Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
March 10, 2014
Photos By: Drew Phillips

Twenty-five years is a long time to maintain a steady relationship, but San Bernardino, California's Chris Catalano has been through thick and thin with his first love. As you might have guessed from the title, we're talking about Chris's first car here, his '69 Mach 1. It's stunning appearance and performance is representative of the efforts Chris has put into his relationship with it, as well as the efforts of a large group of close friends that have regularly pitched in.

There's nothing quite like the camaraderie that occurs when a close-knit group of guys get together and build stuff, and the SportsRoof you see here was welcomed into the fold when Chris was in 11th grade.

"We were cutting class at the end of the school year and came across the car," he recalled. It wasn't even for sale, but one of Chris' buddies knocked on the door to find out if the owner would sell it. As fate would have it, he was willing to part with it, and Chris returned later that day with his dad in tow—he didn't bother to mention he had skipped school that day, but we can't exactly blame him as things may have turned out quite differently.

"My dad and I negotiated the price down to $1,600 and I worked the summer to pay my half of the bill." Chris' dad offered to cover the other half provided Chris finish high school. Oddly enough, the owner told Chris that he would have had to charge him more if it was a Boss 302, little did he know he was parting with another rather desirable model.

Evidently the owner wasn't aware of that, and it was probably hard to know since so much had been changed on the car. It was primer gray, had an 8-inch rear out back, and someone had "slaughtered" a Shelby fiberglass hood, cutting it down to fit the '69's original front end. Someone had also used gobs of plastic body filler to fill in where the rust had eaten the metal away, as well as to graft a set of '78 Camaro Z28 front fender vents in. It also had a salvage title, and the previous owner had rescued it from a wrecking yard. Either he hadn't gotten to repairing it or did a really bad job.

Still, it was a running/driving four-speed car, and Chris' first ride. The 302 eventually buckled under teenage driving pressure, and Chris built a 351 Cleveland for it. However, street racing every weekend killed the Cleveland within a year.

It was about this time that Chris started getting interested in the Mustang's history, and after reading a few books and decoding the VIN, he found out that it was actually an R-code 428 CJ Mach 1!

"I was only 19 years old at the time making $5 an hour, so I stuck with the 351C," Chris said. Since the money situation wasn't improving, the Mustang sat idle for a few years.

"I eventually had the engine rebuilt by a 'Chevy guy' who didn't know what he was doing. The engine died about two weeks after I put it in; he warrantied three more engines after that one, so my friend, Scott Spitzer, and I built the last 351C 4V." That engine lasted until Chris smacked the oil pan on a speed bump, which cut off the engine's oil supply. "I didn't even get out of the parking lot before I heard it start knocking." Still, the Cleveland showed it still had some oats once the oil was flowing again, that is until the Tremec transmission swap and it's much different gear ratios threw Chris for a loop.

"I over-revved it on the testdrive and it blew up—the only surviving parts were the intake manifold and one head. Everything else was destroyed."

It was then that Chris discussed the situation with his good friends, Kevin Van Noy and Dennis Carlson at Carburetor Solutions Unlimited. The CSU duo convinced Chris that a late-model powerplant with a turbocharger was the way to go.

Joel and Paul Barrett got to work on assembling the small-block, while Chris tried to figure out where to put the turbo.

"Downsizing the cubic inches was a hit to the ego," Chris told us. Size wouldn't matter once the turbo was boosting the 306, and Chris moved the battery to the trunk to make room for the PTE 54mm hairdryer. Starting with a pair of shorty headers turned forward, Chris then cut the collectors off and tack-welded the crossover pipe together. He later had his long-time friend and master welder, Rick Coricelli, take the pipes home and TIG-weld them properly. Rick also fabricated the downpipe that runs from the turbo to the rest of the exhaust system.

"The car was reassembled and a dream come true for a car guy," said Chris. To see what the turbocharged car could do, Chris drove an hour to Los Angeles County Raceway. With Mickey Thompson ET Street tires mounted on Centerline Convo Pro rims, the Mustang scooted to an 11.70 at 118 mph with Chris behind the wheel.

"Kevin, being a much better driver than I am, then got behind the wheel and said "sit back, son, and I'll show you how it's done.' (Famous last words before something is about to go horribly wrong!) As Kevin did a smokey burnout, the engine mount broke and the engine moved enough to puncture the oil filter," Chris recalled. No one noticed the oil hosing down the front tire, and once the left rear tire followed it through the oil, it started spinning which broke the right axle and sent the car to the right and into the wall. While Kevin was fine, the Mustang suffered sheetmetal damage and a small engine fire.

"I am glad Kevin was driving; had it been me, I don't think I could have saved it the way he did," Chris told us. Further good news came when a full quart of oil was found in the oil pan, and no internal engine damage resulted from the gusher.

Chris started looking for replacement parts and found that most of the aftermarket stuff didn't fit correctly, and original parts had become rather pricey.

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"I decided drag racing should be done in something I don't love this much, so I sold all of the drag racing parts and put together a plan to build a Pro Touring car," Chris noted.

Just as that plan was about to come together, the economy crashed, Chris lost his job, and he also had to undergo brain surgery for a tumor. Character is all about fighting back when things get tough, though, and Chris is full of it. Eventually the job prospects turned around, and Chris underwent successful surgery. The Pro Touring build got up to full steam.

Another one of Chris' close friends, Bill Fudge, suggested a modern suspension, big Baer brakes, and modern wheels and tires, which led to mini-tubs and huge 335mm-wide rear tires.

"Bill did all of the tin work; he made the trunk floor, aluminum fuel tank, wheeltubs, and back half of the car floor," Chris said. "He tunneled the car so the Tremec trans would fit right, made a radiator support to accommodate the air-to-air intercooler, shaved the firewall and notched the shock tower so the downpipe would fit better. He is a master fabricator and his work is first-class; he spent nearly every Sunday at my house for a year and I am extremely grateful."

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Rick Coricelli, in addition to handling the turbo plumbing, moved the rear framerails in, built the rear suspension, and helped Chris install the Painless Performance wiring harness. Work on the car finally moved to the interior and Chris and Brian Barrett tackled that.

"Brian was an animal covered in fiberglass and body filler dust while making the quarter-panel interior parts and speaker box for the subs."

With the car nearly complete, Dennis and Kevin from CSU came over to tune the blow-through carburetor setup. Chris drives the car around town with the turbo limited to 10 psi of boost—good for around 500 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels. At 14 psi with a 50/50 mix of 91-octane gas and C16 race fuel, the Mustang makes a bit more, and that allowed it to traverse the quarter-mile in 11.20 seconds at 128 mph.

Aside from the bodywork and paint, all of the Mustangs modifications were made right in Chris' garage—surely the local pizza joint was on speed dial and the fridge was full of beer to accomplish such feats.

"There are numerous parts on this car that are custom or one of a kind, most of which would not have happened without the help of my friends, and I can't thank them enough," Chris told us.

A dedicated Mustang enthusiast, Chris has had other Mustangs as his regular drivers; first, an '85 GT and then a '95 GT, have come and gone. Chris told us that his turbocharged '69 actually gets the same fuel mileage as his current daily, an '06 Roush Stage 2 with a Saleen supercharger. With the Mustang mostly complete, Chris told us that he is looking at changing the hood to lower its profile, and perhaps go with carbon-fiber construction for weight savings and the cool factor. With the great group of friends that he has to help out, that should be easy to accomplish, and we wouldn't be surprised if there was more in store for this high school hotrod.

The Details

Chris Catalano's 1969 Mustang Mach 1

Engine
306ci small-block Ford, stock '87 5.0L block, assembled by John Brooks, Joel and Paul Barrett
4.030-inch bore
3.48-inch stroke
Eagle forged steel crankshaft, polished, chamfered, and knife-edged
Eagle forged steel I-beam connecting rods
JE forged aluminum pistons
½-inch tool steel main cap girdle, ARP studs
Trick Flow Specialties Twisted Wedge cylinder heads, 2.02-inch intake/1.60-inch exhaust valves, port-matched and O-ringed
Trick Flow 1.6:1 roller rocker arms
Edelbrock Torker aluminum intake manifold
Competition Cams hydraulic roller camshaft, 215/215 duration at 0.050, 0.520/0.520-inch valve lift
CSU-modified Holley 4150 750-cfm carburetor
PTE 54mm turbocharger with integrated wastegate
Custom Spearco air-to-air intercooler
MSD 6AL with boost/timing controller
8.3:1 compression ratio
591 hp, 611 lb-ft of torque

Exhaust
Ford Racing Performance Parts 15⁄8-inch stainless steel shorty headers, reverse mounted
Custom 3-inch stainless steel exhaust crossover with 3-inch downpipe and exhaust fabricated by the owner and Rick Coricelli
Flowmaster two-chamber muffler

Transmission
Tremec TKO 500 five-speed manual
Tremec shifter with Hurst handle
Clutchmasters clutch and pressure plate
Factory 5.0L steel flywheel

Rearend
'69 Cougar 9-inch housing
Detroit Soft Locker
31-spline axles
3.50 gears

Suspension
Front: Total Control Products tubular upper/lower control arms with QA1 adjustable coilover shocks
Rear: Custom unequal length four-link with QA1 adjustable coilover shocks

Wheels
Front: Simmons FR, 17x9, polished lip with powdercoated silver center
Rear: Simmons FR, 17x12, polished lip with powdercoated silver center

Tires
Front: Michelin Pilot Sport, P245/45ZR17
Rear: Michelin Pilot Sport, P335/35ZR17

Brakes
Front: Baer disc, four-piston calipers, slotted and drilled 13-inch rotors
Rear: Baer disc, single-piston calipers, slotted and drilled 11-inch rotors

Interior
Custom/restored interior by the owner and Brian Barrett, Zoops 7107 forged-aluminum steering wheel, Cobra Misano bucket front seats, carbon-fiber-look gauge cluster modified for Auto Meter Phantom instruments, custom emergency brake lever with modified Hurst handle, custom center console trimmed in brushed aluminum, modified rear seat side panels to fit wheeltubs, custom speaker box with 8-inch Kicker subwoofers made to appear like factory fold-down rear seat, Sony xplod head unit, Kicker 4½-inch door speakers and 6-inch rear speakers, custom door panels, lighted door sill plates

Exterior
PPG base-/clearcoat by Wyatt's Auto Body (Rialto, CA); Unlimited Products fiberglass hood modified by Kenny Smith; front and rear bumpers tucked, rear marker lights removed