There are car people who like a little bit of everything, and there are car people who are specific about what they like. Billy Watson is a Mustang guy, plain and simple. Even more specifically, Billy Watson is a first-generation-Mustang guy. He repairs and restores exclusively 1964½–73 Mustangs.
Pull up to the cluster of barn-red aluminum buildings that comprise Watson’s Classic Mustang, and first-generation Mustangs are everywhere you look, in all states of repair, baking in the 95-degree heat of a Houston afternoon in August. Step through the open bay doors of the largest of the buildings, and you’ll find even more of them, angled every which way. Just inside is a gleaming fastback in fresh black paint. A few yards away, a nearly finished full restoration of a ’66 notchback. Over there, the unmistakable white-and-blue nose of a ’65 Shelby GT350. Near the paint booth, a convertible, freshly stripped. Any floor space not occupied by Mustangs is taken up by parts shelves, toolboxes, and lifts, but mostly it’s just galloping horse badges. There are at least a hundred Mustangs here, Watson tells me.
Billy Watson comes by his Mustang fixation honestly. “I got my first ticket in high school 44 years ago driving my little white ’66 coupe,” he says. “I’ve been playing with them ever since.” By “playing,” he means doing it all. Classic Mustang is a soup-to-nuts shop that will take care of whatever you like—tuneups, upholstery, paint and body work, full restorations—as long as it’s done on an old Mustang. But the business started small.
When Billy and his wife, Rosemary, bought this property on Bamwood Drive in the early 1990s, there was a house but not much else, not even a patch of concrete. In 2000, Billy started selling Mustang parts out of the house. Soon, lots of Mustang owners also wanted him to work on their cars. The business quickly grew, and the Watsons built new shop building after new shop building. Now, Watson can barely remember how many buildings they have. “Three main ones where most of the work is done,” he says, “but there are a few more off on the side where we keep cars and parts.” Showing me around, Watson moves fluidly between the tightly packed cars and chassis, under the numerous hydraulic lifts, and between the packed parts shelves. This place is clearly all his. Several of the cars here are his, too, although off the top of his head he can’t say for sure how many.
Watson, an unassuming guy in shorts and a T-shirt, is rarely without his sunglasses, even when he’s sitting in his little office, with an A/C unit in the window and three Mustang calendars tacked to a wall—two from 2011 and one from 2004. Rosemary, who runs the office, is at a desk nearby. Their son, Wes, is also a full-timer. “He grew up riding around in old cars from the beginning, and we can’t get rid of him,” Watson says with a laugh. “When I’m done, he’ll be taking over.”
The Watsons now have six full-time employees. In addition to cosmetic and mechanical work, they install modern air conditioning, and they don’t shy away from upgrades like T5 transmission swaps and disc-brake conversions. The only thing they don’t do much of onsite is machining. Watson contracts that out to some old-school masters nearby.
Southeast Texas has more than enough first-generation Mustangs on the road to keep Watson and company busy, although they’ve also refurbished cars for owners as far away as Australia and Romania, and they recently rebuilt the engine on a Mach 1 for a NASA intern to drive back to Indiana. Although they’ve focused on the early cars, Watson can’t deny there’s appeal in later Mustangs. “We’ll eventually fade into the Fox-body cars,” Billy tells us, “because there’s a lot of interest there and people continually ask about them. But ’65–73 is our thing, and there’s always a lot going on there.”
Since this part of the world doesn’t have much of a winter, the busy season at Classic Mustang is “always.” There is a constant parade of Mustangs coming in and out, whether for fresh paint or brake jobs or yearlong, frame-off restorations.
“It never ends,” Billy says. “But I don’t dare complain, because it’s the best kind of problem you can have.”