We’re always getting asked by guys how they can get their cars in the magazine, and there is no simple answer to that. There is no hard and fast rule for gauging ingenuity, value, or performance—it’s a combination of all, plus a big dose of cool factor. Even with all the stars aligned, we might not feature a car due to a scheduling conflict, or the simple fact that we just d on’t know about it. Fortunately for us, we did stumble upon Richard Trujillo’s very cool, very capable, and very affordable ’69 Mustang coupe, and it struck a sympathetic chord with us.

Richard’s Mustang is cool in so many ways, it’s hard to know where to start, but one big clue for how it got that way comes from his past. If the hot rodding die wasn’t cast when Richard was 7 (the year was 1969 and his uncle gave him a toy ’69 Mustang), it certainly was by the time he became an aircraft mechanic and private pilot in the early ’80s. Taking stuff apart—and more importantly—putting stuff back together properly, was always an obsession with Richard. As an aircraft mechanic, that ability to visualize a complex grouping of components working together in harmony served him well. On the other hand, the mountain of paperwork and the burdensome safety requirements of being an FAA-certified mechanic are like a wet blanket on a burning fire of creativity. The feds just don’t dig improvisational engineering when you’re hanging out at 10,000 feet. Richard yearned for a better way to express his mechanical creativity, and as most guys in his position inevitably discover, hot rodding is the ultimate freestyle mechanical high.

Take a look at Richard’s ’69 Mustang, and you can see the passion in his creation. As you scan the exterior, the interior, the engine room, and the undercarriage, it dawns on you that there is a lot of cool stuff in this car, and practically none of it came off a UPS truck—unless that UPS truck was unfortunate enough to be in the boneyard on the same day Richard came a pickin’.

This notchback coupe has come a long way since Richard bought it for $4,000 back in 2006. Originally gold, then (badly) repainted red, it resembled a clown car more than a comely corner carver. Now dressed down in a homegrown coat of badass hot rod black, you’d never know that this is the 49-year-old’s first real muscle machine. Now an air traffic controller for the FAA’s San Diego TRACON facility, Richard is more dependent than ever on the Mustang—both for allowing him to unwind between stress-filled shifts, and to help him keep his sanity.

Always the safety-minded guy, performance would have to take a back seat at first. Richard’s primary objective with the ’69 Mustang was to make it totally street worthy. Even though the pony already cranked and drove, he took the time to blow the Mustang apart in his driveway to tackle the rehab of the brakes, suspension, and everything safety related. (Here’s where we point out that San Diego’s year-round sunny weather plus having a large and well-secluded four-car driveway equals lots of home hot rodding fun.)