Mustang MonthlyFeatured Vehicles
1973 Ford Mustang Convertible
A Ragtop Refugee From Old Man Winter
For good reason, auto manufacturers tend to keep next year's designs and model changes under fairly close wraps (or at least they used to). Normally this is no big deal-a little suspense can be a good thing. Remember the rabid anticipation we all used to have for those traditional late-September reveals? But sometimes that old-style secrecy could be problematic, like, oh say, in 1973 when a lot of folks might have preferred just a bit more notice of the rather drastic changes afoot for the Mustang in 1974.
Of course, people working under a car manufacturer's corporate umbrella often have insider knowledge which provides them a little more advance warning. People like Lee Hirth, for instance, a FoMoCo electrical engineer in Dearborn for about four decades who ordered this Medium Bright Yellow ragtop late in the '73 model year because he found out what was coming. It wasn't so much that Lee was necessarily Mustang II-phobic. He just knew he wanted a convertible-something that he was very aware would be absent from the '74 Mustang lineup. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so he headed off to Palmer Motor Sales in Chelsea, Michigan, to place his order.
Having a top that folded down was apparently Lee's number one priority, so he didn't go crazy on the option sheet. His chosen powertrain combined a 351 2V with a C6 automatic and the standard 2.75:1 open differential. Assembled in late June, the drop-top got a code "CW" knitted-vinyl white interior, providing quite a contrast to its black roof. Lee did opt for the Instrumentation Group (hey, he was an electrical engineer!) and Basic Equipment Group "A," as well as the Convenience Group, tinted glass, intermittent wipers, and a console. Showing his practical side, Lee went with the basic wheel covers, but did check the appropriate box for the color-keyed racing mirrors that are so much better looking than the base model's single chrome mirror.
One good thing about a Mustang ragtop in Michigan: You pretty much have to put it away for the winter. And that was Lee's plan all along. Even so, he had it Ziebarted right away, which helped keep oxidation at bay during its long periods of storage. Nor was the ragtop ever intended to be the primary vehicle for Lee's multi-child family; he had more pedestrian transport for those purposes. The result was that the Mustang's mileage stayed nice and low. The original tires weren't replaced until 1996, at which point the odometer showed only 14,000 miles. And when Lee finally decided to part with his original-paint, original-interior-OK, nearly original-everything-convertible in May of 2009, it had rolled only 15,000 miles and change since the day it came off the Dearborn assembly line.
The buyer was fellow Michigander, Gary Boehnlein (whose '70 GT350 convertible we featured in our August '05 issue). A detail freak, Gary was pleased to find that Lee had kept all documentation, including the factory invoice, bill of sale, original license plate, all brochures and manuals-even the visor-mounted starting instructions were still in the glovebox. His only problems with the car were the ones typical of long-term storage, meaning he had to fiddle with a bunch of small things, including rebuilding the original master cylinder. This provided the opportunity to discover that the convertible still wears its factory brake pads and shoes. He was sorely tempted to start detailing the underhood area, but finally concluded it was best to leave it in its "survivor" state.
Now that he has it road-worthy, Gary is faced with the dilemma often encountered after buying a particularly original, low-mileage car-whether or not he should put any more miles on it. Our two cents' worth? Given the brevity of the Michigan convertible season (and we speak from years of experience), we'd suggest that Gary go ahead and enjoy the hedonistic pleasures of topless cruising in one of the last of the first-generation ragtops. You only go around once.