I never liked these cars. Stupidly, I admitted this to Gene Hooker, the car's owner, while driving to the photo shoot. Not the smartest move, of course, and I clumsily tried to talk my way out of it. Instead of being angry (which he should have been), Gene smiled and said he never did either. Whew!
My intention was to compliment him on the excellent job he'd done restoring this particular Mustang, often considered an undesirable body style by some people. It just didn't come out that way.
Gene never had any plans to build a '72, though. He was going through a divorce in the late '80s and needed something to keep him occupied during the ordeal. "I had owned a '70 Mach 1 that got totaled while my wife was driving, and I wanted another one like that." But he couldn't afford any of the pre-'71 Mach 1s he looked at. Instead, he ended up buying this '72 on a local car lot for $1,000.
In hindsight, he thinks he paid too much for it. "It was in pretty foul shape," says Gene, a stoic guy who has a gift for speaking in understatement. "The engine knocked, the suspension was shot, the brakes were shot, the alignment was way off, it had a GM power steering pump that didn't work, the windows leaked, the floor was rusted through, and though it was originally a four-speed car, it had an automatic and only Second gear worked." He drove the car home from the lot, a 15-mile drive along country roads that should have only been a 20-minute ride. "It took about 45 minutes," Gene says. "My father followed me in case the car fell apart along the way." The trip seemed to last a couple of hours.
Once home, Gene went through the car, assessing the condition, saving up money, and tracking down replacement parts. In December 1991 he began working steadily on the Mach, fixing the mechanical things first. He wanted to keep the car driveable before sending it to the body shop. "I fixed the brakes and suspension first. I fixed the door handle too so I could get in the car." He then tackled the drivetrain, rebuilding the 351C and adapting a T5 transmission from a '93 Mustang. Then it was off to the body shop for an extensive cosmetic and structural overhaul. The floorpans were replaced as well as both quarter-panels, both doors, the decklid, and the front and rear valance panels. Martin Bennette of Asheboro, North Carolina, sprayed the freshened sheetmetal with a Gold Glow basecoat/clearcoat paint job.
He finished the major work on the Mustang in 1993, but Gene still continues to tinker. He added power assist to the brakes last winter and is toying with the notion of building a fuel-injection system for the engine. In the meantime he drives the wheels off the car. Currently there are 260,000 miles on the clock; about 100,000 of those were amassed after the car was restored. He goes to a lot of cruises and drives it regularly to car shows. We met him at the Year One Experience in Atlanta. He tells us he gets a lot of folks talking to him about the car, and the most common question people ask is "How do you see out of the back window?" "You don't," Gene replies. "You get used to it."
All the while, he's developed an appreciation for this Mustang body style. "No, I never used to like the looks of these cars. I guess it's grown on me over the years. I like it a lot now, and I don't have any plans for getting rid of it." He says the guy he bought his Mach 1 from was planning on parting it out rather than selling it complete. He's really happy he found it before that happened.