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Mustang man
By Kathleen Ostrander

Tom Nichols hears hoofbeats where others hear engine noises because he's got Mustangs on his mind. And the "ponies" in his stable are some of the rarest around, including a Mustang called a High Country Special and a 1968 GT 500 KR.

His 1965 fastback Shelby GT 350 is pearl with an Acapulco blue stripe. Most of the accent stripes were sapphire for that time frame, but Nichols wanted the other shade of blue.

"It's a car from my era. It's got nostalgia value, and I always wanted one," Nichols said.

"I do drive this car. It has power steering, factory air and disc brakes."

It has been in some shows and judges like the color and the fastback profile, Nichols added.

Shelby enthusiasts wondering who has the Shelby license plate in the state should talk to Nichols. After years of waiting and haunting state offices to get the plate, Nichols finally got it when the former plate holder moved out of state. One of the two plates is autographed by Carroll Shelby himself.

"I just walked up to him at an auction and he signed the plate for me," he said.

While the fastback is a sweet ride, the lime gold 1968 GT 500 KR is drop-dead gorgeous. The King of the Road was a modified stock GT. A special intake manifold held a mammoth Holley carburetor and it had heavy-duty front and rear shocks.

It needed those because although Ford advertised it as 335 horsepower, it was fudging by about 20 percent because insurance companies had started to clamp down and hike rates on high-performance cars.

Nichols was introduced to the car by an area collector who contacted him when he wanted to sell it.

"I had to promise him I would do a ground-up restoration, and I was good for it," said Nichols with a smile.

It had 54,000 original miles on it, but it still needed work.

Nichols and Steve Bowden of Bowden Customs and Restorations of Rochester did what is called a concours restoration on the car. Restoration is a faithful duplication of factory condition.

Since factories weren't perfect, that means a little bit of overspray and some bare metal is expected.

A concours restoration is perfect. Cars entered in shows that claim to be a concours restoration means they should expect that judges will take points off for things such as missing parts no one would ever notice were missing. Bowden describes a concours restoration as "building a life-size model."

Nichols' 500 KR convertible has been tops at the Mustang national competitions the last couple of years.

"We got six points off of 600 in the last show, and that was a first place," Nichols said.

The convertible has a custom console that includes an eight-track stereo and, yes, Nichols has the original eight-track box that came with the car and some eight-track tapes. There were only 517 convertibles produced, and an insurance appraisal puts the value of the car just under $500,000.

One of the prettiest ponies in Nichols stable is the 1968 High Country Special. Manufactured from 1966 until 1968 by Ford to appeal to Colorado-area Ford dealers, the first two years in production saw some special exterior colors and emblems. The car really came into its own in 1968 when Ford made a hardtop and gave it front foglights, a sporty sidescoop and a special Shelby rear treatment that included Thunderbird taillights.

"I bought it from a guy who bought it from a guy in Colorado 28 years ago," Nichols explained. "He was going to restore it, and he never got to it. It took us a year to restore it."

And it's a beauty. The high-gloss, raven-black car with attitude to beat the altitude has fancy graphics and a 289 2-V that turns heads at car shows. The High Country special and the California special were two special treatment Mustangs Ford marketed in specific areas. The High Country special recently took top honors at a national Mustang show.

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Story published Friday, September 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 5 )

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