This is a story about a car that almost wasn't. This car looks like the car might have looked when it was "finished," but it isn't. The progenitor, a bonafide K-code Mustang, went up like a torch in somebody's garage, a horror by anyone's estimate.
I wasn't a Ford guy, although I did begin my hot rod reverie with a '39 Merc sedan. I graduated to a '54 Ford Custom that I paid $330 for and propped up with a junkyard 312. By then, I did know one end of a box wrench from the other because my father and I had rituals. I would stand by him during one of his projects and hand him the appropriate number upon demand. This phase of our male bonding abruptly halted one Saturday afternoon when I dropped a 9/16 open end ... on his face ... from fender height. I escaped serious injury (or possibly even death) by jumping on my two-wheeler and pedaling my ass toward the horizon.
Years later, after I'd become a to-the-marrow Chevy freak, one of my high school mates went to work for Ford Motor out of Teterboro, New Jersey. A drag racing wild man, this cat toted all manner of Ford speedophilia. The ones I remember best were the maroon '65 Mustang GT sedan (271/289) that he gumbed for a while, and most assuredly that ghostly white four-speed '66 Fairlane with its god-awful dual-quad, medium-riser 427.
In another highly visible arena, Cobras were eating the Corvettes alive in SCCA A/Production. As per Shelby-American of Los Angeles, the 289ci 306hp R-code Mustangs were considered righteous head-to-head competition for the Corvette in SCCA B/Production racing, and that's exactly what came about. The R-code was B/Production champ from '65 through the '67 season. Though only 100 such Mustangs were supposed to have been built, but 36 of them wound up as privateers. The R-Code was intended as a race-only hot rod and not remotely proposed as a street car.
I never got a ride in my pal's 427 Fairlane, but I got a bang or two out of his Code K Challenger hi-po Mustang. It was so much more than the pedestrian Pony-solid-lifter gravitas, 10.5:1 squeeze, nice bark from the exhaust, right-now throttle response, and it turned the girls' heads, too. In the day, it didn't get much better than that ... unless maybe you got some payback assaulting the ego of a Chevy chump or two on the way.
Now enough about me. Soft-spoken Richard Dolido is 44 years old. He made his bones as a beat cop and then as a detective for the Chicago gendarmes a long time ago. Now he's on the gang-banger team. He doesn't think the same way he did when he joined the force as a febrile and indefatigable young buck. His slow, steady ascension to maturity has changed that notion, that measure of success and how to achieve it. Maybe he won't try to save the world. Maybe he'll save a few choice examples of Detroit's Golden Age instead.
This damn car thing was little more than a side bet a couple of years ago. Now it's threatening to capture Rich completely, a wonderful daydream away from the tedious, endless, destructive scenes of gang-banger scum. This Mustang has advanced his car-building karma several more notches. People like what he does and they're telling him about it.
In a "spare" couple of years, Rich looked around and saw the collected buckets of sweat, a few of blood, and at least one of tears. A week before Thanksgiving 2002, a shop light in the garage that housed his K-Code fizzled. The joint went up like a torch. His salvage amounted to the motor and the drivetrain. Cops have nothing except the stones to soldier on in a world that they'll never save, can't save because it is not within their power. All they can really do is keep the lid on. They know this and they accept it. Building a car is quite the antithesis. By and large, its progress is quite controllable. And eventually, it will be finished and bring joy to at least one person: Rich Dolido.
"My wife Frances wasn't thrilled about all the lost time and money, but she stood behind me after the smoke settled and she was there with words of encouragement when I brought another project home," Rich says. "When most would have abandoned a complete redo, especially when the stand-in was a nothing-special '65 Fastback with a six-cylinder and three-by-the-knee, I had hope simply because I had another project and it was sitting right there in front of me."
Concerning the structural integrity of the "new" Mustang, its owner had told a dirty, rusty lie. Rich was miffed because he hadn't taken the time to thoroughly check out the car. It was a turning point for him, a mistake he'd never make again. Mike Melfi at C-M Motors/Windy City Rods & Restorations (Chicago) replaced the doors, the rear quarters, the entire floorpan, the trunk floor, and the rear sail panel. Mike stepped it up with a crash diet (fiberglass hood, nose, and bumper) from Mustangs Plus, and shrank the car to bantam weight before deeming the body pristine and ready for the deep, dark pigment Rich had in mind.
In police work, sitting and waiting is a given. How many times has Rich done it? How many times has he cursed the same surroundings from which he could not escape even though his bladder was full and his temper was toast? So the Mustang's clean, black gut salves him, helps him maintain a humor. He began its rehab by eliminating all the bad things waiting to happen with the 40-year-old wiring harness. A new OE octopus spread out beneath the dashboard, tentacles servicing the psyche and eliminating the angst. Some of its tendrils connect with a gaggle of Auto Meter Pro-Comp Ultra-Lite gauges set in a JME billet six-instrument panel that keeps with the Mustang's original appearance.
Rich offset all that black and added a scoche of whimsy to the pit with the caramel-colored Grant Shelby replica steering wheel. Even the most jaundiced eye has got to love that 1965 Kennedy half-dollar (which his grandmother gave to him for good luck) floating in the middle of the horn button. While Rich monitors direction with his left hand, he yanks gears with the other on the rare 31-spline output shaft Toploader four-speed that once was screwed to a big-block Galaxie. Those puffy and inviting Pro Car seats were covered to match the ones in the rear and are paired with thick-web RJS lap belts. There is no chilled air reservoir working for Rich, though there probably should be, but that new wiring harness hosts a Kenwood 100-watt head. Pioneer speakers were consigned to the kick panels. And what? Was that a hammerless .38 snub we just saw vibrating on the console?
Of course, Rich built the car to prove a point, maybe use it as a business card of sorts, but he takes great delight in just driving it around three or four times a week. He usually travels west, methodically raiding the popular haunts in Lombard, Rolling Meadows, and Mt. Prospect for cruise nights on a regular basis.
"The car lives up to all my dreams of owning a hot rod that I built, and went to hell and back to complete. It's a blast to drive and stops traffic wherever I go. Thank you for considering my car for your magazine," Rich says. And he means it.
A 289 high-performance K-code cylinder block forms the basis for Rich's obligatory 347 str
The mix of old and new looks more period than the original.