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'70s Ford Mustang-based Dirt Late Model - Those Were The Days
The ’70s and early ’80s were another time for Dirt Late Model racing. It was a time when dirt stock cars were being constructed in backyard garages out of parts and pieces from the muscle cars of the 1960s. That fact shouldn’t be surprising as those cars were plentiful, had durable performance oriented parts and were relatively economical.
Making use of the parts and pieces of those muscle cars often resulted in some pretty nasty looking race cars, a good example of that technique being this Mustang. Constructed in the early 1970s, this Dirt Late Model actually used ’60s muscle car components for its construction, blending the body from a stock ’65 Mustang fastback with a different chassis. It was not possible to use the Mustang’s chassis because of its unibody construction.
“But there was a logical fix,” explained former driver Wally Heminger. “We used the chassis of a ’63 Ford Galaxie which had a sturdy frame. We had to shorten it about 10 inches to make it compatible with the Mustang body.”
Grafting a pony car body onto a full sized frame was in itself a fabrication challenge but in this case it was made slightly easier thanks to the fact that the rules of the time required a 108-inch wheelbase, which was the stock wheelbase of first generation Mustangs. Prior to mounting the body the team constructed a homemade rollcage from 13/4-inch round chrome-moly tubing.
Wally noted that back in those days, most of the Late Model teams used big block engines. Power came from a period 427ci/425hp engine which was acquired from a local Ford dealership. It fit right onto the Galaxie motor mounts.
It was a time when dirt stock cars were being constructed in backyard garages out of parts and pieces from the muscle cars of the 1960s
The powertrain remained in the Ford camp with a four-speed manual tranny that was acquired from a junk yard. Ah, the good old days, don’t you wish that were back? Finally, there was a period Franklin quick-change rearend.
Wally said, “Suspension consisted of shocks from Holman and Moody. The rear springs came from a period Ford station wagon.”
Heminger indicated, “The success I enjoyed in the car came from the fact that I could make it handle. Also, I kept records on how the car was set up for particular tracks. Most teams at the time didn’t do that, and it gave me a real advantage.”
Current Late Model fans might be surprised to see that the rear wheels protrude beyond the body confines. That situation was because there weren’t shortened rear axles during that period.
In his mostly northern Ohio career, Wally was very successful with two track titles at his home track, Fremont (Ohio) Speedway along with 32 wins at that location. “We ran a lot against 454-powered Chevelle’s and 427 Fairlanes at the time,” he recalled.
He also ran the car twice at the prestigious Eldora Speedway World 100 where he had a best 10th place finish. He also qualified for the first World Dirt Track Championship race in 1981.
The Keegan racing family from the Fremont area was heavily involved with the car, having been built by Mervin Keegan and owned/campaigned by Mervin’s twin sons, Ronnie and Donnie.
The car was recently brought back to life by current owner Joe West, the Keegan twins, and others. It took three months of steady work to complete this project. The outward appearance was done by original sponsor Foster Auto Body whose name is still on the car.
You better believe that it receives huge attention wherever it is displayed. Sure brings back some sweet memories of earlier dirt racing, wouldn’t you agree?