Bill Sledge was shaken to see his old '68 1/2 Mustang GT-CJ convertible at the Mid-America Performance Ford and Team Shelby Nationals in Tulsa this past summer.
His wife, Penny, seemed more excited to reunite with the Mustang. "We had our first date in this car," she said.
But for Bill, the reunion was bittersweet. Seeing the car again, he said, "Brings out the regret of selling it. And I'm not in a position financially to buy it back because of the current value. If I had found it a few years ago needing a restoration, I would have bought it and went to work on it myself."
Bill made what he calls another bad decision five years ago when he sold his '66 Shelby GT350. But that's another story. At least he sold it knowing the collector/investment implications. When he sold the CJ convertible 35 years ago, he was oblivious to the car's rarity and future collectible status.
But how many of us realized in 1973 that Mustangs, which originally cost under $3,500 brand-new, could push into six-figures in the 21st century?
Bill was a living in Norman, Oklahoma, when he ran across an ad for a '68 Mustang convertible in the University of Oklahoma's newspaper. "The girl who was selling it was from Chicago," Bill recalls. "She had apparently moved down here and got a divorce."
Bill doesn't remember her name, but does recall that she had bought the car new in Chicago (Wilshore Motors in Wilmet, Illinois, according to current owner Kenn Funk). Even in 1971, she realized the Mustang was special.
Bill said, "She told me how special it was, that they didn't make but a few of them and it was kind of a promotional car. I didn't really believe any of it."
Bill was more interested in how the car would perform and appeal to girls. "I just liked the car. It was what I was looking for. I was driving a '64 Corvette Sting Ray at the time, the only Chevy I ever owned. I gave it up for this car because it was so much fun."
He recalls the car was a "chick magnet." Girls liked the Gulfstream Aqua color.
Bill also had a blast street racing Chevys. He claims the car was never beaten by an SS396 Chevelle, which was prevalent on the streets in those days. "None of them expected it to be so fast. They thought it had a 302. But the convertible had all the right stuff-428 Cobra Jet, 3.91 gears, and a C6 transmission. Boy, was it quick!"
Bill was a salesman at Oklahoma City's Earl Holmes Ford in 1973 when he decided to sell the Cobra Jet. "In 1972-'73, high performance was a bad word around the dealership," Bill says. "The car would have been worth more money back then if it had been a 302-powered convertible. Amazing how things change, isn't it?"
He doesn't remember the buyer because he sold it through one of the used car lots that bought trade-ins wholesale.
In 1976, Bill got into Mustangs in a collector car way with the purchase of his first Shelby, a '67 GT500. That's how he met Jim Wicks, founder of the Mid-America Shelby Meet that has become so popular every June in Tulsa. Later, he bought his second Shelby, the '66 GT350.
Through the years, Bill and Jim pondered the whereabouts of the CJ convertible. Bill even tried to find it with no luck. "I didn't have the VIN. We almost found the car 15 years ago in Ohio at the SAAC national convention. There was a local guy from Columbus who had a restoration shop. Somehow the convertible came up in conversation and he said he had seen it go through an auction."
Finally, the CJ surfaced. Kenn Funk from Los Angeles picked the car up from the back lot of Drew Alcazar's Concours Restorations in Cucamonga, California. A client had brought the convertible to Drew for a restoration. He couldn't pay, so the restoration stopped in mid-stream and Drew stored the disassembled convertible out back.