He spent 20 years trying to buy back his grandma’s ‘Passionate Pink’ Mustang

Sam McGee picked up the phone in 2022 and dialed the same number he’d called every year for decades. He had the same question he’d been asking for 20 years: Could his family buy back his late grandmother’s Ford Mustang that had been sold in 1973 to pay for her funeral expenses?

Since 2001, the answer had been the same. Although the nuance fluctuated from firm denials to “maybe someday” to “I’ll think about it,” the bottom line had always been no. But in May 2022, McGee told the owner, whose family had kept the car for nearly 50 years, that he was considering buying a similar pink Mustang in Houston, about 200 miles east of him in Boerne, a city outside San Antonio.

“But I really want my grandmother’s. Let me know if you’re willing to sell it,” McGee recalled telling her. “She said: ‘Let me think about it a few days.’”

McGee, now 48, would have to wait to learn the fate of his decades-long mission, which was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News and recently covered by the Wall Street Journal. Even though he had never met his grandmother Eva Marie Corcoran, who died by suicide at the age of 42, McGee felt the hole her death and the loss of her cherished “Passionate Pink” Mustang had left in his family. A Mustang aficionado himself, McGee had felt compelled to recover the family vehicle. He also wanted to use the car to raise awareness about suicide prevention.

Since he believes the car, with its pink exterior and its houndstooth top, is unique, McGee eventually named the suicide prevention campaign “You Are One of One.”

“I want it to be a rolling tribute to my grandmother,” he said.

McGee first learned of his grandmother’s car in the early 1990s while restoring a 1966 Mustang with his dad in high school. As they repaired it on evenings and weekends, his father would occasionally talk about his mother’s pink Mustang with an unusual black-and-white checkered top. Since his mother’s death had clearly traumatized his father, McGee said he didn’t press for more information.

When the internet had become more commonplace by the end of the decade, McGee researched his grandmother’s 1968 Mustang. He learned the car was part of a promotion during the first four months of that year in which Ford released different colored Mustangs each month. In February, that color was pink.

McGee believes it was one of only a handful of pink Mustangs sold in the Denver area, where his grandmother lived at the time, and further research led him to believe it was the only one with the houndstooth top.

Around 2001, his grandfather told him the car had been sold to a couple in Selden, Kan., near where McGee’s parents were from. McGee found their number and gave them a call. They confirmed the family had bought the car nearly 30 years earlier and still had it. They told McGee they had no intention of selling it but said he could call every year to keep asking.

McGee did so without fail through the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations and into the first part of President Biden’s. Every May, McGee called, and every May, he received a polite rejection.

Some high points broke up the many rejections. In 2007, McGee traveled to Kansas for his grandfather’s 80th birthday. Knowing he would be within 40 miles of the car, he asked the owner if he could come by and see it and she agreed. He and his wife made the detour. During the trip, he learned that the car had 53,000 miles on it, had all original parts and had been perfectly preserved. McGee got a picture with the car, sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine.

“It kind of just lit my passion on fire,” he said.

During a 2021 trip to Colorado for a family wedding, McGee and his father made a 700-mile side trip to see the car. It was the first time McGee’s dad had seen it since 1972, when he watched his mother drive it off into the sunset en route to a new life in Denver. It was also the last time he saw his mom alive.

“At that point, I knew I just had to get this thing back,” McGee said.

But he didn’t — not at that meeting. McGee once again asked the owner to sell and once again was rejected.

Then May 2022 rolled around. McGee made his annual phone call to deliver his quasi-ultimatum involving the other pink Mustang that prompted the owner to take some time to think about it. A few days later, she called back — she would sell.

McGee said he thinks the owner finally sold him the Mustang because, although it had been driven by her family through two generations, it had been sitting in a barn and then a storage unit for about 15 years. It wasn’t being used or worked on. Plus, she seemed to be moved by the McGee family’s connection to the car and his plan to use it to help people in crisis, McGee said.

Soon after, McGee and his father drove two days and some 800 miles from Boerne, Tex., to the owner’s home in Selden, Kan. During the trip, McGee’s father opened up about learning that his mother had died as he was about to graduate from the University of Kansas and start a life with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. He told McGee of Eva’s upbringing — about how her aunt and uncle raised her after her own mother died when she was young and about how she poured her love into the well-being of her children.

McGee said he believes his father’s views on suicide shifted, from a taboo subject to something that could be averted if openly talked about.

“It was kind of the ultimate father-son road trip,” McGee said.

Because of his grandmother, McGee serves as a board member for Hill Country Family Services, a nonprofit that embeds mental health officers with the local sheriff’s department to help families in crisis. He’s brought the car to raise awareness of the 988 national crisis hotline and end the stigma associated with talking about mental health. In November, he plans to take it to a “Out of the Darkness” fundraising run organized by the South Texas chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“We plan on using this car for a long time. It’s not going to sit in a museum. It’s going to be used for good things,” he said.

McGee sees it as a way to honor his grandmother with something that brought her joy more than a half-century ago and that brings him joy now.

“For me, even though it was my grandmother I never knew, it was definitely a little bit of a hole in our family history, and a little bit of a hole in our family’s dynamic — something that didn’t get talked about a lot.

“And so by getting that car, in some ways, I kind of felt like I was bringing her back.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit 988lifeline.org or call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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