A 1972 351 Cobra Jet Convertible With a Backstory
Looking back almost five decades, we didn’t realize just how significant the 1972 model year was for the Mustang. First, under the unrelenting pressure from the insurance industry and more intrusive emission standards from the EPA, 1972 marked the first year since 1967 that there was no big-block option available for the Mustang (or its platform-mate, the Mercury Cougar). And more importantly, as the Mustang grew in every dimension and put on the pounds, development of the Mustang II was well down its development path, returning to a size closer to the 1965 original. In fact, during Mustang’s 1972 model year, Ford was already testing Mustang II development prototypes.
Darell Farnbach’s enthusiasm for cars goes back to early childhood. He says, “I think I was born a car guy. It went from playing cars in the dirt when I was six years old, and then the first time my dad let me stand on the seat and steer his 1935 Chevy coupe while he and my uncle laid on the fenders shooting rabbits in the desert. By fifth grade I always read the Sunday newspaper and scanned the classified ads for antique and classic cars. Of course building model cars was my favorite hobby. As a teenager I would try to convince my dad to go see a car we could drag home for free or maybe $5. He would listen to my plan but would never bite, so I would just go on dreaming about what would be my first real car.”
When Darell got his driver’s license he could finally drive the family car, a 1955 Pontiac Star Chief. At 16½-years-old his dad bought him a 1950 Pontiac as his first car that had belonged to his grandfather. He eventually sold it and went through a bunch of other eclectic iron: a ’57 Karmann Ghia (his first new car), a few LaSalles, and other post-war cars (both foreign and domestic).
So we know what you’re about to ask. What about Mustangs? Darell says, “When my daughter Darya turned sixteen in 1984, I bought her a 1970 Mustang convertible. I really liked driving that car. I liked the way the top came up and down so quickly you could put the top down at a stoplight and be on your way. In 1987 when I saw a 1972 Mustang convertible sitting on a dirt lot in Temecula, California, with a ‘For Sale’ sign, the lady said it was a good car and she wanted $2,500 for it.”
Here’s where the story of this 1972 Mustang gets really interesting. But it’s best if Darell explains: “The next day the car was gone from the lot. I called and the owner said it had been stolen and she doubted she would ever see it again. Later that week she called to say the police had found it in a nearby town and she asked if I was still interested in it. The car had been sprayed with graffiti and the engine would not start. I told her I would split the tow bill to take it to my mechanic to assess what it would need to get it running. It ended up that it needed a water pump, but the engine sounded good. I drove the car around the block to determine the transmission was good. I offered the seller $850 and she agreed.”
Like so many of us, Darell embarked on a project car and had the wherewithal, and more importantly, the skills to see it through to completion. Darell continues, “I removed the door guard that ran the length of the car. It was bolted on, not glued. I had the holes leaded in. I spent a lot of time at the local Pick-a-Part. At first I needed steering column wiring to repair damage from the theft and later I looked for accessories for the car. By early 1988 I was dating my present wife, Rebecca, in the Mustang convertible, and we married that fall. Her son Andy drove it to high school from 1989 until he purchased a Firebird in 1991. His sister Abby drove it until she left for college in 1994. At that time I was building a 1929 Model A roadster pickup, which I finished in 2000.”
While the car looks (from 20 feet away) mostly stock, Darell has made some subtle yet significant changes. “When I started looking at the 1972 Mustang, I thought it deserved and needed some attention,” says Darell. “I was never fond of the color. I refer to it as Baby Poop Yellow, so I chose a Resale Red. I also liked the look of the ram-air hood. I found one at a local junkyard for $500. On eBay I found the air cleaner for the Ram Air. Next, I found a pair of brand-new Mustang leather seats at the Pomona Swap Meet and replaced the original, less comfortable Comfortweave seats. The door panels were cracked beyond repair, and another eBay purchase supplied a pair of like-new panels. I installed new upholstery for the back seat from a kit and installed new carpet. By 2003 it was time for a new transmission,” says Darell. “The 351 Cleveland engine still runs great. It uses a little oil, but not much. I have no clue to the true mileage, but I am sure it is somewhere north of 140,000.”
Darell drives and displays the car extensively and almost never turns down a request to carry dignitaries for the local 4th of July Parade. He has shown his Mustang in the Temecula Rod Run three or four times and has also shown it in the Fallbrook Car Show, and he drives it on Saturdays to the Drifters Car Club breakfast in Murrieta (in rotation with the other vintage cars he owns). He generally prefers his cars in stock condition, but admittedly, the 1972 is not. This is not surprising given its condition at the time he acquired it, decades ago. It’s certainly a long-term keeper. However, it reflects what Darell thinks is the best of the 1971 to 1973 Mustangs.
At 76, Darell has one more car to restore, the 1970 Mustang convertible he bought for his daughter Darya back in 1984 that has been sitting in his barn waiting for installation of the original 302 engine he rebuilt 35 years ago. It will be painted yellow with the original ginger upholstery and a very stock engine compartment. It sounds like a great color combination. We can’t wait to see how it turns out. But get to it Darell, you’re not getting any younger.
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Photography by Richard Truesdell