For a while, Jerry Choate thought perhaps he had bitten off more Mustang than he could restore on a deadline. With just two months left before the white '67 GT convertible was scheduled to roll into the Drake Automotive Group booth at the 2012 SEMA Show, Choate was staring at a freshly painted but bare shell sitting in the middle of his three-car garage.
"I knew from experience that it takes 400 hours to assemble a Mustang," said Choate, who heads up wholesale development and special sales for Drake. "But I was determined not to let anyone down. I wasn't going to be the guy who couldn't finish the car. And I wanted it to run and drive; I wasn't going to push it into the Las Vegas Convention Center."
Looking back, Choate realizes that he got himself into the predicament. When a friend told him about a survivor '67 GT convertible on eBay, he pushed the "Buy" button with the intention of restoring the convertible for his father. It was the ideal find for someone well-versed in Mustang restorations—an unmolested, all-original (including paint), one-owner car loaded with 19 options, including the S-code 390 big-block, four-speed, red Deluxe interior, tachometer, AM/FM radio, and styled steel wheels, yet no power steering or air-conditioning. The Marti Report revealed that fewer than 100 '67 Mustang convertibles were built with the same combination of Wimbledon White paint, red interior, and 390 engine. Adding the options into the equation, it's a one-of-one.
Choate was also amazed by the documentation. "I've been in this business for 32 years and I've never seen so much paperwork for a Mustang," he told us. "The stack must be a half-inch thick. The owner kept the sales contract from Pierce Motors (Spartanburg, South Carolina) and every receipt for maintenance and repairs. The owner's manual is still in its envelope and he had the original spare keys with the tag."
One of the receipts indicated an engine rebuild in 1987, so Choate contacted the original owner for details. "He didn't seem interested in talking about the car," Choate said. "When I asked him why such a highly-optioned Mustang was ordered without air conditioning, he said, ‘The car was cool and I was cool, so I didn't need it."
Choate's plan for the car changed when he learned that his father's health was declining. That's when Scott Drake, owner of Drake Automotive Group, stepped in to purchase the Mustang—under one condition: It would be restored by Choate. Then Drake had a marketing idea: display the GT convertible in its survivor condition at the 2011 SEMA Show, then bring it back in its restored glory for the following year's show. For Choate, the gauntlet had been thrown—he had exactly one year to restore a Mustang that would be seen by thousands of SEMA goers.
As someone who has been restoring Mustangs for over three decades, Choate made quick work of disassembling the convertible. Along the way, he found the neat gems that make working on a survivor so much fun, like finding unmolested identification tags on the transmission and rearend. All of the radiator hoses and half the hose clamps were original to the car. He also discovered, as confirmed by the dealer sales contract, that the original owner paid $50 to have heavy undercoating applied to the undercarriage. "I had to chisel it off just to get to the brake lines," Choate lamented.
Celebrating the completion just in time for SEMA. From left to right, Drake Automotive Gro
Disassembly complete, the Mustang's body was loaded on a trailer for delivery to a local media blast company for paint stripping, then returned to Choate's garage for sheetmetal and rust repair (including floor pan patches and driver side rear quarter panel), with help from Drake dealer and Mustang of Chicago owner John Trsar, who flew in to assist with the panel replacement. By the time the Mustang was dropped off at Elite Restorations for paint, it was late summer. By the time the body returned to Choate's garage, it was early September. T-minus two months and counting toward early November's SEMA Show.
Working evenings until midnight and weekends, Choate reassembled the Mustang with help from Russ Hedland, Ian Maddelike, and Marv Friesen, who took time off from his Marv's Place Auto Repair in Saskatchewan, Canada, to lend a hand. Even though he had access to the Drake reproduction catalog, Choate restored as many of the original parts as possible, replacing only the components that were damaged or pitted.
On October 30, just four days before SEMA move-in, Choate surprised Drake by driving the GT convertible to the Drake Enterprises facility. On Saturday, November 3, Jerry Heasley shot the photos you see here, then Choate drove the Mustang from Henderson to the Las Vegas Convention Center, about 14 miles, to drive—not push—the restored car into the Drake display. The only thing unfinished was the original AM/FM radio, which had not returned from its radio shop rebuild. An aftermarket stereo temporarily took its place for SEMA.
Choate notes that the only variations from stock are 15-inch styled steel wheels (from Drake, of course) instead of 14-inch and Convenience Group warning lights in the non-A/C center dash panel instead of the console. "I didn't want judging conflicts in case Scott ever shows the car," Choate explained.
Not that the freshly restored Mustang will be limited to shows only. According to Choate, "Scott likes the car so much that he's planning to drive it!"
Ready for disassembly inside Choate’s three-car garage.
Engine compartment as purchased.
Taking apart is the fun part.
Off-loading at the media blaster.
South Carolina car but still rust in the common Mustang places.
John Trsar cuts out the rusty floors in preparation for patches.
Trsar preps for a new quarter-panel.
First coats of paint at Elite Restorations.
Interior painted and everything ready for reassembly.
Big-block 390 headed back in.
Looking good from underneath.
Finally done in the nick of time, much to Jerry Choate’s relief.