Jim Smart
April 28, 2011

Mike and Priscilla Johnson like living large, which makes the ’71 Mustang convertible perfect for them. A long hood stretches out ahead of them on the open road around their Harrisonville, Missouri, home. Fourth generation ’71-’73 Mustangs get criticism for being large; however, these are genuine road cars for the American highway. Elongated, slippery, and downright sexy, they are a hybrid Mustang/Torino platform yielding the best of both carlines. Ford insiders of the era will tell you that the ’71 Mustang was former Ford President Bunkie Knudsen’s idea. It’s larger because Knudsen anticipated displacements as high as 500 ci from the 385-series big-blocks. Those larger engines never came, and Knudsen still catches flack for approving the largest Mustang ever.

Mike’s lust for Mustangs dates back to high school when he met Priscilla. It was a perfect match because Priscilla was also fond of Mustangs. She and Mike dated in his first Mustang, a ’71 SportsRoof that he chose over a Dodge Challenger.

Many years and several Mustangs later, Mike and Priscilla traveled to Buckner, Missouri, to catch a look at this one, which Mike found in the Hallmark Noon News. Parked inside a backyard shed, the convertible was admittedly intimidating because there was so much work to be done. The car would sit for a long time before Mike could get started by cutting out the rust and welding in new body panels. Especially challenging was finding new-old-stock parts instead of reproduction. Mike wanted the car to look and feel as original as possible.

The ’71 was Mike and Priscilla’s first full-scale restoration. Once Mike had a solid rust-free body in paint, the rest came easy. If the Grabber Blue and matte black finish inspire you, consider that Mike prepped and painted the car himself. Priscilla helped with the convertible top. N.O.S. upholstery could not be found anywhere, so Mike and Priscilla reupholstered the seats and outfitted the interior.

Mike hauled his 351C-2V engine to a machine shop for dismantling and machining, including new valveguides and hardened exhaust valve seats. Then Mike brought the engine home and began assembly. The FMX automatic was delivered to a local transmission shop where it was rebuilt. Priscilla joined Mike for the engine and transmission installation.

Although it seemed like the toughest aspects of the restoration were behind them, Mike and Priscilla would learn that the homestretch is the toughest because it commands discipline. Those final details usually prove hardest because there are so many. In the spring of 2001, it was time to roll the convertible out for the first time.

Mike was not interested in showing, but Priscilla’s determination won out. At their first show, they took home an MCA Silver. From there, they learned what they needed to do to make the car competitive.

What makes this story inspiring is this car’s role as both a driver and MCA Concours Driven competitor. Aside from that first trip home for the restoration, the convertible has never been on a trailer. It takes more than a sparse amount of hair on your chest to compete in Concours Driven because there’s so much work involved after you’ve driven hundreds of miles to the show.

Through the years, Mike and Priscilla have learned plenty from MCA judges who traveled the path before them. Today, Priscilla is an MCA certified judge who has sidelined her makeup brushes for car cleaning tools and equipment. Her reward for attention to detail has been two MCA Silvers and 10 Golds in nearly 10 years of showing. When she and Mike decided they wanted an even greater challenge, they came out of retirement for another round in the Conservator class. Their goal is the MCA’s Concours d’Elegance cup for a job well done.