Jim Smart
January 1, 2009

Twelve years ago, Nelson Cardadeiro was out cruising when he stopped by a used car lot in Hayward, California. He was looking for a Fox-body 5.0L Mustang to play with, but that's not what he found in suburban Oakland. Instead, on the front row was a green '69 Mustang Grande hardtop. He almost didn't look at the car because it didn't leave much of an impression. Nelson walked up to the car and happened to glance at the VIN plate at the base of the windshield. He had to rub his eyes because the mental tumblers just weren't falling into place. He expected to see an "M" or "H" 351W engine code. Instead, the engine code was "Q"-for 428 Cobra Jet.

When he opened the hood to be sure, you can imagine the shock of seeing not only the original 428 CJ engine but also one complete with all of its Thermactor emission control system. Because it was being sold on consignment, Nelson made an offer and left. The next day, the seller accepted and Nelson went back with a deposit. But when Nelson arrived, the seller had changed his mind. Although Nelson could have made a higher offer, he didn't. He just walked away.

The following spring, Nelson's brother told him the Grande was back on the lot. He drove to the dealer and made another offer, ending up paying $200 less than his previous offer.

Nelson brought the Grande home and stored it in his garage until he could amass the parts needed for a restoration. It's pretty easy to understand what happened next. The car spent two and a half years in the body shop, then another two years passed as Nelson carefully assembled the car. He debuted his CJ Grande at the Mustang Club of America national show in Las Vegas in 2006. With an open hood revealing the Cobra Jet powerplant, his efforts received abundant attention and questions.

Nelson could have traveled any number of paths when he decided to buy and restore the Grande, but chose a concours restoration to MCA judging standards. David Peterson rebuilt the car's matching-number CJ big-block to factory specifications. Nelson opted for new-old-stock and original Ford parts where possible. On top is the original 735-cfm Holley rebuilt and restored with painstaking detail. The same can be said for the original Autolite distributor. This isn't an engine compartment you glance over. While photographing the car during the annual Fall Display at Mustangs Plus, it was challenging to close the hood and move on because there's so much detail underneath.

Completely intact is the engine's original Thermactor emission control system, an air pump system that injects air into the exhaust ports to clean up emissions. Most Thermactor emission control systems were tossed in the garbage when the cars were new, so they have become increasingly difficult for restorers to find. Nelson hit pay dirt when he discovered it was all still there, including the Cobra Jet air cleaner. It's great to see such close attention to detail on one of the rarest Mustangs ever built.

The Grand was a very distinctive luxury Mustang. It had more sound deadening for a quieter ride, and interior appointments were more upscale with cloth upholstery and molded door panels, same as the Mach 1. We like the wire-style wheel covers Ford fitted onto the Grande models. Because Nelson's car has a larger footprint, it has F70x14 Firestone Super Sport Wide Ovals on the ground. Power front disc brakes get the job done nicely when it's time to drive responsibly.

As you might imagine, the original buyer wanted luxury along with a lot of horsepower and torque. They chose Ford's venerable C6 Select-Shift transmission for convenience along with 3.50:1 Traction-Lok cogs for a Jekyll and Hyde demeanor. Nelson's Grande is a luxury Mustang built for weekend drag racing and Main Street spankings in 1969.

When Nelson began the tedious process of putting this car back together, there were all kinds of challenges. The greatest was finding parts unique to the car, such as the Grande stripes. Nelson found a set of new-old-stock stripes still in the box. Euphoria was followed by feelings of discouragement when he discovered some of the kit was missing. Ken Sousa was able to duplicate the stripes in his shop, getting Nelson on the road to an authentic restoration. It was also a monumental challenge to recreate the Grande's original Hopsack cloth upholstery, which had to be custom-made by Super Auto Upholstery. Nelson continues to search for the correct hood insulation blanket unique to the Grande.

These are the Mustangs that mess with our imaginations because they aren't mainstream like a Cobra Jet Mach 1 or a 302 convertible. They combine options and components that were normally never ordered together. For Nelson, that's incentive enough to keep this CJ Grande for a lifetime.

'69 CJ Grande Facts

  • Only 37 built
  • 28 had automatic transmission
  • Only one was a Drag Pack car with four-speed and Tu-Tone hood treatment
  • None were R-code with ram air
  • Two were Lime Gold
  • This is the only one with Power Ventilation

Information Courtesy Kevin Marti of Marti Auto Works, 623/925-2558, www.martiauto.com.

Mustang Snapshot

  • '69 Mustang Grande Hardtop
  • 428-4V Cobra Jet
  • C6 Select-Shift automatic transmission
  • 3.50:1 Traction-Lok, 28-spline axles
  • Power front disc brakes
  • Power Steering
  • 14x6-inch steel wheels with wire-style wheel covers
  • F70x14 Firestone Wide Oval bias-belted tires
  • Black Hopsack cloth interior
  • Power Ventilation (rare option and only without air conditioning)
  • AM/FM stereo radio
  • California car originally sold in the San Jose sales district