Rod Short
March 22, 2012

Whenever people finally retire, it's easy to find them lost in thought as they go back to revisit times, people, and places from their past. There's certainly nothing wrong with reliving memories from the past, but 75-year-old Norman Rodgers decided that he would have none of that quite yet. That's because he wanted to look forward to having one more fling. Not with a mistress, but with another passion in his life: building that one last custom car to keep him focused on looking ahead and not in the rearview mirror.

"I bought a '41 Ford convertible for $275 when I was just 15 years old," Norman said, when asked about how his lifelong love affair began. "Some Navy guy had traded it in to a local dealership. It was a whole year before I could get my driver's license, so I spent that time working on the car. I put a new top, interior, and paint on it, along with some dress-up items like fender skirts, Cadillac wheel covers, spotlights, and dual exhaust. I kept that car all through high school."

"When drag racing came to the area, we had a quarter-mile dirt dragstrip," Norman continued. "I took a '26 Chevrolet coupe and put in a flathead Mercury motor with Edelbrock heads, a 3/4 cam, headers, dual carburetors, and a '39 Ford transmission. I had some good luck with it at the local car shows and I won a few trophies at the dragstrip, too."

Various cars continued to find their way in and out of Norman's life until he got a job at a local Ford dealership in late 1963. Working there kept him in close proximity to a number of rollers that caught his eye, but then in mid-1964, everything suddenly changed.

"I can still remember the first Mustang that we ever got," he said with a grin and a glimmer in his eye. "It was white with a red interior and was priced at $2,368. I was really in love with it, as most people were. There was just something about the style that really caught you. At the time, I had it sold to a young girl in town, but we had to hold on to it and keep it in the showroom for at least two weeks while we were taking orders. Later on, I bought a yellow '65 with a black vinyl top, a '68 convertible, and then a '69 Grande coupe. I was the envy of most people around town back then."

A lot of years went by, however, as Norman worked and raised a family. As a business owner and a grandfather, he had his hands full. Even though he was living in a small southern town, there was no time for hunting, fishing, or golf as he worked until age 70. At that point, it came to his attention that a '68 coupe was for sale that had been in his local area all of its life. A restoration had been attempted years before, but the old Mustang was still languishing, forlorn and lost in a barn. Eight hundred dollars later, Norman had a new friend to take home with him, and suddenly retirement looked a bit brighter.

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"About a year went by after I got it," Norman said, "but I paid attention to a lot of Mustangs at different car shows, clipped a lot of magazine articles, and got my thoughts together. I had some things that I wanted to do differently, so I decided to do it all myself. It took me about four years working on the car part-time. My wife and son worried that I wouldn't get it back together before I died, but I did complete it—and got quite a bit of enjoyment out of doing it.

Originally equipped with a 289 2V, a factory three-speed transmission, and a single exhaust, this poor Pony had its share of rust and the interior was completely ragged out. The National Parts Depot catalog provided everything necessary for a new interior, while TMI Products got the call for the aftermarket door panels. The engine, which had been rebuilt previously at an unknown date, was still strong with good vacuum and no leaks, so a makeover was done with a dress-up kit that sports an Edelbrock intake and a Holley 600-cfm four-barrel. A dual exhaust conversion with Flowmasters and a set of Pypes round oval exhaust tips provided better breathing for the engine along with an oh-so-pleasant sound. The rims are 17x8 MB Old School hoops, which are patterned after the American Racing vintage Torque Thrust-type wheels. American Racing spinners with the Ford emblem provide the finishing touch, while Riken Raptor P245/45ZR17 tires provide plenty of sure footing.

Of course, the thing that sets this car apart is the nose job that this 'Stang received. Norman incorporated some standard aftermarket parts such as a Shelby-style hood, which he reworked, but for the average car enthusiast, it's a look that makes people take second and even third looks—especially if they're not really familiar with early model Mustangs.

"I saw that Ford was trying to make new Mustangs look like old cars," Norman said. "I had really fallen in love with the '08 Shelby GT500 grille, so I thought I'd adopt that theme with a different twist. It took a lot of time figuring out how I would do it. I bought a '67 Shelby fiberglass nose, did some cutting, added some sections, and used some fiberglass to mold it the way I wanted it. I know I had that nosepiece on and off the car more than a half a dozen times. Once I had it where I wanted it, I bought some new '68 model bumpers and then painted them to match."

Out back, Norman used a Shelby-style rear decklid with a ribbed aluminum rear taillight valance and a pair of flush-fit '94 Saturn rear marker lights. A basecoat/clearcoat combination of Martin-Senour Viper Red was used, along with accent colors in Lexus Champagne helps set the car apart even further.

"I didn't do it as a Shelby, as a clone, or even as a tribute," Norman said afterwards. "I purposely didn't ask anyone to help me, because I wanted to do it myself. The only help I had was getting the windshield back in it. That was the extent of it. I really thank my family for going along with me, and allowing me some peace of mind so I could be busy and be happy doing it. It was fun doing it—and I did it my way!"

Out back, Norman used a Shelby-style rear decklid with a ribbed aluminum rear taillight valance and a pair of flush-fit '94 Saturn rear marker lights

The Details

Norman Rodgers' '68 Ford Mustang Coupe

Engine

  • Ford 289 V-8
  • Stock heads
  • Stock cam
  • Edelbrock Performer intake manifold
  • Holley 600-cfm four-barrel carburetor
  • Accel ignition
  • Cobra engine dress-up kit

Transmission

  • Stock three-speed manual with custom shifter

Rearend

  • Stock 8-inch with 3.25 gears

Exhaust

  • Dual 2-1/4-inch pipes
  • Flowmaster mufflers, Pypes oval tips

Suspension

  • Front: Grab-A-Trak coil springs
  • Rear: Stock leaf springs with air shocks

Brakes

  • Front: Stock drum
  • Rear: Stock drum

Wheels

  • Front: MB Old School, 17x8, Accent Color and American Racing spinners
  • Rear: MB Old School, 17x8, Accent Color and American Racing spinners

Tires

  • Front: Riken Raptor, P245/45ZR17
  • Rear: Riken Raptor, P245/45ZR17

Interior

  • TMI upholstery kit with custom trim, parchment red and red cruiser console, metal door and quarter-panels covered with matching vinyl, Custom Auto Sound AM/FM with satellite radio and four speakers, Grant steering wheel, and owner-built custom trunk enclosure

Exterior

  • Modified Shelby hood with custom '67 front fascia, '08 Shelby GT500 grille, custom lower front valance with foglights, functional front fender vents from an '08 Buick Lucerne, flush-fit marker lights, '68 Mustang front bumper, Shelby decklid with ribbed taillight valance and flush-fit Saturn marker lights, vinyl underhood graphic