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Story by Brian Kennedy
Pictures by Gabriela Moya
A happy handful of Mustangs descended upon the Los Angeles County Arboretum on Saturday, October 4th, for “Mustangs in the Garden”—an event which follows up a similar display of Spyders and Cobras over the past couple of years.
The Arboretum, for those unfamiliar, is within a stone’s throw of Santa Anita race track and the Arcadia mall. It is a 127-acre botanical garden displaying the flora of the world as well as featuring a number of restored historic buildings which reflect the local region’s past. There’s also an excellent café which offers burgers, pulled pork, and other lunchtime goodies, plus a decent cup of coffee (and no, nobody told me to say that).
But if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you care about cars more than plants. So here’s the rundown on some of the stories represented by Ford’s Pony car as seen in Arcadia on this 90-degree day.
First, the setup. Each car had plenty of space to shine, as each was displayed on its own sitting on the manicured lawns scattered around the Arboretum’s grounds. Most had historic buildings or local plant life in the background, and all had ample space that people could enjoy a walk around. As one person said, “Way better than sitting on a blacktop parking lot all day, and certainly far more relaxing than a show where baby carriages squeeze between cars and threaten your paint job.”
Each car was signposted with the story of the Mustang and its owner. Fun to read. But more fun was to talk to the folks who owned them and learn about their cars and how they’ve enjoyed them.
My favorite was a 1966 coupe, Candy Apple Red in its original paint. The Parkers own this red-interior car, and they have since the 1970s. They got the car when a realtor friend called and invited them to an open house. The real reason for her luring them there was to point them to an older gentleman across the street who was the original owner of the car. They went over and had a chat, and this led to their buying it. Since then, they’ve put about 8,000 miles on the odo, which reads sub-30,000 miles to date. They drove the car to the Arboretum from their nearby home, but it is not taken on long trips. They have a modern Mustang to take care of the journeys which call them and to get them to their Mustang Owners’ Club of California monthly meetings.
Next along the path was an orange T-code 6-cylinder 1965 model with black stripes running over the hood. Not original but completely restored, the car was a basket case which the owner’s niece bought to fix up. She owned it for better than a decade and hadn’t started work on it, so it went to her uncle and his son, her cousin, who spent an intense nine months stripping it to the skin and redoing it from blue to orange. The young man participated in all phases of the resto, as evidenced by the pictures his dad was showing. Every detail and every square inch were touched, and the kid drove it to high school. He’s now off in university in Santa Barbara, so it’s home. A V8 conversion is next in the plans.
A number of newer cars, including a 2007 Shelby GT500 convertible, were mixed in with the vintage iron. My favorite non-vintage car was a Mustang that’s no longer new, but 20 years old now, a 1994 model with 165,000 miles on the odometer. It has every option available, and the original owner, Denis Barnes, indicated that there has been no modification made to the 5.0-litre engine. He got it in February of 1994, and people in the know will remember that that model year was the start of the new generation of Mustangs, which debuted with the tagline, “It is what it was, and more.” The 1994 model featured the return of a number of 60s era styling cues, including the faux brake scoops ahead of the rear wheels and the horizontal three-bar taillights. These, incidentally, were shortly changed to a 1971-style three-bar vertical design in 1995.
Perhaps the most valuable and lovely car on display was a 1966 convertible, Silver-Blue with double redline tires in the original bias style and a pony interior. The Queen Anne Cottage of the Arboretum was in the distant background behind this car, owned by Mike Kwasnick of Duarte. The story on his car sign was that they bought the car from a shady broker in Texas who claimed it was fully restored. It had scratches and wasn’t able to run even around the block. The family thought about shipping it straight back to the guy, but decided on a full restoration instead. The results, with perfect proportion in every detail, were worth the trouble, and the three-year wait it took to complete the teardown and rebuild.
But equally charming was a 1965 convertible owned by Orah Mae Millar and her husband and daughter. The younger Millar, Robin, told me, “We drive it. It wouldn’t win any awards, but people’s favorite” at most shows. But they’re proud of the fact that they use the car. Orah Mae had said, “It’s not a show car. It’s a family car, but it’s a beautiful family car.” One highlight of its year is that it drives Santa Claus from the North Pole to the Rolling Hills shopping center every year at Christmastime.
The car was red, painted in the 1970s but still looking great. The work came at an cost Orah Mae is still not possessing the details of. “My husband told me he got it painted, but that I shouldn’t ask how much it cost. I never have,” she said with a twinkle. The car originally came to them in a trade, with Hanna Barbera cartoon animation cells the price her husband, Pete, the creator of Cartoons Magazine and Drag Cartoons, gave to the first owner. They proudly point out that the car is an original six-cylinder model.
Next to the Millar convertible was a C-code Emberglo coupe fixed up to GT status. It’s been in the care of Karen Hart since shortly after her wedding in 1977. The color was blue when she got it, a cheapo paint job, and she decided after driving it a while to do a restoration to sell. But when she saw the original Emberglo color, she fell in love. The restoration was completed the day before the Mustang model’s 20th anniversary show in 1984. Then it was re-restored in 2000. Along the way, it was stolen from the Puente Hills mall, but recovered the next day, with pizza boxes inside and chocolate smears on the dash. This is the only car that Karen has owned, and it took her to work for a long time.
The license, “MY 66GLO” was one of two she submitted for DMV approval. The other was “MY 66 Ember,” which she says she was more hoping for. I say that anyone who knows Mustangs will know what the current tag means.
Yet another ’66 coupe was in the care of Mark Giles. Originally his father-in-law’s car, the orange coupe has recently had an engine rebuild, mostly due to the car sitting around over the years. The Mustang was a gift to Giles’ father-in-law, and Mark took it over in the late 1990s. The paint, which looks pristine, was done way back in 1990, and the engine has now had its internals freshened up and new gaskets added, so it runs like it should once more.
And one final gem whose story impressed was the 1967 convertible, black with a red interior, owned by Jacob Seropian. His father had owned the car since 1973, taking it off the hands of a customer of his tire shop who was moving away and needing to sell. The man had a deal made for $900, but it fell through, and Mr. Saropian got the car, as he says, because it was the right price, and a Mustang. He drove it for four years and then stored it for 37 years, ending in 2014. Jacob pulled it out of storage, did a five-month restoration, and gave it to his dad. But his father in turn presented it to him as a gift, and he now has it on the road once more.
You’re getting the point that owning a Mustang isn’t about short-term flings but long-term commitment, right? That seemed to be the subtheme of the day in Arcadia, and so while the Mustangs in the Garden show wasn’t by any means a comprehensive showcase of all eras of Mustang development, it was a charming collection of cars which, happily for this fan of the 1966 model, was mostly made up of the early year cars.