Jim Smart
March 1, 2008

Michael Rossa is a product of the '60s and '70s. In 1973, he was a sophomore in high school and living in San Francisco. If you remember the period, you recall real, authentic hot rods--those rumpity-rump-rump roadsters and shoeboxes that cruised through the school parking lot after a quick fill-up with 35-cents-per-gallon gas. They'd bark tires and haul butt out of the parking lot before the vice principal could catch up with them. These old hot rods cruised all week on $5 worth of Sunoco. They were striking, obnoxious, and lovable. So were the outcasts who drove them.

American Graffiti hit the big screen in 1973. Now a cult movie, the story was seen through the eyes of a young person and took place all in one warm summer night in 1962. It was all about graduating from high school, cruising for chicks, trolling for guys, practical jokes, profiling your ride in front of a store window, making out in the back seat, aspiring to be as cool as the dude with that yellow deuce coupe or heavy Chevy, growing up, and finally saying goodbye.

Ironically, American Graffiti was filmed not far from where Michael grew up. It was in 1973 when Michael Rossa met Michelle, a lovely young lady whose father owned a light-green '66 Mustang hardtop. It hadn't run in some time and was parked in the driveway on four flat tires. In fact, Michelle's dad had just purchased a new Chevy Nova, and her three brothers likely had their eyes on the Mustang. Michael didn't think he had a chance. Undeterred, he tried a gutsy move with his new girlfriend. He asked her father if he would sell the Mustang for $300. Her father said yes and, times being what they were, Michael handed him $100 and made payments on the rest of it.

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Michael had no idea why the Mustang didn't run. It was believed the engine blew because it died in a fury of fire, smoke, and noise. So Michael and his brother-in-law took a crack at troubleshooting. It needed fresh gasoline, for one thing, and a battery to give it inspiration. When Michael spun the engine, it singed his eyebrows with a miserable, defiant backfire from an open carburetor. When he removed the distributor cap, it crumbled in his hands--clearly the reason this car hadn't run in years. A trip to Grand Auto netted a new cap, and the engine roared to life.

Michael and Michelle fell in love, got married, and have spent the most treasured years of their lives together. Not only would they serve each other well through the years, so would their Mustang. In 1977, Michael decided to build a monument to their union and passion for automobiles. He built a classic Mustang hot rod at a time when few people had the nerve to do it. It was an Ebony Black hardtop with the roar of a V-8 and red-hot flames applied by SignalMakers in Colma, California.

In 1995, Michael tried something gutsy again. He chopped off the Mustang's roof and built a roadster. Remember, for the better part of two decades, restoring a Mustang to factory original condition was the only politically correct thing to do. Modifications of any kind were unacceptable, getting you a tongue-lashing from offended enthusiasts everywhere.

In the mid-'90s, however, restomod became a natural complement to concours restored when the Ronster from Mustangs Plus and Danny Banh's Canary Yellow '65 hardtop broke through all the barriers. People were stunned but grew to accept the restomod trend. Ron Bramlett's Ronster roadster stood us on our ears when it debuted in Mustang & Fords in 1997, while Danny's hardtop was a more conservative 5.0L fuel-injected five-speed ride everyone loved when it appeared on our cover in the late '90s. Sadly, Danny's trendsetting classic was totaled in an accident many years ago.

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