We all tend to "ogle" and "awe" over original, unrestored Mustangs. Not because of their striking workmanship (there is none), exquisite paint (orange peel and road chips are par for the course), or their sterile engine compartments (rust, dust, and corrosion are to be expected); but because they offer us a direct link to the past-a link not buffered by the typical restoration process. That fender bolt was actually tightened on the production floor. And it really was Mel, Dave, Henry, or whoever that inked that "Paint OK" stamp.
Pristine examples of unrestored ponycars aren't easy to come by. Compound that oddity with a model that was somewhat scarce to begin with, and you've got a real case of the "weirds" on your hands.
John Howard of Frankfort, Kentucky, has a genuine strange one in his garage. It's an unrestored, 100-percent original '66 High Country Special hardtop. It gets even better. There's over 72,000 miles on the odometer, and John still drives the car two or three times a week.
John has been a Mustang fan ever since the cars first came out. When he retired from the Army, Mustangs figured prominently in his hard-earned leisure life. In addition to this HCS, currently his stable includes a '6411/42 hardtop, a '65 convertible, a '66 hardtop, a '92 GT convertible, and a 2000 convertible.
The Mustang was an accidental find for John.
"While on a trip to Missouri for an Army reunion [in 1998]," says John, "a member told me his son-in-law had a Mustang for sale. It was a '66 High Country Special. I have several Mustangs, but a High Country Special was not one that I was familiar with, so when I got home I did some research. Immediately I made a telephone call to the gentleman and requested a photograph. After looking at the photography, I sent him the money and a rollback for the car.
"The 1966 High Country Special was assembled and manufactured in San Jose, California, and shipped to Denver, Colorado, for distribution throughout Colorado, Wyoming, and western Nebraska. The build date was July 15, 1966. There were 333 of them that rode flanged wheels of steel from Salt Lake City to Denver. When the cars arrived in Denver, they were quickly unloaded and put on display in 100 Ford dealer showrooms."
Folks familiar with these special-edition Ponies know that they were built as part of a marketing promo for Ford dealers in the Rocky Mountain region. In addition to special badging, the HCS models came in three distinct colors: Columbine Blue, Timberline Green, and Aspen Gold. John's car is of the Timberline Green persuasion. It's powered by a 289-2V backed with a C4 auto tranny and a 2.80:1 open rearend. A standard Parchment/Ivy Gold interior nicely complements the topcoat, and features a full console, a seatbelt light, and a radio. Power steering and brakes are the only notable creature comforts.
"The personal history [of the car] is sort of unique," says John, "due to the fact that the original owner could not make the payments and returned it to the dealership after only two months. The salesman paid him for the car and took it home to his wife. She drove the car from 1966 to 1988, then parked it in the garage until 1994, when she sold it to the gentleman that I purchased it from in 1999. The gentleman that picked up the car for me on his rollback said that several people tried to buy it from him on his way back [to Kentucky]."
John explained that in spite of the 70-some-thousand miles on the clock, the HCS was in great shape and showed no signs of rust. "The car was only dirty from just sitting in the garage."
Six months of off-and-on cleaning was all it took to bring this remarkable Pony to the condition you see here. Now John displays this hardtop in the Unrestored Class of MCA regional and Grand National events. But this is not just a show car.
"I use one of my cars each morning," says John, "to go to McDonald's for coffee and visit with the locals. That way I can keep the batteries charged and all of them in good running order."
Most folks preserve their rare Ponies on a trailer. John Howard proves there is another, more exciting way to keep the Pony spirit alive and well.