Ron Cherry: Passing on the baton — A ‘69 Mustang |

Ron Cherry: Passing on the baton — A ‘69 Mustang

If you want to see cars like Tony’s and get the stories behind them, come to the 18th Annual Roamin Angels “Cruisin’ the Pines” Car Show. Check out hundreds of cool, classic cars, boats and trailers at the Nevada County Fairgrounds on Sept. 9-10. There’s something for everyone. For more info, go to
Photo by Ron Cherry

Often hot rodders fear that their labors of love will not be appreciated by the next generation, that they will merely be assets to be dumped at an auction or estate sale to some stranger for whatever they will bring.

Will all their time and efforts, planning and sweating soon be forgotten?

Will the baton reach the hand of the next runner in the relay of life or be cast aside as outdated transportation?

You cannot force your children to love what you do, you cannot make them learn how to change a set of points or adjust a carburetor. Tribal lore is too oft lost in the modern age, that includes the lore of the tribe of hot rodders and classic car lovers.

Joe Saso was a car lover and hot rodder. As a member of the Roamin Angel Car Club, he enjoyed the camaraderie of like minds.

He did much of his own work and all of his own plans. He would speak fondly of his early days in racing, running a ‘66 Chevelle SS396 down the drag strip.

His pet project was building a car that would break that magical 10-second quarter mile run. He built a radical ‘69 Mustang to do that.

While street legal, it was not built for streetability. Its purpose was to go down the track.

Joe and the car were featured in this column on Oct. 30, 2009. After a valiant fight, Joe Saso succumbed to cancer on May 24, 2010. But what of Joe’s baton, his Mustang?

Joe’s son, Tony, inherited the Mustang. Joe had taught him well, starting with the ‘66 Chevelle.

“I was a little young, maybe nine or ten, but I do remember it at the Fremont Drags,” Tony said.

Joe put Tony to work on the car.

“I remember being in the garage with him, breaking a few bolts with a socket wrench and thinking I’d be in trouble,” Tony said. “He’d say, ‘Hey, you’re strong.’ He’d make a joke about it.”

No doubt Joe’s easygoing style helped get Tony enthused about cars. Joe helped his son repair the rearend on the 16 year-old’s first vehicle, a ‘61 Ford pickup, and told him how to rebuild the brakes.

Joe gave Tony a ‘55 Chevy big-window pickup with a 327 cubic inch engine and a 4-speed that was a bit rough, but Tony “fixed it up to be a daily driver.”

“I’ve always had hot cars after those,” he said. So the Mustang successfully went to the next runner in the relay.

Already, Joe had bored the 351 cubic inch engine .030 over, blueprinted and balanced it, using a barely-streetable .690 lift cam with a Holley 1000 cfm carb on a single-plane high-rise intake.

Joe had joked that he’d invested in a gas station just to keep it in fuel. He had replaced the auto trans with a Ford top-loader four-speed trans connected to a Detroit locker rearend with a 4.56:1 ratio.

Using “sticky” slicks that would grab the track rather than spin, even when his worn shifter locked between second and third, Joe managed to make the low 13-second range on the quarter mile.

He put in a new shifter, but feared he would never break the 10-second barrier due to one thing: his age. He wasn’t sure his reactions were good enough to launch off the line quickly enough when the “Christmas tree” count-down light turned green at the drag strip.

Did Joe succeed in the few months left of his life? No one knows for sure, but we can hope he did.

After getting the Mustang, Tony drove it around town some and to Roamin Angel car shows.

However, when he drove it to the Roamin Angels’ “Cruisin’ the Pines” Car Show in 2015, there was a problem.

“All of a sudden, my oil pressure dropped from 30 lbs. to 5 lbs.,” said Tony. “On the Monday after, I pulled the engine and got into it.”

There he found bad news. Joe had used an epoxy paint in the lifter valley and heads, a technique to prevent sludge buildup and to speed oil drainage back to the pan.

However, the paint had started to chip and particles blocked the oil pump. Fortunately, Tony caught it before major damage was done.

He had CSD in Marysville dip the block and heads in solvent six times to remove all the epoxy, hone the cylinders and regrind the valves before he rebuilt it the way his father had.

“It’s still pushing 600 horse,” he said. While the engine was out, he did a major overhaul of the engine compartment, taking it down to bare metal and smoothing the firewall.

“I filled every hole I could find,” Tony said.

He painted it Wimbledon White with blue accents, then added a Monte Carlo bar to strengthen the engine compartment and chrome dressing under the hood, including the water pump, power brake booster and power steering pump.

He had the headers ceramic coated and added cut-outs to bypass the mufflers. Tony did it right. Even every bolt in the engine and engine compartment were replaced with ARP (Automotive Racing Parts) chrome ones.

Inside, Tony redid the seats and put in a new dash pad with an AM/FM/Cassette and speakers that looked “old school” original.

He plans to do some body work and a repaint soon to finish the job. So far, Tony hasn’t raced the Mustang.

“I don’t want to destroy it,” he said. But then he added, “I will eventually.”

Joe would be proud that Tony not only took the baton, but ran with it.

Not only that, Tony’s son, Anthony, Jr., is ready to take it up the baton, the Mustang, when it’s his turn.

It’s a hot rodder’s hope and dream come true.

Ron Cherry’s four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out soon. Check out his website at

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