KELLY — There are few things in this world that Charles Coe loves more than his 1970 Mustang Fastback. And there’s good reason for that — he poured his passion into the car for the better part of a year, bringing it back to its glory days.
Coe, along with many others in Bladen County and across the country, are part of a 50th anniversary celebration for the iconic Ford Mustang.
The Mustang made its debut on April 17, 1964, at the New York City World’s Fair — giving the model the distinctive 1964-1/2 designation. A few months later, after whetting the appetite of muscle-car enthusiasts, the Ford Motor Company introduced the 1965 model, which became the most successful car launch ever.
Coe got hooked.
“In 1966, my brother-in-law drove his 1965 Mustang to North Carolina from New Jersey,” he said. “That sparked a desire in me to own a Mustang.”
He didn’t have to wait long. In 1971, Coe purchased his own Mustang — a 1969 convertible with a 302 engine and let-em-know-you’re-coming muffler.
Coe eventually got rid of his beloved Mustang, but the desire never faded.
In 2000, he began a search for another Mustang. And he had a specific Mustang in mind.
“I wanted a 1969 or 1970, one that I could refurbish and put together as a classic,” he said. “As I traveled around, I was hoping to spot that type of vehicle. One day, I located a 1970 Mustang Fastback right here in Bladen County.”
Coe said the owner warned him that the car had been sitting out in the weather for years and was in terrible condition. But that hardly phased Coe.
“That car was what I wanted,” Coe said. “And after much negotiating, I purchased the car.”
As it turned out, the search and negotiations for purchased may have been the easy part.
For days and nights on end, Coe worked to refurbish the weather-beaten vehicle. He was meticulous in the details and kept his vision of a classic Mustang Fastback in mind.
Along the way, he would put his Mustang on a trailer and haul it to car shows — specifically to the “Made in the Shade” car show in Elizabethtown — so he could get a look at other Mustangs, as well as start to show off the progress of his own.
“I knew one day soon that I would be driving my classic car,” he said.
After about 11 months of work that included thousands of hours of painstaking labor, Coe finally had his classic Mustang Fastback — complete with an eye-popping light blue paint job, black stripes, sporty rims, big tires, 3-inch exhaust system and a 351 Cleveland engine with a 750 CFM Demon four-barrel carburetor.
“After all that work, I’m proud to show off my Mustang Fastback,” Coe said. “My Mustang will definitely rock-and-roll, and I’ve received many, many trophies for that beauty.”
For the past 12 years or so, Coe has kept his Mustang purring under the hood and glistening outside it. And it remains perhaps his most prized possession.
“My mind often goes back to a day when I was pumping gas and a gentleman approached me to make me an offer for the Mustang,” Coe recalled. “Of course, I refused to sell it because it’s not just a car to me. It’s a piece of art that I will always cherish and admire.”
Bladen County is home to numerous Mustangs — from the first-generation style to the Fastback, Shelby, Coupe, convertible and more — and is easily one of the most desired American muscle-car classics. And typically, like Coe, its owners are seriously hesitant to ever part with one.
Jimmy Tatum of Dublin, however, is one of those who loved his Mustang and then traded it in.
“I purchased my Mustang in 1970,” he said. “I really loved the body style and the way it handled.”
Tatum’s Mustang was one of the first-generation 1965 models — with a light blue finish, bucket seats, three-speed on the floor with a six-cylinder engine.
“I loved the look of the chrome and the Mustang emblem on the grill …” Tatum said. “When I bought the Mustang, I discovered that the previous owner had put a drag-pipe for drag racing on the car. In those days there were a few drag-racing strips nearby, but I never participated in the sport.
“However, I had full confidence in the Ford Mustang’s ability to outrun some of the other cars of that time,” he added.
And then Tatum began to reminisce.
“There was one time when a man pulled up next to me at a stoplight while I was in my Mustang,” he recalled. “He revved his motor like he wanted to race, so when the light turned green I took off — and I left him at the light.”
Tatum also recalled that the Mustang was good on gas, which was important since he used it as the family car. By then he was married with three children, and they would often load up and travel to church and vacations.
But eventually, the Mustang became too small for his growing family, and Tatum traded it in on a Ford Fairlane 500.
“My children were getting older and we needed more space,” he said. “But I never forgot that 1965 Ford Mustang. It sure could scoot when it needed to.”