It’s not the rustiest car I’ve seen, but it’s probably the most banged up of any car I have owned. There’s not a straight panel to be found on it, but from a rust standpoint, it’s not too bad, or so I’ve been told. That’s the initial assessment of this ’69 Mustang SportsRoof that I picked up for a mere $1,700.
Thanks to a treasure trove of receipts that came with the car, I can tell you that the guy who kept all of these records purchased the car in 1983 with 97,000 miles on it while residing in Arizona. I’d love to know what happened in those first 97,000, but the Mustang’s second life started with a bang, or rather a collision with a ’79 Honda not long after purchasing it—I suspect the Mustang faired better than the Honda given the considerable size difference of the two models.
U-Haul receipts from May 1985 in Phoenix suggest that said owner loaded up and moved to the Sunshine state, and there is a copy of an application for a Florida vehicle registration from October 1985. It noted there were 111,000 on the clock at the time.
In 1987, an appraisal was performed by the Florida Mustang Connection, stating value for the SportsRoof at just $4,500. Pretty cheap by today’s standards for a SportsRoof in good running condition, but then the muscle car auction market wouldn’t hit the big dollars for years to come.
An interesting receipt for a cylinder head R&R in Houston suggests that the Mustang saw a bit of cross-country travel. That would certainly suck to break down in the middle of your 2,000-plus mile journey, and no doubt be stranded for a few days there while your ride is being fixed and your vacation money is drained.
Plant City, Florida, seemed to be where the Mustang spent a bit of time—a receipt in 1988 for a ball joint and stabilizer bar bushings showed the odometer read 131,000. There are a number of minor receipts taking the Mustang through to 1994, where a brake job was performed with a stout 226,000 miles on the clock. The U-joints took a dive at 227,000, and a tune-up followed at 230,000.
1. As the seller explained it, the Mustang was supposedly hit from behind and pushed out into an intersection where it got tagged on the front passenger quarter. This tore up the headlight bucket and bent the lower front grille filler panel. The lower front valance was missing altogether. Currently, it would seem this Pony has seen a little over 294,000 miles of road duty, and it shows.
2. Under the hood there is a small-block V-8 of unknown origin or specification. Attempts at getting it started proved futile. The engine took a while to get it to turn over, and once it did, it did so very slowly, even with a fully charged and brand new battery. I’m thinking that the piston rings may be frozen up, and that it isn’t generating any compression. While I have a compression tester, I called it a day, as I plan on swapping in a stick shift and possibly a late-model engine. It’s more than likely that this engine will go to the nearest craigslist buyer.
3. I never took a picture of the interior before I attacked it with the shop vacuum, but it was littered with rat turds and pieces of the seat cushioning. I also cleaned out and organized the spare parts that were stored inside. There was no gas tank in the car, so the trunk was just a big empty hole.
4. One of the first things I noticed when I went to look at the car was that the passenger door would not open. After assessing the significant damage to the rear quarter and framerail, I surmised that the quarter quite possibly had been pushed forward and had the door jammed up. No amount of force could open it up, so once I started on cleaning out the interior, I opened up the trashed door panel and found that the locking mechanism was just dry and the parts were not moving properly. I reached in and started moving the levers by hand and the door opened. A liberal application of WD-40 got the locking mechanism working like new. It was also good to know that the quarter had not been pushed that far forward.
5. This will give you an idea of what the car looked like when I bought it. After removing the seats, you can see how much cushion material was removed from the seats (mostly the back seat). I pulled the seat belts next and dropped the rug in the nearest dumpster.
6. With the rug out, I broke out the shop vacuum once again to clean up the remaining debris. The car’s Silver Jade factory hue still looks pretty good on the floor, at least where the rust hadn’t taken hold yet. Photo By Rusty Gillis
7. A lot of information can be ascertained from paying attention to details. Judging from the way the brake pedal is worn, one of the owners was a major left-foot braker (the other side of the pedal would have been worn down if they used their right foot for both throttle and brake).
8. You never know what you might find once you start to pull a car apart. I’m not sure if they were using the brush to hold the edge of the quarter-panel out or if it was just in there for safe keeping, but it’s the oddest place for one that I’ve seen.
9. Alright, it is time to assess the rust damage now that I have all of the carpet out. Starting with the driver’s side floor pan, the front pan and toe board are both shot. The floorpan has several large holes in it, and the toe board has started to turn into a multi-layered panel.
10. The passenger-side toe board was in good shape, but the floorpan on this side also showed holes in the integrity. It also flexed quite a bit, showing it was quite weak.
11. The rear floorboards were largely in good shape, with the only issue currently being a number of holes right in front of the driver-side wheelwell. The other side was solid.
12. Evidence of the rear framerail relocation appears inside where these two inner structures have buckled under the stress. The upper one will have to be straightened out, as short of ordering an entire chassis from Dynacorn and cutting the needed piece out, there are no other alternatives.
13. The top of the rear seat support has significant rust that we’ll have to address. While we haven’t had the glass out, all indications tell us that the window channels are relatively rust free. That can all change, though.
14. The passenger-side trunk floor isn’t in the worst of shape, but it is bent up a good deal and offers several views of the pavement below.
If you haven’t fallen asleep by now, I’ll wrap this history lesson up with the engine replacement in Tampa at 285, 290 miles in 1998—it was a bargain at just $1,955 for parts and labor. The last dated receipt in the box was for a Sears battery in 1999, and I suspect that year is when the multi-car collision that rendered the car in its current condition occurred. It was sold to another party who planned to make it a father/son project, but they got sidetracked with Fox-body Mustangs that didn’t require so much bodywork. Thanks to my buddy Jim Veenstra, I got word of the SportsRoof coming up for sale, and with it located less than a mile from my house, it had to give it a look.
I’ve been on the hunt for a Falcon to play with for some time, but I’m a sucker for the fastback/SportsRoof body style, and have always been a ponycar owner for the most part. I was immediately hooked when I saw the car in person, but I also knew there was going to be a lot of work just based on the rust issues and rippling quarter-panels. I never noticed the frame damage, but in all reality it’s probably of little consequence because most everything that is attached to the framerail is getting replaced due to rust issues anyway.
Aside from overseeing our Colt of Personality pro-touring buildup, it’s been a while since I’ve tinkered with a project of my own. After laying down the cash, the owner dropped it off at my house with his rollback and soon I was elbow deep in the interior, armed with a Shop Vac and a need to clean the inside and survey the pieces and parts that came with it.
I made several attempts at getting the engine started, but didn’t have any luck. I had to borrow a starter from my friend, John Paolillo, and he also loaned me another carburetor after I poured out rusty dust from the feed line of the original. I have a feeling the piston rings are not holding any compression—I didn’t bother to perform a compression test, as I figured that the drivetrain would be coming out anyways.
After Gillis Performance Restorations’ owner, Rusty Gillis, took a look at the car, he offered some space in his shop for me to work on it there. I originally planned to work on it in my garage, as I have done quite a bit of work in it over the years, and I will likely continue the project there once the bodywork and paint is done.
For the time being, I’m going to take advantage of having GPR looking over my shoulder and pointing me in the right direction as I take on the metalwork. I’ve seen my share of it done, and have performed very minor amounts on my own in the past, but this will be the first time I’m cutting and welding and shaping major parts of the car.
You’ll have to wait and see how this project will unfold, as I don’t quite have an overall plan just yet. I keep changing my mind from day to day, but I think I’m getting close. Be sure to check back as I plan to have regular installments on this project, and I’ll be posting to our Facebook and Instagram (modifiedmustangs1) pages with updates as I find out just how hard this can be.
Be sure to check back as I plan to have regular installments on this project!
15. During my cleanup of the previously rat-inhabited interior, I uncovered a number of items (kitty litter container is all mine, but full of various nuts and bolts that likely held the front end together). The hinges are both bent and headed for the scrap heap. The passenger-side headlight bucket is not original to the car, but it is in good shape. The mirror is in relatively good repair, but a closer look revealed that the very end of the mounting tab is broken off and will not hold the fastener.
16. Everything back here has seen better days, and all of it will likely get 86’d. One thing to note is how the decklid is hanging over the edge of the fender extension. The fender has actually been pushed up under it.
17. This shot of the passenger rear quarter looks like this area may have taken the brunt of the impact from the collision. It buckled the large flat area above and to the right of it, as well as the filler panel behind the bumper.
18. This area of the SportsRoof quarter-panel must have showed evidence of the impact, and was subsequently, and quite poorly, massaged with what looks like a ball peen hammer. Nice job, fellas.
19. As blatant as this photo is in its depiction of how crooked the back end of the car is, I’ll admit that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees even after crawling around the car for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t until my friend Mark Johnson came over, and we were looking into measuring the chassis data points that I was able to obtain from Q&A contributor, Dave Stribling. When I went to put some jackstands under the rear axle, it was quite evident that one side needed a few more clicks than the other.
21. It’s great that someone tried to restore the factory fender flare (not that the hammer they used was a big improvement), but the bigger problem is that it has been relocated inward about 1-2 inches.
22. The good thing about the fender missing is that I was able to see everything beneath prior to purchase. Everything is solid as a rock here, including the A pillar. The only issue is that the upper control arm mounting area of the shock tower has weakened and cracked, and is pushing into the engine bay. I guess that’s what 200,000-plus miles will do to one of these old cars.
23. Having a hoard of maintenance records and documentation could be important if you are restoring a rare car, or if you are buying a driver that you’d like to know when the latest tune-up and such was performed. Documents like these can also offer a bit of history if you’re into that aspect of the project as well.
24. One of the previous owners had faxed his landlord a photocopy of the car (when it was obviously in much better shape) for purposes unknown. It could have been so the landlord could verify the car in the lot if it was a big complex, or perhaps they wanted to make sure they weren’t renting to someone that was going to have the car up on jackstands the whole time they were there. While I have nothing against that, some HOAs and landlords do. ▲
25. There were tons of maintenance receipts in the file, including these high-miler oil changes. Everything from wiper blades to fuses to…
26. ...an engine change! There is a receipt for head gaskets and cylinder head machining somewhere in Texas a while before this. Whether or not the original engine was rebuilt remains to be seen. I’ll know more once the drivetrain has been pulled.
27. Having removed the interior from the car as well as any other combustibles, my next step is to start excising the bent and/or rusted sheetmetal. Eastwood has been helping hotrodders and restorers with their projects for years, and they offer just about everything you need short of elbow grease to get your project from start to finish. To get started on this endeavor, I ordered one of the company’s Air Tool Essentials Starter kits, which includes a ½-inch reversible drill, air hammer with chisel set, ½-inch impact gun, a 3-inch cut-off tool, a reciprocating saw, and a ¼-inch angle die grinder. They also sent me a number of abrasive discs, spot weld cutters, and more, all of which you’ll get to see in the next installment.
28. I’ve managed a number of project builds in the past, and they have been very successful thanks to a strong peer group that happens to be a bunch of hands-on car guys. This one is going to be on me, though, and if I’m honest, I’ve already caught myself scouting Falcons again on the Internet. Good thing I spent all of my car funds on this gem!