DEARBORN - Courtney Barber reached a fork in life’s road during the Great Recession.
Home sales in Charleston, S.C., as in the rest of the country, came to a screeching halt when the real estate bubble burst in 2008. Barber found herself with a career that was no longer emotionally satisfying or financially feasible.
“Things slowed down, and people I sold homes to the year before were stuck with them and calling me with all their problems,” said Barber, 32. “I felt responsible, and that’s when I decided I needed a change.”
Her lifelong passion for vintage sports cars – especially Mustang – proved to be the perfect starting point. Barber believed that working with her hands, building things, was key to finding meaning in her life. She bought a 1965 Mustang on eBay and got a job fixing and refurbishing cars at Stono Body Works, a local body shop in Charleston.
Barber’s Mustang needed a lot of work, but that was the beauty of it. She grew up with a pony car enthusiast for a father – he now drives a 2006 Ford Mustang. Barber used the mechanical skills her dad taught her to refurbish her Mustang from the inside out, including painting the engine magenta and the exterior a tropical turquoise.
Today, five years after “pimping her ride” and becoming a full-time mechanic, she also travels the country in her Mustang as part of a movement she calls Team Mustang Girls.
With friends Lisa and Lori in tow, Barber takes her Mustang to car shows and participates in events like Bullrun Rally – an underground road rally of customized vehicles that covers thousands of miles annually.
Last year, Barber logged 9,000 miles in the rally, traveling from South Carolina to Los Angeles, Portland and back to South Carolina. This year’s rally began in Montreal and ended in New Orleans.
Traveling the country has put tens of thousands of miles on Barber’s restored ride. Exactly how many is unclear, however, because there is still one thing she hasn’t fixed.
“The odometer isn’t one of those consistent working things in my Mustang,” said Barber. “I also don’t have a clock in the car, but I think that is the best way to travel – just sit back, ride, and you get there when you get there.”
Barber also has another 1965 Mustang on her radar. She plans to buy it to refurbish and sell to someone who loves Mustangs as much as she does.
“I prefer fixing and selling a car to someone more than selling homes,” said Barber. “I found a way to make a living and live my life behind the wheel of my dream car.”
More facts about Barber
•She is a native of Bedford, N.H., now living near Charleston, in Folly Beach, S.C.
•She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Towson University in Towson, Md.
•Barber is also a seamstress, and has worked as a dress designer