Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
October 31, 2012
Photos By: Cesar Andre

Most any kid would kill for a used Mustang as a first car, and we know of some lucky people who recount the story of such an accomplishment. Raymond Drake III, of Newport Beach, California, is one such person. It was 1978 and he was living in Jacksonville, North Carolina. On his 15th birthday, Raymond paid $500 for a barely running '66 Mustang (remember those days?). Raymond worked on it for a whole year with his neighbor, Lt. Colonel Buck, and his father, Dr. R.D. Drake Jr. By his 16th birthday, all that the Mustang needed were rear tires and insurance so that Raymond could drive it to high school. "My dad paid for two back tires and six months worth of insurance as my 16th birthday present. Suffice it to say, the insurance lasted longer than the tires," Raymond explained.

Raymond drove the '66 all through high school until a street-racing accident left him and his high school pal Brian "Moose" Hickum hanging upside down by the car's seatbelts. It would be the first, and last, time Raymond raced a car with anyone in the passenger seat. The Mustang was going to be a father and son project, but his dad's follow through on the project was hit and miss due to the busy doctor's schedule. Raymond ended up doing all of his own work, learning from his neighbor and friend Lt. Colonel Buck. Eventually, Raymond's skills with a wrench meant helping to fix his sister's car, and so on. Time marched on, and Raymond went through a plethora of Fords, including a few more vintage Mustangs, a '70s Bronco, and some F-series trucks, all while growing up and coming into his own--but he never forgot that '66 Mustang. Raymond's life wasn't without issue, and during a particularly bad period--which included a divorce--he opted to go visit his mother in California.

"It was supposed to be a 30-day trip, and I'm still here 19 years later," he tells us. His mother founded Garland Drake International, a company that supplies salons with hair additions. His mother asked him to work for her, and he went to cosmetology school. "It was 60 women and me, not a bad ratio for a recently divorced guy," Raymond chuckled. After graduation and a short stint elsewhere, Raymond came home to his mother's business, and is now director of education and the lead instructor of their education program for stylists. He's also a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, and has spent years volunteering to help others find a better path. "My license plate is RAOK, which stands for Random Acts of Kindness, which I try to do three of each day, and can't tell anyone about them; four, five, and six I might brag about," Raymond explains of his life discipline.

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You might think being a stylist or adding hair extensions is a low-stress environment, but not when you're working with famous actors and musicians like Diane Keaton, Gwen Stefani, and others. Raymond tells us it can take up to seven hours to do someone's hair for a major event like an awards show or a concert. The stress can be pretty bad at times, and Raymond was in desperate need of some stress relief for fear of falling back on prior bad decisions. He was considering a project car of some sort when he came upon the intersection of Drake and Raymond streets while on a weekend trip. He took it as a sign when he saw a '66 Mustang coupe parked a few doors down from the streets with the same name. A young college girl had purchased the Mustang with her boyfriend as a project, but he was "no longer in the picture," and she wanted the car gone. Raymond offered her an Escort GT he had modified as an even trade. She bit, and the Mustang was his. He didn't even know if the Mustang would make the four hour trip home, but it did--barely.

Within a few short weeks of ownership, Raymond had already named the project "Knightmare," mostly because that's what it was. "No matter how good the parts were or how much I paid for them, everything seemed to break," Raymond told us. It certainly didn't help matters that Raymond's career was blossoming, and he had limited time and literally no place to work on it; the very first time he tried to do some welding in his driveway, he found out that the city of Newport Beach looked down on residential car repairs. "I literally towed the Mustang around for two years on a tow dolly behind my Isuzu Rodeo finding places to work on it," Raymond remembered. Two of those locations became very instrumental in his build. Harbor Radiator in Costa Mesa and Total Car Care in Huntington Beach.

"A friend and mentor of mine, Gregg Ohaver, owns Harbor Radiator and said I could use his tools as long as I cleaned up after myself every night. So no matter what I did, I had to have the parking lot cleared and my Mustang home by that morning," Raymond stated. Harbor Radiator's parking lot, or a tent setup out back of Total Car Care, owned by his best friend, Mike Evans, is where most of the body mods happened. Raymond widened the '66 8 inches, beginning with a taper toward the rear mid-door. The widening was done with steel panels and new door and quarter skins. Fiberglass flares were used to round out the look. After five failed engine build attempts by a well-known shop, Raymond got a little help from Mike and Bruce at Total Car Care, and they built the engine themselves. The new 418 Windsor stroker replaced the 302 that came in the car when Raymond bought it. Backing the 500-plus-horsepower Windsor is a Tremec TKO-II five-speed, which replaced the four-speed behind the 302 as well. With the engine now the centerpiece of the car (this is before the wild custom paint Raymond did himself), Raymond bent up metal panels for the engine bay--in a meager 6-inch bench vise no less--and decided the engine looked too nice to cover with a hood.

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