There is a lot to be said for getting your hands dirty working on a car with your son, or daughter. It’s usually a positive way to spend time together, and strengthen a relationship. Beyond the bonding experience, life lessons like hard work and problem solving are equally learned. In 2001, New Yorker George Riese, and his son Dennis, decided to tackle the father and son project that you see here. Dennis recalls, “My father and I bought this car in 2001. He heard about a ’69 Mustang that a guy in the neighborhood had that was for sale. We took a ride to see it the next day. The car was sitting in his driveway, uncovered, for many years, and it was a far cry from being road worthy.” Undaunted by the Mustang’s rough condition, Dennis further explains, “We bought the car knowing it needed a lot of work, but since my father restored cars as a hobby his whole life, he figured this would be the perfect car with which he could teach me the ins and outs of welding and restoration.”
For Dennis, this was his first opportunity to work on a car. At the time, he was balancing school, work, and the Mustang. George, on the other hand, devoted most of his time to working on the car. As the restoration progressed, they swapped out the grenaded 302ci mill for a 351ci Cleveland, and installed another C4 tranny. They also addressed some of the rust issues on the car and eventually got the Mustang in primer, to the point where it was ready for a coat of paint.
“A few days before it was going to get painted, my father got very sick,” Dennis recalls. “We went to the doctor and he was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. He passed away six weeks after being diagnosed.” As a result of the loss of his father, the Mustang ended up under a cover in Dennis’ driveway for the next eight years. In the back of his mind, the plan was to eventually start working on it at some point.
With the prospect of marriage on the horizon, Francesca, Dennis’ fiancé at the time, was the one that re-ignited the Mustang flame.
“We were planning our wedding and we booked a photographer,” Dennis points out. “In signing the contract, the photographer mentioned that our package included an engagement shot. I told him there was no way I was going to a beach and draw a heart in the sand. Francesca brought up my father’s Mustang and said that it would be great to take pictures with the car. That way my father could be included in the wedding in some way.” She gave Dennis the motivation to get the car done. He had a one-year window to complete the car for their engagement photos.
Dennis became a man on a mission. He started the restoration process by contacting his friend, Peter Fandaros, owner of Pete’s Auto Care (Lynbrook, New York), with the hope of securing a location to perform the work. Peter agreed, and set some shop space aside for him to get it done. Once the car was in the shop, and the disassembly process started, he quickly realized how extensive the damage was. He explains, “As soon as I put the car on the lift for the first time, I found that all those years sitting under that cover rotted the whole car. The car needed even more work than when my father bought it.” The extensive rust damage meant an even bigger commitment on his part. Doing the bulk of the work himself meant spending long hours and many lost weekends to get the Mustang completed.
Once Dennis knew what he was facing, he realized that the best course to take was to completely gut the car and put it on a rotisserie. He tackled body first by cutting out the rotted metal. The list of replacement parts read like an aftermarket sheetmetal dealer’s dream. He replaced the torque boxes, framerails, toe boards, floors, lower cowl, wheelwells, both rear quarters, rear tailpanel, door skins, and most of the sheetmetal in the engine compartment. Once the body was whole again, he blasted the underneath of the car with epoxy primer, followed by a coat of POR-15, and then topped it off with a coat of Raptor spray-on truck bed liner. He also decided to do some subtle body modifications by removing the door lock cylinder holes, smoothing out the line between the quarters and the sail panel, and most noticeably, eliminating the body line between the quarters and the tail light extensions. He also adds that, “the car wasn’t a factory shaker, so I took the original hood, bought a template for the shaker opening location, and cut it out.” With the body healthy again, Dennis was free to address the other issues with the car.