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1988 Ford Mustang GT - Life Saver
Bill McClelland saved this rare ’88 GT with a splash of orange flavor and a whole lot of love
In a dark corner next to a dumpster, a rare Mustang quietly suffered. It was already wounded from an altercation with an S-10 Blazer and a fire hydrant. Adding insult to injury, a dastardly villain pillaged the sick pony for a number of parts and left it in further disrepair. Disgusted and under pressure from his landlord and the authorities, the original owner, Dave Ditner, needed the car moved in a hurry.
"In the spring of 1999, Dave brought the car down to Rochester, Michigan with plans to do something with it. While it was sitting, someone broke into it, stole parts and dropped a blown up Chrysler 318 engine on top of it," Bill McClelland explained. "The police put a notice on the car to have it moved and Dave's land lord wanted it out of there. Shortly after, Dave called me to see if I knew of anyone who may be interested in it. I went to look at it with plans to potentially part it out and use the engine in a Ranger I have."
That's when Bill became an unintentional hero. He offered to buy the hatchback for a modest sum. His wife, Tania, thought he was nuts for investing in a hornet-infested total, but Bill simply intended to scavenge the usable gear and condemn the barren shell to the scrap heap. As it turned out, it was a healthy engine that provided a stay of execution for this rare Fox.
Those in the know realize that the 1988 model year heard the final echoes of the T-top option, which is revered today but known for leaks in its prime. Ford was essentially following through on its remaining T-top order commitments early in the 1988 model year. Then the leaky option faded into the history books. These Foxes are quite limited, and the hatch struck a chord with Bill, a former owner of a T-top Four-Eye Mustang ('79-'86-Ed.).
"A few weeks later I pried the lower core support away from the crank pulley and figured I should attempt to start it," Bill confessed. "To my surprise, the engine started up and sounded great. I started doing some research and found out it was an '88 and not an '87 as I originally thought. It turned out that 417 T-top Mustang's spilled into the 1988 manufacturing. Knowing this, I decided to save the car."
Committed to transforming the trashed ride into a treasured member of his stable, the task ahead was daunting, and Bill's budget was tight. His son Blake was born shortly after Bill purchased the GT. Not only did he need to track down crucial parts like the T-Tops, carpet, spoiler, taillights, shifter, and an EEC-IV processor, its body and chassis were severely damaged in the crash.
With the help of his cousin, Eric McClelland, Bill removed the engine and transmission and hauled the hatch to the body shop. It was there the project came to another crossroads. As it turned out, the frame rails were too twisted to bend back into place, and that could have been the end of the project.
"Many people would have given up by this point, but I pressed on since the car was solid, rare, and it reminded me of my '84. The unibody structure was joined at the front floorboards and A-pillars with good dimensions and welded with safety in mind," Bill explained. "B&B Collision in Royal Oak, Michigan, media-blasted the engine bay and front clip. After spraying epoxy primer, they painted the entire front and door jambs with House of Kolor Sunset Pearl."
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With the frame set straight and the door jambs painted, Bill brought the car home to resuscitate the drivetrain and interior. He rebuilt the factory 5.0-liter himself, and reinstalled a host of quality parts that Dave had added, including Dart Windsor heads, a Ford Racing Performance Parts B303 camshaft, Comp Cams valve springs, ARP fasteners, a BBK 70mm throttle body, a BBK cold-air intake, and BBK 15⁄8-inch short-tube headers.
After getting the car in good running condition, Bill enlisted Mark Marion of Rocketman Customs to complete the paint and bodywork. One reason he chose Mark was for his gift of spraying ghost flames. With Mark's magic complete, all Bill had left to do is to revamp the interior to bring it up to the level of the car's exterior.
"I had it back together just in time for the Woodward Dream Cruise that August. Since then, my family has enjoyed the Mustang very much. We have taken it to many shows and enjoyed many summer nights with the T-Tops off," Bill enthused. "One of the most fun things we did was to take the car back to Dave Ditner to see it. He and I took it out and I let him drive it back. I'm sure he was a bit nervous but he had a big smile on his face. He was glad to see that I saved his old car." That's the kind of automotive happy ending we can all enjoy.