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.)

One of the first big jobs Richard tackled was the hideous bodywork. Finances would dictate that he do the work himself, and he would be relying on his past work painting planes as an aircraft mechanic. That experience paid off, as he avoided most of the beginner pitfalls of bodywork. The paint, however, was a different story. Richard knew from the start he wanted a satin black hot rod, so he went with black epoxy primer. After a few months though, it started looking chalky and splotchy. The solution came by accident one day when he was rehabbing his interior with some Dupli-Color black Vinyl & Fabric coating. With the interior done, Richard had nothing to lose by testing a small part of the chalky exterior with the same spray can. “I thought it looked pretty cool, so I went over to Kragen’s and bought eight more cans,” Richard says. “I’m kind of embarrassed about it, but it looks pretty good. I just wanted it to look decent for the car show that was coming up.” (Richard’s preferred technique: Tape off each body panel and spray paint them independently. It avoids dry spray.)

This is also right around the time when the trips to Barona’s eighth-mile dragstrip began, and Richard started getting serious about performance. Instead of ordering parts from a catalog, Richard became fast friends with the operators of the local Ecology Auto Parts. Picking the boneyard, however, isn’t the nostalgic walk down memory lane that it used to be back in the ’80s, when parts for ’60s cars were still plentiful. Today’s junkyard crawl requires a lot more imagination—you’ve got to be able to look at a ’97 Ford Explorer, for instance, and visualize the rear axle and brakes fitting perfectly under your ’69 Mustang. Some risk is involved, but Richard takes the attitude that if the measurements are close enough, he’ll make a way for it to fit.

Richard has taken similar risks with parts from several late-model cars, including a driveshaft from an ’89 Thunderbird, electric fans from an SVT Ford Contour, valve covers from an ’89 Lincoln, an alternator from an ’84 Camaro, mirrors from an ’87 Mazda RX-7, a roof from a ’94 Cadillac (the sheetmetal was used to fabricate a rear seat delete close-out panel!), and much more. What sets Richard’s salvage yard Mustang apart from rust-bucket rat rods is that his car is built with a high level of craftsmanship. It’s not going to fall apart with the least provocation, nor does it look like it’s cobbled together by a hooligan. In fact, you won’t find a single spot of rust or “patina” anywhere. If the FAA could certify hot rods, this one, without a doubt, would be airworthy.

This slick Mustang, however, almost didn’t become an autocross hero. A few weeks before Richard’s first Goodguys autocross, a trip to the boneyard netted him a 460 Ford big-block and C6 transmission from a ’70 Lincoln Mark III. “My original idea was to mostly restore the car, then I started drag racing it,” Richard says. “I could do more stuff to the 302, or just go big, so I started looking for a 460. When I went to the junkyard and saw that Lincoln, I knew that year was a good engine. I thought, man, I’ll buy this and go drag racing. While I had the engine apart, I went to my first autocross, and that totally changed the direction of the car!”

The autocross epiphany led Richard to make some modest power improvements to the 302 (cam, valvesprings, carb mods, intake manifold), but the new emphasis was on handling and braking. With help from his friends Tom Kamman, Mark Lander, and Scott Siska, Richard made some modest yet effective improvements with a set of Global West subframe connectors, KYB shocks, lower rear leaf springs, cut front coil springs, a Shelby UCA drop mod for a better camber curve, Power Stop front rotors, bigger sway bars, and EBC Yellow brake pads. A B&M shift improver kit also found its way inside the stock C4 automatic trans. (“This thing handles great, it corners flat, and feels good. The subframe connectors made a huge difference. I could tell the moment we drove it off the lift.”)

You’d think that spending a ton would be a prerequisite for getting in a car mag, but that is clearly not the case with this ’69 Mustang. In fact, after buying the car, Richard’s spend rate works out to $138 per month. This pony’s path to notoriety is purely based on enthusiasm, creativity, solid DIY skills, an eye for style, and the boldness to run it hard. Very few among us in the hot rodding hobby can honestly say we’ve achieved as much or had as much fun with so little outlay as Richard with his first car. Hey, if he did it, so can you. As Richard would say, “You are cleared for takeoff.”

Richard Trujillo raises the junkyard crawl to a new level of performance art with the creation of his ’69 Mustang coupe.

Salvage Yard Scores!

• Cold air induction made from two air cleaners

• Dual electric fan unit from SVT Ford Contour

• Horns from ’94 Mustang

• Valve covers from ’89 Lincoln 5.0

• Electric junction block from mid-’80s GMC truck

• Alternator from ’84 Chevy Camaro

• Power rearview mirrors from ’87 Mazda RX-7

• Rear seat delete fabricated from ’94 Cadillac Sedan De Ville roof

• Rear axle and rear brakes from ’97 Ford Explorer

• Driveshaft from ’89 Thunderbird

• Rear bumper filler section from ’84 Dodge van

• Sound deadener from various Lincolns and Cadillacs

• Grant steering wheel from old Chevy truck

• Sunvisors from ’71 Ranchero

This pony’s path to notoriety is purely based on enthusiasm, creativity, solid DIY skills, an eye for style, and the boldness to ...

By The Numbers

’69 Mustang Coupe

Richard Trujillo, 49 • Oceanside, CA

Engine

Type: 302ci Ford Windsor

Block: ’69 vintage small-block Ford

Bore x stroke: 4.00 x 3.00

Rotating assembly: stock, ’69 vintage, cast-iron crank, cast-aluminum pistons

Compression ratio: 9.5:1

Cylinder heads: stock, ’69 vintage

Camshaft: COMP Cams hydraulic, .456-inch lift, 218 degrees duration

Valvetrain: stock 302, 1.875-/1.60-inch valves, PRW roller-tip rocker arms, Trick Flow Specialties valvesprings, Lincoln Mark VII valve covers

Induction: Edelbrock Performer intake

Carburetor: Holley 600 cfm (4160 converted to 4150)

Fuel system: stock, mechanical fuel pump

Oiling: stock

Exhaust: Patriot 1⅝-inch headers, 2.5-inch dual exhaust, Flowmaster Series 40 mufflers

Ignition: stock, PerTronix coil, ACCEL wires

Cooling: stock, Ford SVT Contour fans and relays

Output: approx. 210 hp at the rear wheels

Engine built by: owner

Drivetrain

Transmission: Ford C4 automatic three-speed, 2,600-stall converter, B&M shift kit, Moroso adjustable vacuum modulator

Driveshaft: ’89 Ford Thunderbird

Rearend: ’97 Ford Explorer 8.8-inch, 3.73 gears

Chassis

Frame: stock Ford unibody, Global West subframe connectors

Front suspension: stock, Shelby UCA “drop” mod, stock coil springs cut (⅔ coil), Global West LCA eccentric eliminators, 1⅛-inch diameter sway bar, KYB Gas-A-Just shocks

Rear suspension: stock, 1-inch lower reverse-eye leaf springs, KYB Gas-A-Just shocks, ⅞-inch diameter sway bar

Brakes: stock front disc brakes with Power Stop rotors and EBC Yellow pads, ’97 Explorer rear disc brakes with EBC Yellow pads

Wheels & Tires

Wheels: 17x8 Coys C-67

Tires: Federal; 225/50R17 (front), 255/50R17 (rear)

…there is a lot of cool stuff in this car, and practically none of it came off a UPS truck…
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