Every hobbyist dreams of stumbling upon a rare “barn find,” one of those neglected vehicles stowed in an old building for many years or even decades. The hobby’s fascination with barn finds has taken these dusty vehicles to the top echelon of the hobby, and barn finds are arguably the hottest thing going in the collector car world now. Despite the phrase, a barn find need not be found in an actual barn. Garages, old buildings and other structures can hide barn finds. Even an old chicken coop can obscure a hobby gem, as was the case with this rare 1969 Mustang GT convertible with the R-code 428 Cobra Jet and four-speed.
On Dec. 18, 1997, Steve Skinner rescued this GT drop top from a chicken coop in Santa Rosa, Calif., where it had been stowed away for nearly five years. Steve learned about the ’69 Mustang GT convertible from his brother, Mike Skinner, who’d seen it in the classified ad section of a magazine. Mike had first dibs on the car, then backed out and handed off the opportunity to his brother. Steve jumped on the opportunity to purchase it.
Steve and seller Al Weis agreed on a purchase price and the GT convertible was loaded onto an open trailer and transported to Steve’s home in Montana.
The car was purchased prior to the “Marti Report Era,” but Skinner knew it was rare, and he’d always wanted a big-block Mustang GT convertible. While researching the history of the car, he learned it had been purchased from a Ford dealership in Eden, N.C., before traveling west to a place near San Francisco where it had resided for nearly a decade.
After purchasing the car, Skinner transported it to his Montana shop where it was carefully dissected to evaluate its condition. Skinner decided to give the ’69 Mustang GT convertible a complete rotisserie restoration. He’d restored several Mustangs in the past and intended to add this restoration to his resume. He wasted little time and started the restoration process soon after acquiring it in late 1997. It didn’t take long for Skinner to realize that the most difficult challenge in this Mustang project was locating NOS and OEM parts.
Over a 15-year period, Skinner amassed an inventory of NOS and OEM parts large enough to fill the basement of his house. He’d acquire one part, then locate another of better quality and before long, his inventory turned his basement into a small parts warehouse for the ’69 Mustang GT convertible.
As the actual restoration started to take form, Skinner began realizing the difficulty this restoration presented. The internet and social media hadn’t yet taken form as a tool for automobile restoration projects of this magnitude. The internet was still in its infancy, and acquiring parts and information related to restoring a rare Mustang of this caliber turned into an issue as time went on.
A decade or so later, Skinner obtained a Marti Report and realized just how rare his ’69 Mustang GT convertible truly was. Ford Motor Co. equipped fewer than 30 GT convertibles with the four-speed R-Code 428-cid engine option in 1969. Only four are known to exist today, according to the R-Code registry.
The first final Mustang GT
The GT version was in its final year for 1969, at least for the first time (the Mustang GT would return in 1982.) A dizzying number of sub-models by 1969 crowded the Mustang corral, which was occupied by the Mach 1, Boss 302 and Boss 429, the Grande, the Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500, the GT and the standard Mustang. Sales of the Mustang GT was just 4,973 examples in 1969, less than 20 percent of the initial year’s production of 25,517 GT cars during the 1966 model year. Of those Mustang GTs built in 1969, just 1,127 were convertibles.
For 1969, the GT package on the Mustang included special handling equipment; lower body racing stripes; dual exhaust; pin-type hood lock latches; and styled steel wheels painted Argent Silver and fitted with trim rings and GT hubcaps. Drum brakes and a three-speed manual transmission were standard, as was the 351-cid Windsor V-8 with 250 hp.
GT buyers could up the power and displacement in 1969 by ordering the 428 Cobra Jet with or without Ram Air. Those without Ram Air were identified on the data plates as Q-code 428 Cobra Jets and those with Ram Air were identified as R-code 428 Cobra Jets. By ordering the Drag Pack (a 4.30 gear ratio in the Traction-Lok rear axle), an R-code or Q-code 428 Cobra Jet received beefed-up internal drivetrain components and became a Super Cobra Jet. Steve’s Mustang GT had been built with a 3.50 gear ratio in the Traction-Lok rear axle, and with the Ram Air package, it’s identified as an R-code 428 Cobra Jet good for 335 hp.
The right time for restoration
When Skinner’s list of parts necessary to complete the Mustang’s restoration had become short, he contacted longtime friend Buzz Rose to rebuild a date-code-correct 428-cid Cobra Jet engine. Buzz went through the engine from top to bottom and performed his wizardry to make it a top-shelf, factory-correct specimen.
“Buzz Rose sleeps, eats and breathes Fords,” Skinner said. “He was the right and only person to build my engine for the Mustang. “It was Buzz Rose and his knowledge and expertise who influenced me to purchase the car and take on the restoration project. Without him, I never would have gotten myself into it and taken on such a huge project.”
Then, in 2014, after dealing with locating ultra-rare, hard-to-find parts, Skinner realized it was time to hand off the Mustang GT convertible to someone with the contacts to secure the final parts. He was also looking for someone with the skills to see it through to completion as a factory-correct thoroughbred pony car.
“Once you start on a restoration project of this caliber, you can’t turn back,” Skinner said. “I didn’t want to stop the project, just hand it off to a new owner to finish it off the right way.
“The right person to purchase the car and continue the restoration project was Tony King,” he said. “He’s respected within the muscle car and Mustang community for his collection of rare automobiles. His expert contacts and abundant resources within the Mustang world is a primary reason I decided to make the ’69 Mustang GT convertible available for purchase to Tony King.”
The two men talked about the car and its restoration three years earlier when finding parts became an obstacle.
King called in Mustang expert Jason Billups to perform a total inspection of the ’69 GT convertible and upon Billups’ recommendation, King made the purchase. Two weeks later, it was transported to Billups Classic Cars in Colcord, Okla., so the restoration could be turned over to owner Jason Billups, who would perform a full factory-correct rotisserie restoration. Billups and his world-class team at Billups Classic Cars have a reputation for restoring award-winning, historically correct Mustangs.
Once the ’69 Mustang GT convertible entered the shop, it was secured onto a rotisserie. Since Skinner had already started the restoration, there was no disassembly work to be done. Skinner had already started the body work, too, and according to Billups, “Skinner had done a really good job on it. He’d obviously knew what he was doing and must have spent countless hours of metal work and block sanding. We don’t get many Mustangs in the shop with previous owner body work looking as good as this one.”
Billups turned the completion of the Mustang GT’s body work over to his brother, Scott Billups, who spent many hours working each body panel to perfection. Once the work was to the Billups’ standards, painter Donald “Skeeter” White applied numerous coats of Candy Apple Red single-stage RM urethane paint. The suspension, mechanical and final assembly work was done by Casey Kelly and Jason Billups himself.
Billups Classic Cars had the car in its shop for less than two years from start to finish. At times, it took a back seat to a black 1969 Shelby GT500 prototype convertible also owned by King. Usually the two rare Mustangs were worked on simultaneously, but the ’69 Shelby sometimes received preferential treatment since it was scheduled to be unveiled at the 2016 Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals (MCACN).
Based on documentation that owner Tony King has acquired, this ’69 Mustang is one of the last GTs of this generation to be produced. With more than one assembly plant simultaneously building them in 1969, it’s difficult to say definitively that it is, indeed, the last one built. However, all records indicate that its build date of March 31, 1969, makes it one of the last such cars in the Ford Motor Co. build schedule to be produced.
Beyond the R-code 428 Cobra Jet engine and four-seed transmission, this rare ’69 Mustang GT convertible has a short list of options. They include a black manual top with a plastic backlight; GT Equipment Group; Traction-Lok differential; electric clock; F70X14 Wide Oval belted white sidewall tires; console; and AM Radio. It appears this car was ordered with the intent of keeping it simple.
King laid eyes on his freshly restored GT Cobra Jet for the first time during our formal photo shoot. He’d traveled to Colcord from Butte, Mont., where we asked him what he thought of the finished product.
“Wow, what a rare car,” he said. “I’m totally blown away and impressed by the overall look and stance of this little Mustang GT convertible. I think Ford Motor Company should have made more of them.”
After he had some time with his Mustang GT, we followed up with King to see if he remained impressed with it.
“I recently took the Mustang to a major car show in Montana and it took Best of Show out of 500 entries,” he said. “Without Jason Billups and his team of craftsmen, I can’t image this ’69 Mustang GT convertible turning out any better. Once again, they’ve exceeded my expectations and hit it out of the park.”
Skinner saw his old Mustang GT convertible at the same car show and admitted that seeing it restored was an emotional experience. He said that sight of the car sent his blood pumping and heart racing with excitement. It also made him realize that selling it to King, who had Billups Classic Cars finish it, was the right thing to do.
Skinner said that if he had one dream, it would be to get closure with the Mustang by driving it just once. After talking with King, his wish to one day drive it will be granted soon.
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