text and photos by Bill Hamilton
When the Mustang first appeared in 1964, I was 12 years old and started noticing cars. Within two years, Ford had sold over a million Mustangs and they were everywhere. I was in high school from 1967 to 1970 and it was the middle of the Muscle Car Era. There were hot Muscle cars everywhere. By my senior year of high school in 1969, the earlier Mustangs were starting to show up in the car lot at school. My girl friend back then had a 1966 289-2v Mustang and I still remember parking next to a beautiful green 1965 convertible GT 4-speed each day at school. Two of my cousins and a close friend got new 1969 Mustangs. While not real high-performance cars, the little 302-2V’s did alright and, with a little power braking, they could lay a pretty good single strip of rubber.

A couple of my older friends and cousins were returning from their military service and/or Vietnam by 1970 and had pockets full of money. One bought a ‘70 Mach 1 with 351C-4V and I really liked the look of the new 1970’s. I had started college by then and was looking for a sporty ride and Mustang was the only choice for me. My Dad was still my major financial backer at this point and off we went. The first one I test drove and had an interest in was a used 1967 Mustang GT fastback with auto. It had about 20,000 miles on it but drove like a truck and started blowing steam out the defroster vent halfway into the test drive so that was a no-brainer and we moved on. It was difficult to find nice used Mustangs around back then so next we went to the new car dealer. The local Ford dealer had a nice orange 1970 Sportsroof Mustang with auto and 302-2V. He cranked it up and let me sit in it while it warmed up and it actually sounded pretty good sitting there running at fast idle. The salesman looked at me, winked, and said, “All this baby needs is for someone to drive down the road at about 70 mph for an hour or so to blow out the carbon”. Sounded good to me and I was ready, but my Dad didn’t like something about the deal so we moved on. However by this time we were beginning to look at new 1970 models which was a good thing to me. We drove over to another town’s Ford dealership about 20 miles away and looked at their inventory.

This was the fall of 1970 and the new 1971’s were hitting the showrooms. The few remaining 1970’s had been moved to the back lot. It was here I spotted my first Mustang. It was a 1970 Grabber Packaged yellow Sportsroof Mustang. It had 32 miles on the odometer and thick coating of dust under the hood from where it had sat all summer in the dealers showroom. The test drive went well. I mean it rode well and felt solid. Performance was kind of lazy but, hey it looked good with that black reflective stripe down the side. They gave us a pretty good trade in on my old 1962 Plymouth and I was a new Mustang owner with only 36 more months of $81.00 to be free and clear.

Within the first couple of days at home, I was checking under the hood to ensure everything was as it should be. It was here we discovered that the initial ignition timing was retarded nearly 10 degrees. Resetting it helped performance and bumping it up another couple really helped. It was a good performer but nowhere near the league of a 351/390/428 powered 1969 or 70 Mach 1s. Back then, the world (i.e. stoplights) was full of GTO’s, Roadrunners, Olds 442's, Buick GS’s, and Chevy SS 396's.... everything muscle cars. It was kind or disappointing to be driving what appeared to the unknowing as a Boss 302 Mustang but actually had a 302-2V under the hood with a C-4 automatic and 2.79 gears. Even the junior muscle cars like Dodge Darts and Challengers, Plymouth ‘Cuda and Duster 340’s , Chevy Camaro RS 350’s and Pontiac Firebird Formula 350’s had more performance.

Since Grabber Mustangs were a limited edition car, you didn’t see very many, however, in my home town, there were a couple. One of my cousins, a year younger than me, got a similar car to mine but Grabber Orange and with a three-speed manual transmission. He spent a ton of money on headers, cam, pistons, solid lifters, carburetion, and other go fast goodies. One thing he never did was change out his original 2.79 gears. He could wind out second gear to over 120 mph and used a 7,000 rpm redline, yeah it ran pretty good. There was a 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A with 340 six-pack in town that he put a hurting on several times. There was also another yellow Grabber I’d see occasionally in town but never talked to the owner. However, one time I was parked in front of a friend’s house in town and the cops came knocking on his door wanting to know who the owner of the yellow Mustang with black stripes was because it was reported that “that” car had been seen doing doughnuts in the parking lot of a funeral home across town 10 minutes earlier. I had been there over two hours and my friend thought it was funny, but only until I was able to raise the hood and let the officer feel my cold motor did he believe my story. Of course I got a stern warning from the officer just in case it was me next time. If it was the other yellow Grabber, he got away that time. There was also another grabber yellow Mustang in town that I only saw maybe twice on the road from a distance but it had the other style stripe and the standard Mustang style hub caps, not the center caps and trim rings. I never knew it was a Grabber until years later when looking through some old Mustang magazines and books.

Those other Grabber Mustangs didn’t stay around town but for a few years. Mine stayed with me for over 22 years. It took me through a couple years of college, two marriages, into the Air Force and beyond. In the early seventy’s it started seeing modifications. First I replaced the single point distributor with a 1966 dual point hi-po unit I got through the local Ford parts department new for $29.99. That unit stayed on it for probably 15 years until it got to where dual points became difficult to find. I then went to a junkyard and found a regular single points distributor and converted it to a Mallory Uni-Lite electronic system. I sold the original dual point distributor a few years ago for $100 to somebody who wanted it for their ‘66 Shelby GT-350. My Grabber went through seven different exhaust systems during my ownership. The first was the typical Cherry Bomb glass pack system from the early ‘70’s and it was loud…..like it was supposed to be. That first system was put on in the backyard using a cutting touch and coat hangers for welding rods. About a year later, I learned why you need to use the proper equipment when welding as the system rusted away. Next, I went with a set of Hush Thrush mufflers and flexible tail pipes. Really great mellow sound but flexible mild-steel tail pipes lasted about one week longer that the coat hanger welded set. The mufflers rusted out shortly after. Finally in about 1975, I went back to the Ford dealer and bought a complete set of 1970 Mach 1 mufflers and pipes all the way back to the nice chrome oval tips for about $75. Once again I felt I was being “ripped off” by the high dealership prices, but it bolted up perfectly and required no welding. It lasted quite a few years until a combination of a broken muffler hanger and speed bump removed it for me. After that, I had a couple of different muffler shops install systems using pipe bending machines and performance mufflers. Back then, stainless steel mufflers and pipes were unheard of so nothing lasted for more than about five years.

I had rebuilt the original carburetor a couple of times but the last time I attempted to do it, some of the external parts and attachments were pretty worn so I went with a new carb. I wanted a performance increase but didn’t have the big bucks for a new manifold also so once again in my bargain days (i.e. broke), I went cheaper. I wanted a Holley 500 CFM 2-barrell as a bolt on replacement. Back in 1972 when I first considered this and was laughed at by all my car buddies, they were only $29 in the J.C. Whitney catalogs. By the early 80’s they had shot up to around $75 plus. That carburetor worked out great. It gave a very nice seat of the pants boost and was probably good for 15 to 20 hp that you could feel right off idle, unlike the dual exhaust which was more in the upper rpm ranges.

By this time, all the old muscle cars were sitting in junkyards rusting away or still waiting to be discovered in barns in the mid-west and my dual exhaust, big two-barreled Mustang was a pretty good performance car by the standards of the day. Sure there were a few Z-28’s and Firebird Trans Am’s around, but I had driven a 1977 T/A with 400-4V and auto and could not believe it but my old Grabber Mustang had more get and go than that Smokey and the Bandit looking black and gold Trans Am. The Pinto based Mustang II’s were more economy than performance cars so I stayed with my Grabber.

During this time my Grabber lost it’s stripes. I was negotiating an S-turn one night a little too fast and put it into a deep freshly dug ditch. The car ended up on it’s side and the roof got crumpled along with the driver's side. The insurance company would have totaled it out back then for next to nothing but I got it repaired, fixed and kept on driving. In trying to get the wrinkles out of the roof, the metal became pretty thin and wavy. A half vinyl roof covered up that damage, but since stripes were not available back then, they were left off in the process. It continued to be my daily driver until 1990.

By this time, my Air Force career was going pretty good and I got promoted to SMSgt and to celebrate, I ordered a new 1990 Mustang 5.0 LX . I kept the old Grabber and had plans but not the money, time, or space. It was still a pretty solid car for the most part. During it’s three different repaints there was always rust spots that need to be repaired and the floor pans had a few small rusted out places. I had a friend who worked in the sheet metal shop for aircraft repair on base and got some aircraft aluminum from him. I used a ball peen hammer and slowly formed my own version of a floor pan. When I put the carpet back down, it seemed to work out well since it was hidden.

In the latter part 1990, I was deployed for nearly a year in support of DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. By the time I returned from overseas, the old Stang had sat outside in the elements without a cover for a year not moving. Rust was showing in all the normal Mustang rust places, seals were dried out under the hood, the gas tank was full of crud, the tags, and insurance had expired. My wife heard of a young guy who wanted a classic Mustang and let him know where one was. He was very excited about it and had grand ideas. For five-hundred 1992 dollars he became a 1970 Grabber Mustang owner. He got it going and back on the road and, each time I would pass it on the road, my heart would skip a beat. After a couple of years, it became a money pit for him and he sold it to someone in Georgia and I haven’t seen or heard of it since.

 
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