Kaitlyn Beal and her 1967 Mustang coupe will participate for the first time at Saturday’s Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend.

The shiny red car, its color appropriately named “1967 Ford,” will be among the many gleaming rigs parked along Main Street Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.

This is the 24th year for the event which officially begins with a cruise around town on Friday at 6 p.m.

For Beal, 19, the event is one page of a love story between girl and car, one that started being written more than a decade ago.

“Ever since I was a little kid I wanted my own car. My favorite movie is ‘Cars,’ and I was so obsessed,” Beal recalled.

“As soon as I saw it, I wanted a car like Lightning McQueen.”

The Pixar film debuted in 2006 and introduced Beal and the rest of the world to a feisty and slick racing car with a big heart that won the hearts of children and their parents around the globe.

In the same time period her dad Rocky Beal had a red 1966 Camaro with a black stripe. 

Rocky’s car was so close to Lightning McQueen’s image that grade-school Kaitlyn began to nurse a dream.

Soon the little girl developed a love for Mustangs.

“I would turn my head at every one I saw on the road.”

Last year Kaitlyn asked Rocky if he thought she could ever own and restore a classic Mustang.

“He laughed a little and said, ‘No way, it would be too expensive and too much of a hassle,’” she recalled.

Enter Kaitlyn’s mom, Debbie Beal, who told her husband she thought a project car would be a good way for dad and daughter to spend time together. 

Rocky, a car aficionado in his own right, had little defense, he recalled with a laugh, but there would be parameters.

“He sat the family down and said if we were going to do this, ‘You’re going to pay for it and you’re going to do all the work,’” Kaitlyn said. 

Challenge accepted.

While Kaitlyn was in Europe for a DeSales Catholic High School student trip that summer, Rocky began the hunt.

He found an old Mustang, all right, one that had been parked when a father-and-son duo gave up on their own restoration project. 

Those two had made a good start at stripping down the old, but not at adding back the new, he said. 

The car’s seats were ripped up and hosting a mouse nest, the steering wheel was frozen in place and the headliner had tears. Much of the body and interior suffered from sun fade.

“It was completely gross, it was a mess,” Kaitlyn said.

And yet, it was a 1967 Mustang with most of the attributes she’s asked her father to find — “That was the coolest feeling,” she said.

Once towed home (the tires were worthless), the engine turned over on the first try. 

“Like a brand-new car,” Kaitlyn said. 

While Rocky dropped into a deep well of watching YuoTube tutorials on how to bring a Mustang back to life, Kaitlyn took on much of the job of getting the car ready for restoration, including discovering that mouse nest when it landed on her.

“She was instrumental in cleaning the parts. Getting her to do dishes is like pulling teeth,” Rocky said with a grin.

“Getting her to work on this car for two hours is no problem.”

Kaitlyn attends Walla Walla Community College and works part time at a grocery store. Still, she couldn’t wait to dive in as soon as she got home to Touchet in the evenings, joining Rocky who would already be immersed after getting off work earlier.

The two Beals worked for right at a year straight to turn the aged, faded blue ghost of the past into the nearly-perfect “Baby Stang,” as Kaitlyn has named it.

Debbie was also invested, doing a little detective work on the car through its Vehicle Identification Number, and learned it had been built in San Jose and outfitted with custom wheels and paint color. She had the supporting documents framed as a Christmas gift for her daughter. 

The spacious motor compartment needed very little work, Rocky noted.

‘There was no air conditioning in this car, so it’s simply a six-cylinder motor, an alternator and a transmission. And a one-barrel carburetor.”

The car is registered in Washington state as a classic car, limiting how much it can be driven, but the Beals have done a few speed checks at the family’s home place, 40 acres atop a hill overlooking farmland and homes. Kaitlyn estimates she’s had her baby up to 90 mph.

In 1967, this model would have retailed for about $2,500, Rocky said.

Adjusted for inflation, the same would ring up at about $20,000 today.

For this daughter and dad, the Mustang is now priceless — it represents a year of unusual togetherness in this day of technology and too many ways to be apart, they said.

Kaitlyn said she expects to love her car forever. And to make sure she can never forget?

“I got a tattoo today,” she said, carefully peeling back gauze as her dad’s eyebrow rose slightly in surprise.

The numbers “1967” march across Kaitlyn’s shoulder blade, the font a duplicate of that in Baby Stang’s wiring manual, according to her. 

“I had realized a year ago today we brought home the car. I knew on that date I wanted to do something special. 

“It’s been such a part of my life. I knew I was going to be working on this car the rest of my life.”

The project’s impact will also last a lifetime, Debbie and Rocky agree. 

“It was a bonding moment for both of them. I think it surprised Kaitlyn that her dad was willing to take her seriously. But he didn’t blink. He found out that was her dream and off he went,” Debbie said.

“Part of the reason this was so important was that I wanted to immortalize a memory between a father and a daughter,” Rocky said.

“And it didn’t hurt she learned a little something about the mechanics of a car. But more than how to turn a wrench, I was hoping she would have that same feeling … that this would be something she would remember for the rest of her life.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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