Liz Miles
February 7, 2014

Don't worry, not all kids are rocking double-decker winged imports with stereo volume that competes with fart can exhaust. There are young hard-core hot rodders building cars their fathers and grandfathers would be proud of. Joe DeBattista of San Bruno, California, is one of those kids. With a father who collected just about anything that related to cars, Joe was always surrounded by automotive paraphernalia. He almost didn't get a choice if he would be a fanatic.

Joe's dad, Joe Sr., was a British car lover. That's all fine, but Joe was more into American Muscle. He was even happy for his plan to be receiving his mother's '70 Mustang Coupe when he was old enough to drive. That was until mom, who worked as a secretary at an auto-repair shop, called them to come check out a car. An older woman had brought in a car with a minor carburetor issue to be resolved in order to sell. Joe and his dad were rather uninterested, as Joe would be getting the '70 coupe. Mom insisted they come see it anyway.

The '68 Mustang fastback was extremely clean and in close-to-stock condition; Joe was instantly in love. The only aftermarket things on it were the Edelbrock intake that was painted blue to trick the smog techs, and an Edelbrock carburetor. She wanted $4,000 for the car; a fair price, but about $1,000 over Joe's budget. He approached the woman asking if she would take $3,000 with sad eyes and an "I'll love you forever" bargaining tool. She accepted, though Joe suspects his parents slipped her some cash on the side.

Within a week, Joe had replaced the stock steering wheel with a wooden British car wheel that dad had lying around, he had polished out the oxidation, lowered the car, and put on original '60s 14-inch American Racing Torq Thrust wheels. The car remained basically the same through high school where it served as his 30-minute-commute driver.

"The 302 started acting funny and my solution was to rev the bad running out of it, oops," Joe said. It's like having a small tear in something that you purposely rip a larger hole in so you're forced to replace it. Out came the 302 and in went what they thought was a running 351, which of course had a lifter tick Joe could not quiet. That was just as well since Joe wanted to perform a "stockish" rebuild anyway. He sourced all his parts from Craigslist, through Gotelli's Speed Shop of South San Francisco, where he worked at the time, or from leftovers from other builds. While the car was down, Joe was forced to drive the '90 Plymouth Voyager nicknamed the NOS Van. "I can't explain in detail why it got that name. Let's just say I had a NOS bottle and some free time…" Joe explains.

Joe shares space with his father and together, they have quite a collection of parts, tools, and other cars. This collection of spare parts has not only aided in the completion of the Mustang, but his other cars as well. Joe has that '70 coupe from his mom, a '67 Continental convertible, '71 Bronco, and half a dozen British cars. The collection is ever changing, but the fastback always remains.

Joe wanted a reliable engine that he could drive to and from school, work, and the dragstrip. He wasn't going to get greedy on the power side, Joe just wanted to bring home a 12.999-second timeslip. His intense drag racing friends offered to help him put the budget parts together with him, but Joe's dad insisted that Joe pay to have it assembled. He thought if something went wrong it would be bad for his friendships. Joe took his advice and had Joe Pecavar and Dave Haver of Bayshore Racing Engines in San Francisco build the engine. The crowned jewel of the engine was the ridiculous Canton 9-quart oil pan with a diamond baffle flapper door gizmo, crank scraper, and windage tray. It was so fantastic; it probably even helps file taxes.

The introduction of this potent 351 into a relatively stock shell, lead to several forced upgrades. The factory cooling system would get the boot for a Griffin aluminum radiator, electric Perma-Cool fan, and Meziere 55gph electric water pump that Joe boasts as "the best modification ever." Another forced upgrade was a Len-Schneider-built C4, after six at-home attempts by Joe. That and the 8- to 9-inch differential replacement meant Joe could finally hit the track and take home the 12.999-second timeslip he dreamed of.

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He drove the car from San Bruno to Sacramento Raceway, a 100-mile trek, on ET Fronts and ET Drag rears (yes, the non-DOT kind) only to pick up a nail and render the slicks useless. Luckily, he had his 17-inch Bullitt Mustang wheels onboard and swapped them in. The 27x11.5 ET Streets on the 17-inch wheel out back still lead him to an 11.96-second pass, blowing his expectations. Inexpensive components landed him super-respectable e.t.'s and 1.60-second 60-foot times. Joe would hit the track with his buddies for another 100 passes, but eventually decided to decommission it from race duty.

The Weld Draglites were sold and the 17-inch Mustang Bullitt wheels became permanent fixtures on the Mustang. The stocker-style disc/drum setup has 13-inch rotors and Cobra calipers in the box ready to go on. The bulletproof C4 will soon make way for a five-speed manual and full-length tailpipes will take the place of the turn downs. The transformation from a successful street/'strip car to something built to perform just about everywhere is underway. Joe adds, "I may even put a working radio in it. No, probably not; the engine sounds too good."

The Details

Joe DeBattista's '68 Mustang Fastback

'69 Ford 351 Windsor block, now 357 ci
Polished Ford cast-iron crankshaft
Polished Ford I-beam connecting rods
Keith Black Silv-O-Lite hypereutectic pistons
Speed Pro rings
World Products iron heads for 10.7:1 compression
Dougherty Racing hydraulic roller camshaft 0.578-inch lift, 224/230-degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift
Manley 2.02-inch intake/1.60-inch exhaust valves
Isky dual valvesprings
Ford Racing Performance Parts 1.70:1 rocker arms
Comp pushrods
Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake manifold
Demon 750-cfm Speed Demon carburetor with removed choke horn for hood clearance
K&N 14-inch drop base air cleaner
MSD Pro Billet distributor with advance lockout
MSD HVC coil, 6AL box, two-step box, and rpm selector
C4 three-speed automatic
Performance Automatic full-manual 4,100-rpm transbrake
Les Schneider (Grass Valley, CA) 3,500-rpm stall converter
Factory shifter
Strange Engineering Ford 9-inch
3.89 gears
31-spline axles
Full spool
Hedman Headers 351W swap long tube 15⁄8- to 3-inch collectors
Dynomax mufflers
3-inch X pipe
Front: Heated springs for lowering, factory rebuilt control arms, manual steering conversion, KYB Gas-A-Just shocks
Rear: Stock five-leaf springs, Cal-Trac traction bars, KYB Gas-A-Just shocks
Front: Stock Ford disc, 11-inch rotors, single-piston calipers
Rear: Stock Ford drum, 10-inch drums
Front: Ford OEM Anthracite Gray Bullitt Wheels, 17x8 with 1-inch spacer
Rear: Ford OEM Anthracite Gray Bullitt Wheels, 17x8
Front: Michelin Pilot, P225/40R17
Rear: Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial II, P295/45R17
Recovered seats by DJ Designs, Auto Custom Carpets stock loop carpet in black, wood Moto-Lita steering wheel, iPod with ear buds sound system with Kraco two-knob radio face, owner-made instrument cluster with Auto Meter Ultra Lite gauges, glovebox-mounted FAST wide-band O2 display, hidden line-lock button, ashtray transbrake and shift light
Sikkens base/clear Toyota Blue, all-steel body, backup light cutoff switch, LED sequential taillights, HID headlights
Less than $15,000
Build period
On and off for more than 15 years
"To Dad for the motivation and help with the car. Thanks to my mom and sister for putting up with me." —Joe DeBattista, owner