With his China Grove, North Carolina, home under construction in 1999, Eric Helms stood in the spot marked off for a basement and announced to all who would listen: "One day a white '73 Mustang Mach 1 with black stripes will be parked here."
The US Airways pilot instructor made his prediction while dealing with the loss of his first car, a white '73 Mach 1 sold in 1984 to finance the purchase of a new Nissan pickup, so friends and family had doubts.
Eric had already spent two years using a new research tool called the Internet to track '73 Mustangs for sale around the country. For five years, he located, investigated, and passed on cars that likely would have been great buys, but they did not fit his color or condition criteria. He knew it was pointless to seek out the original white '73, because it had been destroyed after only six months with its new owner.
"My wife, Kim, and I dated in that white Mach 1," Eric recalls, "and I was determined that our basement garage would be home to an identical car. I think the red and black Mach 1 has a beautiful look, and I found a few of those during my search, but owning one wouldn't be the same if it didn't remind me of my first Mustang."
In October 2002, Eric came across a listing for a car in Iowa that seemed too good to be true. The Mustang matched his original car in model year and exterior color, and it only had 18,000 original miles on the odometer. His brief hesitation came from the decidedly '70s-era interior color-a bright green that instantly reminds one of leisure suits, bell-bottom pants, and disco music. Intrigued by the SportsRoof's unrestored condition, Eric assured himself he could live with the acres of green vinyl, carpet, and dash even though his first Mustang had worn a more subdued black.
Long-distance negotiation with the Mach 1's owner resulted in photos and videos that convinced Eric he had found his basement filler. He and Kim flew to Des Moines, bought the '73, and drove 19 hours back to the East Coast without a bit of trouble.
Ecstatic about his purchase, Eric began researching its history, when he discovered a significant explanation for the garish interior.
Retired dirt-track champion Gentleman Jim Wyman bought a Ford dealership in Griswold, Iowa, in 1972, just as the new '73 models were being delivered. Jim was a local legend whose Ford race cars had always been white with the number 14 on each door painted "money green." To bring the excitement of his motorsports career to the new showroom, Jim ordered two identical white Mach 1s with black stripes, green interiors, 351ci four-barrel V-8s, nonfunctional NASA-scooped hoods, and automatic transmissions.
The car was eventually sold to a customer in Cumberland who kept it for nine years and 12,000 miles before a divorce and repossession made it the property of his bank. A building contractor for the bank heard about the Mach, purchased it, and added 2,000 miles to the odometer before trading it to a Ford dealer in 1989 for a Taurus wagon. The '73 became that dealership's showroom princess for several years until a dentist from Red Oak added it to his collection of 45 musclecars. When the dentist sold many of his collector cars a few years later, the Mach 1 went to an Air Force captain who briefly used it as a daily driver before being relocated to Japan.
When Eric found it on the Internet, the '73 was the property of its sixth owner, a recreational vehicle dealer. During the first 30 years of its life, the white fastback seldom ventured more than 50 miles from Wyman Ford.
Strangely, none of the previous owners had submitted the unrestored, nearly perfect fastback for judging by Mustang Club of America competition rules. With the guidance of Carolinas Regional Mustang Club member Larry Stein, Eric gave the car a thorough cleaning and drove it to MCA's national show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where its debut was rewarded with a Gold Award.
"When I got to the show," Eric remembers, "someone told me the Mustang could not be considered unrestored because he thought it had been repainted. After restarting my heart, I figured he had mistaken some wax residue on the mirror gasket for paint overspray. When the judge finished going over the car, he only dinged me for 22 points out of a possible 700!"
After the show, as Eric was packing up for the trip home, the MCA head judge for the '71-'73 division, Frank Diebert, gave the proud owner some good advice about caring for a low-mileage, unrestored car.
"Frank pointed out how rare it is to have a 30-year-old car that still looks and drives just like Ford intended," Eric recalls. "He suggested I consider trailering it to events, driving it only on occasions when it will give my family and me some real joy. That fits in with my plan to have my nine-year-old son, Caleb, be the eighth owner of this car.
"I've told him he can have it . . . just as soon as I'm safely tucked away in the nursing home."