Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
December 16, 2013
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

A conversation in the Tulsa Marriott lobby during last year's Mid America Ford and Shelby Nationals triggered an idea in Randy Roberts' head.

"Someone made the comment that we weren't seeing as many older Mustangs at Mid America anymore," Randy told us. "The parking lot was filled with mostly late-models. And I replied, ‘Well, many of the old Mustangs are stuck in garages and fields, and people won't sell them or they don't have the talent to restore them.' And that weighed pretty heavy on my mind."

Over the past 10 years, Randy has restored over 150 Mustangs in his Muscle Car Restoration shop, where he has specialized in high-end Shelbys and Bosses, mainly 429s, for concours and collectors, including high-profile cars like the Tasca Super Boss 429 and former Mickey Thompson land-speed '69 Mach 1 for collector Brent Hajek. But the thought of Mustangs rusting away to nothing led Randy down the path to his newest venture, Mustang Car Rescue. Instead of waiting for someone to bring in a Mustang for a restoration, Randy is now actively searching for and purchasing '65-'70 Mustangs to rebuild and refurbish as extra-nice drivers. Then he puts them up for sale, although so far most have been sold while they're still in process. In less than 10 months, from August 2012 to June of this year, Randy saved and put eight Mustangs back on the road, and he has several more in process at his shop on Highway 20 near Claremore, Oklahoma.

"I started out on Craigslist," Randy says. "The first one we found was in an industrial district outside of Tulsa, a '66 coupe, 289 automatic, owned by a 20 year-old kid. He'd tried to work on it himself, mainly just patched it up, but he had blown the engine. For some reason, the car just kept talking to my wife Carol, so I asked, ‘Well, do you want to rescue it?' And she said, ‘Yeah, I want to get it out of here, let's work a deal.' We paid too much for it but decided that we weren't going to leave it there. So we dragged it home. A week later we owned six old Mustangs. A month later we were up to 23."

Many of the bodies were found in local Craigslist ads, although some came through word of mouth as news spread that Randy was buying old Mustangs. Most came out of Oklahoma backyards and fields. Some had been sitting for over 15 years, left by previous owners to rot and rust away when restoration intentions fell by the way-side. Some had an engine, usually not running. Several had no drivetrain at all.

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Randy realized he was on the right track when his first rescue sale went to a grandmother who bought a '65 hardtop for her grandson's 16th birthday. Another went to a husband who surprised his wife for their anniversary. "After two emotional experiences, I knew we were doing the right thing," Randy explains. "It was families, personal relationships, and people going back to their youth, or passing that youth along to their grandkids."

As you might imagine, Randy's rescued Mustangs start out as your typical abandoned projects with the usual rust, body damage (or missing sheetmetal), and drivetrain issues. Each car is completely disassembled, cleaned, and repaired as needed. Extensive sheetmetal replacement, including floorpans, is almost always required, so thankfully Randy is a Dynacorn dealer. Major sheetmetal work is handled by Dennis Littrell, while paint is applied by Bruce Gleghorn. The two neighbors also perform the paint and bodywork for Randy's concours restorations.

So far, Randy has been able to save every acquisition except one. "I had to scrap one poor '65 coupe due to extensive frame rust," Randy says. "But its parts are living on in three other saved Mustangs."

Although Randy has spent the past 10 years restoring Mustangs to exacting concours standards, for his rescue Mustangs, he doesn't worry about matching numbers, date-coded parts, or original paint colors. Red cars stay red, but green or gold cars will more than likely roll out in a more appealing shade, usually red or something like Vintage Burgundy. To keep the cars affordable, Randy searches for packaged wheel deals, usually American Racing Torq-Thrusts with BFGoodrich radial tires. All of the Mustangs come with a rebuilt 289 or 302 small-block, including original six-cylinder cars that are converted to V-8 specs with 5-lug wheels, larger radiator, and other upgrades. Headers with dual three-chamber Flowmaster mufflers are also part of the formula. Randy admits that he can't break some of his old concours habits; cars with new floorpans get red oxide paint underneath just like his high-end restorations.

Mechanically, the Mustangs are inspected and repaired as needed with an upgraded fuel system along with refurbished window and latch assemblies. Transmissions, rear ends, and brakes are rebuilt; front drum brakes are replaced by discs. Interiors are restored with new upholstery and carpet.

Just like when they were new, the Mustangs are built in a base configuration without options. In most cases, Randy says, buyers request upgrades like air-conditioning, power steering, or an aftermarket stereo. Several have returned their cars later to have options installed.

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Because Randy's shop is so experienced with Mustangs, he and his crew of four can refurbish most rescued cars in a matter of weeks, which helps keep the costs down. Randy also uses aftermarket parts when possible, although he's also a dealer for AMK, National Parts Depot, and others. To determine the final selling price, much depends on the car's condition when purchased. A couple of cars did not require paint, so Randy was able to price them under $10,000. However, Randy points out that a repaint can add up to $8,000 to the final tally.

"We've sold three at around $19,000," he says. "They were very nice cars with fresh paint. And they will get you wherever you want to go. We can deliver a product with A/C and other options for $28,000. If you want to drive cross-country, you can do it with all the amenities."

Which is exactly what Randy wanted when he started Mustang Car Rescue, as indicated by his company's Mission Statement: "Our goal is to take those poor Mustangs left to suffer in fields and driveways and put them back on the road so everyone can enjoy them again."

The Mustang world is a better place with Randy Roberts on the prowl for Mustangs to save.

Found, Refurbished, and Sold
Blue '66 coupe from a warehouse in Sapulpa, OK
Red '66 coupe from Arkansas barn
Burgundy '65 coupe from Bartlesville, OK
'70 Grabber SportsRoof from Sperry, OK
Signalflare Red '66 coupe from Catoosa, OK
Blue '68 coupe from South Carolina
'69 SportsRoof from Claremore, OK
Red '66 coupe from Tulsa, OK

Saved and In Process
Red '65 coupe from Sapulpa, OK (finished and for sale)
'65 coupe (presold, with new drivetrain and sheetmetal)
Three '66 coupes
Two '68 California Specials
'68 coupe