Car of the Week: 1966 Mustang GT ‘K-Code’

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1966-K-Code-Mustang-3

By Brian Earnest

Jim Turcich long ago achieved peace with the situation. But it has been an uneasy, almost regretful peace.

He knows most people would never understand why he so rarely drives and enjoys his 1966 K-Code Mustang GT, and why he feels so compelled to keep it protected. He loves the car, that is for sure. He’s had it 28 years and spent nearly every cent he had as a teenager to acquire the car, and nearly every cent he had — and even some cents he didn’t yet have — a few years later to have it fixed up and made “new” again.

It’s a rare car, although not super-rare: more than 5,000 were built for 1966, and there are still plenty around if you have the desire, and checkbook, to acquire one. And the car isn’t even considered “original” anymore after Turcich had it taken apart and repainted more than 25 years ago.

But there is something about the idea of taking the pristine, 13,000-mile Mustang out in public and subjecting it to the bugs, rocks, fingerprints and who-knows-what of the world that makes the Tampa, Fla., resident shudder. “It sucks,” he says. “It does. I never really intended for it [to happen]. I didn’t buy it to sell it… I never really intended to buy something I couldn’t enjoy. People say, ‘You got to drive that thing!’ but I think about how hard it was … to get it and get it to look like this. I don’t think I would ever do that again. I wouldn’t restore a car. I’d buy one restored.

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“When I do get the car out, I always worry about it more than I enjoy it, you know? I’m always looking at the weather, or thinking, ‘How far do I have to go?’

“After I got it finished, then I was afraid to drive it. That’s the truth.”

Of course, when Turcich gets talking about how much fun the car is to drive and how quickly it can peg the thrill-meter, you wonder how much longer he can resist. In addition to its potent and coveted K-Code 289, the car is loaded with other go-fast and look-fast goodies that the original owner ordered but never got to enjoy. It was a car clearly earmarked for racing, and one that probably did its share of street dragging back in the day. If nothing else, the car has a strange and curious past attached to it.

The saga started in August of 1966 when a young man walked into a Ford dealership in Albemarle, N.C., and ordered a 1966 Mustang GT fastback, Candy Apple Red, with at the K-Code 289, four-speed and a bunch of other Ford performance stuff that he planned to have the dealer install. The car wasn’t delivered until November and by then, the prospective buyer had apparently run out of money to buy the car and left to serve in the Vietnam War. “He had put down 200 bucks on the car, which was a ton of money for a down payment back then!” Turcich noted. “Usually, 25 bucks was a lot of money to put down.”

The car was saddled with a fat price tag that apparently was too rich for most Mustang shoppers and so it sat until the following September, when the 1968 Fords were already out, and caught the eye of a woman who finally purchased it and became its first official owner.

“She worked in a mill, or something like that, and didn’t have to drive it very far to go to work,” Turcich says. “She didn’t put many miles on it, but it was too much car for her. She only had it a short period of time, about seven months, I think, and she sold it to the next two owners — two other guys who were either cousins or brothers, I’m not sure. They had the same last name, though.”

The two men apparently enjoyed the Mustang for all it was worth, but both ran afoul of the law in the car and their time with it apparently ended when both lost their driving privileges. “So then another guy, who was a Chevy guy, he bought it for his daughter, but she didn’t like it. She didn’t want it, and he didn’t like it either, so they literally rolled it into his basement and it sat there until I got it, which was ’84 or ’85 … The basement was almost like an apartment. It had big sliding doors they could open to get it in. They actually had two cars down there… He had an Impala down there, too.”

1966-K-Code-Mustang-interior

The Mustang might still be in that basement if the teenage Turcich hadn’t caught wind of the car while he was attending a car show one day. One thing led to another and arrangements were made for him to see the car, even though it wasn’t officially for sale. When he went to visit, it was clear that the owner hadn’t been preparing the Mustang to sell it. “They were just putting stuff on top of it,” Turcich laughed. “They had done nothing with the car.”

The men negotiated a little, but the owner wasn’t ready to sell. A couple months later, however, Turcich got a call from the man and the two haggled out an agreement. “He didn’t give it away, I can tell you that,” he said. “And I was young and just out of high school. I had absolutely no money. It literally took every cent I had to buy the car. But I knew what it was as soon as I saw it, and I knew I had to try to buy it.”

The deal included a stack of paperwork proving the car’s authenticity and telling its life story. “I got just about every piece of paper you can think of for that car,” Turcich noted. “I even got the original brochure from when the guy first looked at it.”

What the deal didn’t include was enough fossil fuel to get the thirsty Mustang home.

“When I looked at the car, it had a gas can hanging inside the engine bay. It had been sitting for so long, that was the only way it would run,” Turcich said. “On the way home, I actually ran out of gas, and I had no money to get any gas and get home. The car actually sat at an apartment complex for a while until I could scrape up some cash to put some gas in it.”

Turcich wasn’t really thinking of the car as an investment at the time, and the idea of keeping it an unmolested “survivor” car was less appealing than making the car look perfect again. A couple years after he bought it, and even though it didn’t really need it, Turcich had the car disassembled, stripped and repainted. The engine was left alone, other than some gaskets, a carburetor rebuild and other minor items, and the interior is all original. The only thing that didn’t look perfect when it was done was the steering wheel, which had a crack in it and still does. “At the time I had the choice to have the wheel (replaced) because you could get them back then. But they were a couple hundred bucks then … I decided I would wait on that … And to this day the wheel still has a crack in it.”

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The car has never needed any other attention, mostly because Turcich has put just 1,000 miles on the odometer. In his defense, though, he did have another 1965 Mustang coupe for many years that he put though its paces, which made parking the ’66 easier to swallow. “I loved that car and drove the wheels off of it and rebuilt it two or three times,” he said. That car wasn’t a GT with the K-Code option, however. If it was, it would have probably gotten a different treatment as one of the most coveted early Mustangs ever built.

There is argument among purists over whether the Mustangs produced prior to September 1964 are 1964 1/2 or 1965 models. However, when it comes to the interesting and collectible GT equipment group, there can be no question, as it was introduced at the first anniversary of the Mustang’s introduction on April 17, 1965.

The Mustang first came as a sport coupe (two-door hardtop) and a sporty-looking convertible. In the fall of 1964, a fastback model called the 2+2 was added to the lineup. From the outset, the options list was important in marketing the Mustang. Buyers could add lots of appearance and convenience extras, plus some bolt-on high-performance hardware. However, being based on the low-priced compact Falcon, there was some room for improvement in the go-fast department.

The GT option included quick-ratio steering, disc front brakes, chromed dual exhaust tips that exited through the rear valance panel, a new grille bar with built-in fog lamps and GT instrumentation which replaced the Falcon-based instrument panel with five round dials. Throw in GT badging and lower body striping and you had a bargain for around $150.

For 1966, little change was made to Ford’s hot-selling Mustang. Why change a good thing? Minor updates were all that were needed. A revised instrument panel that looked less like the Falcon’s unit was used. The grille retained its now-familiar shape, but had the Mustang horse emblem “floating” in the “corral” at its center. A wind split ornament was added at the end of the “cove” on the body sides.

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Federally mandated safety equipment that was formerly optional became standard, including seat belts, a padded instrument panel, emergency flashers, electric windshield wipers (with washers) and dual padded sun visors.

GT Equipment Group also included improved suspension components for better handling. The handling package (normally $30.84 extra by itself) included increased-rate front and rear springs, larger-diameter front and rear shock absorbers, a steering system with a 22:1 overall ratio and a large-diameter stabilizer bar.

The Mustang’s base V-8 engine for 1966 was the G-Code 4.00 x 2.87-inch bore and stroke 289-cid with a 9.3:1 compression ratio and an Autolite two-barrel carburetor. It generated 200 hp at 4400 rpm. The performance options included the A-Code 289-cid Challenger V-8 with a 10.1:1 compression ratio and four-barrel Autolite carburetor, which produced 225 hp at 4,800 and the K-Code Challenger High-Performance V-8. This version of the 289 featured a 10.5:1 compression ratio, a four-barrel Autolite carburetor and solid valve lifters, which helped it make 271 hp at 6,000 rpm.

Turcich’s car was also equipped with Cobra valve covers, Cobra T-pan oil pan and a Shelby intake, all from the FoMoCo performance parts shelf. For some reason, the shifter knob is from a 1967 Mustang, but it’s the one that came on the car, according to Turcich. The Mustang also carries styled steel wheels and competition seat belts, which were installed at the dealership and later replaced when the car was redone. “They definitely weren’t looking to go get groceries in it, that’s for sure,” Turcich said.

Turcich put the car through its paces for a couple of brief moments years ago, once at a national meet at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and another time at an old air strip “that had just a couple of turns and a long straightaway. The last time I checked it, when I was man enough to look, it had easily exceeded the 130 on the speedometer, but with the drum brakes on the back and discs on the front, it took a long time to slow down. Things were rattling and making all kinds of noise. It will definitely scare ya.

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“When I drive it, it’s a blast to drive. It’s scary fast, but I find myself worrying about it, rather than enjoying it.”

These days, the Mustang spends most of its time triple-wrapped in the garage under a car cover, bubble wrap and a Car Bag. “I don’t even see it, but I have to walk around it,” Turcich jokes. “Most of the neighbors, they have no idea I even have it. It very rarely comes out.”

Turcich appears to have forgiven himself long ago for not keeping his Mustang original. He doesn’t take it to judged shows, anyway, so collecting ribbons and trophies is not what motivates him to baby the car.

“I try to tell people it’s a real low-mileage car, and I want them to understand it’s not all original, but the engine most certainly is,” he says. “In hindsight, now, as I’m older, I wish I would have kept it the way it was. It’s a time capsule, but you can’t go back, you know.

“Most people have never seen a K-Code car, and when they want to talk about the car, most of the time I don’t tell them the story. It turns into one of those ‘That can’t possibly be true’-type things. Rather than try to convince somebody, I just let it be.”

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