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From marriage of convenience to a lifelong romance

December 9, 2010
By Richard Sberna
Robert Macabobby swears that he didn’t plan it this way. According to the Austintown resident, he has OPEC and a lowballing Ford salesman to thank for this 1971 Ford Mustang still being in his garage. Of course, he admits to being “stubborn by nature”, which surely also accounts for the pristine muscle machine that remains his pride and joy after 38 years.

Macabobby purchased the “Grabber Lime” Mach 1, a leftover 1971 model, in January 1972 from Shively Ford in Niles. Recently discharged from the Army, the former combat engineer had the money and felt like treating himself. “I hung my dog tags on the rear-view mirror, and off I went,” he said.

With a two-barrel 351 V8, automatic transmission and standard 2.75 axle ratio, it wasn’t the hottest setup available for ‘71, but that didn’t discourage Macabobby. Since the car was a year-old dealer demonstrator with 5,000 miles on the clock, he was able to negotiate an $1,100 discount off the $4,100 sticker price. Also, his insurance agent told him that they would have refused to insure a man his age in the same car with a four-speed, so it was just as well.

Just out of the service, the 21-year-old Macabobby was working at a Sohio service station in 1972 when he met his future wife, Mary Beth, and they went on dates in the Mach 1. They married the following year, and she was soon pregnant with their first child.

In addition to impending fatherhood, the OPEC embargo of late 1973/early 1974 caused Macabobby to reconsider his transportation needs. Thanks to the Middle East oil stoppage, gasoline prices suddenly doubled. Fuel rationing and long lines at gas stations became commonplace. For a young father-to-be, the cramped, thirsty Mustang didn’t seems quite so appealing.

Macabobby and his wife visited Conway Ford in Austintown, where they inspected a new 1974 Pinto station wagon. In the atmosphere of the oil shortage, small cars were in great demand, with dealers getting above sticker price. Meanwhile, big-engined cars became highly undesirable for owners and almost unsellable for dealers.

The salesman at Conway offered him $600 trade-in for the spotless, like-new Mach 1. “I told him I’d let it rot before I’d go for that kind of money,” Macabobby said. For the time being, he and Mary Beth would make due with her Pinto coupe and his beater car, a rough ‘64 Ford Fairlane six-cylinder.

When Macabobby first bought the Mach 1, it was his daily driver. He soon thought better of it, and decided to protect it from the abuse of northern Ohio winters. He bought the Fairlane to drive through the slush and salt, when he would put the Mach 1 away for hibernation.

Now the pony car would begin a much longer period of rest. Macabobby started classes at Youngstown State University, where he would eventually earn a degree in engineering, and Mary Beth gave birth to a son, Tom. In other words, Macabobby “got tied up in life” as he put it.

During this time of new family and career responsibilities, the Mach 1 played Sleeping Beauty. Except for being started periodically to keep things running smoothly, the car never left its garage. But gas prices eventually settled, and by the early ‘80s, there was a resurgence of interest in hot rods and muscle cars. Macabobby decided that, after nearly a decade of slumber, the Mach 1 should hit the streets again.

In the intervening years, Macabobby had turned his eye to customizing the Mach 1, but in the most “correct” way possible. Being that his car was a demo and thus a bargain, he took it as it was. Now he set about installing the factory options it wasn’t built with. “I made it into the car that I would have ordered,” he said.

The modifications include a larger four-barrel Motorcraft carburetor, Magnum 500 wheels, a full console and functional ram-air. (His Mach came with the ram hood, but had blocked-off scoops and lacked the ram air cleaner assembly.) Macabobby stresses that all the parts were either bought from the Ford parts counter, or, after they became unavailable from the dealers, NOS.

The Mach 1’s objective would be summer car shows and cruises. Macabobby got hooked up with the Mustang Club of America and, in addition to showing his own car, he eventually became a certified Gold-Card national judge. Over the last 15 years, his duties have taken him to meets across the country and into Canada. He also is a founding member of Mahoning Valley Mustangs, established in 1993.

Other than the above-mentioned and regular maintenance items, Macabobby says the car is all-original except for new paint, which became necessary after 30 years of intensive polishing finally wore through to the primer. Even though it wears reproduction Goodyear Polyglas tires on its Mag 500s, he still has the original tires on the original steel wheels and hubcaps. In fact, he still has all the original pieces that he’s replaced in case he ever wants to return the car to its factory-correct original condition.

And yes, his dog tags still hang from the rear-view mirror.

Robert Macabobby’s meticulousness, with unexpected assists from OPEC and a salesman at a long-gone dealership, have resulted in a one-owner car that remains in showroom condition nearly four decades on. Having refused $600 for it in 1974, it’s no surprise to learn that he’s turned down offers of 50 times that much since.

Macabobby and the Mach 1 have been through a lot of changes together, and there’s no sign of it ending soon. “Naturally, as things change and progress, it affects the objects that we have, one of them being automobiles,” he said. “Everything evolves, but we can always hold on to a little piece of the past and share it with others, and that’s what this car does.”

As we talk, and I witness people point, slow down for a better look, even walk up to Macabobby and ask questions, I see exactly what he means.

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