June 29, 2002 - Last week, we received an e-mail message from Skip Novakovich asking if we could help him locate a particular classic car dealer in California. When we asked Skip why he wanted to find him, the story he told horrified us. It's an unforgettable lesson on how NOT to buy a classic Mustang, and how an unscrupulous car dealer taught Skip a VERY expensive lesson.
When Skip saw these pictures, he knew he had found exactly what he and his wife Shannon wanted, a red Mustang GT convertible, with the perfect option and color combination. More importantly, the price was right. It was a "recent restoration" selling for a couple of thousand less than others on the market.
Skip is not the sort of guy that rushes into anything, but he had been looking for a classic Mustang convertible for quite a while, and this one was looked like the perfect pony. Besides, it was a Mother's Day present for Shannon and the deadline was approaching. The car was in California; close enough, but too far for a personal inspection. While he wasn't able to see it before he bought it, the dealer's "references" checked out, so he assumed everything was fine. Besides, he knew his lender was going to "inspect" the car before they approved the financing, so he trusted that they would do the due diligence to protect their investment, as well as his.
From twenty feet, it's gorgeous
After a cursory kick-the-tires inspection, the lender gave the car a "thumbs up" and the loan was approved. Skip was excited, but a bit nervous as he sent a cashier's check for $18,000 to the car dealer. The dealer shipped the car, and ten days later it arrived at his home.
The first sign of trouble came immediately after the car was unloaded off the trailer. During shipment, large quantities of rust debris had shaken loose from under the dash and covered the passenger floor - a very bad sign. As Skip began to look over the car he had purchased, sight unseen, his heart sank. The more he looked, the worse the story became.
Problem after problem presented itself, the most severe being "Mustang cancer" (rust). The car was totally consumed by it making it literally unsafe to drive. The unibody is completely rusted through and in danger of collapsing. The frame rails were virtually dissolved, and the inner rocker assemblies had been stuffed with wads of newspaper and covered with Bondo and undercoating to hide the fraud. You could still read the date of the San Diego Union Tribune after it was removed from the rockers, March 24, 2000. But, that's just the beginning of this horror story.
Skip called the dealer that sold him the car to try to resolve the situation. After repeated messages, there was no contact. No returned calls . . . nothing. Later, he discovered that the dealer had apparently skipped town. No one can seem to find him, and messages left with the person that represented the seller go unanswered. This scam artist remains at large.
Inside, only the speedometer worked
To the uninitiated, the first impression is a good one. From twenty feet, it's a beautiful classic Mustang. Then you begin to look at details, like the placement of the GT emblem on the front fenders; too high and too far aft to be original. And, the rocker stripes, don't they look a bit odd? There are many other telltale signs of problems that would have been uncovered in a comprehensive pre-purchase inspection. We'll cover them later in this article.
After Skip paid for and took delivery of the car, and found a litany of problems, he decided to have it inspected by a qualified restoration shop in the Tri-Cities, Washington area. He did some homework and located Harland Lippold, owner of Horse Heaven in Benton City, WA (509) 627-8264.
Harland has been in the Mustang restoration business for many years. When it comes to the classics, few people are as knowledgeable about Mustangs, and as conscience, as Harland. He has inspected, repaired, and restored many dozens of Mustangs and vintage Fords since 1979. He is two time President of the Pacific Northwest Mustang Club, and a concours show judge for 1964-1968 Mustangs in the Pacific Northwest Council of Mustang Clubs. In short, he knows his stuff.
If you don't know Mustangs, this probably looks OK to you.
What follows is Harland's analysis of this Mustang. It will give you an idea of what can go wrong with a purchase and turn Mustang dreams into nightmares.
Skip knows it now, but a pre-purchase inspection would have saved him $18,000.
The post-purchase inspection is reprinted with permission of Harland Lippold and Skip and Shannon Novakovich in the hope that others won't make the same mistake.
Inspection - 1966 Mustang convertible
The unibody is not structurally sound and presents a real hazard of structural failure. The vehicle has been involved in a major accident resulting in extensive damage to the upper front sections of the unibody. Repairs of this damage were limited to what was necessary to re-attach sheet metal to the front of the car. All the aprons on the right side, and the cowl show clear wrinkling resulting from impact and straightening. The front apron braces, unique to convertibles, are missing. No sheet metal forward of the doors appears to be original except for left fender and cowl. Many fasteners are missing. Body fit and alignment is poor.
This Mustang is as rusted as any example I have ever seen. Those areas where the metal initially seems solid have been replaced or patched in a very shoddy fashion. They are attached tenuously to whatever could be found using body filler, cardboard, crumpled newspaper (San Diego Union Tribune, March 24, 2000), urethane insulating foam, and scraps of sheet metal. Many fasteners are missing entirely. Only immediately visible panels were replaced, and only in a fashion which covered up rust or accident damage. There was no attempt made to properly repair the structure of the unibody.
Rust has entirely consumed the inner and immediate rocker-panel structures; the cowl vent balloon floor, the bottoms of the left fender, both doors and rear wheel houses; the trunk floors, including the fuel tank mounting flanges; and the quarter panels, portions of which have been replaced. The fuel tank is held in place by 8 of the original 13 fasteners, which are threaded into the rusted flange.
The convertible top drain rails and top boot transition panel forward of the trunk lid are rusted badly. All floor pans have been cut out and replaced with flat sheet metal. The inner rocker assemblies have been stuffed with wadded newspaper and surfaced with body filler to disguise the absence of any metal there.
The entire undercarriage, including the wheel wells and trunk have been freshly coated with a variety of undercoatings in an effort to hide the various problems.
Looks pretty, doesn't it?
The car should not be driven. Aside from the things necessary to move the vehicle under its own power, very little is functional. The engine block was originally machined in January of 1967, making it clearly not the original. No other engine diagnostics were done in light of the obvious determination that this car will not be restored.
The engine bay is a collection of minimally valued, used aftermarket components which were sloppily assembled. Non-Ford items include the intake manifold, carburetor and radiator. Engine oil, transmission fluid and power steering fluid are leaking. Workmanship on the mechanical components is non-existent.
The wiring is heavily patched and spliced and not properly attached. Inoperative or missing electrical components include: neutral safety switch, horns, windshield washers, heater, radio, fog lamp switch (no running or instrument lights), glove box lamp, warning flashers (missing entirely), backup lamps (missing entirely), shift lever position indicator, interior courtesy lights, cigarette lighter. The headlight dimmer switch is inoperative since the floorboard where it should be located is rusted away. There are no working instruments other than the speedometer. Headlights cannot be aimed because the attaching parts are missing or damaged. The ignition switch has been drilled out and the damaged bezel re-used resulting the switch being upside down.
The heater assembly is badly rusted. The fresh air door on the passenger side is rusted off its hinges. The fresh air vent assembly on the drivers side is hanging loose under the dash, since the cowl to which it would mount is completely rusted away.
Steering and suspension components are in a similar state of maintenance. Power steering hoses are cracked, neoprene bushings and dust covers are rotten, and at least one tie-rod end is visibly bent, probably as a result of the front-end accident. The idler arm bushing is worn out and there is nearly an inch of free play in the toe-in.
The engine runs, but is not well tuned. While the vehicle was originally equipped with an automatic transmission as it is today, it has at some point been converted to a manual transmission. The clutch pedal remains in place attached to nothing. and hidden under the carpet. The hole for the clutch linkage is patched with a scrap of upholstery material.
If you know Mustangs, the rocker stripes look a bit odd
TOf first note, Mr. Novakovich indicated that he purchased this vehicle described as a 1966 GT convertible. Aside from the improperly placed GT emblems on the fenders, improperly placed and sized stripes, incorrectly welded GT exhaust tips, and incorrectly wired fog lights, there is o GT equipment on the Mustang, and it was never a factory GT. While it is possible that the remaining components of the GT package (disk brakes, front sway bar, factory dual exhaust with resonators) had been removed, the factory reinforcements to the frame, relocated brake line brackets, and holes punched for the brake proportioning valve and fog lamp wiring are absent.
The vehicle is also equipped with furnishings from the deluxe interior. Again, this has all been added to the vehicle and the most expensive parts of this equipment group (wood grain steering wheel, stainless kick panel trim door courtesy lights) are absent. Those items appear to be damaged examples: the stainless door panel trim has been perforated with several extra screw holes rendering its value zero. The door panels themselves are aftermarket reproductions which were improperly installed and damaged in the process.
The factory air conditioner has been placed in the car but so improperly installed as to be obviously added, and many of the important components are either missing or damaged beyond the point of any value. The A/C does not appear to be operable.
A few key pieces are new, including the bumpers, styled steel wheels, fog light assembly and windshield header. Most other pieces are a collection of slightly blemished or otherwise second rate parts unsuitable for use on a restoration. The hood is an aftermarket reproduction, but the hood latch has been improperly installed resulting in a reverse dent in the front center. Fenders and doors are sloppily patched by gluing corrugated cardboard over them, then gluing carpet scraps along the bottom edges.
The interior was cleverly designed to defraud
The paint on the car, while shiny and red, is a very low quality job. Red overspray is present on the glass and in most other areas. The paint job is consistent with a $189.95 service offered by budget shops like Earl Scheib or Maaco. The convertible top appears to be intact, but the top bows and mechanism are corroded badly. Pivot bushings and the latch assemblies are so loose as to render it impossible to make the top weather tight or to adjust it properly. The mounting holes for the staple strips are so rusted that large lag screws have been used to attach them.
It would be difficult to transfer the title and registration to this car to Washington State since only one undisturbed VIN is visible. The door data tag is attached using generic pop-rivets and thus is disqualified as a source of VIN. Removal of one or both fenders would be required before Washington State would issue a title, and they might require impound, or issue a "branded" title. Additionally, there is some evidence that the car may have previously been titled with a "salvage" title. There are two rivet holes drilled on the blank tab on the forward pinch weld of the cowl. This is a typical placement for a state issued VIN tag. There is little doubt that the VIN is authentic, however.
Practically or economically, this Mustang cannot be restored. I estimate, conservatively, that the cost to restore this Mustang would be well in excess of $40,000. Such a restoration would take at least two years if performed by my business. Since a comparable (to the finished product) Mustang would have a market value of $25,000 to $30,000, it would be much more practical to simply purchase one.
Safely, this Mustang cannot be driven. In its current condition, this Mustang is reputably marketable only as parts and should sell for roughly $1,200-$1,500.
Help Skip catch the crook that sold him this car
The lesson here is obvious. Have any car you plan to purchase inspected by a qualified, independent, 3rd party mechanic BEFORE any money changes hands. Ask us about how to get one inspected.
If you would like more information, or think you can help us find the con artist that sold him the car, please contact us for Skip's phone number.