December 16, 2003

It's amazing how quickly negative opinion might extinguish youthful enthusiasm. A youngster may save up to buy a car--a classic car--and simply get what he thinks is right or maybe just what he can afford. Suddenly, he's surrounded by those who can't wait to tell him what he did wrong. What's a poor kid to do?

When Chris Pasternak was 15, he took his money to his cousin, who had a project car that was simply stalled. At the time, it really didn't amount to more than a truckload of parts. Well, since Chris was 15 and he wasn't going to be driving for a while, why not let him buy the car and finish it up? It was kinda like a model kit in a way. The car, however, was a '76 Mustang Cobra II, and this was a time when the general consensus wasn't flattering to these cars.

"When I got home, all my neighbors asked me why I wasted my money on a Mustang II," remembers Chris. "They told me the best thing to do was cut out the front suspension and junk the rest. With all my money invested in it, I decided to keep it and build it."

It wasn't easy. He didn't have it on the road for his 16th birthday--or 17th, for that matter. In fact, it took five years of work to get it done.

One of the first things you'll notice about the car (if, even today, you're open-minded enough to accept the Mustang II as a "real" Mustang) is the engine. It isn't a 2.3L, four-cylinder engine under the hood. In its place is a 351 Windsor powerplant, assembled by Chris and his father Bob, with machine work done by Kalie's in nearby South Bend, Indiana. An MSD ignition and distributor were used, with a Crane cam and 11:1 flat-top pistons chugging through the cylinders. A manual valvebody C4 transmission was installed in place of the original unit. An 8-inch rear with 3:1 gears puts power where it needs to be.

It's a nice, smooth ride with the Monroe gas shocks up front and air shocks guiding the rear. A combination of 70-series 13-inch tires up front and 60-series 14-inch rubber in the back surrounds Cragar wheels.

The once decorative hoodscoop was made functional and a sunroof was added, mostly for the enjoyment of the family. On the rear glass, a specially etched Cobra draws the eye, a gift from Chris' mother.

More than a decade after being questioned about his motives, Chris is starting to hear more compliments than complaints. The car was singled out at the MCA 25th anniversary show as an example of Ford's best of the era. "Whenever I take it to shows, people compliment the car and comment on not seeing Mustang IIs around anymore. It gives me a sense of pride to remind people of the forgotten generation of Mustangs."

Ah, yes; and had he followed the advice of others in his teenage years, it wouldn't be happening. Chris, his wife Elizabeth, and daughters Tarynn and Bethany all get maximum enjoyment from the hard work and dedication to cause. It's made a lot of people rethink that maybe the Mustang IIs weren't so bad after all. Now it's Chris who'd love to give advice to the 15-year-old just starting out, who's bringing home a Mustang II. This time, the advice would be to give it your best shot. After all, it worked for Chris.