Modified Mustangs & FordsFeatured Vehicles
1968 Ford Mustang California Special - A Real Racer
It’s loud. It’s fast. It’s real and it’s just the way we like it: a genuine ’68 Mustang California Special that’s at home on the ’strip and the street
Foot flat to the floor with the big-inch Windsor bouncing off the two-step, owner Luis Garcia dumps the clutch and keeps the go-pedal mashed to the carpet—if it was a modern econobox, the pedal would've dented the floorpan. In a flurry of intake howl and tire hook, the '68 GT/CS unweights the nose as a hint of daylight peaks from under the left front tire. Sixty feet out and the coupe is loaded up and ready for Second gear—bam! No lapse in progression here; Garcia power shifts like he means it and a few seconds later he crosses the stripe with a 7.55 at 94 mph in the eighth-mile.
Onlookers shake their heads in disbelief, some good and some disapproving. The younger crowd digs the vintage iron, but the folks old enough to realize the rarity of a California Special mutter, "There's no way that thing is real and if it is, that guy is crazy." But the long faces couldn't be more wrong, in fact, Garcia knows exactly what he's got and has cherished it from day one.
"I'll never sell this car, I've owned many Mustangs, but I'll never sell this one—my mom bought it for me as my first car and it means a lot," Garcia said. When Garcia says he's owned many Mustangs, it's a severe understatement, as the Blue Oval fanatic has owned nearly 20 Ponies ranging from other California Specials, '68 coupes, a '66 coupe, as well as a '65 convertible and a fastback just to name a few.
"I didn't come from a Ford family, but I fell in love with the GT/CS as a 16-year-old and it was all over. Before long, I had several Mustangs and I even convinced my brothers to each buy one as well," he said.
Although the coupe before you is virtually flawless, it certainly didn't start that way.
"I've owned three GT/CS cars and this one was the worst, but it's got sentimental value," Garcia laughingly admits. "It was a rough rolling shell with lots of missing parts, but the majority of the pieces were there and I spent the next six years tracking down the missing parts at swap meets and junkyards," he added.
Back then, if you dug deep enough, there were still spare pieces hidden in the local junkyards and Garcia spent the better part of a decade hunting, searching, and unearthing all of the missing pieces to his prized Pony. His perseverance paid off and eventually the coupe was back on the road. In true gearhead fashion, Garcia never intended to build a garage queen or a showroom stocker, but rather a grudge-night racer.
"I always knew how rare the car was, but I also wanted to race it since these cars were built to be driven," Garcia said. And race he did, as the first iteration of this GT/CS received a high-compression 306 that routinely saw 7,200 rpm at the strip. Garcia didn't have a lot of money and what little he did went into go-fast parts, not look-good mods.
"I couldn't afford paint because I dumped my money into the motor, rollcage, and the Draglites, so I drove it in primer black for several years," Garcia said with a big smile on his face. As speed junkies we can all laugh at the days when our cars were rough and we couldn't afford nice paint. Instead, it was all about going fast.
In those days, a nice set of wheels went a long way with street cred, not a $10,000 paintjob. Coming from the school of hard knocks, Garcia, like many of us, smiles today when he sees a young hot rodder rolling the streets with a primered Mustang on big and little's. Why, because like most of us, we've all been there. And even though we all would have killed for the coin to paint our cars and make them faster, looking back, those were some of the best times—when you're young, dumb, and broke, but you're having fun.
"I had a lot of fun with it before the paint and bodywork, I worried less because it wasn't that nice. I didn't care about anything other than drag racing and keeping the car in one piece," Garcia said.
If some is good, well more is better: Garcia took that notion when it came to displacement and power. When the 306 just wasn't enough, he stepped up to a 347 stroker with a bigger cam and carb. The stroker pacified Garcia long enough that he could finally focus on the paint and interior. He found all the correct fiberglass bits and started the exterior treatment with an R-model lower valance complemented by a three-inch cowl hood that uses the factory hoodpins. Lets also not forget the ultrarare Lucas driving lights, the FIA Cobra side mirrors and the kill switch cleanly hidden in the reverse-light. Other than super sano paint and bodywork from All State Autobody in San Fernando, California, the outside is unmolested.
Life inside the cockpit is more of the same, just clean and simple perfection.
"I wanted the interior to remain clean and nearly stock, so I added a Moto-Lita steering wheel, Auto Meter gauges and DJ safety harnesses—that's it," Garcia said. A closer look inside reveals an Auto Meter oversized tachometer and shift light combo, an oil pressure with low-pressure light, water temperature, and fuel pressure gauges along with a Hurst shifter and line lock. Tucked neatly against the doors and headliner is an eight-point 'cage from Overkill Fabrication that's also tied into a set of full-length subframe connectors.
Continuing the mantra that more is better, when the 347 just wasn't enough, Garcia decided that a 351 Windsor block was the next step. The meatier casting allowed for more cubes; in this case, a healthy 393 of them. The stroker bottom end was topped with World Products 200cc cast-iron heads and a healthy hydraulic roller cam. This combo served Garcia well and was the bullet in place during the 7.55 eighth-mile pass we watched some months prior. But like all good things, it eventually came to an end.
"It was a stout motor that would regularly see 6,700 rpm, but I encountered a lean condition during a pass that scorched a cylinder, block, and the head, and even holed a piston," Garcia said.
Which brings us to its current state, just several hundred miles after a total rebuild. Another 393 was constructed, except this time, Garcia was set on kill mode. A Scat stroker crank swings matching H-beam rods and Probe 11:1 high-comp pistons. Up top, the iron heads were swapped for a set of ported AFR 205s with Jesel Sportsman shaft rockers, PSI springs and titanium retainers that tickle the Isky solid-roller cam. The big bump stick measures a massive 256/260, 650/650 on a tight 108 LSA.
A port-matched Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold supports a Pro Systems 980-cfm carb that Garcia swears by.
"Pro Systems carbs are awesome. The car makes huge power and the partial-throttle response is amazing—they're the best I've ever used," he said.
"I made a poor-man's evac setup out of a Mr. Gasket unit and it works well. I wish I had the money for a proper one, but this works fine for now," Garcia said.
All the horsepower in the world is nothing without a way of putting it to use and a Centerforce clutch and PAW lightweight flywheel inside a Lakewood scatter-shield spin the wide-ratio Top Loader four-speed. Power is then fed through a Drive Shaft Specialist driveshaft and into a Ford 9-inch rearend from a '70s-era F-350. Inside the massive pumpkin you'll find a Detroit locker and 4.57 gears that spin Currie axles.
Suspension action is amazing, as the GT/CS transfers weight with the best of them. But forget the high-buck giddyup; this is a proven budget combo. Caltracs and six-cylinder springs takes care of the front suspension, while the mono-leaf rear setup is outfitted with Rancho 9000 adjustable shocks, Caltracs units, and solid bushings.
The slammed stance is further accentuated by the Weld Pro Magnum 2.0 wheels that look beyond badass—post photo shoot, Garcia upgraded to bead-locks out back. The combo of old and new comes together in one glorious fashion. A GT/CS drag car is a site to be seen and if one were to explain this car to someone site-unseen, it just wouldn't make sense. Instead, this is one of those cars you need to see to believe.
"Some people think I'm crazy for drag racing a real California Special, but I take really good care of the thing and even though I don't hold back during a pass, I never try to be a hero and power out of stuff. I just back out and wait for the next run," Garcia said.
Speaking of backing out of it, Garcia has no such plans. In fact, he's not stopping until the car is fast enough that it needs a chute.
"People really dig the four-speed since it's different, but I'm thinking about building a big Dart-based motor with a 150-shot of nitrous that's backed by a TH400 with a 3,800 stall and a trans brake. I want it to run low 10s and be fast enough for a chute," he said.
Call him crazy for doing such a thing, but you certainly can't call him apathetic because one only needs a glimpse of this unique Mustang to know this guy bleeds blue. Oh yeah, and for all the skeptics: It's fast, it's real, and Garcia isn't afraid to prove it.
Luis Garcia's '68 Mustang GT/CS
Ford small-block Windsor 351, 393ci, home-built
AFR 205 72cc aluminum cylinder heads, ported, 2.080-inch intake/1.600-inch exhaust valves, PSI springs, titanium retainers
Jesel Sportsman shaft rockers, 1.6 ratio
Scat H-beam rods
Probe Industries forged pistons
11:1 compression ratio
Scat stroker crankshaft
Isky solid-roller cam, 256/260-degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift, 0.650/0.650- inch lift, 108 LSA
Edelbrock Victor Jr. aluminum intake, port-matched
Pro Systems 980-cfm carburetor
Edelbrock Victor Jr. water pump
Griffin aluminum radiator
SPAL electric fan
MSD billet distributor and plug wires
Aeromotive A1000 fuel system with pump, lines, regulator, and sumped tank
Custom crankcase evacuation setup with Mr. Gasket valve and Earl's AN fittings
Ford Top Loader four-speed manual, wide ratio
PAW steel flywheel
Hurst shifter and knob with line-lock
Ford 9-inch housing
4.57:1 Motive gears
31-spline Currie axles
Detroit Locker differential
Hooker Super Comp ceramic-coated headers, 13⁄4-inch primary, 3-inch collectors
Dynomax 3-inch mufflers
Front: Ford six-cylinder springs, Calvert racing shocks, MPG strut-tower brace
Rear: Caltracs with Ford mono-leafs, Rancho adjustable 9000 shocks, solid bushings
Front: Stock Ford disc
Rear: Ford Galaxie drum
Wilwood master cylinder
Front: Weld Pro Magnum 2.0, 15x3.5, 1.25-inch back spacing
Rear: Weld Pro Magnum 2.0, 15x8, 3-inch back spacing
Front: Mickey Thompson Sportsman, P27x7.50x15
Rear: Mickey Thompson ET Radial, P275/60R15
Overkill Fabrication eight-point rollcage and subframe connectors; DJ safety harnesses; Moto-Lita steering wheel; Auto Meter Phantom tachometer, shift light, oil pressure, voltage, fuel pressure, and battery voltage gauges
Paint and bodywork by All State Autobody, San Fernando, California; R-model front lower valance; 3-inch fiberglass cowl hood with stock pins; FIA Cobra mirrors; Lucas driving lights; kill switch mounted in reverse light