The tales a car could tell


WOODLAND – If cars could talk, Gerry Urban’s Mustang would have some stories to tell.

When the Ford Mustang coupe came home with Gerry Urban in 1965, sporting a fresh coat of maroon paint from the plant in San Jose, CA, he was a young man with a cool new car, his life stretching ahead of him. The Mustang saw date nights with his young bride and brought two newborn babies home from the hospital. When Urban was later divorced from his first wife, the car stayed in California with her and he moved on.

The Mustang re-entered Urban’s life in 2012, when his ex-wife gifted it to their son, Brian Urban of Tacoma, now grown with two teenage boys of his own. The odometer has only five digits; so there was no way to know how many times it had turned over before coming to rest at 60,000 miles. It was last registered in 2001, and had to be hauled to the northwest on a trailer.

“It will be a great project, something for our family to do together,” said Brian of the rusted hulk.

Neither Gerry, a Woodland resident, nor his son had ever undertaken an auto restoration before. But Urban had worked on his own cars, and he had raced and cared for motorcycles for 50 years. Brian would cover the expenses and help as he was able.

“I didn’t want this car, I didn’t want to do this,” laughed Gerry, but he agreed to take on the challenge.

The elder Urban gave over his woodworking shop to the project, not realizing it would fill his space and his time through three long winters. He did all the work himself, except for the body work and paint, the building of the engine, and the exhaust system.

When asked what the most challenging part of the project was, Gerry answered without missing a beat.

“The electrical system and the brakes,” he said.

The new control panel on the dash was taken from a 1966 Mustang GT and is slightly different from the original. This meant that all the wiring harnesses had to be rebuilt, a time-consuming and complicated task.

Urban replaced the brakes with disk brakes all around. The car originally had a master cylinder with one chamber for its drum brakes, but now needed a master cylinder with two chambers, one each for front and rear. This new system made the car safer – damage to one set of brakes would not affect the other – but, said Urban, “getting it to work with the brakes was a problem I had to figure out.”

The Mustang project is considered a “resto-mod.” It is not a slavish restoration of the original, but is modified to meet modern street driving standards. The new front seats are sturdier and more comfortable and feature three point safety belts and head rests, but are upholstered in black leather to match the existing rear bench seat.

The rebuilt engine generates 265 horsepower at the “crank,” more than the 200 horsepower in the original V8. The car is built to be a daily driver, not for speed. The radio looks original but it is digital, with a USB port set discretely into the console.

Modern 17-inch wheels with low profile radial tires replaced the original 14-inch wheels. Urban chose the bigger wheels because, he said, “They look cool.”

The new 4-speed transmission replaces a 3-speed, and a few carefully selected pieces of chrome were added to the exterior.

Brian selected the gray body color with black stripes. Brian is trained as an architect, and, says Gerry, “he has real ideas as far as what he wants for the colors, the appearance.”

Gerry had to solve a lot of puzzles along the way, and he credits internet forums, websites, and tutorials with providing the answers he needed. He found his most valuable resource close to home, at Del-Pro Specialties in Brush Prairie, where he was able to buy salvaged and new parts for the old car.

When asked if he will take on another car restoration, Urban answered emphatically, “No!” He describes marveling that it somehow came together, that the first time he turned the key it fired up and ran just like it was supposed to. He once worked for the Navy, and his colleagues would joke about taking to the skies in a fighter plane made of 10,000 parts put together by the lowest bidder.

“This is 1,000 parts I put together,” said Urban, shaking his head in wonder that it all works.

Now that it’s finished, all three generations of Urbans love their heirloom Mustang. Urban will spend a few more weeks “working the bugs out” before he hits the road for a 50th anniversary drive to San Jose, where it all started.

Then it will go home with Brian, to a spot in his garage newly ready. Brian’s oldest son is 16 years old and a new driver; he stands ready to be the next generation of Urbans to drive the Mustang. And Urban is looking forward to summer to hit the road on his shiny new motorcycle, and maybe get back to some delayed woodworking projects in the garage.