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1966 Ford Mustang Coupe - Corrosion Contradiction
After nearly rotting away, the only thing rusty about this ’66 coupe is its nickname
"Why did you have to buy one so rusty?" asked Greg Billings of his father, Jeff. Staring at the rusted-out Mustang coupe dripping oil on their garage floor, it was a fair question. To the uninitiated, the car looked better suited to the scrap yard—but to a true Mustang lover like Jeff Billings, it was just a patch panel (or three) away from resurrection.
Jeff recalls, "About a mile from my house, I saw a '66 coupe sitting in a driveway. I passed it a couple times a week for two years. Then one day I saw a woman mowing the grass, so I pulled in the driveway and asked her about buying the car. She said it belonged to her son who had left it at her house after he bought a truck for a painting business. It was leaking oil everywhere and she wanted it out of her driveway. We worked out a deal and she told me to go get a tow truck. Instead, I came back with some hand tools and a good battery. I had the car running in 20 minutes and drove it home."
Once parked next to his ’67 Shelby clone (see "Renegade" in Aug. '08 Mustang Monthly), Jeff tore the coupe apart to evaluate the task at hand. He peeled back the vinyl top to reveal a roof that was rusted through in several places. Then Jeff removed the carpet . . . or tried to. He couldn’t get the carpet out because it was nailed to the floor. Apparently, a previous owner used a nail gun to keep the carpet from sagging through the rust holes.
At this point, it was easy to experience buyer’s remorse. Jeff thought, 'Wow, what did I get myself into?" However, he soldiered on. What he didn’t already know from restoring his ’67 convertible, he was determined to learn.
Members of the Music City Mustang Club (of which Jeff is now the president) came to his aid. Even though he'd never welded before, Jeff borrowed a welder from a fellow club member, ordered some floor panels, and got to work. "The floors were more time-consuming than I expected," Jeff admits. "Since this was my first time welding, there was a lot of doing, re-doing, and brute force involved." He found it helpful to overlap the panels and use sheetmetal screws to draw the panels together before welding.
With the floors done, the next issue was the roof. As luck would have it, a fellow club member had a '65 Mustang hardtop in the midst of fastback conversion. Jeff gladly relieved the donor coupe of its roof and welded it in place of his car’s rusty skin.
With the rust under control, Jeff started preparing the body for paint. He planned to do the bodywork himself, then have a professional prime and paint the car. The fact that he’d never done bodywork before didn’t deter him.
"I gained a huge appreciation for guys who know how to do bodywork," Jeff says. "The body filler, skim coats, and all the sanding makes a mess! I don’t think I’d do it again, but it was a great learning experience."
With the body smooth, it was ready for paint. But what color? "The car was originally Antique Bronze with a black vinyl top," Jeff adds. "I went to Mustang shows to gather ideas. I saw an Emberglo convertible with a white top, so I thought that color would look great with the white vinyl top on my car.” Mike Johnson of Shelbyville, Tennessee, primed and sprayed the car, and Jeff brought it back home for assembly.
Jeff admits the biggest challenge was installing his white vinyl top. "I read a lot about how to do it. I did a few practice runs too. Between getting it lined up and fighting the glue, I’ll never do that again. My advice: Let a professional do a vinyl top!"
Mechanically, Jeff wanted to depart from originality in the interest of utility. "Since it was a standard 289, C4, vinyl roof coupe without any special features, I decided to go the restomod route," Jeff explains.
Free from the restraints of historical preservation, Jeff chose a Ford Racing 302 crate engine and an AOD transmission for reliable highway cruising. He rebuilt the 8-inch rear with 3.55:1 gears and a Traction-Loc differential. The front drum brakes were replaced with a disc setup from Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation. Completing the restomod look is a suspension that’s lowered 1-1⁄2 inches on Vintage Wheel Works rims and BFGoodrich tires.
The interior color scheme mirrors the exterior, as Jeff installed a complete Emberglo and Parchment "Pony" interior from TMI Products. If the sound of the 302 rumbling through a pair of Flowmaster mufflers isn’t enough, occupants can listen to a 400-watt Alpine audio system.
Because of its corrosive past, Jeff's '66 coupe earned the nickname, Rusty. After adding the brown color scheme, the name certainly seems relevant. Fittingly, we photographed Jeff's Mustang in a Nashville scrap yard. Had Jeff not resurrected it, Rusty may have well ended up there under very different circumstances.