Woodward Dream Cruiser 1969 Mustang SportsRoof
Rich Donner couldn’t afford his dream Mustang back in the day, so he built a better one years later that perfectly suits him
Imagine being able to buy a 396 Chevelle, a Plymouth Roadrunner, or a Boss 302 for around three grand, jumping on Telegraph Road or Woodward Avenue on a Friday or Saturday night, heading to The Wigwam or The Maverick drive-ins, and backing into a spot alongside all kinds of other great cars. Imagine the crowds being so large that some of those local eateries implemented a cover charge to be able to park in the lot and be among the crowd. How about heading out to College Drive, which at the time was one mile of straight, deserted road with nothing around it, to enjoy, well…ahem.
Rich Donner was a teenager growing up in Detroit during the 1960s. “Cruising Woodward Avenue” wasn’t just a phrase from a Bob Seger song; it was something that Rich got to live and experience. Between that and the fact that his dad owned a Chevy dealership, it set the stage for a life of automotive enthusiasm that led him to his fabulous 1969 SportsRoof. Rich is definitely a car guy.
The vision for Rich’s Magnetic Red monster really started to take shape when he purchased a Porsche (which he loves and still has), and soon realized he couldn’t work on it. He wanted a car he could build, service, and tinker around with on his own. Rich had always wanted a 1969 or 1970 Mustang SportsRoof. His Mustang obsession began when he first laid eyes on Larry Shinoda’s Boss 302 Mustangs that were governing the streets of Detroit. He had a chance to buy one, but like so many starving college students, let his chance go by due to lack of funds. Rich wanted a car that gets lots of attention, but does so with effective, subtle design cues. He figured this was his chance to go beyond what he was capable of back in the 1960s, when most car mods didn’t extend too far past a built engine and mag wheels.
His search for a car to use as a starting platform would soon take shape in the form of a ’69 SportsRoof for sale in his area. It had a nicely built 351 Windsor in it that scared the owner so much, he parked it in a barn for 10 years. He finally figured he better let the car go, since he was never going to finish the project. The engine builder agreed to help find a buyer for the car and was friends with Rich’s brother-in-law, so guess who got a call? Rich bought the car in 2006, but it would take 10 years to build, thanks to the weddings of three children.
Upon inspection, Rich found the car to have the normal rusty floors of the Mustangs of the north, but it was pretty solid otherwise. The car had received new doors, a new decklid, and new glass. Like all vintage Mustang owners, the search was on as Rich combed the web looking for ideas and filling his wish list of parts he needed for his masterpiece. His collection of ideas on his project would end in a result of his vision of a modern interpretation of 1969 Mustang styling. To achieve its clean appearance, Rich wanted no spoilers, window slats, or body badging. His vision of aesthetic cleanliness even extended to the firewall, where he intended on having the holes filled and smoothed out.
In roaming YouTube, he found a windshield installation video from Mustangs to Fear (MTF) in Rochester, Indiana. After watching the video, he decided to arrange a visit to MTF to check out its parts and products. Based on the quality of work he saw at the shop, Rich decided that MTF should finish the body and interior work for him.
Even though the Marti Report noted the original color to be Aztec Aqua, Rich wanted to make a bit more of an impact with his project, so the crew from MTF laid down a “miles deep” sea of PPG’s Magnetic Red (normally a 3-stage color) as a 2-stage paint. In an effort to set off the base color—but keep the car lean and clean—a stripe of silver was laid down the center, which really sets off the widow’s peak on the hood. Aside from the paintjob, Mustangs to Fear installed its proprietary door panels, console, and rear interior. Rich even gained 2.5 inches of headroom in his vintage Pony with MTF’s one-piece headliner.
Not content with 40-year-old technology to halt the sizable horsepower his car was laying down, Rich decided a suspension and brake upgrade was in order. He purchased front- and rear-end packages from Stang-Aholics, which included the TCI rack and coilovers along with the 12-inch disc brake kit from Wilwood. Power is sent to the wheels via an aluminum driveshaft and Currie 9-inch rearend. High Performance Automotive in Waterford, Michigan, did the install and even freshened the bored and stroked 408ci Windsor and installed electric fans while the car was there. Muscle cars have to sound good, and certainly anyone that grew up in Detroit is virtually required to have a great-sounding car, so Rich installed a 2½-inch exhaust that feeds back to Flowmaster Series 40 mufflers.
Rich’s Mustang sits on American Racing Nova 17x8 front wheels wrapped in P245/45R17 Bridgestone rubber, and the rears are 18x9 with P265/40R18s to set an aggressive stance but provide a comfortable ride for those longer journeys. Rich’s ’69 SportsRoof is a result of a vintage hot rodder’s dreams combined with modern technology. He drives the car quite regularly to local cruise-ins and on longer road trips. Unlike his Porsche, his glorious red Pony is something he can work on himself. This author met Rich and his brother-in-law Larry in Missouri, on their way to link up with the Hot Rod Power Tour in Texas, for this photo shoot. We can’t think of a better way to get across the country, can you?
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Photography by Kyle Caraway & Rob Kinnan