Article by Stephen Daubert. Photography by Corey Davis.
Project cars come and go, some leaving you breathless, while others turn into Frankenstein creations that should have remained only ideas. A truly unique project car requires months or even years of patience to finish. Throw together three differing opinions and the knowledge to back each one and you have one of the toughest builds around.
The long journey for this Mustang started as just a simple idea from Adam. Not wanting to work alone, he asked for help from Michael, one of his closest friends and gear heads. Michael’s knowledge helped steer the vision through a long, winding voyage of Mustang history, aftermarket parts, and the occasional argument. Adam and Michael’s trust went only so far, though, so when the time came to pick a worthy tuning shop, Russ and Gold Coast Customs entered the picture.
The friendship among the three men soon wore thin, along with the arguments, the long months, the regrets, , and Mike’s unanswered question, "Why are the bumpers painted?” But it was all worth it for one of the most unique Mustangs around. Adam started by approaching Mike, wanting to custom-build a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback. After long hours of searching, they finally found what they were looking for—a gem in Cypress, California—a six-cylinder, four-speed fastback that was just waiting to be let off the reins. It was a cream puff, with the paint in perfect condition. The car was still owned by the original owner, an engineer who prided himself on the details of the car. He was quite meticulous in documenting everything he did, from maintenance and service to simple modifications and repairs. After returning from Vietnam, he went down to the dealership to buy the new Mustang Fastback he had read about overseas. Growing up as a Chevy kid, he was infatuated with the straight-six, but to his dismay, all the fastbacks on the showroom floors were V8s. So he decided to special order one: he checked the fastback box, the six-cylinder box, and tinted glass. He also chose the four-speed instead of the three. Being an engineer, he had inherited certain traits, such as focusing on minute details, which presented Adam and Michael with a Mustang that might be 48 years old but drove like new. With such amazing maintenance, this Mustang was the perfect platform to exploit and produce the fire-breathing dream machine Adam and Michael had envisioned.
Running into their first obstacle, which was actually acquiring the car, Mike made the mistake of telling the owner their ostentatious plan for his fastback and was quickly denied. After the initial attempt backfired, Russ eventually returned under the pretense that he wanted to purchase the Mustang for his daughter. It wouldn’t be too much power for her first car. The owner believed the story, and the car arrived at Russ’s mad laboratory, Gold Coast Customs in Ventura CA.
Once the car was on its way to Gold Coast Customs, Adam and Michael hatched their devious plan to turn this once tame mustang into a wild horse. Adam wanted a simple, yet efficient engine that provided adequate horsepower and torque. Adam and Michael settled on a Roush 427IR small block producing 560 horsepower and 540lb-ft of torque. Adam believed this engine provided the raw necessary power along with the easy turnkey style he was looking for. The fastback’s chassis had to be modified for the Tremec TKO 600 manual transmission. Sticking with leaders in the Mustang aftermarket scene, Adam chose Griggs Racing to supply the needed suspension. The Mustang needed a setup that could handle the power produced by the engine, so a Griggs Racing GR350 suspension system was sourced along with upgraded brakes. Both the suspension and brakes were supposed to be bolt-on packages but were actually far from it. Russ and his guys had massive amounts of fabrication work to get them to mount and function properly. Troubles with the mechanical installations proved to be just the beginning.
Adam’s patience soon wore thin. He and Michael held a couple of "come to Jesus talks,” where they debated what products should be used to harness the immense power produced by the Roush engine. The project continued with Michael steering Adam in a direction that would provide the best outcome for the project. Occasionally, Michael and Adam’s imagination would run away and Russ would step in to either approve or snub Adam and Michael’s ideas, bringing them back to reality. This proved to be difficult during the long build, but all three would soon realize it was necessary to complete an amazing project car.
As all the modifications fell into place, some causing more headaches than others, Russ and company worked their magic on the exterior. All the cosmetic decisions were made between Russ and Adam. Everything is so subtle that an untrained eye would miss most of the modifications. Many of the original interior pieces were saved and reused, helping to provide a retro look.
The interior sported leather lined with red stitching from Thorson Interiors. Next, the exterior underwent the scalpel, as the inner rear wheelhouses were pie cut and moved to allow more tire clearance, yet allowing the rear seats to remain functional. The rear wheel openings were flared to provide an even more aggressive look that would scare the likes of most veteran enthusiasts. Sticking with the retro theme, Russ had the factory lip re-created. The front wheel openings were cut off and 1967 openings were grafted on, after centering the wheel in the new wheel opening. The bumpers were sucked in and reshaped. These subtle altercations merged together to produce a Mustang with classic lines complemented by modern touch-ups. Russ topped it off with a flawless paint job.
Slowly, the fastback began to breathe life, soothing some sore spots between Mike, Adam, and Russ. Finally, the last parts were installed, as a subtle cage and exhaust system were fabricated. Having to twist and bend the exhaust system proved difficult, but Nick from War Gasser in Simi, California, created more art than exhaust by winding and bending the exhaust system around the Watts link and fuel cell.
Adam’s dream began to materialize over the long months and was finally finished after two years of working and arguing. The Roush power plant was ready to be unleashed, and there was no hesitation from Adam. Classic beauty mated with modern power was finally realized, causing Ferraris to prance in fear on the track and leaving battered Camaros on the drag strip. The collaboration between Adam, Mike, and Russ proved incredible, each providing their knowledge when needed to turn a once meticulously maintained 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback into a classic beauty hiding modern suspension and colossal power beneath its hood.