Brandon & Kari Stinnett's 68 Coupe
If you were asked to describe the essence of an American Dream car, it would have to be a Mustang. There are no other cars that make you think of freedom, independence, power and frankly, coolness. From the beginning in 1964 and the furor created, to the modern masterpiece that just gets better and better, the Mustang always gets people excited.
It was almost 30 years ago and I still remember being about 10 years old and being driven home by my aunt's boyfriend. He had a 1967 Mus-tang that was a beast, (especially to my pre-adolescent mind.) It was the first time I ever went over 100mph and he taught me what it meant to "hit the apex" of a corner on the freeway late at night. There was no consideration for sa fety and it was awesome !
Growing up in our rather poor neighborhood my friend down the street had magic in his garage. His father had a 1989 Ferrari 328 and right next to it was a 1970 Boss 302 Mustang in that unique puke color they came in. Don’t get me wrong, the Ferrari was beautiful and purred like no other car I had ever seen. But that Boss... it growled and snarled and you knew that if you didn’t respect it, you would be spinning down the road. (His dad loved to laugh about the people that he let drive that monster and spun the car on the first on-ramp they saw.) My family wasn’t especially made up of “car" people. If it got you where you wanted to go, then it was a good car. If it was cheap, it was even better. The Mustang fit an interesting niche in my mind. A Mustang wasn't exotic and god awful expensive like a Ferrari, but it did have power, charisma, energy, and it was affordable!
Around the time that I started to realize that one day I could actually own a Mustang, I found out that my step-father's, step-mother (step-grandma?) owned a 1968, automatic, 200 straight 6, with only 45,000 miles! It was "Avocado" in color, also known as baby sh** green with matching green leather interior, green carpet, green wheels (with hub-caps) and even green linoleum in the trunk. (Don't ask.)It was amazing! She was the lunch lady for the elementary school down the street and drove the car about 2 miles a day. I told myself that one day I would own that car. After several visits in which I made my desires known, and multiple pesterings, somehow I talked my family into selling it to me. Me! A 17-year-old kid who is a junior in high school and worked at McDonalds part time. (Full transparency, my mother bought it with a contract that I would pay her back for $4,000. BUT MY NAME WAS ON THE PINK SLIP!)
I had now been elevated to a whole new world that I didn’t really know existed. I had been taking auto shop since freshman year and did-n’t consider myself a gear head, but now I have people coming up to me asking, "what is in your car, what have you done to it, how much did you pay for it?" I was a teenager with a license, an awesome car and a love of just driving and wandering. I learned so much in that car. I learned that if you take a turn too fast your hubcap will go flying off and roll loudly across the street, so you should keep a rubber mallet in the trunk and be prepared to be embarrassed and chase after it while your friends in the car laugh at you. I learned that as much as you think you are the coolest thing around, it is still just a straight six and when you and the car of teenage boys decide to race a car full of girls in a convertible Sebring, you will lose. Oh, the shame! I learned that if you have a cracked freeze plug, are leaking water, and don’t tell your friend to pay attention while driving your car, it will overheat and blow a head gasket. Furthermore, I learned that I can fix a blown head gasket in my garage. I also learned the limits of my own mechanical skills and the importance of finding the right mechanic. (It was never the same after him.)But dammit, as I sat there in my Letterman jacket, with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror, listening to classic rock that was originally released in the 60's, I realized that I was not only living my dream but the same one as gen-erations of teenage boys before me and I loved every minute of it!
Around this time I met the girl who is now my wife. For the longest time she didn’t believe that I owned such a magical machine because that dastardly mechanic had it so long. She and I were Romeo and Juliet of the car world. The first vehicle I owned was a 1988 Ford Ranger, power nothing. My mom drove a Ford Explorer and my step-dad an F-150. I go to pick up my girlfriend from her parents house and the only thing parked outside is Chevy truck, Chevy truck, Chevy Suburban. I grew up in the Bay Area and am a Giants fan. They are from LA and bleed Dodger blue. It was not looking good for our long term prospects. When I finally got my car back from the villain, and was driving my girlfriend on our date, I was pulled over because, "I don't know what law you broke, but your car just stinks." As my girlfriend tried to hide her shame and embarrassment by being in a stinky Ford, I had to ex-plain to the cop that I just got it back from the mechanic, had blown an oil ring, and was taking it back that next week. I'm pretty sure it wasn’t just this one incident, but my car and my now-wife just don't like each other. When she gets in, her hair gets snagged, the door closes suddenly on her leg, the seat won’t move, the window will not stay up, the car won't start. I'm pretty sure that one is jealous of the other.
Time passed. With another visit to the villain (family friend "mechanic") and some TLC, the car served me well. During my first year of college I became an EMT and learned about biomechanics and injuries. Holy crap! What a death trap I love. No spinal support for the head to protect your neck from snapping backwards. No shoulder har-ness to prevent you from slamming your face into anything. No soft cushiony dash when you do slam your face, hell mine is even pointed with a ridge to make it even more horrific. No collapsible steering col-umn to protect your chest. No "crumple zones" to absorb impact. All steel baby. Airbags? HA! What the hell are airbags? Your one nod to any safety feature at all was the manual tightening lap belt. Oh and by the way, did you know classic Mustang's are prone to fire balls when the gas tank in the trunk is rear ended?
When I went off to college it turned out my randomly assigned roommate had a 1968 Camaro. Instead of cats and dogs we became two dudes who loved old cars and understood the...special needs... of own-ing a 30+ year old car with a college student budget. I learned more lessons about keeping a full toolkit and jumper cables in your car and how much a battery costs. . . about 104 packs of Ramen. I learned that as much as I love my girlfriend who is going to school 4 hours away, perhaps my beautiful classic is not the most dependable thing to get me there. I had to face the truth that eventually I would have to get another car.
My girlfriend and I moved in together and I started driving her car more and more. We made a little money and bought our first car to-gether. It was a very economical Santa Fe with a 10 year bumper to bumper warranty. I still loved my car but we just drove it less and less. When I graduated college we bought a truck and the Mustang was al-lowed to retire to the garage. It was still fun to drive but was migrating After a few years, my wife and I decided to travel for at least two years. We asked and were given permission to store the Mustang (and new Charger Daytona that replaced the Santa Fe) at my in-laws house until we returned home or decided to move somewhere permanently.
This is where my sneaky family comes in. Unbeknownst to me, my wife conspired with her father to rebuild the Mustang while we were gone. . . full on Overhaulin' style! My mediocre classic 6 cylinder cruis-ing coupe is now a rumbling, growling, tire shreddin', "Dear God hold on" beast!
We moved home after traveling a couple of years and had just bought our first house about a month before. I worked until about 2 am on Christmas Eve and had plans to meet my wife's family late Christ-mas day. At about 8 am there is a knock on my door. I'd had about 4 hours of sleep, not exactly in the Christmas spirit and came downstairs in pajama shorts and one of my wife's sweaters because it was the clos-est thing handy. Hair a mess, groggy, I open the door to see my father in law at my door. Hhrrmmph. I'm thinking "we are going to see you later today why are you here!?" Thankfully, I didn’t say that. I smiled and asked, “what's up?” He told me to come outside so confused I grab some slippers and shuffle into my driveway. That is when he decided to open MY garage door. Inside was my new/old restored/modded beauti-ful car.
I would try to describe what went through my head but it was such a jumble of excitement I'm sure you would think I was schizo-phrenic.
Now, where do I start? Straight 6.. gone ! Replaced with a Boken Brothers 302 crate racing motor. A little over boring and we are dyno-ing 350 horses. This motor is so awesome they had to cut in a hood scoop to get it to fit! Wouldn’t do any good to add all that power to a 45 year old power train, so that was swapped out for a new rear end, new transmission, and new 15 inch wheels with Single Red Line tires. To control the ponies the drum brakes were swapped out for disc and power steering was added. Of course you have to have an electronic ignition. Brand new high performance radiator that I have never seen above 220 degrees even sitting in a parade in 95 degree weather. New tach cluster sitting under the center dash adds a racecar feel. Part of why we like cars is that they just look pretty. To make sure all this mus-cle was respected full new interior and exterior. Black leather seats, black carpet, new headliner. Gone are the days of green glory. To put the final touch the paint is a custom mix of midnight black pearl with blue and green so it changes color depending on how the sun hits it.
It turns out while we were traveling my wife kept in contact with her father and helped make a lot of the decisions about the build. Then she helped him sneak it into our garage on Christmas Eve while I was at work. (Since then my wife and my car are on better terms but I still wouldn’t call them friends.)
Another Mustang miracle, my Chevy loving in-laws joined Golden Hills Mustang Club (with my car) before I ever got it back in 2010. Technically my car has been in the club longer than I have. Since then they have had a 2007 GT 500 convertible, a 2012 V6, and now a fully restored 1968 California Special. (And let's not forget their Ford Ex-plorer daily driver and the F-150 my brother-in-law now drives.)
Since my car has come home we have done numerous parades, a few car shows, and many joy rides. There have been a few gremlins. All that power cracked the water pump housing. I think a new larger bat-tery, larger diameter wires throughout, and a new starter have fixed many of the bugs. It's still a carbureted, gas guzzling, beast that hates to be cold, but that is why I love it! And every time I open my garage door I think "Damn that's a pretty car!"
By Brandon Stinnett