

This ’71 Mustang convertible sat on the side of this house from 1981 until 2010.

“I do autobody work for a living. A friend of mine bought a ’73 Mustang convertible that was crashed in the front. He asked if I could fix it. I said no problem.” Chris, however, did have one not-so small issue with this fix. He was not familiar with the look of the front end of the ’71-’73 Mustang and knew that a photo of an original car would help. He remembered the convertible sitting on the side of the road. “I knocked on this guy’s door, told him what I was doing and asked if I could take pictures of his car. He said, ‘Yeah, no problem, go ahead.’”

Chris went back a few other times to take more pictures of the convertible, to the point where the owner told him he didn’t even need to knock and let him know he was there. Finally, on one trip to snap pictures, Chris asked the man what he was doing with the convertible. The owner’s answer was typical. He planned to “fix up the old Mustang some day.” Chris said, “If you let it sit here much longer there’ll be nothing left of it.”

The interior was nice and complete. Chris didn’t even have to reupholster the black vinyl bucket seats. Note the four-speed transmission with stock Hurst T-handle shifter.

New England winters can be very harsh; 50 percent of the Pilgrims died their first winter in 1620 and cars parked outside suffer from the same extreme weather. But in his mid-70s, the gentleman remained resolute. Chris paraphrases the owner’s sentiment, “Other people have tried to buy the car. I don’t need it, but I’ve got it in my heart to fix it.”

October rolled around and winter was a mere six weeks away, and the 76-year-old owner was leaving for Florida. Chris said, “He stopped by where I work and said, ‘You want that car?’” The two agreed on a price and Chris hauled the ’71 convertible atop a flatbed to his shop. The Chevrolet man wasn’t ready for the flood of sentiment he received from disgruntled 1971 CJ convertible suitors. “It’s a small town I live in and it got around that I had bought the car. People were calling me at work. A couple guys at the local Ford dealership said they ‘had been trying to buy this car for years and years and years and he wouldn’t budge.’”

The 429 Cobra Jet was complete, including the Ram Air system, as this CJ is a J-code with Ram Air. Ford built 32 with Ram Air and 10 without (C-code), or 42 units total. This 429 CJ-R is one of nine with a four-speed transmission—23 429 CJ-R’s came with automatic transmissions.

Chris’ first urge was to get the car running, inspected, and testdriven to see what he had. Would the 429 CJ start? The owner had been firing up the engine periodically, but not for the last two years. The gasoline was mush in the tank and fuel lines by now, so Chris hooked an electric fuel pump to a 5-gallon can of gas for a fuel supply. The 428 Cobra Jet fired up and ran, and best of all didn’t smoke. Enthused, Chris used his bodywork skills to fix rust in the bottoms of the fenders and doors, replaced rotted floors, rebuilt the carburetor, rebuilt the fuel pump, installed a new water pump and gas tank, and sent the radiator to a shop to be re-cored. He also installed new carpet, but incredibly, the seats, door panels, and even the dash were original and in decent condition.

The Bright Red paint is “90 percent original with plenty of patina,” according to Chris. Apparently, the original owner did touch up the paint from time to time with a spray can. Chris repainted the flat black hood, but left the remainder of the original paint. “I’m from the ‘it’s only original once’ school of thought, so this is the way it’s staying.”

With an engine tuneup, the 429 Cobra Jet runs great and Chris is enjoying his ride. The funny thing is, he didn’t even realize how rare his Rare Find was until he bought the car and purchased a Marti Report.

The car sat on gravel for 29 years in this spot. Luckily, the rust was fairly easy to fix—floorboards and bottoms of fenders and doors. The framerails and unibody were solid.