Charles Buhl was an impressionable crew-cut kid when Ford introduced the Mustang on Saturday, April 17, 1964. And who could miss such a gala introduction? Ford's unexpected Mustang consumed primetime commercial airtime the night before on all three television networks when most of North America were tuned in. Unless you're too young to remember, you must surely recall the Mustang's blazing introduction.
Charles remembers those days: "I don't remember a time when I haven't had cars on my mind. My ears are always tuned in to the rumble of a Ford flathead V-8 breathing through a pair of Smittys or a four-barrel carburetor howling as some middle-aged kid like me winds up an American V-8."
Forty years after the Mustang's introduction, Charles had some spare cash burning a hole in his pocket. He went looking for something old and loud to bring home as his first classic car. He found a hopped-up '66 Mustang that the seller described as "fully restored." Charles quickly learned that everyone has their own definition of restored. The car had leaky head gaskets and ran hot. It was rusty in places he hadn't noticed in the seller's dimly lit garage. No matter what he did, it wouldn't stay fixed. After numerous false starts, failed attempts, and tow bills, he decided to replace it.
Charles spotted this Wimbledon White '66 hardtop at a local cruising spot. It was a San Jose-born, pristine original Mustang with all the trimmings, including an operational Thermactor emissions control system. He struck a deal. "I brought the new coupe home and quickly found someone who would pay cash to take my 30-footer Mustang hot-rod away," Charles says jokingly.
Charles' newfound purchase was a fascinating study in how to determine originality. Paperwork with the car included a Richmond, California, address, dated in the mid-'80s. Under the rear seat, Charles discovered a San Jose high school flyer from 1973. An invoice from a 1984 California smog check, when the car had 54,000 miles, provided the name and address of a previous owner, who Charles tracked down through the Internet. According to that owner, the car had been a gift from a relative in 1978. A military transfer brought the car east to Washington, D.C., which is how it wound up in Northern Virginia where Charles lives.
When Charles bought the Mustang, it had already been restored by a rookie restorer. Amazingly, the paint job was performed in a carport 11 years ago. Restoration was executed only where needed-a lesson for anyone thinking of restoring a low-mileage original. Most of the time, it's advisable to restore only what needs restoring and leave the rest as original as possible.
It's easy to understand the attraction for Charles. Wimbledon White was the Mustang's official color for '65 and '66. It has that Mona Lisa profile-short deck, long nose, and notchy roofline. Inside is five-dial instrumentation and a wraparound dashpad, both of which became standard equipment for 1966.
When Charles spins the old Autolite starter, the sound of the vintage small-block takes us back to our youth, even though he has installed a throaty low-restriction dual exhaust system. Even though it's powered by a bone-stock 289-2V engine, it remains a thrill for Charles anytime he turns the key.
These sounds, along with the smell of unburned hydrocarbons, take us back to a warm summer evening in 1968 when Simon and Garfunkel, Janice Joplin, The Guess Who, and Three Dog Night were singing on the radio. We didn't need subwoofers and four-speaker sound-just a radio, bucket seats, and a V-8 engine. For Charles, an off-white Mustang hardtop is a shot at reliving his youth.