Ah, the '69 Mach 1. There was a time-and not so long ago, either-when it seemed that only Cobra Jet versions were deemed worthy of the time and effort of a full-on restoration. Only after the 428s became priced beyond the reach of mere mortals did the less powerful but decidedly scarce S-code 390 Mach 1s start gaining resto popularity. Even then, the H- and M-code small-blocks, by far the most numerous of the 72,000-plus Mach 1s built for '69, still languished somewhere below the 100-point restorers' radar. But time heals all wounds, and the ubiquitous 351 Windsor Mach 1 is finally starting to get the attention to detail that its well-balanced performance deserves.
Like their big-block brethren, each of these cars have a story to tell. This one begins with a late-'60s sales contest at a Texas oil business. It seems that Fiske Brothers Oil in Dallas decided to motivate its sales staff with the promise of a new car of choice to be won by the coming year's top producer. As the story goes, upon hearing of the contest, a Fiske salesman by the name of Bill Foster walked into the boss's office with an ad for the just-announced '69 Mach 1, proclaiming, "Order this now; I'll be back in a year for it." Brash? Maybe, but true to his word, Mr. Foster worked hard enough to win the contest and soon found himself making sales calls in an M-code, four-barrel 351 Mach 1, optioned with automatic transmission, air conditioning, and an AM/FM stereo radio to keep him entertained on those lengthy Texas highways and byways.
This history comes to us by way of 35-year-old Duke Clancy, the Candy-apple Red Mach 1's restorer and current owner. Though the Mach had passed through a number of hands in between, Duke acquired it in 1999. Negotiations took a full year, and the deal cost him his first Mustang, a nicely detailed Springtime Yellow '66 convertible, in trade for the not-so-nice Mach with 178,000 miles on the clock. Although it was pretty solid and ran well, it apparently needed lots of TLC. Duke was thrilled when the vendor finally agreed to the swap, but not Mrs. Clancy, who still loved the yellow ragtop. That was until Duke suggested she take the Mach 1 on some of her errands. As Duke explains: "After receiving several hoots and whistles and one marriage proposal, she returned with her own set of keys from the hardware store and a big smile on her face." Everyone in the Clancy household was now happy.
Duke had already decided on a show-quality restoration. This grand resolution flew in the face of two significant obstacles: First, he had never tackled anything quite so complex, and second, he could not afford to pay someone else to do it. Neither issue was enough to deter him. "To tell you the truth," says Clancy in retrospect, "I don't think I would have farmed the work out even if I could afford it. In two years, I got to know every inch, weld, nut, and bolt of my car!"
The daunting project started with a complete disassembly, followed by mounting the unibody on a rotisserie smack in the middle of Duke's Sarasota, Florida, furniture restoration shop, so the undercoating that had been applied sometime during its 30-year history could be laboriously removed with scraper and blowtorch. That must have been a sight: Duke wielding a smoke wrench, surrounded by valuable wood, with a stripped metal skeleton towering over all that antique furniture, with a dripping, melted undercoating, no less. More enthusiastic than experienced, Duke learned skills as he went but admits to hiring a friend to weld in new floorpans and relying on other knowledgeable friends' assistance during reassembly.
After carefully documenting any and all markings found, the Sports-Roof shell was sandblasted, primed, block sanded, and painted right there in the furniture shop. "Every inch," claims Duke, "was detailed even if it would never be seen after it was reassembled." A local Sarasota cable TV show called Collector Cars even followed his restoration for six episodes.
Duke and friends got the good-as-new Mach pieced back together in time for the November '03 Antique Automobile Club of America show in Jacksonville, Florida. He called the original owner, Bill Foster, whom he had tracked down and talked to many times during the course of the restoration, and told him about the show promising to call and tell him of its results. This idea was apparently not quite good enough for the former oilman. Bill hopped on a plane from Texas to see his cherished old Mach 1 and meet the man who had brought it to a condition "better than the day he had won it." All of which helps explain the '69-vintage FISKE Texas front license plate the car still proudly wears to all of its show appearances, proving that Duke Clancy can restore more than just furniture.