HUTCHINSON — Ethan Hager remembers driving his 1974 Maverick to high school for the first time and stumping all his classmates.
"Everybody was guessing what it is … a Nova, a Javelin, a Chevelle,” he said. “But my teacher came out in the parking lot and she knew exactly what it was.”
Turns out she had once owned a Maverick herself.
"She even took a picture of it," he said. “I drove it to school the last two years.”
He was so totally gone on Mavericks, in fact, that he wrote a 10-page term paper on them and scored a decent grade on it.
Hager, 22, comes by his Maverick obsession naturally enough. His dad, Tony Hager, already had dabbled in the overlooked and under-appreciated line of cars for years.
"I have had three Mavericks … between my dad and me, we have had like 20 of them," Ethan said.
In fact, his current Maverick was one of two bought for the meager sum of $300 as parts cars to repair one of his father’s cars.
"They’re pretty much like a Mustang, without being a Mustang,” Hager said. “The Maverick is the kind of car that was missed in the ’70s. A lot of them were made into drag cars and that’s about it.”
He had no such plans for his little ’74 coupe, though. But he did turn it into a little sportier, cleaner-looking version.
"We took a ’74 and turned it into a ’72 Grabber," he said. "The big (5 mph safety) bumpers were the first thing to go. We don’t like the big bumpers.”
Once the early-model, slimmer steel bumpers were in place front and rear, a ’72 vintage hood with twin scoops was added, along with racing-style mirrors, a blacked-out egg crate grille and a Grabber-style gas cap.
A fresh Saddle Bronze metallic paint job was applied by Tony Hager, with the hood bulge and the tail light panel finished in contrasting high gloss black. The early Mavericks featured matte black trim, but the shiny stuff looked right on this car, Hager said. The appropriate contrasting black Grabber striping was applied down the sides.
Inside, the appropriate matching tan ’74 bucket seats and center console have been installed, replacing the original bench seat. One giveaway that this is, in fact, a ’74, is the lack of the under-dash package tray of the earlier models, replaced with a real-life glove box.
Thanks to the Maverick’s large, arched wheel well openings, the owner was able to use a set of 8-inch wide Weld Draglite wheels on the back, mounting 235x60Rx15 Grand Prix blackwall radial tires to the package; up front somewhat smaller matching wheels and tires are used.
The car also came equipped with manual front disc brakes, 5-bolt hubs and air conditioning. Hager and his dad added an 8-inch Ford limited slip differential to the setup.
The shocker comes when Hager lifts the hood and reveals this made-over Maverick Grabber isn’t powered by the expected 302 V-8, but still gets down the highway thanks to a 250 cubic inch inline 6-cylinder engine, mated to a Cruise-O-Matic column-shifted transmission.
His back-dated Grabber has less than 85,000 miles on its original engine, which may be overhauled at some point, but which will stay in place, says Hager. He notes that it makes decent gas mileage and sounds great through a set of dual Magnaflow mufflers.
Besides, there is another plan afoot: his other Maverick already is a 302 V-8 car.
"My goal is to take the other car and paint it exactly the same as this car … kind of do the twin thing," he says.
For now, he takes in as many car shows as he can with his ’74-turned-’72 Grabber.
"I love the stories I hear from people. `I used to have one of these,’ and people wanting to know what it is. A lot of people really like it.”
How much does he like the Maverick?
"If I was a millionaire, I’d have one of every year they made Mavericks," Hager said.