Bob McClurg
January 20, 2015
Photos By: Ed Justice Jr. Collections, Petersen Archive

At first glance, this may look like just another (lettered up) candy blue 1967 Ford Mustang fastback. But beneath that clear Plexiglas hood beats the pulse of an Indianapolis 500 championship winning race car.

As a teenager, I read John Thawley's "Target: 200 MPH Mustang" in the Feb. '67 issue of Hot Rod magazine with great interest. A stock-bodied '67 Mustang that could potentially reach 200 mph! That said a lot about the forward thinking at Ford's Advanced Design studios. However, the new Mustang's wind-cheating aerodynamics were merely part of the equation. It was the Autolite Division's engineering program that really grabbed my attention.

In October 1961, Autolite Manager of Product Performance and Evaluation Danny Eames had succeeded F.A. "Fran" Hernandez at Autolite Division after Fran accepted a similar position (racing manager) at Lincoln-Mercury. Eames was instrumental in the engineering and development of the 255ci, Ford-Autolite DOHC competition V-8 engine that propelled Lotus driver Jim Clark to Ford's first ever Indianapolis 500 win in 1965.

"At Autolite, we were constantly looking for ways to get our name in front of the public," remembers Eames. "I had a chance to get this '67 Mustang fastback from Ford Engineering. It was the very first (fastback) pilot car down the line, and all they were going to do was crush it. I was talking to Ford Racing's Jacques Passano about the possibilities of installing a DOHC Indianapolis competition V-8 into a lightweight car like the Mustang, and try to break the land speed record with it at Bonneville. He said, ‘If I let you have the car, do you think you can get Autolite some ink?' I said yes! Doris, my wife, actually took delivery of the car in Dearborn and drove it cross-country to my shop in Long Beach [California], and that's how it all began."

The DOHC Indy V-8 proved to be anything but your average bolt-in. (An Autolite "dyno mule" rated at 650 hp at 7,200 rpm was the actual engine used.) But Eames and his staff, which included renowned Offenhauser champ car engine builder/mechanic/engineer Chick "Chickie" Hirashima, plus long-time hot rodders Ak Miller and Art Chrisman, were more than up to the task.

The DOHC Indy V-8 proved to be anything but your average bolt-in

"At 29.5 inches, measuring from cam cover to cam cover, those DOHC Indy engines were quite a bit wider than a stock-block 289," says Eames. "We had to cut out both spring towers. We also had to fabricate—at 15.92 inches from motor mount to motor mount—a new set of engine and transmission mounts."

Woody Gilmore of Race Car Engineering in Downey, California, fabricated a dropped-tube front axle using Ford Econoline front spindles (without front brakes) and XD coilover front shocks. Another noteworthy piece of creative engineering: The car's 71.6-inch, fender-exiting, 180-degree tuned headers were manufactured by Doug Thorley of Doug's Headers fame.

Eames and company fashioned a set of ram-induction cold air boxes that were routed through the Mustang's headlight openings. Ignition duties were handled by the same Autolite breakerless transistor ignition system that had been used on Jimmy Clark's Indy-winning Lotus. A Lotus Indy Car radiator was also used for cooling.

A Hurst-assisted Ford Top Loader transmission with Wedge Engineering scattershield and Schiefer clutch linked the V-8 to a 3.50-geared Ford 9-inch Trac Lok rearend. Shelby American under-ride traction bars were mounted on the axle, along with Autolite hydraulic tubular rear shocks. A set of 15-inch Cragar S/S wheels and Firestone Bonneville tires were also an important part of the equation.

Little was done to the Mustang's exterior save for the removal of the windshield wipers and door handles. Dean Jeffries laid down the candy blue paint. A 12-foot Deist Safety ring-slot parachute was mounted out back to assist the hand-lever-activated rear drum brakes.

The biggest attraction was Autolite-1's clear Plexiglas hood, which was manufactured by the Libby/Owens/Ford windshield glass division.

"We knew that we were going to be showing the Mustang at various venues," Eames says. "Instead of leaving the hood up and risking people reaching in and touching things, we installed a Plexiglas hood on the car that we could lock."

Inside, Autolite-1 featured a Race Car Engineering-fabricated six-point rollcage and single bucket seat. Next to the driver was a pair of 10-gallon fuel and oil tanks. The Mustang's stock instrument panel was replaced with a sheetmetal panel housing a cable-drive tachometer and oil pressure and water temperature gauges.


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"Mario Andretti was a close personal friend of mine," says Eames. "I had helped him get started in the racing business a few years earlier. When I asked him if he was interested in the project, he said, ‘Sure!'"

"I was interested in anything with four wheels," says the former F1, Indianapolis 500, CART, IROC, and Daytona 500 winner. "At the time, I had a great deal with Ford. I was getting cars and engines from them. [Autolite] wanted someone who was ‘outside the box' in order to get more publicity than if they had used one of their normal straight-line racers."

The weather at Bonneville in November isn't exactly ideal for test runs, and the crew struggled bringing the engine up to temperature, Andretti remembers. "In fact, the car didn't even make it down the salt the first day."

Once things got ironed out, Andretti was able to set the 5-kilometer SCTA D/Production record at 136.00 and then set the 5-mile record at 150.134 mph. Autolite-1 also broke the flying mile record that day with a 171.472-mph run, and backed it up with a run of 175.873 mph.

"The Ford DOHC engine had a nice, crisp sound to it," Andretti says. "The rpm limit on those engines was around 9,200. I was trying to keep the shift points up in its power range. Usually in a Champ car—if you want to equate this to a road course—we had four speeds, and you would move through the gears pretty quickly. At Bonneville, the long gears made it tougher to judge the rpm range without an operational tach. [The cable-drive tachometer had failed. —Ed.] Bonneville is so vast, I felt like I was going 40 mph down the highway. With those hard Firestone Bonneville tires, the car was fishtailing all the way through the gears. Perhaps we had it geared too high, it felt really boggy. We were giving up at least 5 mph on our ultimate speeds. That's something we should have experimented with, but we just had one time slot to work around to get something official in the record books."

In spite of not breaking 200 mph, Andretti did admit to having a little fun driving Autolite-1. He says, "I'd pull the chute on every run because I didn't want to flat spot the tires. The jolt was neat. It was something I wasn't used to. I was getting a kick out of it. The crew didn't like it because they'd have to re-pack it every time! On one run, my wife Dee went along. I felt kind of silly with my fire suit and helmet on and she was just wearing a sundress. I told her to hang on to the roll bar. I don't think the extra weight hurt one bit, as that was one of the officially recorded runs."

Says Danny Eames, "You really had to buzz that DOHC Indy engine to make it run. We tried everything in the world, including nitromethane, but the engine just didn't respond well to nitrated fuel. Had we done a little more development work, and increased the fuel dosage, that probably would have put us over the 200-mph mark."

In 1975, Autolite-1 was sold to Bonneville racer Don Ferguson Sr. Plans originally called for running Autolite-1 at Bonneville in 1982, and Ferguson even purchased five DOHC Ford Indy engines in various stages of completion from Rolo Volsted with the intentions of having A.J. Foyt engine builder Howard Gilbert rebuild them. Unfortunately, Ferguson and his son Don Jr. were too busy campaigning their XX/Fuel Bonneville roadsters and the Autolite-1 revival project got put on the back burner.

In 1990, the Fergusons commissioned longtime engine builder/restorer Jim Travis to restore Autolite-1. Two years later, the Mustang made its debut at the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, California. Virtually every nut and bolt on Autolite-1 was the way it was back in the day when Andretti sped across the barren Utah wasteland. Travis' restoration is 100 percent authentic, right down to the Plexiglas hood and Ford DOHC Indy engine front fender badges. Heck, Autolite-1 even has the original State of Michigan manufacturer's plate used when Eames' missus first drove the Mustang through the doors of her husband's Long Beach shop for its ultimate transformation.


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