Whenever people finally retire, it's easy to find them lost in thought as they go back to revisit times, people, and places from their past. There's certainly nothing wrong with reliving memories from the past, but 75-year-old Norman Rodgers decided that he would have none of that quite yet. That's because he wanted to look forward to having one more fling. Not with a mistress, but with another passion in his life: building that one last custom car to keep him focused on looking ahead and not in the rearview mirror.
"I bought a '41 Ford convertible for $275 when I was just 15 years old," Norman said, when asked about how his lifelong love affair began. "Some Navy guy had traded it in to a local dealership. It was a whole year before I could get my driver's license, so I spent that time working on the car. I put a new top, interior, and paint on it, along with some dress-up items like fender skirts, Cadillac wheel covers, spotlights, and dual exhaust. I kept that car all through high school."
"When drag racing came to the area, we had a quarter-mile dirt dragstrip," Norman continued. "I took a '26 Chevrolet coupe and put in a flathead Mercury motor with Edelbrock heads, a 3/4 cam, headers, dual carburetors, and a '39 Ford transmission. I had some good luck with it at the local car shows and I won a few trophies at the dragstrip, too."
Various cars continued to find their way in and out of Norman's life until he got a job at a local Ford dealership in late 1963. Working there kept him in close proximity to a number of rollers that caught his eye, but then in mid-1964, everything suddenly changed.
"I can still remember the first Mustang that we ever got," he said with a grin and a glimmer in his eye. "It was white with a red interior and was priced at $2,368. I was really in love with it, as most people were. There was just something about the style that really caught you. At the time, I had it sold to a young girl in town, but we had to hold on to it and keep it in the showroom for at least two weeks while we were taking orders. Later on, I bought a yellow '65 with a black vinyl top, a '68 convertible, and then a '69 Grande coupe. I was the envy of most people around town back then."
A lot of years went by, however, as Norman worked and raised a family. As a business owner and a grandfather, he had his hands full. Even though he was living in a small southern town, there was no time for hunting, fishing, or golf as he worked until age 70. At that point, it came to his attention that a '68 coupe was for sale that had been in his local area all of its life. A restoration had been attempted years before, but the old Mustang was still languishing, forlorn and lost in a barn. Eight hundred dollars later, Norman had a new friend to take home with him, and suddenly retirement looked a bit brighter.
"About a year went by after I got it," Norman said, "but I paid attention to a lot of Mustangs at different car shows, clipped a lot of magazine articles, and got my thoughts together. I had some things that I wanted to do differently, so I decided to do it all myself. It took me about four years working on the car part-time. My wife and son worried that I wouldn't get it back together before I died, but I did complete it—and got quite a bit of enjoyment out of doing it.