After participating in the New England 1000 classic car rally for four years straight, I took a break. Admittedly, this “break” was dictated by circumstances; Steve had moved to California, and I had sold the MGB, so I was without a rally-eligible ride. It was fun to take the little BMW Isetta to car shows and cruise nights, but a 13 horsepower microcar was no long-distance rally contender.
By 2003, the itch to get a drivable classic car had returned full strength. And I knew what I wanted. Much of the spring and summer of that year was spent searching online for a Ford Mustang California Special.
Why this particular Mustang? The story really starts in the early 1990s, while attending a Carlisle (PA) antique car event. Rounding a corner in the flea market, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of a Mustang coupe, the likes of which I had never seen before. From some angles, especially the rear, it looked like a Shelby Mustang. But this car was a 2-door notchback, and all of Shelby’s cars were either fastbacks or convertibles. My next thought was that someone had created a one-off tribute car. Whatever it was, I needed to find out more.
After returning home and conducting some research, I was fascinated to find out, for the first time, about this very special Mustang model. Here is the capsule version of that story:
In mid-1968, the Ford Motor Company recognized that increased competition from GM (Camaro, Firebird), Chrysler (Barracuda), and AMC (Javelin) was hurting Mustang sales. Ford, encouraged by their strong Los Angeles dealer network, agreed to create a special model, to be sold only in the state of California. The California Special (also known as GT/CS) option was a $194 trim package, only for coupes, and available with any engine. Initially, the plan was to build 6,000 units. When sales results did not keep up with forecasts, dealers throughout the west were allowed to order and sell the GT/CS. No cars were ever sold east of the Mississippi. Final production total was 3,867 units out of 249,447 ’68 coupes, representing about 1.5% of total coupe production.
Steve owned a book dedicated to the GT/CS, which he generously loaned me. From this book I learned that all of its distinguishing features were external: blacked out grille, fog lamps, hood locks, side stripes and scoops, rear spoiler, pop-open gas cap, and Shelby taillamps. This was a “Shelby look” Mustang at a fraction of the price of a real Shelby.
My infatuation was growing, and was further fueled by discovery of the www.californiaspecial.com website. The search for a car began, complicated by (no surprise) seeing that most of these cars were 2,000-3,000 miles away from me! Not many California Specials wandered far from their birth place.
After about 6 months of constant searching, this ad popped up on the californiaspecial.com website:
Several factors were immediately attractive: the car was Lime Gold, the same as my ’67 Mustang (even though the ad incorrectly described the paint as Ivy Gold, which was the interior color), and it was in Maryland. Less attractive was the 390 (this is the cue for big block fans to boo and hiss, but I preferred the Ford 289-302 small block, one of the world’s best V8s), and the price, which was about 25% higher than my target. Before proceeding any further, I bought a Marti Report for the car.
Kevin Marti runs a business whereby customers supply him with a VIN from a classic Ford product, and he supplies a report detailing the production details for that specific car. He started his company by purchasing these records directly from the Ford Motor Company. There were many warnings about GT/CS clones, and knowledgeable online forum participants stressed that a Marti Report (only $17) was one sure way to guarantee that the California Special under consideration was not a fake (or as those who practice such shenanigans would call it, “a tribute car”).
The Marti Report for the car in Maryland not only confirmed that it was a real California Special; it showed the car to be highly optioned from the factory, with air conditioning, power steering, power disc brakes, GT package, deluxe interior, and center console. One further revelation from the report: the car was sold new in Hawaii! I rang up Tony, and one Sunday in August of 2003, took a ride to Germantown MD.
On my arrival at his home, Tony had the car parked outside. I spent at least two hours going through it, flashlight and screwdriver in hand. It was solid and complete, and drove well. There were some minor faults in the paint, and underhood looked like it needed a weekend’s worth of detail work, but there was a lot to like. Knowing there was no rush, I pitched a low-ball offer to him, convinced he’d never take it, and concluded with “think about it, and we can talk during the week”. As I took out my keys and walked toward my car, Tony yelled out from 20 feet “I’ll take it!” Oops. My gambit worked.
We did the whole money and paperwork part of the deal from our respective residences, and about two weeks later, plates in hand, my step-son John and I headed down in my Volvo. He drove the Volvo home, following me in the ’68. The car drove absolutely fine the entire way, until I pulled into my driveway, at which point the mechanical fuel pump sprung a leak! My timing could not have been luckier. It also gave me my first taste of the difficulty of working on that massive engine, as the A/C compressor needed to be swung out of the way to reach the pump. But the car was on the road again in short order.
I had big plans for the Mustang for 2004, 2005, and beyond. This car was going to be driven and enjoyed.
All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.