There’s a small ding in the driver’s side door of Bill Epright’s 1986 Ford Mustang GT. The little imperfection has been there for many years, and wouldn’t even be worth noticing or mentioning if it weren’t for one inescapable fact: The tiny scratch is about the only blemish on the entire car.
Does the nick still bother Epright after all this time? “Yes! Yes it does!” he says with a wry chuckle. “But I’ll leave it because this way the car is all original and I didn’t tamper with anything. But yes, it bugs me, because I didn’t put it there!”
Epright can joke a bit about the scratch because he knows how pristine the car is otherwise. The Stevens Point, Wis., resident bought the car new at the Ford dealership where he worked back in ’86, and it’s been lovingly cared for since the day he drove it home.
“My wife [Cathy] needed a car, so we ordered one. I’ve been a Ford guy all my life. I worked for a Ford dealer for 45 years, so when she needed a car I said, ‘Well, we’re gonna get a Mustang.’ And she went along with that. Then I said, ‘We’re gonna get a GT,’ and she said, ‘Oh, well, whatever.’ She didn’t care. But It was going to be her car. She drove it for three summers, and I told her she wasn’t going to drive it during the winter. It’s not a winter car, anyway, so at that time she basically just drove my Bronco and I had a winter beater for the first three years.
“Then it basically went into storage for quite a few years. We didn’t drive it for a quite a while. There was probably about 30,000 miles on it when I shut it down. There’s about 36,000 on there now.”
Cathy wanted to trade the Medium Canyon Red over Charcoal Gray Mustang in on a new Probe in 1990, but Bill wasn’t having that. Cathy got the Probe, but the couple kept the Mustang, mostly as a toy to have years down the road.
“I wanted to preserve it, and … I don’t know. I had a family and kids and we were always on vacation when we had time off … I had it out in back in the back garage. I had a cover on it and then I bought a bag for it and I just zipped it up and put it away. I’d start it every once in a while, about once year. I’d dry it out zip it back up and then get it out again the next year.”
While the Mustang was stuck in suspended animation, Epright focused his attention on another car that had a lot of sentimental value — a 1933 Ford. “I got the ’33 when I was 15 years old from my dad. He bought it to restore and never got to it and so he gave it to me.” Epright took his time and did a wonderful restoration job on the ’33, and the car turned out so nice he almost hated to drive it and risk putting any wear-and-tear on the old Ford.
“I got that done in 2006, I think. That’s when I started thinking about getting the Mustang back out. I re-did the ’33 and then thought, ‘Hey, I’ve got to have a little faster car than that thing! [laughs]. I had in storage for probably 20 years. Basically I wanted to wait until it got old enough to take it to shows.”
THE FABULOUS ‘FOXES’
A whole new breed of Mustang was presented for 1979 that was actually derived from the Ford Fairmont platform. It featured unit-body construction, dramatic new sports car styling, had one of the most efficient, aerodynamic body designs of its era and also had 20 percent more interior space than the previous model.
The “Fox body” Mustang had a 100.4-inch wheelbase, a 179.1-inch overall length and weighed around 2,600 lbs. Precise handling was delivered by a variety of suspension improvements. The two-door notchback model was priced at $4,858 with V-8 power and the three-door hatchback ran about $5,223 with the big engine. The debut 1979 V-8 had a 4.00 x 3.00-inch bore and stroke for a familiar-sounding 302 cubic inches. With a single Motorcraft two-barrel carburetor and an 8.4:1 compression ratio, it was no muscle car compared to those of the ’60s or those available today, but it was pretty snappy for 1979. The 5.0-liter V-8 generated 140 hp at 3600 rpm and 250 lbs.-ft. of torque at 1800 rpm.
By 1986 the 5.0 Mustang was in full gallop and Ford wisely didn’t make many drastic changes from year to year. The 1986 ’Stangs only had a few modest tweeks, including added sound-deadening material and a single-key locking system. A revised port-type fuel-injection system and a 200-hp V-8 for GT models were other changes. Ford continued to offer an 88-hp four-cylinder engine and a 120-hp throttle body-injected V-6 in Mustangs, but the updated 5.0-liter HO V-8 was standard in GTs. It was revised from 1985’s four-barrel carburetor induction system to a multi-port fuel injection system and lost 10 hp in the process, although performance was still quite impressive. The 302-cid cast-iron V-8 had a 9.2:1 compression ratio and produced 200 hp at 4000 rpm and 285 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3000 rpm.
Other standard equipment on GTs was oriented towards performance car buyers and included a five-speed manual overdrive transmission, Goodyear Eagle VR tires, quick-ratio power steering, a special heavy-duty suspension and articulated front sports seats. An automatic overdrive transmission was optional for $622.
The Mustang GT was available in two models. One was a three-door hatchback with a $10,691 price tag and curb weight of 2,976 lbs. The other was the convertible, which listed for $14,523 and weighed in at 3,103 lbs. Ford churned out a whopping 224,410 Mustangs for the ’86 model year, including 40,578 GT hatchbacks and 9,887 GT convertibles.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Epright’s ’86 is 34 years old now, but it still looks almost as good as the day he plunked down $13,053.00 at Scaffidi Ford-Mercury and took delivery. In addition to its Medium Canyon Red Metallic over Charcoal Gray paint job — a $116 upcharge — it came with standard goodies like sport seats, rear spoiler, 15x7 cast aluminum wheels, split folding rear seat, cargo area cover, tilt steering, heavy-duty battery, digital clock, console, remote control fuel filler door and Traction-Lok axle. He also ponied up a few more greenbacks for a flip-up sunroof ($315), speed control ($176), rear window defroster ($145), air conditioning ($762), AM/FM cassette stereo ($148), Premium Sound System ($138), tinted glass ($115) and Light/Convenience Group ($55).
“I ordered what I wanted. Back then I was younger and I ordered air conditioning and speed control and I wanted the five-speed manual transmission,” Epright recalled. “I wanted a GT, of course, and I wanted the two-tone paint. I ordered the sun roof. And I got the Premium sound. I was young and you gotta have music!... I didn’t want power windows. I figured, ‘Ah, it’s a muscle car, that’s just more weight.’ It’s got air, tilt, cruise control and AM/FM cassette.”
To keep the Mustang is such immaculate shape, Epright took a few extra precautions. He’s had plastic on the seats in the past and even stored the car with its original plastic coverings that came with the car. He’s also put extra carpet on the floor to keep the original carpet from getting abused.
Aside from the mufflers, the only wrenching he’s done on the Mustang were maintenance items and tires. “I basically changed all the fluids and stuff like that. All the hoses and belts and tires, and that’s about it. The exhaust they replaced under warranty several times because they had problems with the catalytic converters breaking loose. At first when you started it up it would sound like a rod knock because the catalytic converters would rattle inside. The whole exhaust system was stainless steel except the mufflers. The mufflers have been replaced. I put the stainless ones on there. The mufflers were the first thing that rotted off.”
The Eprights only put a few hundred miles on the GT every year, but Bill insists he’s not skittish about driving it. The car makes regular appearances at the Iola Car Show each July and gets regular exercise during the summer.
“I trust it. I’d go anyplace with this car. It’s a nice cruiser. It still rides like a lumber wagon!,” Bill laughs. “It’s got a really stiff suspension. I was surprised again when I hopped in it again this summer! Oh man, I didn’t realize it was this stiff! [laughs]. It’s got the competition suspension and everything is stiff.”
“I never really ever beat on it. It’s pretty much been babied all its life. Once in a while I take it out and get 65, 70 out of second gear, and then put it in third gear and kind of coast!”
Epright jokes that after the car sat for so many years out of sight, a lot of his friends and acquaintances didn’t know it existed, or had forgotten about it. “Yeah, a lot of people who know me hadn’t seen the car, and they’d say, ‘I didn’t know you had this car! It’s like brand new!’ Well, yeah, it’s only got 30-some-thousand miles on it.”
If Epright has his way, he’ll roll up another 36,000 miles a lot faster than he did the first. He has achieved his goal of preserving his hot Mustang as a toy to joy ride in and show off during his golden years. Now he’s enjoying the payoff.
‘You know, I was working all those years and we had a place up north that we’d go to on weekends. I was just busy all the time,” he concludes. “Now I’m retired. I can use it to go get my drugs at Walgreens!”
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