Monico Chavez always saved his allowance. Unlike other young boys, he wasn't stashing away dollars to pay for the newest video game, coolest pair of gym shoes or tickets to a concert. No, his heart was set on American muscle.
"I started saving when I was 10 years old," the Vernon Hills resident said. "I did odd jobs and chores around the house so that I could buy a 1969 Mach 1 Mustang."
At a young age he was introduced to and became enchanted with many things from the past. "All the other kids were going after the latest fads but I'd be going to antique shows," Chavez said. "I'd check out robot collections, trains and mechanical things. I always loved things of yesteryear."
His four-wheeled inclination comes from his father, Ricardo. During Chavez's childhood, his father marshaled together a stable of Ford Mustangs. All told, Ricardo Chavez, also of Vernon Hills, had a 1967, '64 and '65 -- all of them the fastback model.
"One of my earliest memories is sitting behind the wheel of dad's vintage Mustang. That vinyl smell is something that has always stuck with me."
Chavez' father was mesmerized by the mid-1960s 'stangs, but his son became a huge fan of the later examples.
"The 1969 was big, mean and tough-looking," he said. Once Chavez laid eyes on the performance-oriented Mach 1 package, he was smitten for life.
"It had all the added cool visual stuff, like the blacked-out hood with scoop, chrome gas door and side stripes. I fell in love right away."
After years of building his finances, Chavez started the hunt for his muscle Mustang during his senior year of college. He located one in downstate Mt. Vernon two years ago. The Candy Apple Red Ford had been sold new in Tennessee and spent most of its life there. The vehicle was solid but far from perfect.
"After seeing it online and then in person, it was clear the car was not the car I thought it was. It needed lots of work," Chavez said. Still, it was his dream cruiser and he eagerly made the purchase.
The first order of business was replacing basic safety components, such as the control arms, and also repairing leaks. Other items that were addressed included replacing the radiator, bending new fuel lines by hand and fabricating a throttle cable bracket. Once the Mach 1 was road-worthy, Chavez started bolstering the drivetrain.
The 351-cubic-inch Windsor V-8 was fairly robust but Chavez wanted more. "I bought it to drive it, not to baby it. I didn't want to settle for less performance just because (the engine) came from the factory."
The engine came out and was rebuilt with a new camshaft, performance cylinder heads, intake and rebored cylinders. The stock exhaust system had rusted away and was replaced with a stainless steel Flowmaster setup, complete with H-pipe.
"I made sure to add stock exhaust tips. With the hood closed it looks like a stock vehicle."
Road time is vitally important to Chavez and he makes sure to get plenty of it with his hard-earned Mustang. His girlfriend, Emily Grimm, usually accompanies him. The couple recently cruised over to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
"It was a pure blast. The car didn't have one problem," Chavez said. "We had smiles on our faces the whole way. Trips like that make all those years saving totally worth it."