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1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 - Sight Unseen

Mark Mathieu's 11-Second 1969 Mach 1 Was A Leap Of Faith

Photography by Henry De Los Santos, Mark Mathieu

Old-timers used to advise not to buy a "pig in a poke" (a poke is a sack), meaning that you should never pay for something you haven't actually seen and touched. But in today's fast-paced, high-tech world, this sort of thing takes place regularly. In the car hobby, it's common to find people buying parts and even cars that they've never seen, particularly through the Internet. Such transactions always involve a degree of risk, requiring the buyer to believe the seller's description.

Mark Mathieu found himself in the midst of just such a transaction several years ago when he purchased his '69 Mach I. Mark had lusted for a '67 Shelby Mustang since he was a youngster, but by the time he was old enough to afford one, they were considered collectible and priced out of his reach, prompting the search for his second favorite car: the '69 Mach I. Knowing how values of these cars had gone up, Mark was willing to settle for any '69 Sportsroof Mustang, and wound up with a '70 model wearing a '69 front clip. Being from Minnesota, the car was heavily rusted, and fairly battered to boot, but attempts to procure something better turned up only overpriced Bondo-buckets.

A friend of a friend traveling in the Southwest knew what Mark wanted, and relayed news that he'd found a "solid, rust-free '69 Mach I that needed a drivetrain and some bodywork." Mark followed up and took that leap of faith since the price was right. But when he received the car, he found it to be almost as bad as the '70 he already had. The saving grace was the rock-solid unit-body, and the fact that this car was actually a true '69 Mach.

Fortunately, Mark had accumulated extensive sheetmetal working skills over the years, which came in handy since he wound up replacing the floorpans, one rear quarter-panel, the taillight panel, the radiator support and splash aprons, and the roof skin, along with all the bolt-on sheetmetal up front. Working in his own garage and using a mix of NOS panels and clean used stuff, Mark pieced the Mustang back together, even replicating the factory seams in lead and correcting some factory panel alignment issues common to that vintage Mustang.

When it came time to spray the paint, Mark had to have friend Len Hujanen help him "double gun" the job, because he felt it necessary to have two guys spraying opposite sides of the car to get the metalflake to lay out evenly, with no "tiger stripes."

All this attention to detail was largely because Mark's original intent was to restore the Mach to concours standards, though by the time drivetrain decisions had to be made, Mark had been infected with the need for speed. Now an aluminum-headed 408 pushes the Mach to 11.60s at 117 mph. Despite that, it remains a true street car, having made the 3,200-mile round trip to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, last year without a hitch.

Although this project has taken many turns since Mark first decided to build a Mustang, he's quite satisfied with the end result, and continues to fine-tune the combination for improved performance, but it brought up an ironic twist on the whole project. "I built this car because I thought I couldn't afford a Shelby. But for what I have in it, I probably could have bought the Shelby and had some change." Is that a regret? "No way-the Shelby wouldn't be as much fun."

Car Craft Q&A
CC: You bought a car from Arizona to avoid the rust, but it turned out to be pretty rough-why'd you continue?
MM: The car turned out to be nearly junk, but the unit-body was completely rust-free, and everything else I'd looked at, even cars that looked good, were patched up rust-buckets, so I stuck with it.

CC: Was your intent to build a nice-looking car for the street and strip?
MM: Actually, I had intended to do a concourse restoration on the car, though all my hot rod buddies made fun of me. A friend with a '69 Road Runner was particularly hard on my project, so I decided I'd build it to beat his 440 with a small-block Ford.

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