The Mustang, Clearwater Aqua Blues — The Basement

Tom Stewart
12 min readJan 30, 2022


The 1967 Clearwater Aqua Mustang, after years of work.

I have loved 60’s Mustangs since I was a kid. I was never sure why until my brother told me the neighbors had a couple of Mustangs that we used to ride in as kids. Maybe that was it, maybe I remember seeing them around and thinking how cool-looking they were.

I have always had an affection for old and obsolete things; I was a fan of old-time radio, silent movies, golden age comics, old and obscure books, and TV shows (does anyone remember the Spokane WA TV station KREM’s ‘Golden Days of TV’ festival?). I was always reaching out to understand what was then, so I could figure out what is happening now. Of course, when I was a kid there were a lot more classics on the road than today, in fact, I remember riding in my dad’s old Hudson as a kid and loving it. (I have a huge scar across my knee because of that car, and my own five-year-old stupidity, but that’s another story).

I always wanted a Mustang. It was the first car I bought at the age of 43. That one was a ‘coupe-vertible’ (a coupe converted into a drop-top) and was totaled in an accident I still say was not my fault. With the insurance money I bought the car in the picture above (the pic shows how the car looked after I had fixed it up).

The picture above is a 1967 Ford Mustang convertible. Built in Dearborn, Michigan, on the 10th of May, 1967, it ended up here in Seattle, somehow, where it was bought by 17-year-old Bill. Being 17, Bill’s dad had to co-sign the loan as Bill was underage. He told me, “It was my high school car! Load up the guys, head out to the park, swim, and then race it doing doughnuts in the parking lot. Just don’t get caught.”

I’m sure his dad, part-owner of the car, would not have appreciated his getting ‘caught’.

The car had been driven hard for years, and had not been well maintained. Bill managed to blow an engine at least once, I know because the warranty for the new one, supplied by a business in Tacoma that sold reconditioned engines, is in the folder of receipts he handed me. That was in 1978, and the company is still in business today, expanded with the number of teens blowing engines maybe. I had answered Bill’s Craigslist ad, set up an appointment on a warm, sunny day in Seattle, grabbed an old paperback, and took the bus over to Magnolia where the car was located.

I inspected the car, and it was not pretty. The interior was trashed, the carpet filthy and falling apart, the seats split and upholstery not matching, the door to the cigarette lighter was missing. It had been parked for ten years in Bill’s mother-in-law’s garage until she wanted it out of there. He didn’t want to let the poor pony go, “Got a lot of memories in this thing.” He told me, frowning at the car parked in front of the house.

His wife, Rose, was the one that actually took me around the car, as Bill didn’t really want to watch me look it over.

I got on my hands and knees and looked under the car; dirt, grease, and rust. I couldn’t tell how extensive, but it was a lot. A LOT. We’re talking holes. I could hear Rose behind me “He doesn’t want to hear about rust.” He didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t want to see it.

Bill came back to negotiate a price. He wanted X, and I wanted to pay no more than Y. He went into stories about offers given and refused, I nodded. It was the usual dance of the price, high and low, headed toward a middle. And there we finally met which was still too much, but I was a sucker.

I had fallen hard for the car. Just walking around it, I was already thinking of how to improve it, how to save it. Like many men who, faced with an impossible task, thought he (I) could fix it. I was a chump, and Bill was happy to take my cash. We hopped in his minivan and went to Ballard, (part of Seattle) to the licensing office to transfer the title. And after that, they dropped me off in front of the car.

Yes, I bought it. It was now all my problem.

The day I brought it home. Looks great! From the outside.

The brakes were… an adventure. As Bill said ‘These are 1967 brakes, they don’t work like modern brakes.” Right, but these were worse than usual. Throwing out an anchor would have had more stopping power. I had to make plans to stop about a block away from where I actually needed to stop, praying no one would cut me off. I got to Capitol Hill, parked, and went over to the Kingfish Cafe to tell my wife, who was the chef back then, that I had bought a new (to me) Mustang convertible. She was happy for me but figured I bought yet another car that I’d probably die in. Of course, I thanked her for her opinion and went out to drive the Mustang home to get to work on it.

Of course, it didn’t start.

I cranked it over again and again. No luck. A guy came out to help whose hobby was restoring Ford Falcons (the original basis for the Mustang) and even together we couldn’t get the damn thing to start.

I called a tow truck and off it went to Bell-Kirk Mustang. The mechanics there could not believe I drove it with brakes that were nearly rusted open. When I told the mechanic that I drove it from Magnolia to Capitol Hill (about 6 miles, passing by the Space Needle) he looked at me in slack-jawed shock. It wouldn’t start because Bill hadn’t bothered to drain and clean the gas tank before restarting the car and ten years of sludge and bad gas flooded into the carburetor, utterly clogging it. The mechanics said it was the dirtiest carb they had ever seen. They would have to rebuild it. Which they did, incorrectly. But that’s another story.

As soon as I walked home, after I called that tow truck, I started ordering parts. This was my 2nd Mustang, as the first one was totaled in a head-on collision and this one would require a hell of a lot of work. It needed… everything.

Once I got it back from Bel-Kirk (after they made it ‘drivable’), I had to take it right back to them as they had messed up the carb rebuild (put the wrong arm on the throttle) and it would die if it got anywhere near an incline, like a driveway. They never admitted they screwed up, but they fixed it, grudgingly. And soon the ton of new parts I ordered started arriving; like a complete interior, gas tank, parts to rebuild the doors inside and out, and dozens of others.

Bill had done a LOT of half-assed repairs as a high school kid and after. The Mustang had been repainted several times, never in the original color, all badges had been removed, one rusted-out floorboard was replaced with a yield sign, seats recovered with whatever was handy, the faded/cracked dash and bezels were spray-painted with goopy, rattle can paint. The speedo didn’t work, the mile counter didn’t work, and the gas gauge didn’t budge, the carpet was probably the original seeing how dirty, smelly, and threadbare it was and the windows needed the strength of Hercules to roll up or down.

And the rust.

Good lord, the rust.

He had driven it hard and put it away wet in his mother-in-law’s garage. It was already a textbook definition for deferred maintenance and there it would sit for a decade, quietly rusting. In the late 90s he tried to do some work on it (I have invoices for new bumpers, a new stereo system from Car Toys, and various items) but he seemed to give up again and just parked it.

Now that the care was back and not constantly stalling, I stripped out the interior. I found many interesting things: a ‘fuzz buster’ (radar detector, remember those?) attached to the dash, a coke spoon, and a dozen or so ‘Miller High Life’ bottle caps all around the car. Like he said, it was his ‘high school car’ and he was not kidding.

The interior; wavy door panels, trashed seats, faded dash, and a carpet that used to be black.

It’s also when I found the rust, the holes, and the damage.

What, I’m sure you’re asking, is it about Lee Iacocca’s Falcon reskin, his chance to give Ford something ‘sporty’ since Robert McNamara killed the original Thunderbird (and put out the designed-by-committee Ford Falcon… yes, the irony) that would put me to Frankenstein-ing this poor little pony car back to life? The Mustang was rushed into production, using that Falcon as a basis, hitting the market in less than two years since the initial idea (probably spurred by Chevy’s Corvette, but don’t tell Mustang fans that) which is nearly unprecedented as around three years was the norm then.

I bought this car in 2011 and spent months throwing things out, repairing, replacing, dealing with setbacks, and having to be forced to accept my own limitations and that of YouTube how-tos. Sanding, hammering, new parts replacing tired parts, fixing problems. By 2012, I left it at Maaco to revert it from faded white (well, really gray primer) to its original 1967 color, ‘Clearwater Aqua’.

MUCH better.

And I and my Mustang lived happily ever after.


A classic car is never really finished, there are always little bits to fix here and there. And other drivers who seem to take aim for the poor, little car.

In 2012, I responded to the ‘wave-of-death’ and got hit in the driver’s side fender, putting the car in the shop for four months. I was fine if shaken. In 2015, I got rear-ended by a Toyota 4X4 following too close on an early, rainy morning. I’d hit my signal, slowed to make a turn, and heard brakes squealing. I was mystified, that couldn’t be the Mustang. It seemed like forever, as I turned my head to look behind me. I got only as far as the side window before I was hit.

I was slammed forward and then back (bending the seat frame) as the back end of the car slid left, barely missing the next to me car waiting to make a turn. I drove forward and parked. The rear of the car was almost in the back seat. The Toyota had a dent in its huge bumper. We exchanged info in the rain, and I chanced the drive to work four blocks away. When I got to my desk I called my insurance and arranged a two truck, then texted my wife about what happened. The shock slowly wore off and then I noticed the bruise from the steering wheel on the right side of my head. I didn’t have a chance to brace before the impact and I didn’t even remember hitting it. There was no one in the office, so I sat, wet, breathing, and wondering if the Mustang would end its nearly 50-year journey on the wet, dark streets of Lynnwood, Washington.

The poor car was brought home later that night. I helped the tow truck driver push it into my backyard driveway.

“Now that,” he shook his head, “Is a damn shame.”


“They gonna total it?”

“No idea. The adjuster hasn’t contacted me yet.”

“Who’s his insurance?”

“State Farm.”

He sucked in his breath. “Oooo, yeaaaah. They’re tough.”


“In my experience. Well, good luck man, that was a nice car.”

“Yeah, thanks for the help.”

Yep, it looks better than it is; the driver’s side quarter panel is folded in, the truck floor buckled, the deck lid folded in, the bumper caved in.

The adjuster came a few days later. The thing about most insurance adjusters, is they don’t specialize, at the least the car adjusters don’t. The guy was obviously used to late-model Hondas and various domestics, and probably very good and efficient at assessing them, but a 48-year-old Ford Mustang seemed to stump him. I took him around the car, explained about reproduction parts and sheet metal, just what would probably be needed, gave him parts catalogs, directed him to websites, and told him how much work had gone into getting the car to the point at which it was hit.

He poked around with his flashlight, went down a checklist, (I did pray he wouldn’t look underneath and see the various rust) and he thanked me for the materials. He said he’d notify Progressive (my insurance) in a week. This, he said, might take him a while.

I figured they’d total the car. It sat, crumpled, in the backyard under the old tent garage where I parked it until Progressive called. State Farm would fix it, for their estimate of $8,300.

The entire rear end needed to be rebuilt, the driver’s side quarter panel replaced, deck lid, bumper, basically almost the entire rear end would need to be cut off and replaced with new. The shop said more like $10,000. I said, nope, It’ll be closer to 12,000. It came to 11,800, which State Farm refused to pay, causing the car to be held hostage by the shop. And State Farm insisted any old part that could be used, should be. Really, the whole rear should have been replaced with new, but, they demanded the parts be reused rather than replaced, like a cracked leaf spring, bent driver’s seat frame (from me being slammed forward and then back), and a cracked taillight bezel that was reused (letting water into the trunk).

I don’t blame the shop, well, not too much, hairline cracks can be missed and then get worse over time, and the shop was arguing with State Farm over the repairs near-daily and over the difference between their estimates. Really, since all the estimates were much more than I paid for it, by all rights it should have been totaled.

After nearly five months (with State Farm complaining about paying for my rental car the whole time), I got the car back. Then I had to fix the brake lights. The engine hadn’t been giving me much trouble before the accident, but after it was one thing after another. With the help of a friend who was much better engines then me, we were getting it squared away until the engine blew in December, 2018 (loose oil pump drained the oil within minutes before I could get off I-5) on another rainy Wednesday at 5:30 am on I-5.

Yes, I am spending way too much time and money trying to get this car back on the road again… as many people tell me over and over again. It’s a 55-year-old car! Get a new one.

I did actually, when the engine blew I got a 2012 Nissan Versa which gets me around, but I still miss my death trap.

I revived it from a wreck ten years ago, and I’m doing it again, to the best of my limited abilities. I got a new 6-cylinder engine and auto transmission off Craigslist from a guy retromodding a Ford G100 for the Seattle Seahawks. He had just finished refreshing and tuning the engine when the higher-ups asked if he could make it ‘wider’. He could, but that meant the engine had to go. I got the whole set-up for $200, and he even delivered it. This last summer, I redid the interior (reupholstered the seats, new carpet and interior paint, new trim, it was all looking tired) I and my buddy found time to install that engine, but that was about it. I had hoped the summer of 2021 to hit the road, but I ran out of time and weather. Spring of 2022 is the promise I am making myself. It gives me purpose.

Since covid, since the many, many setbacks and sub-basement depression (I’m a theatre actor, and for two years, there’s been little of that), everything seems so ephemeral, but old Detroit steel is forever. It will run in the sun again.

Originally published at on January 30, 2022.



Tom Stewart

Actor, writer, artist living in Seattle WA. I write plays, articles on comic book history or any other odd thing that crosses my mind. More to come!