Jim Smart
December 1, 2000

Would you believe Mike Little put this '73 Mustang convertible together in four months? Oh yes… But sharing this feat of strength is getting ahead of ourselves. Actually, this Mustang restoration project dates back nearly five years to 1996 when the Littles brought it home for the first time. Like most involved restoration projects, this one was going to be a driver. Mike had concerns about the integrity of the Mustang's 351C-4V engine. Just an engine rebuild; that's it, nothing more. Sure, Mike…

But most of us who understand the dynamics of a restoration know going in that engine rebuilds, interior restorations, and paint jobs always evolve into full-scale projects. It happens when the engine is out of the car. Look at that engine compartment. I'll just strip it all down and get just the engine bay media-blasted, then lay down primer and black satin paint. Couldn't help getting overspray on the front fenders. Wonder what it would cost to prep and paint this thing. The next thing you know, you're committed--or should be committed.

This is how it played out for Mike and Colleen Little. Colleen picks up the story: "We drove the car for about two months and Mike said we needed to go through the engine. He pulled the engine and transmission, took lots of pictures, and made the engine beautiful.

But still he was not happy. He gave me some story about something not looking right. With the engine and transmission out of the car, what was to stop a man from wanting more?"

Mike ultimately moved the entire car into the bedroom he shares with Colleen. He reworked the body and ordered what seemed like a warehouse of new parts. Mike tackled this Mustang project with a plan--to have all of the parts in place ready to install when the car came home from the body shop.

Assembling the Mustang was a round-the-clock effort that involved untold skinned knuckles and hundreds of cups of coffee. Two weeks before the Mustangs Northwest show (Bellevue, Washington) in July 2000, the heater core failed. Mike learned quickly that it's easier to replace the heater core with the engine out of the car.

The Littles enjoy a breathtaking ride all clad in Bright Red with matte-black Mach 1 stripes. Inside, rich black vinyl, known as the Interior Décor Group, with deluxe molded door panels and high-back bucket seats. Twin-pod instrumentation includes an 8-grand tachometer.

Earlier, we mentioned the 351C-4V V-8. In fresh attire, the 351C engine makes buckets of torque between 3,000 and 4,500 rpm. At wide-open throttle, it will spank upstart competition with a roar as distinctive as the Cleveland's big-port design. It produces a mellow, throaty burble from its dual exhaust. Ford's super-tough C6 Select-Shift manages the Cleveland's power without complaint. Tip in the throttle and listen to the sound of power.

Fourth-generation Mustangs aren't of the same genetics as the '65-’70 models because these Mustangs are built on the Fairlane/Torino platform to handle the larger-displacement engines of the era. This fact, all by itself, is why the '71-’73 Mustang offers the best ride of the classics. As a result, the Littles' convertible offers family-size comfort and ride--something you might expect from a big little drop top.

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