'68 High Country Special
For his first Mustang, we'd say Barry Mathias scored with a pretty sweet prize. Admittedly, Barry wasn't much of a gear head in his youth, and yet he had enough positive inputs that cars were always in his field of vision. Among these, Barry learned to drive in his dad's '67 Fairlane hardtop, and several friends had early Mustangs which made a positive impression. When it came time to buy a car at age 17, a Mustang was a strong consideration, but a near-miss in the end. The local sales lot had two cars which piqued Barry's interest-a '68 Mustang with an automatic and a four-speed '68 Volkswagen.
"I wanted to buy the Mustang but didn't have enough money," Barry tells us. "I also wanted a car with a stick shift, and since the VW was within my budget and had a manual transmission, I bought the VW. I guess I always wished I had been able to buy that Mustang."
Fast forward 25 years, with much happening to Barry in the interim. He'd married the girlfriend who bought a new '74 Mustang II while the couple were dating, moved to Colorado, built a house, raised a family with now-wife Barbara, and still found himself with a nagging urge for a vintage Mustang. Fate intervened in the spring of 1997 when a co-worker of Barbara's revealed she wanted to sell a special edition '68 known as a High Country Special.
Barry wasn't familiar with the rare breed, so he was naturally dubious of the claim. Shortly thereafter, he was perusing a copy of Mustang Monthly at his local grocery store. "Inside that magazine was an article about the High Country Special Mustangs. What a coincidence! The article featured an HCS owned by Bob Teets, and told how the cars were offered exclusively by Ford dealers in the Denver District Sales Office in the '66-'68 model years. The '68 is the rarest of the three years with only 251 produced."
It was just the lead Barry needed, enabling him to get in contact with Teets, who turned out to be the founder of the High Country Special Registry.
Teets briefed Barry on all things High Country, enabling the potential buyer to go in with eyes wide open. The '68 had been sitting on jackstands in an old garage for years and was missing its wheels, seats, and carpeting. Other components had been disassembled, but Barry was quickly able to search out the rare items that would be the cornerstone of a stellar restoration. All of these items were present and accounted for, including the fiberglass trunk lid, end caps, non-functional sidescoops, Thunderbird taillights, Lucas fog lamps, and more.
Negotiating a reasonable price proved to be more difficult, with the woman asking far more than Barry had to spend. Finally after six months of periodic dickering, a deal was struck and the car came home to the Mathias garage.
Barry immediately got busy underneath by rebuilding the suspension, replacing the brakes, and taking the 8-inch rearend's centersection to a nearby mechanic for a rebuild. Other than a couple of small parts, the rearend needed nothing, and the mechanic suggested the car could very well have logged just the 69,000 miles shown on the odometer. More work would be delayed for several years, whereupon the car was taken to Apex Auto Body for mediablasting and a new two-stage Sikkens topcoat in the original Meadowlark Yellow. For the proper High Country badging, Teets supplied reproductions of the long-obsolete original scoop stickers.
Several minor changes and/or upgrades occurred along the way, including replacing the factory parchment interior with a more complementary black. Likewise, being equipped with a C-code 289 V-8, this car didn't come with the dual exhausts and chrome tips you see now, but it sure looks and sounds terrific! Lastly, optional styled steel wheels took the place of the standard issue wheel covers, in this case wrapped in classic B.F. Goodrich Radial TAs.
The restoration was finished in 2007, and Barry and Barbara have enjoyed showing their rare hardtop between numerous pleasure trips ever since. Not surprisingly, the '68 has done well in Mustang Club of America competition, including two firsts in the Occasional Driven class at Grand National shows in Park City, Utah (2008) and Bellevue, Washington (2010).
While this High Country Special was Barry's first Mustang, it wouldn't be his last. Shortly after finishing the special edition '68, the Mathias' purchased a lightly used '06 GT for a daily driver. They understandably love the modern creature comforts, performance, reliability, and vintage styling vibe. Call it the best of both worlds, and proof that Barry has made up for his erstwhile VW purchase so many years ago!
Many of you know the relationship between '68 California Specials and '68 High Country Specials, but here's the lowdown for those who haven't heard it before. The '68 High Country Specials are essentially California Specials that were destined for the Denver DSO, which in addition to Colorado included parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota. The Ford dealers in this region had offered an HCS in '66 and '67 (limited to special paint and badging), so when '68 rolled around, it made sense to combine another promotional effort with that of the California dealers. Truth be told, a '68 High Country Special window sticker will actually note the package as "California Special."
That said, there is one obvious difference between the 251 HCS cars and the 3,867 GT/CS units. In addition to the Denver DSO (51 on the door tag), High Country Specials did not receive the California Special chrome script on the rear quarter-panel, and instead received their own specific solid stripe with HCS sticker on the sidescoops. Just as with California Specials, engine choice ran the gambit from base 200-inch six-cylinder to 428 Cobra Jet. Learn more about both of these great cars at www.californiaspecial.com.