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1966 Mustang Coupe - New Orleans Blues
Amid the storms of life, a 66' Mustang gave hope to a new life
(The Modified Mustangs & Fords staff gives our feature car owners a technical spec sheet to fill out after photographing the vehicle, and sometimes you get people who do a great job filling out the sheet. Sometimes you barely get any information out of it. On rare occasions, you get way more than you expected, which makes your job as a journalist much easier. Richard Baldini did such a great job telling us his story that we decided to reprint it as he wrote it—ED.)
My story starts in the great city of New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1966. My dad, Richard Baldini Jr, had his eye on a '63-1/2 split-window Corvette that got a taste of Hurricane Betsy, however the owner settled for a trade instead of selling my dad a car that had gotten a little water in her. So, my father goes car shopping as I grow in my mother's belly, completely unaware of the future this car has in store for me.
So what does Dad buy? A '66 Ford Mustang coupe. The car has none of the available options, no power steering, no power brakes, not even the day/night rearview mirror. Fortunately, he did opt for the 289ci engine with the three-speed manual transmission.
Shortly after making the purchase, Dad decided to take the new Mustang on a road trip for a work seminar and got into a head-on collision with several hogs—let's just say we think the Mustang handled the accident better than the Vette would have. The car literally jumped over them and obviously sustained considerable damage upon landing, but the important thing was that Dad was OK. So, time for the first color change, and my dad's love affair with the Mustang begins.
I remember when I was about 6 years old, and Dad changed out the single exhaust for dual Cherry Bomb mufflers. We lived in a neighborhood that had a single entrance about a mile and a half long, just enough to have a little fun—I can smell the exhaust like it was yesterday. From that day on, I have been in love with the Mustang.
When I was about 14 years old, I started wanting my own. I had been saving a little money by cutting grass, was doing well in school, and so it was time to convince Dad that it was my turn to get a Mustang. I don't remember him giving me too much of a problem—what reason did he have to deny me the pleasure? So we set out in search of the perfect car. What we finally found was a 289-powered coupe with all the bells and whistles, power steering, power brakes, automatic, air conditioning, and even the day/night rearview mirror. I think that is where the good news stopped. It didn't take much time to find out all of her problems—rust, rust, and more rust all the way into the engine block. This car couldn't hold a magnet. Dad was pretty resourceful, though. He was also a great mechanic, good at bodywork, and itchin' to make sure I had a nice ride.
By my junior year in high school, I was behind the wheel of a cherry '66 Mustang. It didn't take me long to realize that the stock look was not for me, so I put on a set of aluminum 14-inch slot mags with BFGoodrich rubber, and added seats out of a Honda Prelude, a custom console, and a Grant steering wheel—I was in heaven.
After a few short months of having fun, the massive amount of plastic body filler in the car started rearing its ugly head. There was rust in the bottom of the doors, and rear fender wells became a semi-annual attack. The roof would crack around the C pillars from window to window. One day, while digging around with the back seats out, I realized that the roof had been replaced and was held together by only some pop rivets and Bondo. We made some support repairs, put a vinyl top on, and Dad painted it black. Black on Black on Black—one bad-looking Mustang in 1983.
At this time, I had several friends at school that were into the Mustang scene, and we were always searching for parts and spending plenty of time helping each other out on different projects. My buddy, Rob, found a sweet deal on a '64-1/2, so I decided to buy a shell from him and do a swap out of my Bondo-bomb body. Unfortunately, I didn't even get the body to my house before my dad got into a bad accident and pretty much totaled his Mustang. I gave Dad the new shell, a fiberglass Shelby hood, and a new dashpad, sold my car to a friend, and walked away from Mustangs altogether. The year was 1988.
In 2005, Huricane Katrina changed everything. My wife was nine months pregnant. My city was under water. My business, which I had been dedicated to since 1991, was changed forever. Things were not the same. So after a while, we got our affairs in order, rebuilt the home, and moved my wife Jeanne and my new baby girl back from Atlanta to try to start over. My wife, a labor and delivery nurse, worked in the hospital unit that I was born in—Baptist Hospital is now closed. My business clientele left with the receding water, and my landscaping company slowly went with it. I lost most of my employees, then a foreman, and then my partner. Wanting to drown my sorrows, I decided it was time to find a new hobby, so I started looking at cars.
I think Dad got wind of the hole in my heart that I was trying to fill, and offered the Mustang to me. I gladly accepted and immediately had visions of the car I wish I could have built in 1984, but didn't have the technology or the money to do so. The old Mustang hadn't seen much road since 2001 and the drum brakes that took her first life made her less interesting in driving in the present. So I sold my boat to get a little capital together and we started what would be a four-year journey.
What we began with was your typical Mustang coupe with a 289ci V-8 and a three-speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter. The 0.040-over engine had about 50,000 miles since it's last rebuild, and was equipped with an Edelbrock Performer top end package, a Holley 600-cfm four-barrel carburetor, Hooker headers, and a dual-point distributor. The interior, transmission, and rearend are all stock. There are drum brakes, no power anything, and a stock steering wheel. It did have an aftermarket rear antisway bar, and was a great car, just not very safe.
So we started with the brakes—SSBC four-piston calipers, with 13-3/4-inch slotted front rotors make the car stop on a dime. We had to upgrade the rims because the 14s wouldn't fit, so on went a set of 17x8 Boyd Coddington Junk Yard Dogs with P225/45ZR17 Kumho tires on the front, and 18x8 rear wheels with a 245mm tire. The rear 18-inch wheels looked funny with drum brakes, so we fit the matching set of SSBC 11-1/2-inch slotted rotors on the rear. Now she would really stop, but had some handling issues. We installed 620-lb/in coil springs up front that lowered the ride height 1 inch, then removed another inch out of the spring and added polyurethane spring perches and KYB gas shocks.
Next, we installed a Flaming River rack-and-pinion steering system with a polished stainless column and tilt steering with Grant Collectors Edition black-leather-wrapped wheel. The Mustang was handling pretty well and the steering was great, but sitting in the stock seats for long was very uncomfortable, so we installed a set of Scat Elite seats in black velour to make our backsides enjoy the ride, too.
It was then time for some gears—a new Tremec T-5Z five speed transmission with a Zoom clutch, Hurst short-throw shifter, and a Fidanza flywheel got us going for those long road trips. The single-traction rearend was not good for even tire wear, so we ordered a Currie 9-inch rearend packed with heavy-duty 31-spline axles, a Truetrac differential, and 3.50 gears. Now we get those pretty tire marks when exiting car shows. We mixed in a few engine tweaks; installing Edelbrock water and fuel pumps, a 100-amp alternator, a K&N filter, and a MagnaFlow exhaust. We also added in a Monte Carlo bar, a full export brace, and some Varishock double adjustable shocks with five-leaf Shelby rear springs.
We were ready for the open road, but man, the roads in New Orleans in August get mighty hot. So it looked like we needed a Vintage Air A/C system and a Northern aluminum radiator. I never thought I could love this car this much, but at 50 degrees, the mind thinks clearly. With the windows up and a cool breeze blowing, the engine noise has been silenced since installing Dynamat throughout the interior. We also installed a custom trunk enclosure for the 12-inch subwoofer and 1,100 watts of Alpine power, and added a CD player and eight speakers in the cockpit. Naturally, the door panels were changed to an MP Custom Products molded panel with aluminum inserts to make room for the 6-inch speakers in the doors. While at MP Custom Products, we also picked up an instrument cluster with a tachometer and updated white faces. We also threw in some Pony floor mats, brushed matte finish aluminum door handles and cranks, and a cruiser console.
The rack-and-pinion steering was upgraded to a Flaming River power setup. We then modified the headers, steering linkage supports, and, bam, steering with one hand and with one less turn.
For the paint and body, we added a Shelby fiberglass front valance, billet aluminum grilles, clear lenses, and LED lights throughout. We removed the antenna and shot a custom basecoat/clearcoat color of blue that can only be seen south of New Orleans in the saltiest of waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
While this story has been cleaned up drastically for purposes of decency, we can say that nothing is as easy as it seems, no one does it as good as you can, and there is no such thing as a "bolt-on." My father and I did nearly all of the work on this Mustang in our garage, having only taken it out only for the exhaust and frontend alignment. As much as having someone else do the work would have been great, the time working with my dad is something I will remember forever. I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with my father on a project so challenging and fulfilling.
Now there are many people to thank for advice. There were many phone calls late at night, I cried more times watching Overhaulin' than I would care to admit, we thumbed through magazines, and made many trips to UPS to send back wrong parts, but the journey continues.
I have read many of articles over the years that touched me in one way or another. The cars are always great, but sometimes the owner's story is what inspires me to take the next step. I hope that one day our story may inspire another father and son to commit to a project together. The ride is always the best part of the journey. Fortunately, these old cars always find a way to keep you coming back to the shop.