Pony Pride

Papillion Man Restores ’66 Mustang to Showroom

by Jeff Barnes

“Rust never sleeps,” sang Neil Young. When Frank Smith got his 1966 Mustang, he wasn’t going to even give rust a chance to breathe.

The retired Papillion, Neb., executive has worked on cars since he was 16 and has done 20 to 25 restorations. “I always wanted to do a Mustang, though,” said Smith. “I had a ’70 Mustang fastback years ago that I really liked and wished I’d kept.”

This time around he wanted an earlier year, specifically a ’66, ’67 or ’68 as they’re the most valuable of the “pony” cars. A friend tipped him off about the ’66 coupe that was sitting in a yard in Weeping Water, Neb. Smith made the buy and drove it home.

“I was just going to fix it up originally, but I ended up taking it down to every last nut and bolt,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad car, but just had a lot of rust and Bondo and I didn’t want any piece with that on it.” That meant that the only remaining original parts of the body ended up being the cowling between the hood and windshield, the roof, and the small strip between the rear window and the trunk.

In the from-the-ground-up restoration, which Smith has carefully itemized over four, single-spaced pages, he has rebuilt systems for fuel, cooling, electrical, exhaust, steering and suspension, and braking. He had the block rebuilt, reassembled the engine, and now has it dyno’ed out at 277 horsepower (it was originally 200). The car has the “pony” interior offered as an option in 1966, featuring stampeding mustangs running across the seat backs.

The “icing on the cake” was the new paint job – 15 coats of “crystal white” pearl coat. “The original color was a flat white,” said Smith, 69. “The guy who painted the car said ‘You don’t REALLY want to put flat white on THIS, do you?’ It didn’t take much convincing.” Blue rally stripes completed the restoration.

The restoration was started in August 2004 and completed in June 2008 but wasn’t without its speed bumps. A wiring harness kit ordered for the car came without labeling on the wires. “It took me six months to figure out,” Smith said. “I did have a wiring diagram, but without labels on the wires, it was just trial and error to see what went where. I’d get something hooked up, and something else would go out.” How many wires was that, hundreds? “It was a LOT,” he confirmed.

It took far less time for the restoration to get recognition. Smith took the car to the annual Mustang Car Show at Nebraska Crossing near Gretna in September and came home with the first-place trophy.

The Mustang was a nice change for Smith, the former owner of 12 companies. He’s done 10 Mercedes restorations, along with those for an MG, Triumph Spitfire, Nissan 300ZX and a Jensen Healey. “The nice thing about Mustangs is that everything is available on the aftermarket and relatively inexpensive,” he said. “I like Mercedes (for restorations), but they’re so expensive – it’s $1,600 for a used Mercedes bumper and $69 for a new Mustang bumper.”

This is not to say the finished result is less – the demand for Mustangs is greater than that for Mercedes.  “I’d get maybe $75,000 for this on the coast,” said Smith. “If it were a Shelby Mustang, around $250,000. But I don’t plan to sell it – I’m enjoying it too much.”

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All of his hobby work takes place in his immaculate 1,700-square-foot shop off West 6th Street in Papillion. Smith used to do the restorations from his garage at home, but the projects started to crowd into his marital bliss.

“Five years ago, my wife said you’re either getting a new shop, a new hobby or a new wife… I found a new shop,” he said. “It’s an expensive hobby, but I do enjoy it.”

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, March 2011)

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