Before Susan and Phil Chmelovsky got married back in 1988, Phil had wanted to restore his 1966 Mustang coupe and give it to Susan as a wedding gift. But for various reasons, redoing that car -- and even a couple more after it -- just wasn’t in the cards for this budding Blue Oval family. We met up with the couple recently and discovered that Sue got finally got her classic Mustang wedding gift – just 18 years after the fact. Not only is her 1966 Mustang convertible “wedding gift” impressive – it’s also a gift that keeps on giving, as Phil explains in this week’s Ford Fan Spotlight below:
“Hi, Ford Performance. We are Susan and Phil Chmelovsky. We wanted to share a story about the journey to get my wife her promised wedding gift, no matter how long it took, and about the most recent honor we received.
“Working for the same computer company, we met at their Duluth, Georgia, office while I was there for training from Leesburg, Virginia, where I lived. Something clicked between us in just a very short glance. Hundreds of hours of talking and a short, long-distance courtship brought us together, where we transferred to the Columbus, Ohio, office and bought a house in the fall of 1997. Before Susan and I met, she had driven an F-350 dually, an 80’s Bronco, owned a ‘78 Thunderbird (then a ’93 Grand Prix). I had owned an ‘88 Bronco II, ’91 and ’93 Explorer Sports, and a ‘96 Explorer XLT. I also then owned a supercharged ‘72 Mustang coupe, a ‘66 Mustang coupe and a ‘68 Torino GT Indy Pace Car replica convertible, (no. 369 of 709 -- we also got engaged in ’97 with this car!).
“We married in 1998, I wanted to restore the ‘66 Mustang coupe as her wedding gift as her own classic to take to car shows. At the time, all of my older Fords were in storage in Pennsylvania where I grew up. With only a 2-car garage and two daily drivers, we had no room in Ohio to do a restoration, so we built a 3-car garage.
“In 2000, I brought my cars to Ohio and started work on the Silver Blue, 44,660-mile, ’66 Mustang Coupe. The car sat in a dirt-floor garage for 10-plus years before purchasing and it was missing its drivetrain, but it had a perfect, original interior and was clean from the doors forward. It needed all-new rear sheetmetal. After replacing that, the project stalled. Several discussions about it later, Susan decided that for the same amount of effort, she would prefer a convertible instead. I agreed and we eventually sold the Mustang. The search for a droptop was on.
“We found a non-running, 6-cylinder ’64 Falcon Futura convertible in 2004 near Dayton, Ohio, and after we looked it over, we decided to buy it as the price seemed right. Because it was sitting for several years prior, I installed a good battery and tried to get it started. An aftermarket ignition switch that was installed previously had some bare wires and was loose. It all shorted and sent the dash harness up in smoke. I disassembled the car and sold or discarded the drivetrain (as it was going to be a V-8 car) and put it on my rotisserie. The more I poked at it, the more the car disappeared. Finding all the new sheetmetal and quarters to replace everything, the project quickly became too deep. Another search started for her now-very late wedding gift.
“In 2011, I found another ’64 Falcon Futura convertible at the Goodguys PPG Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, just 18 miles from home. It was a rust-free California car, had a ’65 289, a Fordomatic 2-speed, buckets, a console, plus a new top and carpet. It was complete and drivable -- where the others weren’t. We enjoyed it over the next couple years but soon it was time to make the first Falcon go away. Since I didn’t have the original suspension and steering parts, I pulled it all from Falcon #2 to make Falcon #1 a roller to sell. I had new suspension, steering and brake parts stored from the earlier ’66 Mustang to install on Falcon #2. But as with all projects, life got in the way and it stalled on the jack-stands . . . where it still is today. We sold Falcon #1.
“In early 2015, Susan was speaking with her cousin in Georgia who said that she had a friend near us in Ohio with a ’66 Mustang convertible that she was thinking of selling. It had been ‘restored’ several years prior but had been stored a long while. We got in touch, received several pictures of the 95,000-mile, Silver Blue ’66 convertible – a 4-barrel 289 4-speed car, with manual drum brakes, and Pony interior – but we found the owner wasn’t quite ready to part with it yet. So we asked that if/when she was ready, we had first right of refusal to purchase, to which she agreed. We kept in touch periodically through Facebook and email and got to be friends, though never really mentioning the car.
“Fast forward a year and we got the call. In January 2016 we went to see it, took a drive and saw what was included. After looking it over, I made a single offer that matched what she wanted, and we owned it! We came back several days later with my trailer, filled my F-150’s cab, bed and part of the car itself with extra and original parts, including a C4 automatic trans, and brought it all home. The next several months were spent rebuilding the Autolite 4100 carb, giving it a tune-up, an electronic ignition conversion and fixing cosmetic issues. The paint was perfect, and the motor and transmission were already rebuilt, so it got driven. Susan didn’t want a 4-speed manual, so I had the C4 rebuilt and converted it back to the automatic that the car was originally.
“While it was up in the air, the project snowballed and I replaced the entire suspension, steering and brakes while converting it from 4-wheel manual drum to power disc in front, with all new lines. I couldn’t leave it all alone and refinished everything I could underneath, adding a three-core radiator, shroud, a new grille with the GT fog lamp kit, Rally Pac, carpet, door panels, new chrome, new wheels/tires, Cobra dress-up kit, new wiring from the firewall forward, and too many other things to list. It is a work in progress still today.
“Susan finally got her wedding gift -- 18 years later -- and though she doesn’t drive it much, I do get to be her chauffer. It’s sort of a ‘Driving Ms. Susie’ deal. I vowed that anything I do on it gets done promptly and it gets back on the road, as these cars are meant to be driven. The ’66 Mustang receives a trophy at almost every car show, and it looks great next to the ’00 Mustang GT convertible that I got her, too.
“This past June 12, we participated in our Mustang Club of Ohio’s ‘Halderman Pony Ride,’ where we all met for lunch, then drove to the Gale Halderman Museum in Tipp City, Ohio. Gale was the artist of the original concept drawing accepted at Ford that ultimately became the first Mustang as we know it. A special thanks go out to Karen Koenig (Gale’s daughter) and the entire Halderman family for hosting this event.
“Our trip there started off with beautiful weather, but the first stop near home was almost a disaster when the starter solenoid failed after shutting it off. The first replacement was DOA out of the box, where we had to exchange for another that got us going almost an hour and 20 minutes late. Add mid-90’s heat, high humidity and a huge number of Locusts (which I think are made of glue), and the 85-mile trip became a real adventure. We did make it in time for a short lunch and the trip with the group to the museum, where we met and saw the presentation that Ford Performance Communications Manager John Clor. It was a great time and John is a real character with a huge knowledge of Fords, and Mustangs in particular. He also explained the support Ford has for enthusiasts, car clubs and other human interests, and shared several stories about Gale. To cap it all off and make all our rushing and effort all worthwhile, our ’66 convertible was selected for the Ford Enthusiast Program Team ‘Ford Performance Pick Car Show Award’ out of all the beautiful Mustangs present. Susan was elated!
“Since Susan and I first got together, I’ve converted her exclusively to Ford. In addition to our aforementioned fleet, we’ve had two ’64 Falcon coupes, ’05 and ’08 Escapes, a ’98, an ’02, another ’02 and ’06 V-8 Explorers, a ’97 Mustang GT convertible and a ’14 F-150 EcoBoost SuperCrew. We currently have a ’10 Expedition, an ’18 F-50 EcoBoost SuperCrew and a 1971 Mach 1 (under reconstruction), to round out the collection of seven Fords with the ’66 Mustang, ’68 Torino, ’00 GT and ’64 Falcon convertibles. As you can see, Ford runs deep here.
“We just want to tell Ford, Ford Performance and Club Connect, to keep up the great work! We look forward to participating in more events with Ford and seeing more out of the club programs in the hobby! John Clor is a great liaison for the work that Ford Performance does with clubs – I envy him for a job that allows him to hang at all the great car shows and events. (We also proudly support the Ford ‘Warriors in Pink’ program. (https://www.warriorsinpink.ford.com) Susan is a Breast Cancer Survivor, and this Ford program means a lot to all. Thanks, Ford!”
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