Ahh retirement. That time that so many of us dream about and try to plan for. A time that brings to mind images of beach homes, rocking chairs and dinner at 3:00pm. For some that may be the ideal image of retirement, for those of us involved in the automotive hobby we may have something else entirely in mind.
For John Cotton retirement has been anything but typical. This father of eight and grandfather of twenty two (soon to be twenty three) is now retired from a thirty three year career spent at United Parcel Service. Retirement for John has been anything buy the stereotypical snow-birding to the southern states in the winter and hours every day spent on the golf course.
In addition to constructing some very cool cars, John and his wife Robin have spent nearly two years time overseas involved in humanitarian relief as well as raising cattle and chickens at their home. When he’s not in the garage or driving one of his own cars you’ll often find John attending to matters involving his church or spending time with any number of his grandchildren.
Getting Over the Hump
Like most of us when he retired John was accustomed to getting up and heading to work every day. His job had been demanding, requiring a lot of hours and concentration on his part. “I knew when I retired I needed something to help me get into the idea of not going to work every day, this car really got me over that hump.” That hump is often what depresses many retirees. While to those of us who still have to slog away behind a desk, a workbench or assembly line may find the idea of not having to work a typical 9-5 for the rest of your remaining days appealing, the reality of it can be depressing and frustrating for many who don’t have some type of activity in mind to keep them going.
John found a way to prevent those early retirement blues when he purchased the car featured here just two years before saying good bye to the regular work day routine. This 1967 Mustang was bought in pretty sad shape. “It took two loads of rusty parts in my Ranger and a flatbed wrecker to bring it home” he recalls. The car was a victim of its age. The iron cancer of rust had taken hold of nearly every panel. The engine and transmission were long past their prime and the interior left nothing to be desired. It would take John exactly three years from the day he brought it home to be able to drive it.
The Mission; Not Another Elanore
If you really knew John Cotton you would know he’s a man who’s not afraid to learn something new. The task he had just undertaken was tremendous.
Having owned and cared for a multitude of Mustangs and muscle cars in the past John was no stranger to swinging wrenches on a classic car. This was a little different though, a complete restoration of a much greater magnitude, this was to be his masterpiece, his dream car. Still with even such a lofty goal he was determined to do as much of the work by himself as he could.
When the project began the Elanore craze spurred by a certain Jerry Bruckheimer film and stirred up even more by the recent additional spotlight on Carrol Shelby was in full swing. While these cars look and run great and did a lot to shine a light on classic Mustangs and resuscitate their popularity John was not going for this look. “I had calls from builders all over the country that had done title searches and found out I owned this car, looking for a fastback Mustang with a title that they could buy. The offers were outrageous for this rusty bucket of bolts I had in the garage, sight unseen”.
John would not take those offers and would not fall into the construct a clone craze. Instead he followed his own ideas and built a show winner and cruiser that could be driven anywhere in the country, to any show and draw attention.
The Business End
“I realized at some point I needed a template. Since the car was in so many pieces when I bought it and even though I had copies of original manuals for reference I had no way to hold parts in my hand and inspect things to see how they fit together, so we bought a ’68 Convertible.” The 68 convertible was a one owner survivor car. John purchased it from the original owners in Iowa on a fluke. “I had called on the weekend and the owner said the car was sold. So the search continued, but she called back a few days later and said the buyer had backed out, if I could pick the car back up by Friday it was mine. This was on a Wednesday. Robin and I hopped on a flight to Iowa, the owners picked us up at the airport and we drove the car back home to Kentucky.”
A template in hand, John cleaned up and cosmetically restored the ’68 vert, this car too would travel to some shows. More importantly though it kept the excitement that comes with owning any Mustang or muscle car alive for John and Robin. Without the ’68 to drive the ’67 Fastback might have fallen victim to project car frustration and never been completed. “That car really kept me going to complete the ’67.”
Saving What He Could
The original doors were saved, repaired and refinished. The car had to have new rear quarter panels. At the time the panel between the rear glass and
It took two loads of rusty parts in my Ranger and a flatbed wrecker to bring it home.
The original 289 engine was disassembled and rebuilt by Steve Packard of Speed Machine in LaGrange, KY. The heads were ported and polished and a mild cam was installed. John chose an Edelbrock performer intake manifold and matching carburetor to handle the air/fuel duties.
The front suspension was lowered one inch and a one inch diameter sway bar was also installed to improve the handling and set the stance. The car wears Rocker 8 spoke aluminum wheels with Magnum 500 spinners. A front disc brake upgrade was also performed on the car. Tires are 225/60/16 front and 245/60/16 rear.
The interior is mostly new with the exception of the rear seat. John installed white faced gauges, a new radio, a multitude of replacement chrome and trim pieces. All the glass was saved.
Making this car a little cosmetically different 2003 Ford Mineral gray paint was chosen as the exterior hue, the color was modified slightly using extra gold flake to bring out more of the mineral feel to the color. The quarter louvers were left off the rear of the car and in their place two pieces of polycarbonate were cut and installed as a custom touch.
Another interesting touch is the fog lights. Rather than putting them into the grille or valance John put them behind the grille. What is really cool about these lights though is that John kept the parts in the Mustang family. If you could inspect them closely you’d notice that they’re actually from a 1993 Mustang GT. “You know I found those and they fit just right into that radiator support in a factory hole that was already there and they worked so good.”
Once completed John and Robin took the car out of town for the first time in March 2006 just a month after it drove under its own power for the first time in so many years. At that first outing the car took first overall. This winning trend continued for the next two years as the car seemed to draw attention and awards everywhere it went.
You might think that one or two Mustangs were enough for retirement projects. The fact is that Cotton has built more projects in eight years of retirement than some of will complete in our lifetime. John sold the ’68 convertible that helped him get through the restoration process shortly after completing the fastback. He went on to complete several more projects including a B&B Cobra kit car, a blue ’67 Mustang Convertible, a Unique Performance Cobra kit car built for a close friend, and an Auto Restorers Street Beast Cobra kit.
John recently sold the Street Beast Cobra, the ’67 Convertible and the ’67 Fastback and all of his other project cars have also changed hands. He is presently finishing a ’68 Fastback for a friend who is deployed in the military. When that project is complete he has already purchased a rolling shell for a ’69 Mustang convertible which he intends to begin restoration on sometime in the summer of 2012. “That will probably be my last project, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.” We think if the past is any indicator of the future John’s retirement is going to be full of a great number of more project cars to come.