1964 Mustang pace car rescued from rust 2011.05.25

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

mustang.mikeBy DAVID GREEN

It’s an addiction and there’s no cure, says Megan Bovee, the owner of a completely refurbished 1964 Ford Mustang.

It’s a bad disease, says her father, Burdette, and he warns against catching it because it’s an expensive affliction.

They’re talking about the troubles  experienced by the owner of a classic vehicle.

Mike Prystash has the easy explanation to the Bovees’ dilemma: It’s fun. Lots of fun.

Mike, owner of M.G. & Sons Automotive in Lyons, was called on to save Megan’s old Mustang, to bring it back to life after a quarter century of sitting in a barn.

There wasn’t much life left in the old car. Even the mice were dead.

“Mouse carcasses were prevalent,” Megan said, “and there was quite a strong smell.”

When the Bovees hauled it from a barn near Bryan, Ohio, it was already an established fact that this was no ordinary Mustang. That’s why it was so hard for the previous owners to let it go.

“They didn’t know what it was for a while,” Burdette said.

mustang_oldThe owners—relatives of Megan’s brother-in-law, Rex Vernier—had several old Mustangs. Rex’s uncle had plans to restore them one by one and sell them for retirement cash.

Rex’s aunt drove the 1964 car to work and his cousin remembers driving it around the farm, not taking any special care of it until they learned a hidden fact.

They read an article about former Indianapolis 500 pace cars and it got them to thinking.

“It was the right color,” Burdette said. “It had the right equipment on it. It could be one of those pace cars.”

They started taking a closer look and found on the front end the word “Pace” that had been marked in grease pencil when the car was assembled.

Megan, who was already a fan of Mustangs, inquired about buying the vehicle once she heard about it from Rex.

“I loved it even when it was dirty, nasty and rusty,” Megan said.

The Mustang become somewhat of a family project, but as Megan notes, she’s the one who wrote the check, and she’s written several since that initial one.

“You just close your eyes and do it,” Burdette says. “You can’t think about the cost.”

The Mustang has lived in Mike’s garage for well over a year.

mustand.dashThe hood, trunk lid and taillights are original. The seats are original, although they have new covering. The instruments and AM push-button radio are original, although they were sent to a shop in South Carolina for refurbishing.

“I could have bought a new instrument panel for a lot cheaper,” Mike said, “but the chances of new ones working right are slim to none.”

The goal was to avoid after-market replacements as much as possible, and sometimes they got lucky with eBay. Two hubcaps, for example are new old stock that were still in boxes in someone’s garage.

Much of the body had to be fabricated.

“My son, Frank, welded on that car for three months,” Mike said. “He did nothing but cut and weld.”

“As far as we know, it has the original engine,”Burdette said, “but it was in sad shape. It had 110,000 miles on it, but that car wasn’t built to go a hundred thousand.”

“It hadn’t see an oil change in a long time,” Mike added, “or a cooling system flush. That was the part that killed me the most. It was corroded almost solid.”

Mike did start the engine shortly after it arrived by trailer, but he’s glad he didn’t leave it running long.

He put in a battery and poured a little gasoline into the carburetor and it started.

“I ran it twice,” he said. “Once just to run it and once for Megan.”

He called her but had to leave a voice message.

“What’s that noise? That’s the sound of your engine.”

The engine was pulled and went to Dick Laiman, south of Lyons, for an overhaul. Dick worked in a Ford garage for years, Mike said, and he did a very nice job of rebuilding it.

Other people also had a hand in the project, such as Tom Christenson with the carpet replacement.

Eventually the project faced a deadline.

“His daughter threatened my life,” Mike said with a nod toward Burdette.

Megan learned about the 100th anniversary celebration of the Indianapolis track, an event that included an assembly of pace cars from the past.

She learned that 190 of the 1964 cars were produced as promotional vehicles for dealers. She heard that only about 30 of them are known to still exist, and only about 10 of those are road-worthy. If her restoration team finished their massive project on time, her car would be the only representative from 1964.

They made it on time, right down to the lettering and badging on the doors to match the original.

Where did the Bovees’ catch this disease? Burdette tells Megan it came from her grandmother.

“In 1951 Ford came out with the first automatic transmission and she had to have it,” he said. “She had to have a Ford-O-matic. When tractors changed models, she had to get a new one. And I guess that’s just the way we are.”

Burdette started with tractors and somewhere along the way he added a ’54 Chevy pickup. It was owned by the Swicks who lived on Yankee Road.

“Twin brothers married sisters and they all lived in the same house all their lives,” Burdette said. “Bertha was the only one who drove.”

By the time Bertha stopped driving it, the truck had only 9,000 miles on it.

“It’s just as nice as her car,” Burdette said.

Her car is now like new and Megan is delighted to have it back in classic condition.

“We wanted to be true to its history,” Megan said. “We just thought this car deserved to be put back the way it was.”

She’s not the only one who appreciates the effort.

“When I drove it through Morenci recently,” she said, “every boy in a pickup truck took a look.”

Careful, boys. Mustang Megan is carrying a dangerous disease.

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