Lost Car of the Month:
1969 Ford Mustang Mach I

Twenty-three years ago, my father let his biggest fish get away. I've spent the years since trying to figure out how to reel it back in.

By Keith Ingersoll, Lost Car Registry.com

9T02R156354, where are you? - my father's '69 Mach I, photographed in my grandmother's backyard, Peekskill, NY, sometime in 1969.

VIN: 9T02R156354
YEAR, MAKE, MODEL: 1969 Ford Mustang Mach I
BODY STYLE: Two-door fastback
OPTIONS: Super Cobra Jet, 428 Ram Air, four-speed transmission, Traction Lok differential, optional axle ratio (4.30 gears), F70x14 belted white letter tires, sport deck rear seat, power steering, power front disc brakes, AM radio.
ORIGINAL DEALERSHIP: Larsen Ford, White Plains, NY. Sold January 1969.
CAR LAST SEEN: 1979, northern NJ.

Click the above link for an original Ford commercial featuring the 1969 Ford Mustang Mach I, 428 Cobra Jet. Man, they don't even make commercials like they used to! Regrets? Sure, my dad's had a few but nothing smarts worse than talking about the first and only new car he ever bought - his beloved '69 Mustang, 9T02R156354. And really, who can blame the poor guy? It's not that he doesn't mind talking about it - shoot, 23 years after he last saw the car, he's still automated to dissect the sheer majesty of that car to any soul who'll take the time to listen. In the end, it's talking about the fact he sold the car, when he should have so obviously held onto it at any cost, that really, truly stings the most. Hindsight is a bitch.

You'd think 10 years with any car, of even the most glamorous stripe, would be enough to take with you. Thing is, this wasn't any old car. This wasn't even any '69 Mustang; this Mach I - arguably Ford's best idea in a year of better ideas - was king of the block. Not that it didn't have help, mind you - that fire-breathing 428 Cobra Jet (with Ram Air) is now the stuff of musclecar lore.

If only my father hadn't let it go. But he did - for less than $1,000. Starting to feel his pain yet? I thought so. Still, he stands by his only defense:

(At right: Dated January 18, 1969, this order form details my father's new 1969 Ford Mustang Mach I, 9T02R156354. The Indian Fire-colored car, ordered with black interior, included the following options (prices in parenthesis): 428 Ram Air ($357.46), four-speed transmission ($252.92), power steering ($94.95), power disc brakes ($64.77), AM radio ($61.40), sport deck rear seat ($67.21), Traction Lok ($63.51), optional axle ratio, 4:30 ($6.53), and four 70x14 belted white letter tires ($13.05).
Click on the image for larger detail.)

"I needed the money," he says.

Indeed, he did. In 1979, my father was at the tailend of a five-year night school odyssey at nearby Fairleigh Dickinson University that would end a year later with a hard-fought degree in electrical engineering. College then wasn't any cheaper than it is now. Factor in the cost of two kids - yours truly, and my sister, Stephanie - and a two-family house in northern New Jersey, and money was hard to come by.

So when the Mustang was sideswiped one morning that year - by some fool who made a quick, rash u-turn in a short side street - the decision to sell it sort of made itself. He needed the money, and so the car went, just like that. Did he have options? Of course. You always have options. He could have stored the car at my grandmother's house in lower New York until he had a chance to repair it.

"It's true. I could have done that, but I didn't," my father might say.

Years later, in fact, my late grandmother's spacious property would serve as a temporary resting place for some of my dad's extra, but at times, inoperable vehicles. I cringe when I think of our dodgy '73 Satellite station wagon resting comfortably in that backyard, while the poor, convalescent Mach I was cast to the wind like some ignominious stepchild. Years of analysis has lead me to believe that my dad may have suffered temporary insanity as a result of the traffic accident. He would probably agree.

Truth be told, it was such a sad end to a relationship that started with so much love and would result in so many good times. The way my father tells it, laying his eyes on the car was like love at first site. The year was 1968, and while my father had already met my mom - his future wife, who he'd marry three years later - his capacity to love just one was compromised the very minute he saw the Mach I. It was a magazine ad, as he recalls it, extolling the virtues of Ford's brand new line-up for 1969.

The Mach I called to him from the pages of Hot Rod, or Car Craft or whatever motorhead journal my father had floating under his nose at the time. She was sleek, elegant and fast - not to mention a tad bit dangerous, which, of course, made my father want her even more. He just had to meet her - had to have this car - and so he did.

"After I saw that ad I said to myself, 'I gotta have that car,'" says my dad.

My father had never actually owned a new car, but it made sense that when he did settle in to buy one, it would be a Ford. Fords were, after all, in his blood. One of his very first automobiles was a '55 Crown Victoria. And when he wasn't laying waste to the night life that was Peekskill, NY in the late '60s, exactly how did he spend his slow nights? Hard at work on his first real hot rod: a 427-powered '57 Thunderbird convertible which, incidentally, he still owns to this day.

Falling in love with the Mach I was the easy part - going about making the car his own was going to be tougher. In time, my dad made up his mind; the '67 GTO convertible, his then-daily driver, simply had to go. Even better, he could use a trade-in on the GTO to help finance the cost of the Mustang. It was settled.

"You know, I never really liked that car, anyway" says my dad, referring to the GTO. "It had some of the worse brakes on any car I've ever driven. I was happy to see it go."

(At left: The invoice for my father's '69 Mach I, dated January 24, 1969. The invoice details the car's options, without prices, and includes the trade-in value ($1,700) on his '67 Pontiac GTO convertible; balance due on the Mach I after trade-in was $2,039.14. Click on the image for larger detail.)

Whether my father planned to pre-order his Mach I is something we've never really talked about. Any thoughts he may have had about ordering a particular Mach I, however, were apparently dismissed the instant he stepped inside Larsen Ford in White Plains, NY, and saw 9T02R156354 - the Mach I that would become his own - sitting on the showroom floor.

The car had it all:

428 Cobra Jet, with Ram Air, 335 HP. Check.
Four-speed manual transmission. Check.
Traction-Lok differential. Check.
Optional axle ratio - otherwise known as 4:30 gears. Check.
Sport deck rear seat. Check.
Power steering. Check.
Power front disc brakes. Check.
AM radio. Check.

My father's Mach I was no simple Mustang. By virtue of its options, the car - and I'm not a Mach I expert, so if I'm wrong, let me know - boasted the Super Cobra Jet option, itself a step up from the already potent Cobra Jet option. According to the Mustang 428 Cobra Jet Registry, several things differentiate the Cobra Jet from the Super Cobra Jet:

"The 428 SCJ was first introduced during the 1969 model year. Mustang buyers who selected either of the optional 3.91:1 or 4.30:1 rear end gear ratios got more than just an optional axle ratio! Ordering either of these axle ratio options automatically triggered a few other upgrades as well, including the 428 Super Cobra Jet engine, an external oil cooler mounted in front of the radiator, and relocation of the driver's side horn to the passenger side of the radiator core support to make room for the oil cooler. Starting in February 1969 this complete package could be ordered as the "Drag Pack" option. Note that it was not possible to order an SCJ engine by itself -- the only way to get your hands on an SCJ in a Mustang was to order the optional 3.91:1 or 4.30:1 rear end gear ratios."

(At left: Arizona-based Marti Autoworks owns the entire database for Ford vehicles produced from 1967-1973. I recently ordered a Marti Report for my father's Mustang. His vehicle was produced on Jan. 14, 1969, six days before he took delivery.

Total price for the car, with options, was $3,740 (with tax). My dad ended up getting a $1,710 trade-in on the GTO - $1,700, plus a miscellaneous $10 deposit. If he wanted the Mach I, he would need to come up with $2039.14 (including plates and fees). In January 1969, he was able to secure a bank loan for the rest of the balance on the car, and the Mach I soon became his.

It may not seem like much now, but $3,740 was a lot of money for a car back then, or at least my dad has told me so. It could have been more costly. My dad considered, but passed, on two other new cars around the time he bought the Mach I that would have been substantial steps up in price - namely, the Shelby Mustang and the decidedly non-FoMoCo Chevrolet Corvette.

This Mach I was his. But was it worth it? My dad hoped so. As it so happened, a red light, not far from Larsen Ford, would silence his concerns once and for all. Not long after taking possession of the Mach I, my dad pulled up to that light. He wasn't alone for very long. Enter non-descript Mopar offering of the time - Plymouth Roadrunner, perhaps? It didn't matter. As soon as the light changed, my father dumped the clutch, floored the gas, and left the Roadrunner with a mouthful of its own feathers. Exeunt Roadrunner.

"I blew his doors in," my dad says, punctuating that story with a grin. Love was in the air.

So began a relationship that would encompass many good times, and a few near misses, over the next ten years. Remember the '57 Thunderbird I mentioned earlier in the story? The Mach I soon became the tow car of choice as my dad campaigned on an amateur level at drag strips all across the NY tri-state area during 1969 and 1970. The Mach I itself even got the chance to pass down the strip more than a few times, and as you might expect, performed admirably on each and every occasion.

The Mach I was there at all important times in the early years of our family's development. It was my parents' sole vehicle on their 1971 honeymoon to Miami. The cost of gas to drive from New Jersey to Miami is, however, something I'm sure my dad would rather forget. I personally remember riding in the car to go do the one thing that almost everyone did in 1977 - watch that new sci-fi movie, Star Wars. It's one of the few memories I have of actually riding in the car, aside from a high-powered jaunt down Rt. 46 West in Clifton, NJ that forever sticks in my head. Barely able to see above the dash board because I was so young, I remember the rush of acceleration as my father took the car from first to second, upwards through fourth gear, charging the Ram Air into action. It was awesome.

Other than the accident that took the car from us, my father's only trouble with it came a year or two after he had the car: The nylon teeth on its cam gear disintegrated, causing a slipped timing chain and nearly costing my dad the 428. He got lucky; he bent all 16 pushrods, and probably affected some of the valves, but according to him, the car was none the worse for wear.

What kind of shape is the car in today? What happened to it in the years after my father owned it? Is it even still on the road? I don't know. I do know that 23 years after it made its last pass down West Fourth St., it occupies a place in our hearts that won't ever be compromised. If you're out there 9T02R156354, come home. We've got a lot of catching up to do.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of this car, contact Keith Ingersoll at (734) 834-5988 or keithi70@hotmail.com. A reward will be given for information leading to the successful location of this vehicle.

©Copyright 2004, The Lost Car Registry. All rights reserved.