Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
March 12, 2010
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

When it comes to '71 Mustangs, it doesn't get much better than a Bright Red Mach 1 with the 429 Cobra Jet engine, four-speed transmission, and air conditioning. But wait a minute, you say. Curtis Burton's Mach 1, as shown here, is black. That's where the story gets interesting.

When Curtis was 15, he tried to buy a new '71 Mach 1, but his finances came up $600 short. Nearly 40 years later, after restoring and collecting a number of Shelbys and other Mustangs, Curtis decided to finally get that '71 Mach 1 he couldn't afford as a teenager. He found it when he spotted Larry Miller's ad for a high-mileage but still all-original '71 Mach 1, red with white Deluxe interior, 429 CJ, four-speed, and A/C. Better yet, Larry was the original owner.

"Larry had once owned Albert & Miller Ford in Ferndale, California," Curtis explains. "For his '71 dealer demo, he wanted a Chevy beater, but Ford didn't want to build a 429/four-speed Mach 1 with A/C. It took all the string-pulling Larry could muster to get the car built. Even then, Larry said they wouldn't warranty the car."

As with most dealer demos, Larry intended to replace the Mach 1 in 1972, but when he saw that the big-block was being dropped for 1972, he decided to keep his Mach 1 with 429 CJ power. He ended up keeping the car for 38 years and 136,511 miles. In 2008, he placed a "for sale" ad for the Mustang, advertising it as an "all-original but high-mileage" car.

"I've heard a few tall tales when it comes to 'all-original' cars," says Curtis. "So it took a few conversations with Larry to convince me to travel from Houston to California to inspect the car. When I got there, it was just as Larry had described it." Curtis was also intrigued by the rarity; he would later learn through Kevin Marti that Ford built only 117 Mach 1s with the 429 CJ, four-speed, and A/C combination.

Initially, Curtis planned to fix any minor issues and drive the Mach 1 without a major restoration. Because the paint required some attention, he took it to Butch Ayers at Ayers Paint and Body in Houston. "It all began with repairing the bad spots in the paint," Curtis explains. "With the hood off to repair some paint bubbles, we figured we might as well take out a few dents and replace the faded stripes. Then we decided to go ahead and repaint the entire car. With new paint, it seemed a shame to not tidy up the engine compartment and, while we were at it, rebuild the engine." The process turned into a full-scale restoration to factory original.

Except Curtis decided to change the color. "I'd always wanted a black with silver '71 Mach 1," Curtis says. "When Butch called to tell me he was ready to paint the car, I told him to change it to black. My wife overheard me and said, 'Don't do it-you'll be sorry.' But I didn't listen to her."

As fate would have it, the Marti Report for the car arrived on the same day the body came out of the paint booth in black. Curtis should have listened to his wife. The Marti Report stated, "Of the 149,682 '71 Mustangs, 36,496 were Mach 1s. Of them, 1,371 were built with 429-4V engines. Only 556 of those came with four-speed transmissions. Ninety-one were painted Bright Red, of which four had white knitted vinyl seats. Of those, one was ordered with an air conditioner."

The reality struck Curtis: He had messed up a one-of-one.

Regardless, Curtis pressed on with the restoration, making everything else as perfect as it could be. True to the original owner's description, the major components were original to the car. "The carburetor was the original Rochester unit with tags," Curtis says. "The same proved true for the distributor, rearend, transmission, and even the space-saver spare tire. In fact, as the restoration progressed, the car proved to be a textbook on the Ram-Air 429 Mach 1."

When the underside was pressure-washed, Curtis and Butch discovered the original factory markings, which were duly photographed before being restored to their original appearance.

When completed in June 2009, Curtis entered the Mach 1 in the Houston Concours d'Elegance, where it placed third in its division. Larry Miller flew in to see his old demo. Curtis presented him with the restored Mach 1's first trophy, saying, "He deserved it for maintaining the car so well during its 38-year stay with him."

Curtis has decided to live with his decision to change the color to black, joking, "Yes, some fool painted a factory red one-of-one car black. At least everything else is perfect."