10 January 2011

Prodigal ’66 Mustang returns to family

As the adage goes, if you love something, let it go. But if you love something enough, there’s always a chance it will find its way back to you. Just ask Ralph Fowler, of Ellicott City, Md. This fall, fate returned a white 1966 Mustang to his garage 17 years after he originally parted with the car.

Fowler’s father purchased the car new in 1966. It was the first new car his parents ever owned, and it was in the family until 1993.

“I remember sitting in this Mustang in the showroom when I was 5 years old,” he recalled. “My sister learned how to drive a stick on it. Even my wife learned how to drive a stick in the car.”

By '93, however, the car had been passed down to Ralph’s brother, and then to Ralph himself. But with a small family, he didn’t have the time to dedicate to owning a classic.

“I had three small kids, and anytime I wanted to take it out, I had to jumpstart it,” he said. “It was kind of hassle. My wife suggested I sell it, so I did.”

It turns out fondness for Mustangs is genetic, and Ralph’s oldest son has been looking for his own Pony car since before he could drive. They’d hit up shows throughout the year, especially Carlisle events, and always looked for Mustangs in his price range.

“I could never find one that was in as good of shape as the one I sold and at a price that was affordable,” Ralph said.

In 2010, Ralph returned to Fall Carlisle – this time solo. He had no intention buying anything that day, let alone finding a Mustang. He usually follows a strict routine at the event, but something prompted him to shift his usual methods that day.

“I usually go to the right at the gate, but this time I went to the left,” he remembered. “Usually I never get to look at the car corral because I’m looking for parts for my truck, but this time I started in the corral.”

Walking down the hill, he glanced a few rows over and a white Mustang caught his eye. Curiously, it had the same hubcaps as the '66 he sold 17 years earlier. He approached the car to get a closer look, and noticed that the fender had some scratches – scratches in the same spot as the old car. It also had the same single blue pinstripe – which is incorrect for that car – and an “outdent” on the driver’s side rear fender that matched a bump on his old Mustang. The ripped third seatbelt in the rear clinched his suspicions.

“I walked over to the owner and said, ‘I think that’s my car,’” he said. “He answered, ‘Well, I’ve got a title on it that says its mine!”

VIN in hand, Ralph called up some family members to track down some original documentation. Sure enough, it was the same car. After 17 years, the “one that got away” was finally back. He called his wife, and she urged him to buy it back.

“It’s not often your wife says ‘you’ve got to buy that!’” he said.

Ralph talked the owner down to $5,100 from $5,900, and the next day, the Mustang was back in his garage. After several owners in between, it needed a little work – namely a new alternator and master cylinder – but it was in practically the same condition as when it was sold.

The family reunited over Thanksgiving, and the now-grown kids posed in front of the car in the same way they did nearly two decades ago. The prodigal Mustang had returned.

“I bought it back for $5,100 after selling it for $3,500 in 1993. It’s like I paid $100 a year for storage!”

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