Fantastic first car story from Jess in Texas. And he still has the car...how cool is that? Thanx for sharing it with the readers here and on your Hemmings page.
"In late 1973, freshly equipped with a new Texas driver’s license and some money saved for a car, I embarked on a quest to find my first ride. I was keen on Trans Ams or Camaros and, coming from a GM family, didn’t really have an interest in Mustangs, at all. Especially 71-73s.
But some friends of mine kept teling about this ‘Bad 429 Mach 1’ that they knew the owner—a kid in another neighborhood—was selling and kept egging me on to at least take a look. One of these friends had a 70 Boss 302 homologation edition (guess they’re known as ‘Parnelli Jones’ that I was impressed with—that car is a whole ‘nother fascinating story by itself), so I finally agreed to take a look at the Mach, to shut them up more than anything.
Well, I never believed in love at first sight until I walked into this guy’s garage and he flipped on the light. It was simply eye-popping gorgeous. A spotless Grabber Yellow 1971 J-code 429CJ Ram Air 4-speed greeted me. Only 15,000 miles. Gorgeous black deluxe interior, blacked out NACA hood with the tattle-tale ‘429 RAM AIR’ emblazoned on each scoop. Hockey stick stripes. I’d never seen a 429 Mach 1. Never really knew they existed until then, And was it ever scary, scary fast.
Umm, I had to have it. Luckily it was in the budget (heck of a lot cheaper than a Trans Am) and, after some careful copy editing of the pitch to my mom, it was mine.
Turns out the car had quite the reputation down on Dallas’ legendary Forest Lane which was why my buddies were hyping it to me. Details slowly emerged that Mark (the guy I bought it from) had pretty much been in the habit of dispatching all challengers. While it had been returned to almost completely stock trim when he sold it, it had at one time been outfitted with all the go fast goodies (many of which I wound up buying off of him). He still had a big Crane cam, 4.71 gears, slicks, big Holley, intake, ported D0VE-C heads, etc. Most of which I relieved him of. Turns out his dad was making him sell the car after a couple of ‘issues’.
His loss, my gain.
Needless to say I did my very best to uphold the yellow Mach’s legacy on many a night down on Forest. Pretty successfully. I’ve owned a lot of fast cars in the intervening decades, but that Mach with its 385 series big block is still one of the most violently powerful cars I’ve ever piloted. An L-88 Vette is the closest thing I can compare it to. We would comfortably dial it in at 11.80 at Green Valley on pump gas even though we could never get it to hook up hard. Flipped the rear end out of its spring perches and snapped a big shaft Toploader main shaft right in half before we learned to ‘pedal’ it out of the hole in the interest of preventing further damage. Solid 11-second performer, even so.
Because I was a kid with few income prospects and hot rodding is expensive, the Mach frequently sat with one thing or another broken waiting on funding to fix. Over the years eventually life overtook me. College, career, family displaced everything else. The Mach, with its 24,000 miles on the odometer, sat in my mother’s driveway under a cover. Year after year. She, was always prodding me: “When are you going to get rid of that ‘junk’ car? People ask about it all the time.” My reply, “Never.”
I had done my homework. J-code 1971 Machs are one of the rarest Mustangs ever produced. A little over 1,200 copies. One year only. So I was certain that one day, I’d have the means and time to get her back out. As a future investment, it was a no-brainer.
That time finally came in 2013. 40 years after I had first walked into Mark’s garage and fallen hard for the big Mustang and after years of collecting OEM odds and ends.
My nephew, son of my late brother, complained one day that his dad had never really shown him how to ‘work on cars.’ I said, ‘Well. You’ve come to the right place.’
I faced a dilemma in tackling the ‘restoration.’ It really needed a rotisserie, as time and water had taken a toll on the cowl (common Mustang problem area), a small section of the passenger floor and the entire trunk floor (downside of a rear-mounted battery BITD). But a friend of mine in the hobby that I trust (and who runs a body shop) came over and took a look and said, “The original paint from the doors forward is pretty solid, the glass is original, the interior only needs carpet and a headliner to look fresh. You already know the drivetrain is good … we’d already cleaned everything up fired it … You know, if I were you, I’d just freshen it up a bit, deal with some of the rust issues and roll it back out as your own personal ‘barn find’.” Me: “But it has dents here and here and there.” Him: “This is the way you ran this car 40 years ago. Not many people still have the same car. I’d run it again just like it is with just the essential updating. Everybody likes seeing a time machine and this is definitely one.”
So that’s what we decided to do. I figure I can always do the rotisserie later. As he had said, the original paint was pretty good from the doors forward, but the quarters and trunk surfaces were badly spiderwebbed and chalky. Evidence of prior repairs and respray from a couple of minor fender benders—one mine, one the previous owner’s. The black section of the hood was faded and thin.
The drivetrain was exactly as we had parked it (running) in the late ’70s. It was short work to install a new battery, fresh plugs, fresh oil and filter, new dizzy (the old mallory grenaded on the first firing), carb rebuild, new fuel tank, pump and flushed lines, new headers and assorted electrical fixes. It fired right up from its multi-decade hibernation. Boy, you know that brought back some memories!
Over the next few months, we tackled a DIY respray from the doors back with new stripes, overhauled the brake system, new suspension components, fresh carpet, fresh passenger seat bottom, new package tray, etc. We replumbed the exhaust to be (a little) quieter. We retained the Fenton R/T aluminum wheels that I thought were so cool in 1975, kept the coil over shocks in the rear, and the Lakewood slapper bars. We replaced the 4.71 Detroit locker with a 3.89 Detroit locker center section (we kept the center section in case we wanted to go to the track) for better street manners.
The Mach is now back on the road as a fair weather cruiser and we regularly make the local cruise events. It’s amazing to think that it is still running the same 429 I engineered and built as a teenager. And it’s still scary fast.
It’s a real blast to have people walk up to us out on Forest Lane during a cruise and say, “I remember a car just like that our here in the ’70s. Man was it fast.” Can you say ‘conversation starter’?"