Eric English
April 24, 2017

Many of our readers won’t recognize the name Bill Johnson as the owner of the 1972 convertible seen here, but rather as a former Mustang Club of America president. Bill served the club dutifully from 2000-2004, and again from 2006-2008, and prior to that role was president of one of the larger regional Mustang clubs in the country—Mustangs Northwest in Washington State. Clearly Bill has an established track record of leadership within our hobby, but it probably won’t surprise you that he also has a track record of owning several Gold-winning Mustangs. This 1972 is but his latest.

Bill shares a passion for Mustangs with his wife Nancy, their first being a 1966 which they bought in 1967. But it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the Johnsons bought their first Mustang for restoration and enjoyment. That car was a 1971 convertible, and the ensuing years would find the Johnsons further drawn to the biggest Mustangs of the classic era, including two Boss 351s. “I’d sold my Pewter Thoroughbred Boss”, says Bill, “and was on the hunt for another unique ’71-’73 to restore. Nancy and I talked about what we hadn’t ever owned, and what appealed to us. We realized the Sprint ’72s were pretty unique, and without the built-in price of a big-dollar/big engine muscle car. Among the breed, the convertibles are hands down the rarest, and so I started to hunt for one.”

The original 302 was painstakingly detailed after being rebuilt to stock spec by S&J Engines in Spokane, Washington. It’s the small things that make a big difference, such as a correctly restored distributor and dual diaphragm vacuum advance.
All 1972 convertibles were fitted with items previously reserved for the décor interior option, including a deluxe two-spoke steering wheel, molded door panels, and knitted vinyl seating surfaces. Only the Sprint models got the distinctive blue inserts with red piping—hardtops and SportsRoofs getting cloth inserts, and the 50 convertibles getting vinyl Comfortweave inserts.
Unlike an all-metal chrome bumper, the color keyed front bumper was made of a reinforced urethane. The original was too far gone to fix, so Johnson searched out a good replacement. He learned the hard way that 1972 and 1973 bumpers don’t interchange!

Bill soon made contact with Rex Turner, who is the preeminent historian on the ’72 Sprint convertibles, of which just 50 were built specifically for the 1972 Cherry Blossom Festival parade in Washington D.C. Organizers of the event had appealed to Ford for a fleet of unique Mustang droptops in which to carry their dozens of dignitaries and princesses during the April 8, 1972, event. With Ford already in production of a U.S. Olympic team-themed Sprint promotional model, available on Mustang hardtops, SportsRoofs, Pintos, and Mavericks, it no doubt made sense to cast the special run of convertibles from this same mold.

When queried by the Johnsons, Turner turned the couple on to a Sprint convertible he knew of that was for sale in Illinois. After talking with the owner at length on the phone, the Johnsons found themselves taking a trip to view the car. What they found was a well worn example of the breed, with typical rust, that ran and drove well. A deal was struck, and the rare ’72 was soon brought to the Seattle area, where Bill and friend Dick Knight of Nites Classic Specialties proceeded to tear it down. What they soon found was more—or less—than Bill had expected. “I sent it out to be media blasted, and the process revealed a lot more corrosion damage than I’d expected.” Undeterred, and with a vision for preserving Mustang history, the Johnsons dove in with both feet.

As far as owner Bill Johnson is concerned, one of the jewels of the restoration is this genuine Cherry Blossom Festival license plate, obtained from historian and enthusiast Rex Turner. Similar plates were affixed to all the cars in the parade.
Every Sprint convertible built for the Cherry Blossom Festival parade were configured identically—including the brushed hubcaps, trim rings, and Wide Oval whitewalls. The Johnson’s fitted their car with reproduction Firestone E70-14 Wide Ovals for an authentic appearance.
This picture from the 1972 Cherry Blossom Festival parade shows Vermont princess Michelle Diane Buteau riding in one of the fifty Mustang convertibles built specifically for the event. The day was unseasonably cold, with newspaper reports indicating freezing temperatures; thus the warm attire. Also note the Sprint convertible’s original narrow whitewall tire and color keyed hubcap trim (photo courtesy of Michelle Buteau collection).

While reproduction components are present on the convertible as necessary, every attempt was made to restore the body to like new condition using factory metal. To that end, a couple of dry eastern Washington parts cars donated key Ford sheetmetal for the project, to include a full floorpan and much of the trunk floor. “Aftermarket ’72 floorpan stampings aren’t exactly correct, and we wanted to do this car right” explains Bill of the extra effort in chasing down restoration parts.

Another example of this point of view involves the seat materials. All 1972 Sprints were fitted with unique white and blue upholstery, the blue being sewn into the center of the seat. Yet the 50 convertibles used different blue upholstery than the 9,000-plus hardtops and SportsRoofs. According to Turner, the latter used a blue Lambeth cloth in the center, while the convertibles used a blue Comfortweave vinyl material. It’s only speculation, but Turner opines that it would seem logical this might have been done with the expectation that convertibles would be exposed to more weather, and thus the Comfortweave was likely deemed more durable. Regardless, Bill was able to find the correct blue material, and then had John’s Auto Toggery in Mount Vernon, Washington, custom stitch it all together.

It was Knight who undertook the tedious job of replacing the damaged sheetmetal, before turning it over to Jeff Estabrook for finish bodywork and paint using DuPont Chroma One single-stage urethane. The Sprint-specific Grabber Blue lower body and taillight panel paint was dutifully duplicated, as were the hood stripes and USA rear quarter decals. Once the body was complete, Knight began reassembly of the car, with highlights including a N.O.S. grille, rebuilt suspension components from Rare Parts, and more. One of the key finds was a correct N.O.S. mini console that was used on all the Sprints, as somewhere in the ownership chain the Johnson’s car had been fitted with an incorrect long console.

While powertrain variances were allowed for the regular ’72 Sprint promotion, the same cannot be said of the 50 convertibles. In fact Turner tells us they were all identically built in sequential order during March of 1972. This means every Cherry Blossom convertible came with the 140hp 302 2V engine, backed by an FMX automatic. All had the hubcap and trim ring package seen on the Johnson’s ’72, and all had the honeycomb grille with Sportlamps and color-keyed front bumper, dual racing mirrors, power top, power steering, power front discs, wide oval whitewalls, and AM radio. That was it in black and white—no other option was installed on the 50 parade cars.

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Today, Bill and Nancy enjoy showing their rare Sprint convertible whenever possible. It’s a Trailered Concours Gold winner, but perhaps the highest honor was when Ford asked the Johnson’s to display their freshly finished ’72 at the “Mustang Garage” entrance to the 50th anniversary celebration in Las Vegas. There, it shared space with icons of history such as the prototype Mustang I, the 1968 Shelby Green Hornet hardtop, and others. It’s testament that not many of the Cherry Blossom convertibles have been restored to the level of the Johnson’s car, and testament to the appeal of a rare special edition Mustang.

Sprint Edition Cars

Tony Clark’s 1968 hardtop is a great example of one of Ford’s Mustang Sprint (Package A) promotional models which preceded the ’72s.

1972 wasn’t the first special model Mustang to receive the Sprint nomenclature, but it was in fact the last to our knowledge. Prior to ’72, Sprint models were offered in 1966, 1967, and 1968, generally as a springtime sales promotion. Of those three, the 1968s offered the most significant content, with the Sprint (Package B) including C-stripes, fog lights, and styled steel wheels. It’s fair to say that 1972 Sprints were even more heavily laden with special features, what with their unique paint scheme, upholstery, and Mach 1 style front grille and trim.

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