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1965 Ford Mustang Fastback - Hi-Po Hero
Bob Rawlings wanted a non-GT Hi-Po fastback ride, and that’s exactly what he got
I knew Bob Rawlings of Tempe, Arizona only a short time. It was an acquaintance of car shows, handshakes, great conversation, and a single car project involving a Vintage Burgundy '65 Mustang Hi-Po fastback that appeared in Mustang Monthly back in 2009. This project was where I came to know Bob more intimately. He wrenched and I shot images of the rebuild and engine compartment detailing. He was a true craftsman who liked massaging old cars to perfection and making them nice again. We were in the company of sportscaster Paul Calvisi who owned the car, and Rob Walker, who owns a rare Raven Black '66 Hi-Po T-5 hardtop.
As Bob detailed the engine we chatted about everything under the sun from politics to his most intense passions—aviation and automobiles. Bob was a professional aviator—a crop duster pilot—which he did for most of his flying career. He was a razor sharp seat of the pants stick and rudder aviator who knew flying like few others. While a lot of us speak of doing great things, Bob did great things with an overwhelming entrepreneurial spirit. He brought great ideas to fruition. His powerful eyes employed great intelligence, courage, and conviction.
We lost Bob to an apparent heart attack on December 7, 2009 during a business trip to his native Dallas, Texas. It seems fitting he passed in the place where he was born and lived most of his life prior to retirement to Arizona. When we wrapped up the Vintage Burgundy Hi-Po rebuild project under a warm Arizona sun, Bob rolled out a couple of treasures from his personal collection—a pristine low mileage '64 Fairlane 500 Sport Coupe and this Prairie Bronze '65 Hi-Po fastback. “I acquired this Hi-Po fastback in 2001 from a seller in California,” Bob commented, “And from what I could determine the seller was the second owner, which made me the third.” Bob added the car was solid, but in need of a lot of work. “I specifically wanted a non-GT Hi-Po car and especially this one due to the Prairie Bronze/Palomino color and trim combo,” he reflected, “it was a January of 1965 car built at San Jose.”
Bob infused some of his own ideas into this car to make it enjoyable to own and drive. He added factory under-dash air conditioning as a means to living with extreme Arizona summer heat. “Bob Mannel's great Small-Block Ford book was a big help in terms of references,” Bob told us. As Bob molded this car to his personal tastes, he looked for unique Ford dealer accessories available in 1965 and went with them where he could. Because he loved driving this car, he shelved the original Top Loader four-speed, opting for a Tremec T-5 five-speed for a nice combination of performance and economy. The original 9-inch Ford axle still held its 3.50 gears, which made for the sweet combination of wide-open throttle fun and fuel economy on the open road.
Another item Bob stored away for safe keeping was the Hi-Po's original manual choke Autolite 4100 carburetor and iron manifold—replaced by Ford's own Buddy Bar cast aluminum dual plane tri-power induction system topped by three Holley 2300-C atomizers, which was a hot dealer item back in the day. Because Bob wanted the 289 Hi-Po tri-power to live up to its image, he opted for a Ford Le Mans mechanical flat tappet camshaft, which gave his Prairie Bronze fastback a rabid dog persona. All this working in concert with stock Hi-Po heads and valvetrain.
When Bob popped the hood so we could take a closer look, the adrenaline flow into our bloodstream was amazing. The engine room looked as though it was caught in a period of time from a half-century ago with dealer add-ons that excited the senses. We're not used to seeing a Tecumseh cast iron air conditioning compressor bolted to the front of a 289 High Performance V-8, yet it certainly happened at Ford dealers around the country. The Ford tri-power induction system and Bob's close attention to detail make us lust to see more. Even the most finite details like hose clamps and hardware were carefully chosen and positioned. Note the hot-idle compensator on the PCV hose. And because this was a California car from the get-go, Bob opted for the closed crankcase emissions system with the tri-power setup.
Inside are the raw beginnings of Mustang in its infancy with the horizontal sweep 0-120 mph speedometer and twin pod fuel/temp instrumentation with humble warning lights. That's Palomino vinyl with the early clip-style door handles used prior to March 8, 1965. Some folks skip those pesky kick panel screws. Not Bob. We like the early style Rally-Pac with its chromed eyebrows. The deluxe woodgrain steering wheel is a nice accent to the warm Palomino vinyl.
Bob Rawling's story is certainly about a slippery Hi-Po fastback dressed to the nines and a legacy of striking classic cars. However, it is also a message of service to others, which he did generously. Bob didn't just restore classic Mustangs; he showed enthusiasts how to restore theirs. And that is easily what we have missed most about Bob Rawlings—a fellowship trust enthusiasts around Phoenix will long miss.