Mustang Monthly: How did you get interested in Mustangs and Cougars?
Kevin Marti: It was an accident. When I first started driving in 1973, I was interested in Camaros and Chevelles. I had a paper route, so I had more than enough money to buy a decent car. One Sunday, my mom pulled out the newspaper and said, "Well, let's find a car for you. What are you looking for?" I said, "Camaro or Chevelle." At the time, the Phoenix paper listed cars alphabetically. So she started circling Camaros and Chevelles. We picked out a few and went looking. After about the 10th or 11th car, all junk, we looked at the next one on the list and she had accidentally circled a Cougar. I said, "Not [a] Cougar, Mom." But she insisted we look at it. When I saw the back of the car, I remembered the sequential turn signals. Suddenly I had to have it. My whole life turned on that accident. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been involved with Fords at all. I bought that '67 Cougar. It's the one under the cover back there.
MM: How did that lead to you starting Marti Auto Works?
Marti: After graduating from college, I went into the aerospace industry as a mechanical engineer. On the side, I was fixing up my cars and going to junkyards to find original date-coded spark plug wires with Autolite stamped on them. I'd put them on the counter and sometimes the owner would kick me out thinking it was some kind of joke.
As that stuff became scarce, I started figuring out ways to make it. I'd go to car shows and someone would say, "Can you make me one?" I wasn't married at the time and had extra time after work, so I started making them.
What really started Marti Auto Works is my Cougar Eliminator. I advertised in Hemmings Motor News for a stripe kit and all I got were calls from other people wanting to know if I had found two so they could buy the other one. I started thinking that maybe Ford still had the tooling. I spent more than six months calling Ford and 3M, the company that had made the kits. I finally found the right department at Ford, and the guy said, "Yeah, the tooling is sitting right over there." We got Ford's permission to reproduce the Eliminator stripes, which is when my relationship with Ford started.
Next, someone-I believe it was Tony Branda-asked, "Can you do the '69 Boss 302 stripes?" And I found out that we could. Then Ford discontinued the '70 Boss 302 kits, so we started running those. Some guys wanted to build Trans-Am cars, so we did some white Boss stripes, then the '69 Mach 1. By around 1983, I was selling so many stripe kits that I quit my regular job.
Then I started doing radiator hoses and getting stamps made so I could mark them with original logos and dates. At the time, I'd go down to NAPA and buy five hoses. After a while, I needed 20 hoses and the local store didn't carry that many, so I started going to the distributor and buying 100 hoses. Eventually, I went straight to Goodyear. They needed a 10,000 minimum, and I said, "Not a problem." Now Goodyear backs a truck to the door and we unload pallets of hoses.
MM: That eventually led to reproducing door dataplates and tags, right?
Marti: I needed a door data label for one of my '70s so we reproduced that. I eventually got into doing the metal plates because I needed one for a '68. With time, I got into doing the carb, engine, and axle tags. Almost all of it was based on "I need this for my car." Once I made one, I could make others.
MM: You seem to be fascinated by numbers.
Marti: That's right. I still know my phone number from when I was 6 years old. I know the license plate number from my mom's old '64 Galaxie. At my 30th high school reunion, I went up to one friend and said, "Does PAN 334 mean anything to you? It was the license plate number on the Nova you drove in high school."