The Prodigal Mustang
By Jerry Heasley

This '70 Mach I returned to its original owner, Denis Griffiths of Braselton, Ga.,
after more than 20 years of separation
(Photo: Mustang & Fords magazine.)


(Ed. note: This article appears in the February 2003 issue of Mustang & Fords magazine. Visit the magazine online at

For Denis Griffiths, they don't get any more rare. For the first time in his Ford collecting life, he has a Mustang that's a sure-fire keeper.

"Once this one is done and back to where it belongs, it is not for sale. Since I started collecting in the early '90s, I said I wouldn't get emotionally attached to any of them. Every Mustang I've bought, I said I'm not going to get in over my head. I bought them so I could always make money on the cars and as investments."

Now there is one that isn't. This Mach I is the prodigal Mustang.

Denis lives in Brasleton, Georgia. On Friday the 13th this past September, he drove to the Charlotte Auto Fair at Lowe's Motor Speedway. At this show, they line up cars all the way around the track.

Denis told us, "I always just take a hike around the track to look at the cars." He came around Turn 3 and saw a '70 Mach I. He said, "I knew that had to be my car."

Denis was speaking of his first new car. What other car came special-ordered in Thunderbid brown with a single chrome side mirror substituted by the factory for the standard color-keyed racing mirrors included with the Mach I package? (Denis explained this mirror charge is noted on the window sticker as a $10 credit.) The 351, four-speed and AM radio with few other options were more evidence.

Denis first wrote to us in an e-mail. "I was married (same wife today, Linda) and a senior in college graduating in March. Took delivery of the car 22 Feb. '70. Moved to Georgia June '70. Sold the car in 1980 in Atlanta."

The buy/sell numbers are interesting. Denis paid cash, $3,371.99, for the car. The window sticker read $3,788.30. He sold the Mach I in 1980 for $4,000. How many cars can you buy brand new, drive for 10 years across 73,000 miles, and sell for more than you paid?

The operative word here is "sell." He sold his first new car and regretted the sale ever since. In 1996, he bought a Mach I almost identical to his original, but red, and hung onto it until he bought a '69 Cobra Jet convertible.

Deep down, Denis had always wanted to get his Mach I back., which he described to us as "that ultimate car."

How did it, the prodical son, leave home in the first place? Denis explained, "In 1980, I was parking three cars in a two-car garage. My wife said, 'You've got to get rid of one of those.'"

Denis agreed. He did need the room. "To fit the cars, I would push the Mach into the garage backwards and line it up within inches of the wall. There was a small nail sticking out of the wall that caught the car several times. Don't ask why I didn't pull that out."

Although 22 years has passed since Denis sold his Mach I, the car was virtually unchanged. The nail scratches on the right rear quarter-panel were still there, as was a "mystery dent" from the 1970 graduation ceremonies.

How much was the car going to cost in 2002 dollars? Robert Groninger of Douglasville, Georgia, told Denis the car was already sold. Bob Killian of Hickory, North Carolina, had already put down a deposit. Groninger, in fact, was second in line if the deal fell through at $12,500. This put Denis third on the list. When Groninger heard this was Denis' first new car, he agreed to give up his position.

Denis ended up buying the Mach I from the new owner for $14,500. His Mach I was hardly the worse for wear and the passage of time. Denis pointed to "Maybe a small paint touch-up on the back right quarter, interior nearly perfect except for a small crack in the dashpad, same small cracks by the door handles on the door panels, and 22,000 more miles added to the 73,000 I sold it with. Magnum 500s replaced the American wheels and Goodyear F60-15s I put on the car in the dealer's shop before driving it, the AM radio had been carefully replaced with a new AM/FM, and the carburetor is almost new. I found the original [Autolite] in the trunk with the original radio. The car is still entirely original and complete, including the spare, jack, etc., except for the air pump, which came off the car almost as quickly as the factory E7014s and 14x7 steel wheels."

Two weeks to the day after purchasing the car, Denis had the interior and drivetrain out, engine at the shop, and body prep started for a slight freshening to that first day.

Denis hopes that by January 14, 2003 he can once again take delivery of one special '70 Mach I. The Prodigal Mustang has returned home, never to stray again.