Though it doesn't happen nearly enough, few things in life rank better than a good surprise. We're not necessarily talking lottery-winning stuff here, rather, it's the small surprise that sometimes puts a big smile on your face and makes an indelible mark on your memory for years to come. Of course, a good surprise is even better when it relates to a beloved automobile, and Maria Ostrand's '67 coupe had a little something up its sleeve from the moment she first laid eyes on it in 1996, yet she wouldn't discover the details for some time to come.
To tell our story properly, we must first explain that Maria grew up in a bona fide car family. Part of it was two older brothers and a dad who were constantly tinkering under the hood, as well as shuttles to elementary school in the likes of a '64 Corvette roadster and '66 Chevelle. Yes, it was a GM clan, but as Maria aptly puts it, "I always liked Mustangs better." Amen, sister! Maria broke the mold in 1988 when she bought her first Ford ponycar, a '66 six-cylinder coupe, and she's never looked back.
Work took Maria away from her Northwest roots in the mid-'90s, but a call from her father alerted her to a '67 Mustang for sale in his Seattle neighborhood that warranted a look-see. Maria soon hopped a flight home from her Denver work world for Thanksgiving 1996, killing two birds with one stone by enjoying family while investigating the possibilities of a new/old car.
Leo VandenBerg was the selling party, a likable older gent who'd been a crew chief for the Miss Bardahl unlimited hydroplane team in the '60s. Leo had driven the '67 for years, but it had more recently been relegated to little more than an outdoor storage container, and the time had come to move on. As Maria related to us, it was hardly Leo's story of the car's former ownership by several members of the Seattle area hydro scene that sold her on it, rather it was the still-functioning turn-signal hood that seemed to seal the deal. The directional scallops were just one of several things that made her '66 seem plain by comparison, so an exchange of cash and title was completed in short order.
Initially, Maria didn't have much time to devote to her new set of wheels, so it sat for several years before any restoration efforts began. However, she did have a chance to investigate the car's history, and that's when the surprise was sprung.
After conversations with some of the old-timers in the unlimited hydroplane community, Maria learned that her car had been the grand prize for the 1967 Gold Cup race in Seattle. The event was perhaps the most prestigious on the American Power Boat Association (APBA) unlimited circuit at the time, and it was won by the eventual national champion Miss Bardahl, with Billy Schumacher at the helm.
As Maria understands it, such a prize normally went to the winning driver, but it seems her car was received by company-owner Ole Bardahl, reportedly because Schumacher had yet to commit to a contract for the following season. How the car eventually came to Leo VandenBerg isn't clear. Leo had passed away before Maria had a real sense of the history.
What was clear, however, was that this car wasn't treated to a particularly pampered life, as the once sparkling Burnt Amber Pony was dinged and rusted in the typical places. Credit for the restorative paint and bodywork should be attributed amongst Scott Robinson, Larry Russell, and Randy Sargent, while Maria herself played a part in multiple roles; interior assembler, sandblaster, undercoating scraper ... well, you get the idea.
Under the hood sits a standout C-code 289, not because of prodigious power output, but because of the fantastic detail work and a seldom-seen option callout. Maria had Snohomish, Washington's West Coast Restorations go the whole nine yards on the engine compartment resto, topped by a rechromed air cleaner that puts a fresh face to the nifty Sports Sprint package. To be clear, the chromed top is factory stock, a part of the Sports Sprint marketing campaign that was also advertised to include that coveted turn-signal hood, rocker moldings, full wheelcovers, whitewall tires, and a vinyl-covered shifter handle on automatic models. As it sits now, you can see Maria prefers Styled Steel wheels to hubcaps, in this case, a set of fully chromed 15x7s from Specialty Wheels.
In addition to the knockout rolling stock, Maria opted for a few subtle upgrades in the name of driveability and enjoyment. The list includes a larger front sway bar, front disc brakes, a Custom Autosound audio system with CD changer, and in case the stereo sounds get tiresome, dual exhausts. It's a package she's now smitten with, to the tune of some 15,000 miles since the restoration was completed in 2002.
Maria's considerable seat time has taken her to Mustang shows all over the west, from Calgary, Alberta, to Yreka, California, often accompanied by her fiancee Brian Card. If you asked Maria, she'd say Brian would rank as the biggest surprise of her ponycar experience, having met the equally afflicted Mustang buff at a Montana show in 2003.
In hindsight, would it be an exaggeration to say that 1996 phone call from Maria's father was the catalyst for a life-changing experience? Hardly, and we send a hearty congratulations to Maria in more ways than one.
It's unusual to see a restored '67 featuring the chromed-lid air cleaner of the Sports Sprint option, a trim package created to generate additional showroom traffic for the spring of 1967. Kevin Marti at Marti Autoworks (www.martiauto.com) was kind enough to indulge us with some Sports Sprint minutia, at the same time confirming original Ford advertising that promoted availability on hardtops and convertibles only-fastbacks were left out of the mix for unknown reasons. Of further interest, every engine in the lineup was offered in Sports Sprint trim, though some in extremely limited quantity. While T-code, C-code, and A-code Sports Sprints were easily spotted by virtue of their unique air cleaner, we imagine the handful of 390GT and K-code units would be less distinguishable since a chrome lid was already part of their engine packages.
Marti's data (statistics quoted are copyright Ford Motor Company and Marti) indicates the first '67 Sports Sprint was built on February 14, 1967, with no obvious significance to the sweetheart holiday. With the hood down, the package was decidedly low-key, and we suspect the identity of many Sports Sprints has been lost over the years as numerous telltale air-cleaner lids were discarded and replaced. From the condition Maria reports of her chromed lid when she bought her car, chrome quality wasn't exactly world class. Aside from complete air cleaners, which were replaced by various aftermarket units, we'd guess many a pitted, chromed top ended up with a rattle-can spray job.
Another interesting tidbit we gleaned from Marti was that the turn-signal hood was not available as a stand-alone option, coming only as part of a larger option package. A case in point was the Exterior Decor Group, which beyond the hood, included the likes of wheelwell moldings, trunklid trim, and a pop-open gas cap. Sports Sprint is the only other package Marti is aware of to include the turn-signal hood in '67, ringing the till at a paltry $35. Better still, Marti reports that adding air conditioning to a Sports Sprint model netted the trim package for free. In other words, Sports Sprint was a pretty inexpensive way of adding pizzazz to a basic Mustang; in fact, it was just $19.41 more than rocker moldings by themselves. What a deal!