Things had reached a breaking point in the Dartt household two and a half years ago. My own freelance work was coming in like crazy, and as a work-from-home mom of 3 little kids (then ages 6, 8, and 2), I was constantly dividing my attention between the kids and the computer.
My husband had just taken a homicide detective position at his agency, and he was working long, stressful hours. Between finding the body of a tiny, blond-haired toddler who’d wandered away from his home one day and digging up the buried body of a woman who went missing, he was emotionally drained and no fun to be around.
Seriously. One romantic evening when we were taking a bath, he had an epiphany about a homicide case he was working on. Let me tell you, nothing gets the old libido flowing like an image of a dead body.
It was at that moment that I decided things needed to change.
“You need a hobby,” I said to my husband that night in the bath. “Something to take your mind off of work.”
So began The Age of the Mustang.
The hubs went out and bought a ’68 Mustang, and an engine to go with it. It was in rough shape. The body was dented and dinged up. The upholstery on the seats was torn and the padding was crumbling.
And boy, was he excited. He’s worked on lots of motors and engines before, and he can fix almost anything, but this project would take things to a whole new level. He had no idea what he was doing.
He began sanding. He repaired the dents and dings. He bought new upholstery and rebuilt the seats. He sanded some more. He bought a new dash and a new gas cap. When it came time to put in the engine, he made brackets from scratch. He spent every weekend out in the garage, with his music and the Mustang.
And he was having fun. Instead of researching body decomposition or cold cases, he was researching car parts. Instead of watching reruns of 48 Hours, he was watching car-painting videos on the Internet.
Then, things started going wrong. The first paint job was terrible. So he built a paint booth and tried again. The second paint job was terrible, too. And the third, fourth, and fifth. Every time the paint dried, little bubbles would pop up on the surface. So he’d sand some more. And paint again. I was at my wits end.
We always planned to sell the Mustang, hoping to pay off some credit card debt. But the longer this project went on, the farther away that dream felt.
A year ticked by, and then another six months and another six months. We started to feel like the Mustang was taking over our lives. We felt a huge sense of urgency around getting it done, but things were just not going smoothly.
The Mustang was almost done. Almost. The sixth paint job was decent (not perfect, as my perfectionist husband would point out, but good enough). The doors, hood, and trunk aligned perfectly with the body.
We were set to leave for our 10-year anniversary trip in just a few days.
The Mustang came to life. With its driver’s side door open, it shifted into reverse and rolled backwards, sideswiping our SUV, which was parked behind it in the driveway. The Mustang’s door lodged itself in the passenger side of our SUV, and the hinges were bent.
Not to mention the paint. The entire driver’s side of the Mustang was scratched and dented. Yes, after six paint jobs.
My husband was devastated. He was this close to completing this albatross of a project. This close.
We went on our trip and had a lovely time, during which we both avoided the topic of the Mustang.
When we arrived home, that mean old Mustang was staring us right in the face. I wanted to punch it.
But my husband went out there and fixed it. He repaired its driver’s side door. He sanded again and repainted that side of the car. He showed our kids how to take a project from start to finish, how to work endlessly on something until it’s complete (even when it’s hard and you don’t want to and you just want a cold beer).
We threw a For Sale sign in it and listed it on several websites.
Nothing. A few people called, but they were tire-kickers, not buyers.
And then, Thanksgiving weekend, out of the blue, we started receiving tons of calls, texts and emails about it.
And it sold. A man out of Palm Springs—where we took that anniversary trip at the end of August—bought it for his wife.
While the angels were singing, I felt an immense sense of pride in my husband. He took this car from where it was—rundown, ugly, and without an engine—and turned it into a cool, fast, rumbly beast of a car. He had no idea what he was doing for most of it, but he figured it out. And when things got tough, he kept going. He saw this baby through all the way to the end.
Yes, sometimes I wanted to run away to the circus when I was facing another weekend alone entertaining the kids. Sometimes I wanted to roll the Mustang off a cliff and save us both the heartache. The truth is, though, that this project brought us closer! It turns out restoring a car is a lot like writing a book. You’re humming along, feeling great, pounding it out, and then everything stops. Maybe you even have a big setback. And then at some point, you have to put your work out into the world, and it’s scary!
I am so proud of this man. As he loaded the Mustang onto a trailer to take it to its new home, I felt a bit teary-eyed. Not to see the Mustang go, but to see my husband’s hard work pay off … and go out into the world.