At first glance, you would guess that Earl Lauer is a dyed-in-the-wool Mustang guy. His current fleet includes three classic Mustangs and he sold a fourth not long ago.
But the owner of Lauer's Service in Clearwater says he recently bought a low-mileage 1975 Camaro and he's owned Dodges and "lots of Suburbans."
"If it's a decent high-performance car, I'll buy it," he confessed.
Right now, the Mustangs have the spotlight.
His daily driver is a silver 162,000-mile 1984 Mustang SVO with the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that was the precursor to the Thunderbird SC. His son Ray says the car is in need of fresh paint, but it makes good gas mileage and is reliable transportation.
The other two cars need very little attention at this point, but they draw a lot of attention whenever they are brought out for a little exercise.
There is the Wimbledon White 1969 Mach 1, completely restored, that Lauer bought in 1987 in Rose Hill. "It's a 390 with power steering, power brakes and air conditioning... they are few and far between," he said. He is the third owner of the numbers-matching Mach 1, which set new styling standards for Mustangs when it was introduced in 1969 with its sleek fastback design.
The Mach 1 had virtually no surface rust underneath it when he bought it. "But it needed repainting... it had been sitting in a garage with boxes stacked on it for 8 years and there were scrapes in the paint from stuff being dragged across it," he said.
Lauer rebuilt the big block power plant and the C-6 automatic transmission and had Robert Schippers of Quality Body Shop in Mulvane shoot a fresh coat of factory paint on the car in 1988. "It's all original sheet metal... the interior is original, except for the carpet, dash pad and door sills, which I replaced," he said.
The only real update on the Mach 1 is the set of Cobra R 17-inch 5-spoke wheels mounting wide Kumho radial tires, for a more modern look. Lauer traded a couple of sets of vintage wheels for the new ones.
"I think the '69 is the best looking Mustang they ever built," says Lauer, who isn't reluctant to take the car, which shows 77,000 miles on its odometer, anywhere.
But if he has a favorite, it's the other 1969 Mustang — more accurately, his sparkling Black Jade Shelby GT 500. It was the last full year for the original GT 500, by then being built by Ford, not by Carroll Shelby. "They built about 1,500 that year... they renumbered the leftovers and sold them as '70s," Lauer explained.
He found the Shelby in Valley Center in 1979. "We have been together longer than my wife (Sherry) and I have been together," Lauer said.
They dated in that car and he said she often asked him, "Why do you drive that old car?"
He is the second owner of the Shelby, which had seen some racing action before he bought it. It had open headers, drag slicks and yellow traction bars on it when it was delivered to his shop.
"It hasn't been on a trailer since then," said Lauer, who got rid of the headers in favor of stock cast iron manifolds and replaced the racing tires with white-letter radials. He painted the traction bars black to make them a little less obvious.
Under the fiberglass hood of the Shelby resides a 428 Cobra Jet V-8, which had received the "LeMans" upgrade consisting of higher performance heads, intake, cam and carburetor. Lauer estimates the car now produces about 450 horsepower.
The GT 500 was treated to its own unique fiberglass front fenders and cold-air hood, along with a glass trunk lid and fender extensions, making it visually stand out from standard '69 Mustangs. "The Shelby has roll bars and twin shoulder harnesses mounted to the roll bar," Lauer said.
It also runs a beefy C-6 automatic transmission, but came equipped with a cast iron tail shaft housing because the torque of the 428 tended to break the lighter aluminum factory piece under heavy acceleration, Lauer explained.
He said he has been a hot rodder at heart since he was in his '20s and has bought and sold a lot of cool cars in that time.
But there's one that's not for sale — the beautiful, unrestored '69 Shelby GT 500.
"That's my baby," Lauer said. "It would have to be a really big number to drive that one away."