Reanimating a Mustang Classic
Being a New Mexico native, the 1968 Mustang coupe that Charlie Sandoval got in a trade more than two years ago for a four-wheeled bike couldn’t be called a rust bucket. With red doors and blue fenders on the multi-dented, gold-colored car, however, it sure looked like a pile of scrap.
But Sandoval, an experienced and certified technician and welder who’d already built a couple of low riders, was on a mission. He needed to make this car shine, bright enough to trade for a down payment on a house so he could move his family back to the Santa Fe community where they felt at home. “This car—I never intended for it to be my car,” he says, the gorgeous Mustang parked securely in his garage, keys in his hand.
That might be the thing that pushed Sandoval, 30, to go beyond the impeccable restoration of the ’68 coupe’s body and frame, beyond the 360-degree soda blasting, beyond replacing the aprons and suspension components and way beyond reinforcing the model’s traditionally weak front end. After that work was done, Sandoval says, “It went into extreme custom.”
Having died the first day he drove the Mustang, the car’s motor went off first—to a drag-race motor builder who sent back a rare, 302-hp Boss with an aluminum blower on top. To this Sandoval added a blower ignition retard box, blower carburetor, new transmission, new rear end and new wheels—18s in the back and 17s up front. He retrofitted 2007 model gauges into spaces the original gauges once filled and Dynamat sound-padding ensures a very quiet ride.
Sandoval’s hood work, he’s found, can turn the heads and slacken the jaws of Mustang lovers when they see it. “That was about two months of work, alone, to get it to do that,” he says. Three weeks of sanding made it seamless and correct, he adds, “But it’s a cut out of a hood. I’ve been to car shows a couple of times where people are like, ‘I can’t believe you cut that hood! That’s an $800 hood!’ And maybe what really helped me was not being a real Mustang enthusiast. I just did what I had to do, and there wasn’t thinking about cutting the hood open. But it works. It gives the car a nice look.”
Nice-looking during the day, sure, but at night, “It’s a light show,” Sandoval says. With about 500,000 LED lights on a programmer that tells them what color to light and whether to run front to back, chase one another or blink to pace of the RPMs, he continues, “When you take it out at night, it’s a completely different car.”
Sandoval thought a lot about having to sell the car while he worked on it, sanding it endlessly. “I think if it was for me I could have lived without this and lived without that, but since I was going to use this to put a cornerstone in this town, I knew that it had to be something really nice,” he recalls. “So that might’ve helped push the envelope a little more.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Sandoval had built other cars and fixed plenty at Autoright Collision Repair in Santa Fe, where he’s worked for four years. But the Mustang took him out of his comfort zone. Fixing the body wasn’t the problem; it was the look of the coupe, less desirable than the fastback model debuting the same year. But Sandoval had plenty of people around him with opinions they weren’t afraid to share.
“I’m in a very unique neighborhood,” he says, describing Autoright Collision as the area’s corner shop with an open-door policy. “I’ve got everybody around me. The part store’s across the street; the transmission store’s down the way; the engine builder’s about a block from here; guys that helped me do the mechanical and wiring are about a block and a half from me. So this car’s kind of taken on its own reputation and prestige.”