Hidden Treasures are hidden for a reason. There's a saying, "If it was easy, everybody would do it." Successful treasure hunting requires a certain amount of bravado mixed with a modicum of knowledge. Victorious seekers must be able to separate the trash from the treasure, which could be as simple as knowing the difference between a "T" in the VIN of a '65 Mustang versus the coveted "K" code. Or, as we'll illustrate, the challenge could be as difficult as uncovering a rare Pace Car or Millionth Anniversary heritage under a repainted body.
Follow along with us as we go treasure hunting for old cars, Mustang-style.
"There's stuff everywhere," Dick Jones, aka D.J., started. To hear him talk, one might say Jones, who migrated from New Zealand to Texas 15 years ago, is a vintage car version of Crocodile Dundee. He even has a distinctive Kiwi hat to go along with his thick accent.
Hunting old cars and taking chances is a place where Jones is content to spend most of his time these days. Semi-retired, he tells us, "I tell everyone I meet that I'm looking for old cars." There is a romantic side to this equation and one of danger, as well. Trespassing, even when no signs are present, is not a pursuit for the weak of heart. D.J. has used his New Zealand accent to beg a pardon more than once.
Sometimes begging forgiveness is easier than embarking on a wild goose chase to ask permission when there is no one to ask. D.J. found this '65 Mustang hardtop resting in a field. Although the chassis was devoid of a motor, the Mustang was restorable. Best of all, the price was right.
"Everywhere" also includes places like the field where Jones located his R-code Mach 1. "It was just sitting," he says. "I was looking for that Mach 1 shape. I get a lot of requests from New Zealand for that body style. I saw the code, checked it out, and that's what it was. The owner had the Shaker, hood, and engine in the garage, but I thought it was too far gone."
The car might have been too far-gone for D.J. to restore himself, but he knew a collector looking for a 428 CJ Mach 1. Sometimes, turning up a lost Mustang can translate into money.
That's why they're called Hidden Treasures. To the uninformed, that old Mustang looked worthless. Of course, many old cars, rusted to the ground, are worth as little as their scrap value. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is discerning trash from treasure.
"I bought it for X, sold it for Y," D.J. said (like many hunters, he didn't want to divulge his purchase and selling price). I didn't have to ask if he meant to put units of hundreds or thousands on the car, but I went ahead for clarity sake. One can never be sure of the prices in the field for cars that owners have forsaken. The sale price indeed was "Y thousand."
Of course, a Shaker air-cleaner and scoop assembly can bring several thousand by itself.
Out To Pasture
Some Hidden Treasure seekers seem more suited to slipping through the cracks in the system. Bob Becker of Amarillo, Texas, feels more incognito to approach an old car in a remote setting when he drives up in an old beater car. The fact that his beater is a '66 Mustang doesn't hurt, in his estimation. By contrast, a man in fancy duds and a new suit might look more like a "revenuer," a term coined from the moonshine days of the 1930s and 1940s.
Bob found this '65 Mustang coupe in a field. The previous two owners, Bob learned, had trouble starting it and couldn't keep the rebuilt engine running. The 289 had no oil pressure, so they felt the engine was worthless. The last owner sent the Mustang to pasture, where it blended in with the other discarded iron of the past century.
Bob took a chance and bought the coupe for $2,000, not dirt cheap but cheap for what he ended up getting. He pulled the distributor to learn that the rod to the oil pump was missing, explaining the oil pressure problem. He got the Mustang running and now has a drivable '65 hardtop with a factory bench seat and power steering. The stock engine was a C-code 289-2V, although the current 289 is a four-barrel version. Trashy looks don't necessarily mean trash. This one proved a Hidden Treasure.
One In A Million
There are ways of finding Hidden Treasures without risking bodily injury. Delia Wolfe of San Francisco embarked on her "barn find" on the Internet.
She said, "I started doing a search based on the year. At 1966, I saw this Mustang; the ad said it was one of 50 produced. I replied to the ad and within two minutes the owner called me."
Searching for Hidden Treasures on the Internet means a car can be literally anywhere on the face of the globe. Luckily, this '66 was an hour's drive away. Delia was looking for "something special," so she decided to inspect the car in person. The '66 didn't appear to be unusual or rare. But upon closer inspection, it turned out to be one of the Millionth Mustang Anniversary models introduced in the spring of 1966.
Delia recalled, "I went down to look at it. We pushed it out of the owner's garage. The Mustang was tired. It was kind of all there, except missing the front bumper and lower valance, and it had a non-original hood and right front fender."
Research becomes a key issue with rarities like this Hidden Treasure. Delia bought the '66 because, at $3,500, the price was right even if the car wasn't anything other than a basic 289 two-barrel coupe. Later, she researched the history and discovered the DSO code of 74-1111 on the data plate, which verified the heritage. DSO 74 is Seattle sales district, while the 1111 is the special order code for the Millionth Anniversary Mustangs. Delia's find has the full compliment of Millionth Anniversary features.
She said, "All these Mustangs had special gold paint, styled steel wheels with trim rings, and black deluxe pony interior. They were C-code cars, so they were all 289 two-barrels with automatic transmission."
Volume 1 of the Mustang Production Guide by Jim Smart and Jim Haskell provide some details about these unusual cars. However, much is still unknown, which adds intrigue to Delia's Hidden Treasure.
Pace Car in Disguise
Who could know by simply looking that this '64½ hardtop that it is a rare Indy Pace Car Mustang? Now that is a Hidden Treasure.
The original owner knew, but he didn't even mention the fact when he offered to sell the car to Drew Takach, who was fresh out of college at The Citadel and still "bummed out" for having to sell his '65 Mustang to go to school. He promised himself he'd get another early Mustang after graduation.
"As soon as I graduated, an older gentleman in my church came up and asked if I would be interested in buying his Mustang," Drew says.
Homer Sargeant bought his '64½ brand-new. It was one of the rare and desirable Pace Car replicas, but he neglected to mention this heritage. For all Drew knew, the 260-powered Mustang was simply a plain-Jane hardtop.
Drew went to see the car, parked outside Homer's lake house near Chapin, South Carolina. Drew recalls, "It didn't look too bad. But it wasn't anything you could drive down the street." So Drew told Homer that the hardtop was "a little too rough."
That's when Homer detained Drew with one of those "Oh, by the way" statements.
Drew paraphrases Homer, "Oh, by the way, it's an Indianapolis Pace Car. And I've got the original bill of sale and window sticker."
For most of us, an about-face and scramble for the wallet would be in order. Drew wasn't familiar with the '64½ Indy Pace Car, but his interest was piqued. Fate was on his side.
"I got on the Internet and learned that this was something I needed to get if Homer was willing to sell for the right price. I called him and he said, `I really want to sell it to someone who is going to be able to put it back like it was.'"
The price was right at $3,000 in April of 2003. Drew purchased the car and completed the restoration in a little over a year's time.
Through his research, Drew learned that many of the Pace Cars had "Pace Car" lettering acid-etched into the radiator support. He found this evidence, still faintly visible in capital letters, on his new purchase.
Drew told his body man, "Whatever you do, be careful with the radiator support. I want you to just tape it up to leave it like it is." Then one day, the body man called and told Drew he needed to come to the shop to look at something. Like hieroglyphics from an Egyptian pyramid, the '64½ coupe was giving up historic markings. On the radiator support, to the left of the Pace Car lettering, were more etched codes, including E214, 65A, C42, and BL. Through the Pace Car grapevine, Drew decoded some of the etchings: "BL" stood for back-up lights, novel on the '64½ Mustangs; "65A" was the body code for a hardtop with standard interior; "C42" breaks down as "C" for the unique Pace Car White; and "42" breaks down the interior as "white vinyl with blue appointments." Drew still does not know the meaning of the "E214." If anyone knows, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Deal Is The Wheel
Forest Gump uttered the famous line, "Life is like a box of chocolates." Hidden Treasures can be that way. You never know what you'll get until you unwrap the package.
Over the years, untold thousands of people passed by this rusty '63 Fairlane. The body was pretty much shot. Nobody fathomed what was inside, even though the license plate read "289 HP." For that reason, part-time parts vendor George Powell decided to take a peek under the hood. Maybe the car still had the rare and valuable 289 High Performance V8.
"I knocked on the door, but no one answered," George says. "So I walked over to the car. The first thing I did was lift the hood. It was so rusty it barely opened. The engine had a Hi-Po distributor and balancer." George couldn't be sure the internals were Hi-Po so he'd have to ask the owner for more information. Then he got one of the surprises of his life.
"I opened the door and about fainted. It had a Shelby steering wheel."
The wheel looked all the more nostalgic entwined with honeysuckle vines, which had grown through holes in the floor. In the world of collectible Mustangs, certain key parts can fetch more money than whole cars. An original Shelby steering wheel, which features real wood, is a coveted prize.
George calculated that the steering wheel had to be worth at least $2,000. He recalled selling a '67 Shelby horn button for between $600 and $800 on eBay.
"I figured I'd make the guy an offer of $2,000 for the car and he'd probably be happy because it's a rusted piece of junk. Then I could sell the engine for anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on how much of it was Hi-Po, and I'd get a free Shelby steering wheel, not to mention the other parts on the car."
The owner didn't accept the offer on the spot. Instead, he walked George over to another Fairlane, a '64 under a tarp. George had no interest in this car. He just kept his offer on the table and made no mention of the steering wheel inside the '63.
Obviously, the '63 Fairlane was worthless except for the parts. The owner explained he'd been saving the '63 for the drivetrain, which he planned to drop into the '64.
George felt he was better off to not mention the Shelby steering wheel. Much less of a prize was the 289 Hi-Po, which was still valuable. Who knows what would have happened to the Shelby wheel if the owner hadn't saved the '63 to preserve its drivetrain?
Powell has seen a '67 Shelby steering wheel sell for $4,600 on eBay. He put $500 into the wheel's restoration. The engine turned out to be an authentic K-code Hi-Po; it fetched $3,600 on eBay.
As a bonus, George found an additional Hidden Treasure in the trunk--an extra Hi-Po distributor, worth $300.
After stripping the car, George gave the '63 body to a junk man, who hauled it off for free. He's still got the Shelby steering wheel, which now looks brand-new.
Hidden Treasures encompass literature as well as parts and cars. Rick Parker of Signature Auto Classics in Columbus, Ohio, hunts them all. His friend Danny Rader called one Saturday afternoon from a garage sale. "You've got to see this."
Danny had gone to the garage sale to buy engine parts and noticed a blue Shelby Cobra GT350/500 parts book in a three-ring binder. "I asked him if the parts book looked new," Rick says. "He said it looked old. It had old dates in it and the paper inside looked old."
The cover had a patina too. Rick didn't hesitate. He jumped in his car and headed east to the little town of Outville, Ohio. There was always the chance someone else would buy the book. Except, at $125, the price wasn't cheap.
Rick walked into the garage past wheels, tires, a go-kart, and lawn furniture. The sale was sparsely attended. He recognized a face from the past. Tom Eitel was a friend from his drag racing days in mid to late 1970s. They began talking about old times. Rick recalled the '67 Shelby GT350 that Tom raced at Marion County Raceway.
Rick put two and two together and figured it was Tom's garage sale. He found the blue Shelby parts book on a table. Tom explained that a friend who worked at the local Ford dealer gave him the book when the dealership closed its doors years ago. Obviously, he knew Tom owned a Shelby.
Rick showed us the pages. It was much more than a parts book. Issued by Shelby-American, the book contained information for dealers, such as how to take care of warranty claims, dated memos from Shelby-American, wholesale and retail prices, updates, and more. On one page, dated March 14, 1968, Shelby-American showed dealers how to fix engine noise transmitted through the radio.
In another area of the book, we saw a list of Shelby-American Ford dealers across the country. Another page listed the states that had approved seat belt shoulder harnesses as of a certain date. Basically, Rick had uncovered a gold mine of information for '68 Shelbys.
Most of these dealer books got tossed into the trash when the dealers were finished with them. Today, they are a gold mine of information. We're glad Rick recovered this one from a garage sale in a small town in Ohio. Today, he leaves the book on the counter in his shop at Signature Auto Classics. "People look at it, talk about it, and get a big kick out of how I found it."
"If you mow your yard and find a car, you might be a redneck" is a well-known Jeff Foxworthy joke.
Bruce Wanamaker got surprised one day on his way to find car parts on the north side of Topeka, Kansas. "I'm driving down the street in my pickup with my buddy, and we spot a '70 Shelby GT350 sitting in this guy's front yard. And he's mowing around it!"
Bruce's voice gets more and more animated as he tells this story. "The Shelby had grass growing up underneath it. It had been parked outside for a while and had a couple of mismatched mag wheels."
Apparently, the fastback was well-known in the area and the owner was even better known for his refusal to sell.
One day, however, Bruce got lucky. "I went up and rang the door bell. I asked if he wanted to sell the car. And he goes, `Yeah, but I won't take a penny less than twelve-five.' And I said, `Let's take it for a drive.'"
The owner got "kind of a weird look on his face," Bruce recalled, because the car didn't run. Bruce played along and simply asked if he could go look at the Shelby.
When he popped the hood, the distributor was laying in the battery tray. Bruce knew why the owner was hesitant to start the car.
The good news was no rust and a once-repaired rear quarter in a Calypso Coral, four-speed, small-block Shelby fastback. It still had the original intake, roll bar, center console, and pretty much all the vital parts. Bruce, a long-time Mustang and Shelby enthusiast, saw a "100-percent original" Shelby.
Bruce offered $10,000. The owner countered with $11,000. Bruce agreed to the deal, but it was late on a Friday afternoon and the banks were already closed, and Bruce didn't have the funds to complete the transaction. What was he to do?
Bruce told the owner, "I have agreed to the price, but I have no way of getting the money until Monday morning." He asked the owner if he would take a check and he replied, "No, if you're going to buy it, you're going to buy it."
Anybody who has been in his situation knows the anxiety such a rare find can cause.
"This car was known around town," Bruce says. "He told people he would never sell it. So I was thinking someone else was going to slide in and give him cash over the weekend. I was really paranoid about that."
However, the car was still there on Monday morning. Bruce paid the owner and the car was his. He called a towing company to haul it away rather than taking the time to get a trailer.
Jeff Foxworthy would be proud.
Late Model Treasure
For years, Hidden Treasures have primarily been the classics of '65-'73. Today, the late-models have arrived. Bobby Yaniak sent an e-mail that read, "A guy who works for my company told me he had an '82 5.0 notchback. I wanted it but he didn't want to sell. Then one day he said it had T-tops. I was flipping because I knew how rare it was."
However, the '82 still wasn't for sale. Then one day Bobby found out his friend was moving to Florida. "I called him up. He said he had to get rid of it as soon as possible, like come get it that weekend."
Timing is everything when making a Hidden Treasure purchase. The '82 notchback that "wasn't for sale" could now be had for a mere $300.
I telephoned Bobby for more info. He said, "A buddy and I took a trailer down there. The car had sat in the guy's yard for five years. It was buried in mud. We had to get a tow truck to pull it out."
The good news is the body did not have much rust. Bobby cited a driver's door with "minor rust" at the bottom and some rust in the trunk lid. But there was no rust in the rocker panels and the body had just one dent.
According to a $25 Car Fax report, the mileage was 120,000. The '82 hadn't been tagged since 1992. Bobby noted an Edelbrock Torker II intake and Edelbrock 600 four-barrel carburetor in place of the '82's original two-barrel carb.
Bobby said, "We took it to my buddy's house and discovered that the coil was bad. We put a new coil on it, primed the engine and carb, and the 302 fired right up. It sounded great."
Water spewed past the old freeze plugs, which need replacing. The body is in primer, so the car looks rough. "I couldn't believe I found that car," Bobby says. "I couldn't have dreamed of anything better."
His rare find got better as Bobby decoded the VIN and learned more about the car. The bare fact is that this '82 is a notchback that came with a 5.0L HO engine backed by a four-speed manual transmission. Black on black, the Mustang came from Dearborn with vinyl seats and no power options except cruise control. The original owner even left air conditioning off the order list.
One oddity added to the order form is the T-top, as verified by the "D" code for the sunroof. In all his research, Bobby has yet to find anyone who has heard of an '82 T-Top notchback with the factory 5.0L. This could be the only one.
Bobby plans to return the '82 to "mostly original."
Wild In Montana
This Grabber Orange Boss 302 had not been driven since 1973 and had been sitting at this same location outside Lewistown, Montana, since 1982. Until, that is, Robert McGaugh pulled the car out of the weeds.
As is so often the case, the owner at first refused to sell the Boss or the '67 GT 390 Mustang sitting near it. He said he would "never sell." Still, Robert and his friend Larry would go back every year or so to see if he had changed his mind about the Boss 302.
No doubt, owners who leave their cars outside where they are visible to the public are plagued by bargain hunters. Robert verifies this fact with the Boss 302, paraphrasing the owner's experience, "Everyone tells me this car isn't worth anything. It needs too much and it's not complete enough."
So McGaugh left it up to the owner when he asked, "Okay, what do you think it's worth?"
His answer was "Thirteen-five."
Bob was content with that figure and asked, "Would you take that for it?"
The owner wanted time to think about it. Six months later, Bob called back and was shocked to learn the owner would sell either the Boss or the '67. Somewhere in their negotiations was a gentleman's agreement that Bob got first shot at either car if and when the time came to sell. The owner honored the agreement, and even discounted the "thirteen-five" to $13,200 because someone had stolen the grille out of the Boss.
The Grabber Orange Boss was remarkably well preserved, despite the rusty floor pans. The original owner had pulled the engine around 1973 for a rebuild. When the shop bored six of the cylinders 30-over and the other two 40-over, the owner demanded a new block. He got one, plus new standard bore pistons. In 1974, the gas crunch hit and the build went back on the shelf. Later, the original owner sold the '70 Boss, in pieces, to Jim. So, the car hadn't been driven since 1973.
As rough as the Boss appears in pictures, the paint was good enough to save with a "decent shine." There's a dent on each fender where Jim apparently stood to dig fence holes. Bob is engaging a "dent-less" repair body shop to fix them.
The upholstery cleaned up and is "beautiful." All Bob replaced inside was the carpet, door panels, and headliner. A flat-hood Boss, Bob's rare find came from the factory with rear window slats and rear wing. It's one of 133 that originally came with the Mach 1-style hubcaps, which Bob has replaced with Magnums.
Although the original block was gone, the owner had the parts and pieces to assemble the Boss 302 engine. Bob Bishop in Billings, Montana, helped Bob rebuild the engine as stock and original as possible.
Currently, Bob is trying to save the '67 big-block GT from decrepitude. "The 390 GT is really a solid car and there are several guys who have tried to buy it. There's really nothing he wants. He always says he'll do something with it someday. "
The 390 GT remains, "Somewhere West of Laramie."