Car of the Month - Oct 10
“Rob Ogden’s 1979 Pace Car”
This is the incredible story of San Jose Pace Car #1431.
I bought this 1979 Mustang Indianapolis 500 Pace Car from MNW member Dave Bennitt in August 2005. I also had my eye on a particular 1983 Mustang GT hatchback, which was a one-owner car with rare options such as T-tops and leather seats. Both cars were in comparable condition. Steve Hermans, another MNW club member who also owns a ’79 Pace Car, convinced me that in the end I would spend the same amount of money on either car, but the Pace Car would be far more collectible and turn a lot more heads. So the decision was made to pursue the Pace Car.
A brief production history: In 1979, ford was building Mustangs in Dearborn, Michigan and in San Jose, California. Approximately 75% of all Pace Cars were built in Dearborn. Out of 10,478 Pace Cars produced, this is one of 593 built in San Jose with a V8 engine and 4-speed transmission.
Fast forward to November 2009. After years of research and parts hunting, it was finally time to “get moving” on the Pace Car. Steve Hermans and Mike Koehnen helped with the removal of the 302 V8 engine. The engine was taken to Brad’s Custom Auto for refreshening. The engine actually ran ok before removal, but it leaked oil in several places, so I decided to have it rebuilt. The rolling body shell was left at home so I could start cleaning up the engine bay. A couple months later, the car was ready to take to Brad’s to re-install the engine. During this time, we discovered that the engine was not original to the car, since it has a casting number that begins with “E7T”, which translates to a 1987 Ford Truck. While the car was at Brad’s, the numbers-matching transmission was also rebuilt, the leaking rear differential was repaired, and a new driveshaft was installed. Also during this time, I took the extra set TRX metric wheels that I got from Steve to a wheel repair facility called Factory Direct Tire Sales in Edmonds to have them refinished.
The Pace Car was only home for a week in early April 2010 when I took it to Randy Sargent of Sargent’s Auto Rebuild in Snohomish for some bodywork and paint. He also installed the new ’79 Indy Pace Car graphics kit, including the door lettering, which had never been on this car before. I was really hoping to get the car back in time for the MCA Grand National show in July. It seems like the slow economy was working in my favor, because he went right to work on it. The car was ready to be picked up on July 3, which left the rest of 4th of July weekend for me to re-install the interior. Helpful hint: new carpet does wonders for cleaning up an interior. This left me with two full weeks to tinker with the car to get it ready for the big show.
The MCA Grand National show in July was the first big unveiling of this car in its newly restored condition. I entered the car in Concours Driven where it scored a Silver.
This is the point where the story becomes incredible. On Sunday, September 12, 2010, I was approached by a gentleman who said that his step-son had purchased a 1979 Mustang Pace Car from Wendle Ford in Spokane in early October of ‘79. I was quite surprised because according to the Marti Report, my Pace Car was purchased new at Wendle Ford in Spokane on October 9, 1979. After a few more minutes of talking, the coincidences were piling up. He said he would call his step-son to have him come over to the car show to look at the car. About an hour later, the step-son, a man named Todd Vacura, arrived. As he looked the car over, he noticed a couple of details that were unmistakable. The placement of the Indy Motor Speedway emblem on the passenger side dashboard was exactly where he remembered putting it. When these Pace Cars were new, the Indy “tire-with-wings” emblems were in a plastic bag that was given to the new owners, and it was up to the owners to install them, thus they are not all installed in the same position. He also found a mystery wire under the rear bumper that I was not able to figure out. Apparently, Todd had installed an aftermarket panel that ran between the tail-lights that read MUSTANG that was also back lit, and this mystery wire supplied the power to it. He also mentioned a particular piece of bodyside molding that had a large chunk taken out of it, which I still have in a box in the garage. Todd also mentioned that there were three Pace Cars on the lot at the time, and on of the other cars had a V8 with and automatic transmission, but he wanted the V8 with 4-speed. The third Pace Car was probably a 4-cylinder Turbo car. When Todd was finished looking at the car, he said “This is it. This is the car.” By the most incredible stroke of chance, luck, or whatever else you could call it, I had found the original owner for my 1979 Mustang Indy Pace Car. In the very early ‘80’s, the gentleman that had first talked to me that morning was the actual person to drive the car from Spokane to Seattle. Todd eventually sold the car in 1984 to a friend. Todd told me he would contact that friend to try to find out more information, but to date I have not heard back from him.
It is interesting that the first few years of the car’s history are now known, along with the last 15 years, but there is still a missing span in the middle. It is in this middle time frame that the original engine was replaced, so the reason for that replacement remains unknown. Hopefully, with a little more luck, I will fill in the rest of the car’s history and find the answer.
In 2011, the International Mustang Show will be held in Spokane, and I am definitely planning to visit Wendle Ford with this Pace Car. On the firewall, there is a red crayon marking that reads, “10-12-79” with the letters “BG” beneath it. This date is only three days after the car was sold new. I still don’t know what this marking means, but it was probably part of the dealership pre-delivery inspection. If my luck holds out, maybe I will find the answer. And who, or what, is “BG”?
Currently, this Pace Car still needs attention in a few more areas such as the exhaust, suspension and floorpan cleanup, and eventually re-install the correct seat cover fabric. I really need to thank Steve Hermans and Mike Koehnen for their help and input to this project. Steve had already done a lot of the research and parts-hunting when he first restored his Pace Car. Steve and Mike have been very helpful in looking for parts. The major items are finished, and the car is finally driveable and ready for the next car show.