Kevin Laughlin lived across the street from me when I was growing up in Orlando, Fla. He made a living rebuilding air-cooled Volkswagens, Beetles, buses and Karmann Ghias.
After school and on weekends, I was drawn to Laughlin’s backyard like a moth to a light to see what he was working on and, on some occasions, help in minor ways, handing him tools and assisting with engine installations.
Laughlin was always on the lookout for good deals on interesting cars that he could fix and flip for a quick profit. One day he came home with a brown 1966 Mustang GT 2+2 fastback.
The car changed my life.
During a run to an auto parts store one day, I sat in the back seat of the Mustang watching Laughlin drive. I could hear the roar of the dual exhaust. Over my head was that big sloping back window — not unlike what we see coming on the 2015 Mustang.
On the left and right, about shoulder height, the fastback came with sliding chrome levers that opened and closed the side air vents. Straight ahead, just behind the steering wheel, Laughlin’s car had the optional “rally pack,” which contained a sporty speedometer and a clock.
The chrome shifter, I noticed, featured a pull-up lockout device near the knob to prevent drivers from accidentally shifting into reverse.
It was all neat stuff for a young boy in the early 1970s.
Just like countless other kids around the world who were captivated by that original Mustang and decided they wanted to be mechanics, designers, engineers, race car drivers, etc., I knew I would have some future messing around with cars.
Flash forward about five years. I am driving down Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park, Fla. I spot a 1966 Mustang 2+2 fastback sitting on a used-car lot by the road in springtime yellow for $2,500. It was a six-cylinder automatic with power steering; not fast, but adequate.
I bought it.
Not long afterwards, my mom found an old 1967 Mustang GTA coupe with the rare 390 cubic engine and more problems than a calculus book. I bought it and restored it, rebuilding the engine and taking care of the mechanical bits before handing it over to Laughlin for a paint job.
Originally brown, the ’67 GTA came back painted deep shiny black with red stripes on the hood and sides and looking better than new.
I wrote a letter to Ford — which when you live in Orlando is just some big, faceless company out there somewhere — asking for production information about my car. Back came a detailed letter, which I still have. I was so impressed that someone at Ford received the letter and cared enough to research the history of my car.
I kept the ’67 for a few years and was totally smitten with classic Mustangs until my friend Tim Kip changed my life again by taking me for a ride in his 1971 Triumph TR6.
I’m still dealing with the consequences of that day.
Today, there are two classic Triumph Stags and a Dolomite Sprint in my garage. But when it comes to cars, the first-generation Mustang will always be my first love.