Often we get caught up in what makes a car physically different, from the custom components to its unique purpose. In most cases, what makes a car truly stand out from the rest goes directly back to its story.
Nothing is more true for John Blackburn’s 1968 Madagascar Orange Coupe. Sure, its color scheme is a unique factory creation, which we’ll definitely get to, but the car’s true uniqueness stems directly from what it has meant to John for all these years, and the undeniable joy it brought to its previous owner-his mother, Grace.
In the late 1960s, muscle cars and crazy colors were all the rage. As if that weren’t reason enough to fall in love with the Mustang, The Blackburn’s neighbors ended up purchasing two 1965 models, making them the talk of the neighborhood.
Grace Blackburn was very much into the bright color schemes of the time and having taken notice of the new muscle car scene, fell in love with the Mustang in particular.
One day, while driving home from work, Grace saw a 1968 Mustang coupe in Madagascar Orange with a black vinyl top on a local car lot. As it turns out, the car was part of a Spring Fling Sale with special prices on the bold-colored factory limited-edition “Rainbow Series” Mustangs. That was all the push Grace needed.
Once at home, Grace asked John to borrow $500 so that she could purchase the bright orange Mustang. Everyone jumped into Grace’s car at the time and headed to the dealership, where she purchased the Mustang 289 you see here. The car quickly became a staple in the Blackburn household.
“That Mustang became my mother and she and that car were inseparable,”John told us.
The car went everywhere with Grace Blackburn after that day, from runs to the grocery store to family road trips.
“Every trip with Mom in her Mustang was like an adventure,” John explained. “Everywhere we went, heads turned, and lots of thumbs ups as well. She and her car were meant for each other.”
Over the years, Grace got plenty of use out of her Mustang, putting over 100,000 miles on it. When she passed away in 1985, Grace left the Mustang to John Blackburn, the only “car kid” out of the four Blackburn children. By that time, John, had already owned a couple of Mustangs of his own, including a ’69 Mach I with a 428 ci Cobra Jet engine under the hood and a ’69 Boss 429 ci.
Since he acquired his mom’s Mustang, which has been named Gracie as a tribute to her, John has taken every chance to restore it and maintain it as it was purchased by his mother.
In 1989, John brought the car to his home in the Bay Area and had the engine rebuilt by Litz Engine Supply. New additions to the engine at the time were a camshaft out of an RV, so that he could tow his boat with the car, a new flex plate and a hard valve seat pack for the new lead-free gas being used.
In the years following the engine rebuild, a transmission cooler, Mach I GT wheels, Hedman headers, a dual exhaust system, a new vinyl top, and new seat covers were all installed. In the early 2000s, front disc brakes were installed on the car, followed by a revised suspension system, featuring Scott Drake springs and KYB shocks, a new Holley carburetor and a GT steering wheel.
In the spring of 2008, the Mustang was sent to the Restomod Shop for a few months for restoration work (storing the car outside in the late 80s and early 90s had resulted in some rust issues). The next year brought about the rebuilding of the C4 transmission prior to John taking the car on the 2009 Mustangs Across America trip. In 2011, the seats were re-foamed and recovered, followed by a new exhaust system (high-performance exhaust manifolds and a new H-pipe/Flowmaster exhaust) put on the car in 2012.
To this day, Gracie the Mustang remains a significant part of John’s life. He even takes his mother’s ashes on road trips with him sometimes, as he told us, “It is only fitting she continues to do road trips she so loved to do.”
“You had to know Grace,” John continued. “The window down, her hair and scarf blowing in the breeze as she drove along the highways and bi-ways of California with that big smile on her face. Many picture-perfect moments on the road now frozen in memories of better times…”
Gracie is now joined in the garage by a 2009 Grabber Orange Mustang coupe, a car John fell in love with when Gracie had to be left for repairs in Dallas, Texas (ironically the place where his dad and mom met) on the way to the Mustang’s 45th Anniversary celebration in Birmingham, Alabama in 2009.
As it turns out, Gracie had some trouble with some corn/ethanol blended fuel picked up along the way, which burnt the valve in the number-2 cylinder. Gracie had to be left for repairs and John took a 2009 45th Anniversary Edition Mustang he rented to the show instead, with his mom’s ashes along for the ride.
In the near future, John is planning to have a new carpet/floor kit installed and the seat belts reconditioned. Once the original 289 ci engine goes, Blackburn plans on replacing it with a crate engine, along with an overdrive transmission and Ford 9-inch rearend to handle the additional horsepower the crate engine will produce. But no matter how many modifications or restorative actions are done to Gracie, it will forever remain Grace Blackburn’s prized car!