Story and photos by Angelo Van Bogart
Sue Eldred’s first bout with a convertible didn’t go as planned. Her second bout with a convertible is not going the way she thought it would, either.
The Hilbert, Wis., woman had always wanted another ragttop after the brakes on her first convertible went out. When the mechanic told her the car’s frame was too rusty to justify fixing its brakes, she was heartbroken.
“My very first car was a convertible, and I never got to drive it with the top down,” Eldred said. “It was my dream to drive with the top down.”
Her dream was finally realized this summer when she bought a 1973 Ford Mustang convertible. So far, she’s only driven it once with the top down, and she may never do it again. It’s not that Eldred didn’t enjoy the experience; it’s because the Mustang had just 38 miles on the odometer when she bought it, and every turn of the odometer lowers its historic and monetary value.
“When we bought it, I intended on driving it,” Eldred said. “Then everyone we talked to said, ‘You can’t drive it because the miles are so low,’ so now we’re going to take it to some shows and see what happens.”
Judith Blohm, the first owner of the Mustang, thought a lot like Eldred. Blohm was already a Mustang convertible owner — and wanted to be nothing but a Mustang convertible owner.
“I ordered this car with the intent of it being the final year of [Mustang] convertibles,” Blohm said in an interview recorded by Jody Stuck, who purchased the 1973 Mustang from Blohm in October 2014. “I had to have a convertible.”
Convertibles were a mainstay of the Mustang line beginning at the model’s debut in April 1964, when a convertible set the automotive world on fire from atop a stand at the New York World’s Fair. Droptops remained prominent on the Mustang menu through the 1967-’68, 1969-’70 and 1971-’73 style cycles. When the focus on luxury overtook sportiness in the 1970s, convertible popularity dropped like a fabric top across the industry. Mustang convertible production was not immune; sales of Mustang ragtops fell from 14,746 in 1969 to 7,673 for 1970. Production of Mustang convertibles hovered in the 6,000 range during the first two years of the 1971-’73 styling cycle. When word got out that there would not be a convertible in the forthcoming Mustang II compact line debuting for 1974, production of Mustang convertibles surged for 1973.
Many Mustang convertible fans — including Blohm — ran out and bought one of the “last” pony car converts. Her six-cylinder, three-speed manual transmission car was one of 11,853 Mustang convertibles built that final year.
Blohm bought the 1973 Mustang and a 1966 Mustang convertible from Stocker Ford-Mercury in West Bend, Wis. At the time she ordered the 1973, she still owned the 1966 as well as a 1968 Mustang convertible. It turns out she never needed the 1973 — Blohm is still driving her ’68, and Ford is building Mustang convertibles again — so the ’73 just sat. And sat.
“I was satisfied with my ’68 and I stored this one. I kept storing it and finally decided… we didn’t need it. “I guess I never had the fever that I had to take it out,” Blohm said. “Every once in a while when I’d see one on the road I’d think, ‘Ha! I can do better than that!’”
Those first 37 miles on the odometer were collected when Blohm drove the 1973 Mustang from the dealership to her folks’ barn where she stored the car for many years. When an arsonist began torching barns around her parents’ home, the Mustang was trailered to Blohm’s home, where she and her late husband had built a proper place to keep the car.
Blohm’s husband started the Mustang every few years, she said, but he never moved it — not even when they received a recall notice from Ford to replace a faulty part.
Stuck, the owner of Midwest Classic Restoration & Body Works (920-277-2373), learned of the 37-mile 1973 Mustang several years ago when he bought several other cars from Blohm. Initially, Stuck wasn’t interested in the Mustang, but his thinking changed after he sold a different Mustang at a Mecum auction.
“I sold a 1968 Shelby GT-500 at Dallas and that had been the first Mustang that I had worked on in a while, and after we sold that Shelby I thought maybe we should venture into another Mustang.”
Once Blohm and Stuck agreed on a price, Stuck began work in late October 2014 to retrieve the dusty Mustang from its perch atop the blocks it had sat upon for decades. His plan was to ready it for the road and nothing more, but then Sue Eldred and her husband Dave walked through the door of his Oneida, Wis., business.
“We had a 1931 Chevy truck that was used mostly for parades,” Eldred said. “It just went 30 miles per hour and we didn’t use it much. It was a shame and we heard about Jody, so we took pictures to Jody to see if he was interested in it [to trade].
“He asked, ‘What are you interested in?’ and my husband said, ‘She has always wanted a convertible.’ Jody said, ‘Well, I just happen to have one here.’”
Stuck admitted he didn’t know much about the 1973 Mustang — he had just purchased it himself. He planned to make it driveable, but he was going to leave the dust on it for the next owner to discover the “barn find” beneath. That plan changed when the Eldreds entered Stuck’s shop, because Sue Eldred was looking for that top-down driving experience she had been deprived of years earlier.
Readying the Mustang for the road was a relatively easy process for Stuck.He replaced the fuel tank and master cylinder, and rebuilt the carburetor among a few other relatively small chores.
“We didn’t try to fire it until after we did the fuel system,” Stuck said. “Once we were done, it fired right up.”
Stuck also put new tires on the original green steel wheels that match the Mustang’s Dark Green Metallic body color, but gave all the original parts to the new owners. Included in that box of parts was the original oil filter with 1973 oil residue on the inside and Ford engine blue paint over spray on the outside.
For safety’s sake, Stuck carefully removed and inspected the original wheel cylinders and brake shoes and found them to be in new condition. Even though he could not see any pits in the wheel cylinders, he ran a hone through each and reassembled them with the original parts. As another safety measure, Stuck replaced the brake hoses, but threw the originals in the box of other parts the Mustang was born with.
“Even the clips that hold the brake drums to the rear axle are still on there,” Stuck said. “When they did a brake job back then, they just tore them off, but we were real careful.”
Once the Mustang was driving, Stuck delivered the car to John Eckrich of J&J Detailing of Neenah, Wis., so it would look showroom new again. By the time Eldred took delivery, the odometer of the sparkling Mustang was up to 38 miles. By June 2015, Eldred had the odometer up to 60 miles.
“It’s really nice — it’s a brand-new car. It drives like a brand-new car,” Eldred said. “I have bought new cars off the lot with more miles than this car.”
To say Eldred appreciates her new purchase is an understatement. She was so careful with lowering the top the first time, it took her 20 minutes to do so.
“I lowered it by three feet, then raised it and checked it, then lowered it four feet and raised it four feet and checked it — it was hysterical. I really don’t think the top had been down before,” she said.
Owning such a virgin car is a double-edged sword. Although limiting its miles means limiting her pleasure from the car, Eldred has found the sight of the Mustang is as appealing to her as time behind the wheel.
“It’s beautiful — I go out there and I just look at it,” she said. “I am disappointed that I can’t drive it, and I go out and look at it and wish I could drive it back and forth to work. The one time I drove it, I stopped and stared at it because I didn’t want anyone touching it. So if I drove it to work, I wouldn’t get anything done!”
This 1973 Mustang convertible will be displayed under the “Teamed to Learn” tent of IOLA ’15 with the 11-mile 1963 Impala originally from the Ray Lambrecht collection. For color detail shots of this Mustang, go to www.oldcarsweekly.com/blogs/under-the-hood
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