Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
November 1, 2009
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

When Craig Chesley first laid eyes on Scott Drake's tattered and multi-colored Pay It Forward Mustang, there was still no doubt that he and his fellow East Texas Mustang Club members could restore the car within Drake's six-month timeframe and have it ready for auction at Barrett-Jackson. The club had submitted their project proposal based on photos; when the '66 convertible arrived by car hauler at the 45th Mustang Anniversary Celebration, it was club members' first chance to see and touch the car.

"I'd seen worse and I'd seen better," Craig says of his first impression of the car. "I knew if we could get the paint and bodywork done, there wouldn't be a problem. I can put a car together by myself in 30 days."

Obviously, there wasn't a problem. With 30 volunteers from the East Texas Mustang Club working weekends and evenings, the group completely restored the Mustang in three and half months. You'd never know that back on April 19, when club members hauled the project back to Tyler, Texas, the Mustang looked more like a junkyard reject than a show car.

"Wow! They've blown me away!" says Scott Drake, who created the Pay It Forward project as a way to raise money for charity. "I've never seen a group of guys who are so enthusiastic and dedicated. They were able to move forward on that project at record speed. I haven't seen the car in person but in the photos it's beautiful."

Last November at the SEMA Show, Drake introduced the Pay It Forward project by donating the car, obtained from longtime Drake employee Paul Kerner, and $10,000 in parts from Scott Drake Enterprises, a leading Mustang restoration parts manufacturer. Working with the Mustang Club of America, Drake requested that MCA regional chapters submit a presentation about why they should be selected to restore the car, with the proceeds from Barrett-Jackson going to the club's charity of choice.

Of all the presentations, Drake says the one from the East Texas Mustang Club stood out. "They sent their presentation in a hard-bound book," Drake explains. "It even had Excel spreadsheets showing how they were going to meet their deadlines. They were really well-organized so we felt they were the club to use."

Just weeks before the 45th Anniversary Celebration in Birmingham last April, the East Texas Mustang Club received word that they had been chosen to restore the Pay It Forward Mustang. Most members were headed to Birmingham anyway; Drake told them to bring a trailer. A presentation ceremony at the Scott Drake Enterprises' Birmingham display announced the selection to the world but unfortunately the car was missing in action because the car hauler was running behind schedule. It arrived at 10:00 that evening, with East Texas Mustang Club members waiting with their trailer.

The car arrived in Tyler on April 19; less than a week later, on April 25, club members pounced on the car during their designated Disassembly Day. "That was a lot of fun," said Chesley, who helped co-found the club 20 years ago and served as the Pay It Forward project chairman. "We did it at one of our members' shops. Several of us have shops within two or three blocks of each other. We used the one with the most available space. We did the entire disassembly that Saturday."

The East Texas Mustang Club is obviously more than a social organization. These guys enjoy working on Mustangs. During the Pay It Forward project, the club pulled from their collective talents. Chesley says, "Three or four can do engines and drivelines, one guy does carburetors, my expertise is more in the glass, interior, and that kind of stuff. It's a good mix of folks."

While club members began refurbishing components and making a list of needed parts, the body was loaded on a rotisserie and delivered to club member Eddie Siler for bodywork and paint. "He was the key to getting the car done so quickly," Chesley points out. "Without paint and bodywork, you're pretty much dead in the water. Eddie wanted to do it so bad. He's one of those guys who doesn't know when to stop."

As an Arizona car, there wasn't a lot of rust, but Chesley points out that the car had been hit several times so there was quite a bit of body damage. Nearly all of the sheetmetal was removed for repair or replacement, with Gateway Classic Mustang in St. Louis providing the new sheetmetal.

In addition to the many talents of club members, Chesley credits organization with helping members finish the car in such a short time. "We had to make sure we had parts when we needed them," Chesley says. "A lot of the parts came from Scott Drake and his people did a good job of making sure we had the parts when we needed them."

Other companies jumped in to donate parts as well. Old Air Products provided the air-conditioning, Performance Automatic sent a C4 transmission, Kicker supplied the stereo system, and Distinctive Industries stepped up with leather upholstery. Local companies helped with paint, adhesives, and smaller parts. Quantum Performance built the engine and delivered it to the club during an MCA board meeting at their facility in Dallas.

"I felt it was a chance to try to help people who aren't so fortunate," said Quantum president Kenny Northum. "I've had a lot of really good times in this hobby, so now I want to give something back."

Kenny and the Quantum crew built a roller 302 for the Pay It Forward Mustang. "When the club told me how they were going to build the car, I realized it was taking on a true driver persona, something you can really use," Kenny says. Starting with a short-block from factory rebuilder AER, Quantum put together a healthy but streetable small-block with Ford Racing aluminum heads topped by polished aluminum valve covers, B303 camshaft, and F302 dual-plane aluminum intake. Club member Randy Ortigo, who specializes in carburetors, provided the Holley 4-barrel.

On July 1, Eddie Siler delivered the Pay It Forward Mustang to club members in its fresh Candy Apple Red paint, along with Parchment interior panels to match the Distinctive Industries' leather upholstery. Although the reassembly phase was scheduled for the July 4 weekend, the guys began putting the car back together immediately. Eight hours later, the car was equipped with its new wiring, front suspension, master cylinder and booster, fuel tank, Kicker amp, and many of the other electrical components.

For the next several weeks, the project volunteers worked nights and weekends reassembling the convertible with its new or refurbished components. On July 25, with the Mustang mostly back together and running, club members decided to have some fun. The club's practical joker, Mitch Ardoin, was asked to drive the car, sans front end sheetmetal and doors, on its initial shake-down run to check out the engine, drivetrain, and suspension. During the drive, he was pulled over by a Sheriff's deputy for running a stop sign. Craig explained that he's a truck driver and cannot afford a ticket because he could lose his commercial driver's license. The sweat factor increased when the deputy began checking numbers to see if the car was stolen. Then, as the deputy wrote out the ticket and club members gathered, Mitch was informed that he had been "punked." It was a setup.

"He deserved it," Chesley said. "He thinks he's a practical joker but I told him that he's messing with a pro." A video of the prank is posted on YouTube; search for "Pay It Forward Mustang."

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On July 31, just 104 days after the car arrived in Tyler as a beat-up old Mustang, the convertible was cosmetically completed. Five days later, photographer Jerry Heasley photographed the finished Pay It Forward Mustang for this article as it was being delivered to Ft. Worth for its debut at the Yellow Rose Classic Car Show. The car will be displayed at the SEMA Show in November to promote its sale at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, on January 18-24. Proceeds will go to the East Texas Mustang Club's charity of choice, the East Texas Crisis Center.

"It was formed in 1979 by one of our members' wives, Dawn Franks," Chesley explains. "They offer shelter and counseling service for victims of family violence, something that's really needed."

Scott Drake had the vision and the Mustang Club of America supplied the regional groups, but it was the East Texas Mustang Club that took on the challenge of restoring a forlorn '66 Mustang convertible for charity. And they did it in just over 100 days.

"There's nothing like the heart of the volunteer," states Scott Drake. "I just provided the cars and the parts. What a great bunch of guys."

Editor's note: The East Texas Mustang Club has created a website devoted to the Pay It Forward project, with many photos to document the car's restoration. Check it out at www.payitforwardcar.com.

Pay It Forward Sponsors Scott Drake Enterprises Quantum Performance Performance Automatic Kicker Audio Distinctive Industries Bill Day Tire/BFGoodrich English Color and Supply Siler Paint and Body Tyler Ford AMK Products Marti AutoWorks Ortigo Performance Carburetors Ssnake Oyl Products Evercoat Gateway Classic Mustang Old Air Products Currie Enterprises Baer Brake Systems MP Products American National Insurance Company ABC Auto Parts

East Texas Mustang Club Volunteers Danny Alexander Mitch Ardoin Lindsey Brantley Craig Chesley Ray Coleman Jerry Christopherson Jim Ellise Eddy Franks Bob Ground John Haigler Dan Hardiman David Hartsell Jimmy Hayes Jim Jacobs Les Jeffcoat Phil Lehart Larry Oliver Robert Owens Harry Ott John Pritchard Rod Reed Art Scott Eddie Siler Brian Van Arman Jim Voit Mark Whitt

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