Jim Smart
October 1, 2009

Ever had a car in your neighborhood you wanted so badly that you kept a close watch on it in hopes that it would come up for sale? In most cases, the car vanishes, never to be seen again. Joel Sokolow has a story like this, only his '70 Mustang Grabber is the dream car that didn't get away.

"I first laid eyes on this beautiful automobile in 1985 when I moved to Arcadia, California," Joel tells us. The car was a Vermilion Mustang SportsRoof parked in a neighbor's garage across the street from a buddy's home.

His buddy, Tom Frazin, eventually introduced Joel to Rob Ilgenfritz, owner of the Mustang SportsRoof that had been given to him by his father. James Ilgenfritz had purchased the Mustang new from Foulger Ford and drove it for about six years before passing it along to his son. Joel rarely drove the car because he wanted to preserve it. Still, his Mustang had its share of scar tissue. Once, while en route to Las Vegas, he struck an object that damaged the left front fender. Another time, he took up two parking spaces at a local community college, incurring the wrath of an angry student who keyed his paint.

Rob eventually hopped up the car with Appliance slotted mag wheels, Mickey Thompson valve covers, and dual exhausts, although he was smart enough to keep the original parts. Through the years, the SportsRoof became legendary in the neighborhood, often discussed but rarely seen.

In time, Rob would discover drawbacks to a car that sat too much. It became challenging just to start and drive, so Rob started thinking about selling his Mustang. A number of people in the neighborhood wanted the car but Joel had the shoe-in because of his friendship with Rob through Tom. On Labor Day weekend 2008, Joel picked up the 80,000-mile Mustang, which needed a lot of work to get into good running condition.

Joel sent the car to Mustangs & American Classics in Orange County, where Duke Mao and his staff went to work on the SportsRoof, overhauling and tuning the carburetor to get the engine running smoothly again. But Duke's work was only the beginning. The brakes needed attention along with the suspension. When Duke tore down the cooling system, he discovered that corrosion had blocked most of the cooling passages. The heater core was leaking and had to be replaced. New BFGoodrich Radial T/As replaced old Goodyear GTs.

About the same time, Joel ordered a Marti Report from Marti Auto Works. He learned that his SportsRoof was originally a Mustang Grabber, with just 5,120 produced for a Ford sales promotion in 1970. Aside from Ford producing so few as springtime sales stimulators, they're also hard to find because many have lost their identity-stripes and black-out rear panel-during repaints. Unless you have a Marti Report, Grabbers are impossible to confirm because they vanish once the stripes are gone. There was no special trim or color code-not even a six-digit special-order DSO code. A Marti Report is the only way to confirm an original Grabber.

Because Joel wanted his Grabber authentic and ready for Mustang Club of America judged competition, he looked to Jeff Speegle for restoration tips and information. Jeff shared '70 Mustang engine compartment images, which gave Joel an idea where the decals should be located. Another valuable contact was Oklahoma's Lance Morgan, who runs the '70 Grabber Mustang Registry. Lance helped Joel learn more about these unusual limited-production cars.

As Joel began wrapping up his detailing efforts, he couldn't help but notice the vandalism to the original paint. Those spiteful scratches were still there. Joel found T.J. Wallace, who specializes in repairing this kind of damage by hand. Another company, 1-800-DENTDOC, repaired the fender damage from that trip to Vegas long ago.

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Mustang Grabbers, as well as their more economical Maverick counterparts, were offered in Ford's new Grabber colors-Blue, Green, and Orange-along with Vermilion and Bright Yellow. The Mustang versions came with reflective C-stripes (similar to the '69 Boss 302s but without the lettering), dual racing mirrors, Boss-like black-out rear panel, and 14-inch steel wheels with Ford corporate caps and trim rings. Buyers liked the Grabber for its sportiness combined with the economy of a small V-8.

Like most '70 Grabbers, Joel's SportsRoof is equipped with the 302 small-block with Autolite 2100 two-barrel carburetion. In 1970, the 302 was rated at 220 hp. But what mattered more was the 296 ft/lbs of torque at 2,600 rpm where most street engines like to live. Joel's Grabber has Ford's C4 Select-Shift automatic transmission dovetailed into conventional 2.79:1 cogs.

Joel tells us that some people give him a hard time about the Boss-style stripes, saying they shouldn't be there, which tells us something about how little is known about these special Grabber Mustangs.

Tracking Grabbers Lance Morgan has a thing about '70 Mustang Grabbers. He likes them and he owns one. And he's determined to document as many as he can through his '70 Mustang Grabber Registry.

Lance tells us these cars are challenging to identify because they lose their identities when repainted. With a Marti Report, you need look no further than the listing for "Grabber Special Value Package" to accurately identify a Grabber.

John Naughton, Ford Vice President and Ford Division General Manager at the time, introduced the '70 Mustang and Maverick Grabbers in February of 1970 at the Chicago Auto Show. He described the Mustang Grabber: "This Nifty Thrifty carries, among other features, performance-oriented striping, dual racing mirrors, rear air spoiler (Editor's note: He's talking about the built-in fastback rear spoiler, not the pedestal-mount version), and a 302 cubic-inch V-8, Ford's smallest V-8." Naughton also promoted Ford's new Grabber colors for 1970, which were available on all Mustangs that year.

Grabber wasn't just a Mustang or Maverick model that year, but a Ford Division sales promotion. It was all about grabbing a good deal on a new Ford. Full-sized Fords were billed as "Grab a Quiet Break." If you wanted a Torino, "Grab Motor Trend's Car of the Year." And Mustang? "Grab this version of America's number one sporty car."

If you would like to know more about the '70 Grabber Mustang Registry, contact Lance Morgan through his website, www.1970mgr.org.

• Reflective C-stripes
• Dual racing mirrors
• Black-out rear panel
• F70x14 WSW tires, corporate hubcaps with trim rings
• 302 2V V-8, automatic transmission

Production Figures by Color*
Grabber Blue 1,384
Yellow 1,129
Vermilion 1,049
Grabber Orange 818
Grabber Green 740
Total 5,120

* Provided by Kevin Marti at Marti Autoworks (www.martiauto.com)