Illustration for article titled This 1966 Ford Mustang Has Been Sitting For Eight Years And Now Its My Main Summer Car Project

Today is the 56th anniversary of the Ford Mustang’s 1964 debut at the Word’s Fair, an occasion that reminded me that I own a beautiful 1966 Ford Mustang. It’s a car that has languished in garages over the past eight years, but that changes this summer. It’s time to get this red [insert pony or other horse-related noun/cliché] back on the road, where it can [insert horse-related verb like “prance”] freely like the car gods intended.

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When my full head of hair-having self bought this 1966 Ford Mustang in Charlottesville Virginia back in 2012, the machine actually ran—a fact that would be more apparent if my friend hadn’t taken this video at the exact moment that a train passed by:

Unfortunately, the damn car never really ran properly. In the photo below, taken during my fourth year at the University of Virginia, I’m driving the thing to a car show I had organized on campus (or “grounds” for you UVA people who will give me crap in the comments). I can guarantee you that in the photo below, the engine is not running; either that, or I’m pressing the throttle to keep the motor from dying. I think there was something clogging the carburetor’s idle circuit.

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Illustration for article titled This 1966 Ford Mustang Has Been Sitting For Eight Years And Now Its My Main Summer Car Project

I managed to limp the car to the stadium parking lot, where it sat next to a Fiat 500 Abarth, and not far from a number of other incredible automobiles:

Illustration for article titled This 1966 Ford Mustang Has Been Sitting For Eight Years And Now Its My Main Summer Car Project

After college, where I had a friend (Jeb) kind enough to store the Mustang in his mom’s nearby garage, I moved the Mustang into my parents’ garage near Richmond:

Illustration for article titled This 1966 Ford Mustang Has Been Sitting For Eight Years And Now Its My Main Summer Car Project
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When I visited, I always tried to get some wrenching in. I replaced the leaky radiator, for instance, and did a bunch of coolant flushes, since there was so much rust in the motor.

Illustration for article titled This 1966 Ford Mustang Has Been Sitting For Eight Years And Now Its My Main Summer Car Project
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When my parents moved to Germany, I found a $75/month garage in Richmond, and stored the Mustang there, since I didn’t yet have a garage (I was living in an apartment in downtown Detroit).

Illustration for article titled This 1966 Ford Mustang Has Been Sitting For Eight Years And Now Its My Main Summer Car Project
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When I moved to the Suburbs, I pulled the Mustang over the Appalachians with a Honda Ridgeline and stored the old classic in my garage, where it has acted as a shelf to hold various car parts, including AMC 360 pistons and connecting rods.

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I’d been hesitant to fix the pony because back in 2012 when I bought the car from a lawyer who represented the estate of a then recently-deceased professor, I had my brother in mind. Mike, whom you might know from his popular Instagram page CarsofHongKong, has been obsessed with first-gen Mustangs since he was just a small child, so when I noticed the dirty car filled with old tires sitting in a gravel lot for many months, I had to figure out who owned it.

Through pure luck, I asked a random pedestrian walking down the sidewalk if he might know who owns the thing. “I don’t know man, call the number on the side of that limo,” he said while nonchalantly pointing towards a junky hooptie limousine, before continuing on to his destination. I did just that, and ended up snagging the car for $4,500.

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What’s Wrong With It?

Illustration for article titled This 1966 Ford Mustang Has Been Sitting For Eight Years And Now Its My Main Summer Car Project
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The last time I wrenched on this Mustang, my skills weren’t 1/100th what they are today. I hadn’t rebuilt engines or transmissions, I hadn’t tune carbs or set ignition timing—hell, I hadn’t even re-done brake lines. It’s for these reasons that I never really got to go on a proper drive in this beautiful old coupe, and neither did my brother. And that’s a damned shame.

Mike will be flying into the U.S. in September provided the coronavirus starts lifting off the world’s clutch as my youngest brother is set to be married in New York. (Yes, the youngest of six is getting married first, and it’ll be by a heck of a margin).

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Not only do I want the Mustang to be ready by the time Mike gets to the states, but I myself would love to drive the car this summer. It’s just an epic machine, and it makes no sense for it to sit dormant in my garage. I’ve said this before, but this time I mean it.

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Even though this is going to someday be my brother’s car, I feel okay about doing some basic wrenching on it. There will be plenty more for him to do when/if he ever decides to come back to the U.S., so he should have no trouble building a bond with this “secretary’s car.” Until then, someone should enjoy that 289 cubic-inch V8.

But there’s work to do, first. As far as I know, the carburetor needs a total rebuild. This Mustang never ran properly, and there’s no good reason for that to continue, because I can rebuild a Motorcraft carb in my sleep. I bet the ignition timing is off, too, and you better believe I’m excited to break out my awesome timing light (with built-in tachometer!).

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Another issue is that the brakes don’t work at all. One of the lines failed and, because this is an extremely safe car without two separate brake circuits, a single pinhole in a line renders all four brakes useless. Luckily, I have a great pre-formed brake line outfit nearby, and I’m basically a pro at laying lines, so this should be no problem. Check out the brake lines I put into my Grand Wagoneer just last week:

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The three-speed automatic transmission shifter also struggles to go into park; I think there’s an issue with the linkage. All of this stuff was once so daunting to me, but given the absurd amount of wrenching I’ve done in the past five years, I chuckle at how little this car needs to get back on the road. I really need to get to it.

I just finished prepping my 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer for sale. Now it’s Golden time to finish up the engine refresh on my 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, then by the summer, I’ll focus on the Candy Apple Red 1966 Ford Mustang. It’ll be lots of fun, especially since all the parts are unbelievably cheap, to the point where—I’m convinced—it’s actually more expensive to walk than to drive an old Ford Mustang.

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This covid-19 thing has me realizing that as soon as these stay-at-home orders lift and crappy Michigan weather backs off, I need to maximize my time outdoors in the sun. What better way to do that than in an old Ford Mustang? I’m not getting any younger or less bald, and we all know those triangular vent windows are best when they’re shoving air through your hair.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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