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Chicken Coop Find! 1969 Mustang GT R-Code Convertible
The two-decade evolution of a worn “chicken coop find” that was restored to one of the best thoroughbred Mustang GT R-Code convertibles on the planet
The car collecting community has coined the phrase “barn find” when referring to vehicles found in old buildings where they were stored away for years and, in many cases, even decades. The fascination with these barn finds has taken them to the top of the spectrum within the collector car industry, and barn finds (we normally call them Rare Finds in Mustang Monthly) are arguably the hottest thing going within the collector car hobby right now. Despite the phrase, a barn find need not be found in an actual barn. In many cases, barn finds are found in garages, old buildings, or other types of structures. Such is the case with this 1969 Mustang GT convertible with a 428 Cobra Jet and four-speed.
On December 18, 1997, this GT drop-top was rescued from a chicken coop in Santa Rosa, California, where it had been stowed away for nearly five years. Steve Skinner found out about the car from his brother Mike Skinner who’d seen it in the classifieds of a magazine. Mike had first dibs on the car, then backed out and handed it off to his brother, and Steve jumped on the opportunity to purchase it. Skinner and seller Al Weis reached an agreement on the purchase price and the GT R-Code convertible was loaded onto an open trailer and transported to Skinner’s home in Montana.
The car was purchased prior to the “Marti Report Era,” but Skinner knew it was rare and he’d always wanted a big-block convertible GT Mustang. While researching the history of the car, he learned it had been purchased from a Ford Dealership in Eden, North Carolina, and then traveled west where it had resided for nearly a decade near San Francisco.
After purchasing the car, Skinner transported it to his Montana shop where it was carefully dissected to evaluate its condition. Skinner decided to give the convertible a complete rotisserie restoration. He’d restored several Mustangs in the past and intended to add this restoration to his resume. He wasted little time and started the restoration process soon after acquiring it in late 1997. It didn’t take long for Skinner to realize the most difficult challenge in this Mustang project was locating N.O.S. or OEM parts. Over a 15-year period, he amassed an inventory large enough to fill the basement of his house. He’d acquire one part, then locate another of better quality, and before long, his parts inventory turned his basement into a small warehouse for the ’69 Mustang GT convertible.
As the actual restoration project started to take form, Skinner started realizing just how difficult the restoration of this rare Mustang was going to be. The Internet and social media hadn’t really taken form as a tool for automobile restoration projects of this magnitude. It was still in its infancy and acquiring parts and information related to restoring a rare Mustang of this caliber turned into an issue as time went on. It was a decade or so later when Skinner eventually obtained a Marti Report and realized just how rare his ’69 Mustang GT convertible really was. Ford Motor Company equipped fewer than 30 of them with the four-speed R-Code 428ci engine option. Only four are known to exist today according to the R-Code registry.
Skinner turned to longtime friend Buzz Rose to rebuild the date-code-correct 428 Cobra Jet engine. Buzz went through the engine from top to bottom and performed his wizardry to make it a top-shelf, factory-correct specimen. In Skinner’s words, “Buzz Rose sleeps, eats, and breathes Fords; he was the right and only person to build my engine for the Mustang.”
“It was Buzz Rose and his knowledge and expertise who influenced me to purchase the car and take on the restoration project,” Skinner added. “Without him, I never would have gotten myself into it and taken on such a huge project.”
Then, in 2014, after dealing with locating the ultra-rare, hard-to-find parts, he realized it was time to hand the Mustang off to someone who had the resources and contacts to see it through to completion as a factory-correct thoroughbred pony car. “Once you start on a restoration project of this caliber, you can’t turn back,” Skinner said. “I didn’t want to stop the project, just hand it off to a new owner to finish it off the right way.”
“The right person to purchase the car and continue the restoration project was Tony King,” he said. “He’s respected within the muscle car and Mustang community for his collection of rare automobiles. His expert contacts and abundant resources within the Mustang world is a primary reason I decided to make the ’69 Mustang GT Convertible available for purchase to Tony King.” The two men talked about the car and its restoration three years earlier when finding parts became an obstacle.
King called in Mustang expert Jason Billups to perform a total inspection of the car, and upon Billups’ recommendation, King made the purchase. Two weeks later, it was transported to Billups Classic Cars (BCC) in Colcord, Oklahoma, for a full factory-correct rotisserie restoration. Billups and his first-rate team at BCC have a reputation for performing award-winning, historically correct, world-class Mustang restorations.
Once the car entered the shop, it was secured onto a rotisserie. Since Skinner had already started the restoration, there was no disassembly work to be done. Skinner had already started the bodywork, too, and according to Billups, “Skinner had done a really good job on it. He’d obviously knew what he was doing and must have spent countless hours of metal work and block sanding. We don’t get many Mustangs in the shop with previous owner bodywork looking as good as this one.”
Billups turned the completion of the bodywork of the Mustang over to his brother, Scott Billups, who spent many hours working each and every one of the body panels to perfection. Once the work was to Billups’ standards, painter Donald “Skeeter” White applied numerous coats of Candyapple Red single-stage RM urethane paint. The suspension, mechanical, and final assembly work was done by Casey Kelly and Billups himself.
Billups Classic Cars had the car in its shop for less than two years from start to finish. At times, it took a back seat to a black 1969 Shelby G.T. 500 prototype convertible also owned by King (One of Four Shelby G.T. 500 Prototypes Found and Restored, Dec. ’17). Usually, the two rare Mustangs were worked on simultaneously, but the Shelby sometimes received preferential treatment since it was scheduled to be unveiled at the 2016 Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals (MCACN).
According to the owner, based on documentation he’s acquired, this ’69 Mustang is one of the last GTs to be produced for this generation. With more than one assembly plant building them simultaneously in 1969, it’s difficult to say definitively that this is, indeed, the last one built. All records indicate that it’s one of the last ones in the Ford Motor Company build schedule to be produced and shipped to the dealer.
This rare 1969 Mustang GT R-Code convertible has a short list of options.
•Black Manual Top w/ Plastic Backlite
•GT Equipment Group
•F70X14 Wide Oval Belted White Sidewall Tires
It appears this car was ordered with the intent of keeping it simple.
King laid eyes on his restored GT Cobra Jet for the first time during our formal photo-shoot. He’d traveled to Colcord from his residence in Butte, Montana, where we asked him what he thought of the finished product. “Wow, what a rare car,” he said. “I’m totally blown away and impressed by the overall look and stance of this little Mustang GT convertible. I think Ford Motor Company should have made more of them.”
We followed up with King to see if he remained impressed with his Mustang GT. “I recently took the Mustang to a major car show in Montana and it took Best of Show out of 500 entries,” he said. “Without Jason Billups and his team of craftsmen, I can’t image this ’69 Mustang GT convertible turning out any better. Once again, they’ve exceeded my expectations and hit it out of the park.”
Skinner saw his old Mustang GT convertible at the same car show and he admitted that seeing it restored was an emotional experience. He said that sight of the car sent his blood pumping and heart racing with excitement. It also made him realize that selling it to King, who had Billups and his experts finish it off, was the right thing to do. Skinner said that if he had one dream, it would be to get closure for his unfinished business with the Mustang by driving it just once. I’m pleased to say after talking with King, Skinner’s wish to one day drive it will be granted soon. Man, how cool would it be to be there to document and witness it in person?