A 51-Year Survivor’s Tale: Rob Simons’ 1969 Mach I Mustang

Most of the general onlookers who see Rob Simons’ 1969 Mach I Mustang at car shows simply don’t understand the significance of the car. They think it’s just another Mustang that could use a new paint job or reupholstery work. They’ll ask Rob why he has it entered in the show. He just smiles, knowing just how rare his “survivor” Mustang is.

To the general onlooker, it’s a car appearing to be a prime candidate for restoration. To Rob Simons and other hardcore enthusiasts, driving this Mach I is like truly stepping back over 50 years back into time.

Many high-end auto shows define their survivor categories with the criteria of “original body paint, chassis, upholstery, engine compartment, etc. that are essentially as delivered.” Definitions can further specify that a survivor is “50-percent unrestored, un-refinished, or unaltered; and retains qualities good enough to use as a guide for restoration of a car just like it.”

“Everybody modifies a Mustang,” Simon says. “You don’t see survivor muscle cars. In my greater St. Louis area, I have the only survivor muscle car from any of the shows I’ve attended. Guys who realize what it is think it’s awesome.”

Maybe the years haven't been overly kind to the 'ol girl over five decades. Time may have been harsh on the paint and striping, but you are touching an original 1969 Mach I.

Though “survivor” has become a buzzword in today’s high-end auto auctions, Rob’s Mustang was a survivor before the phraseology came into popularity. “For me, it’s always held that interest that the Mustang is as original as possible,” he says. “I got her going in 2016, but I’ve owned this car since May of 1978.”

A couple of weeks after he bought the car, he met his bride, Lisa. At first, he couldn’t afford two cars, so he bought a $50 junker to drive in the rain and snow and kept the Mustang out of the weather. “She sat unless the weather was pretty,” Simon remembers. “Lisa and I got married in 1982 and moved to Houston. That weather was going to tear her up, so I brought her back to St. Louis in 1983 and put her into my brother’s garage. It sat there until we moved back to Illinois in 1987.”

 The stock FMX transmission is still working fine. The last time I changed the oil was in 1979. I have not touched it. I fired the car back up in 2016, and she took off. – Rob Simon

When he parked the Mustang, Simon had filled the tank with unleaded gas to the brim. Anytime they returned to Illinois, he started the car. “When we moved back, I started her up in my own garage,” he says. “By the time 1990 rolled around, she said I’m not going to start anymore. The upper part of the engine had filled with varnish from that rotten gas, literally a quarter-inch thick.”

The original 351 Windsor engine and the stock nine-inch Ford rearend are still in place. Simons has stocked the trunk with OEM and upgraded items to use, but he just can't bring himself to swap anything out until necessary.

In 2014, Rob decided it was time to get the old girl out and back on the road. “Rotating the engine by hand when I started working on her, I bent a whole bunch of pushrods and knocked the rocker stud out of the head,” he says. “It shocked me to see that kind of damage. I pulled the heads off, reworked them, and put the hardened valve seats in it. I hit the road again with her in 2016. Other than getting the heads redone, replacing rubber brake lines, and other rubber goods, she’s all 50-year-old stuff.”

As the second owner of the car, Simons bought the Mustang from a girl who had bought it new in 1969. “She told me a tree fell on the hood,” he says. “There is checking in the original striping that comes from the bondo used to repair it from the tree. I left it for the sake of keeping her as original as possible.”

Rob tells us that the interior is absolutely original. When he was much younger, he pulled the original AM radio in lieu of a stereo system. "A guy was willing to give me $800 if I could find the original radio. Now, I am looking for one myself.”

The driver’s door was stolen when the original owner had the Mustang as well. “She went to visit her grandma in January, and someone stole the door off of it,” he says. “So, that’s different.”

And he had to put in an aluminum radiator due to an eventual overheating problem. Simons still has the original radiator with factory tabs.  He originally attempted to have a radiator restoration shop rebuild the original, but the overheating persisted, so he changed over to a new aluminum model.

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He has stored the original but unusable hardware from the car, such as the radiator. It is very permissible to maintain survivor car status, yet replace consumable components that can’t withstand the typical test of time.

He added the exhaust to the car when he first got the car. “It’s an open differential,” he says. “It came as a single exhaust originally. You could get single exhaust Mach Mustang back then. The exhaust that’s on it now, I made when I was 19 years old.”

Adding to his stored original components, Rob still has the original wheels and tires, along with the original spare and jack in the trunk. “What’s on it now are 17-inch Torque Thrust wheels from a Mustang GT. The original wheels and tires are stored, but I don’t trust them after all these years.”

When you look into the interior, it is original, yet imperfect. The seats are not really torn up too badly for the car’s age, but the dash exhibits the perils of time with some cracking.

Simon laughs as he tells his radio story. “I did replace the AM radio,” Rob says. “A 19-year-old kid wants a good radio. So, I pulled out the AM radio and put an aftermarket radio in it. I distinctly remember after moving into our house about ten years ago, cleaning up and throwing the old AM radio away. Other than that, it’s all the way it came from the factory.”

Whether it be OEM original decals or some bumper and windshield stickers from the '80s, they show off the Mustang's life as a cared-for driver.

When Rob made the decision to get the car back out, it was like all the memories flooded back in, and he was thrilled to get her back out of the garage. “I’m not an emotional person,” he says. “Truly, I am not. But when I first pulled her out of the garage, gave her a bath in 2015, opened the door, and sat down in the seat, I bawled like a baby.”

Simons was at a big car show and there were no other survivors around. He told himself he couldn’t do anything to it. Looking at all of the small hardware that was original from 1969, he rationalized that if he wanted to modify one, he would go buy another Mustang and leave this one alone.

Rob intends to keep his survivor just as it is, even though he’s more financially stable now and could restore it if he wanted to do so. “Once college was paid for, the cars paid for, and I had a little change in my pockets around 2014, I started thinking about waking her back up,” he says. “I had this long laundry list I wanted to do. I was thinking I would put a Terminator Four-Valve in it, five-speed transmission, and was going to put an Explorer 4.11 positraction differential in the back because they bolt in. I could have turned her into the car I always wanted. It is my intention now to leave her alone, drive her, and enjoy her.”

He changed his mind five or six times, thinking about rebuilding the Windsor, upgrading things, the whole nine yards. “Right when I was getting to it, I looked at my whiteboard at work where I had put all this down,” Rob says. “I had saved the money to pay for this stuff, and a light switch went off in my mind.”

What caught our eye when we first saw the car at a St. Louis area car show was a simple paper on the dash that showed Simons at two very different ages, with the same car.

So, he has left the car just as he remembers it from the past and will keep it like this. He’ll continue to take it to car shows and smile when the naysayers ask him why he doesn’t “fix it up.” And, he’ll revel in the admiration of those who appreciate the Mustang when they view the sheet of paper on the windshield that shows a teenaged Rob in front of the same car.

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
Read My Articles

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