Chris Shelton
May 14, 2015

Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story. This isn’t one of them, but you’ll like it just the same. Bob Austin found his 1965 project the way most of us would love to—as a restored and professionally modified California example. “It actually started out as a pretty decent car,” he admits, explaining that it even appeared on a Chris Alston’s Chassisworks catalog cover. But typical of cars built by others, it wasn’t quite right.

“I brought the car home and we started doing a few mods,” he explains. Ultimately, the paint bugged him but a simple re-spray wouldn’t suffice; he says he wanted to know the car was right all the way to its bones. That meant one thing: stripping the car. Through friends he discovered John Mannila and Metalworks Classics, one of the country’s preeminent metal dippers. “We drove it out with the intention of stripping the car, painting it, and putting it back together.”

Then something happened when a nearly perfect specimen emerged from the tank: Austin fell for the cult of Might as Well. As in, “we might as well restore it since we got it down this far,” he explains, adding, “But after a while I figured I might as well turn John’s guys loose. You could say one thing led to another.”

The suspension consists of Detroit Speed and Engineering systems: the front, an alloy crossmember, control arms, and C6 Corvette hubs; the rear, a four-link setup with a Panhard bar. Both ends sport DSE-spec monotube Koni coilover dampers and the company’s antiroll bars. Wilwood 14-inch vented rotors and four-piston calipers at both ends peek through Boze ZE Autocross rollers. They measure 18x8 and 19x11, both with 4-1/2 inches backspace, and wear Bridgestone P225/40ZR18 and P305/30ZR19.

The car may be modern on the underside, but the drivetrain is relatively old school. Or so it looks anyway. Performance Unlimited supplied the cornerstone, a 408ci Windsor stroker. From top to bottom the 408 sports an MSD Atomic EFI on an Edelbrock Performer RPM Air Gap manifold and a DSE-spec Canton front-sump oil pan. From front to back, a SPAL fan on a Ron Davis radiator, a March accessory drive and Edelbrock pump, and 1 5/8-inch Hooker four-into-one headers. Tom Lawson built the exhaust from 2-1/2-inch stainless tubing and mandrel bends, and Hooker VR304 fiberglass-packed mufflers. A Centerforce clutch couples the five-speed Tremec TKO-600 gearbox. The stock pedal assembly actuates Wilwood master cylinders. Driveline Services in Eugene fabricated the driveshaft that spins a 3.73 gear on a Detroit Tru-Trac helical limited-slip carrier.

The body underwent most of its transformation not necessarily for aesthetic’s sake (although it holds its own) but to accommodate the other modifications. Starting from the front, Jesse Benson modified the core support and formed filler panels to close the gap between it and the grille. Ringbrothers hood pins poke through the fillers to hold the hood down. Benson also formed a new firewall with a bead-rolled motif. To make the rest of the compartment consistent he formed inner fender panels with the same step, but with pieces from the DSE inner fender panels to close the gap around the front suspension. He also installed DSE rear wheelwells to accommodate the rollers without having to modify the quarter-panels. Inside, Benson fabricated a larger tunnel to accommodate the TKO. The car’s rather aggressive nature justified a cage, which he obliged with 1-1/2-inch tubing.

Jesse Benson fabricated these filler panels to close off the opening between the core support and grille and clean up the engine compartment.
Performance Unlimited built the 408ci stroker engine and topped it with an MSD Atomic EFI unit on an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake, still one of the best street dual-plane intakes ever created.
Billet aluminum aftermarket accessory pulley/bracket kits really “make” an engine compartment. This system, from March Performance, accommodates the air conditioning compressor from Vintage Air.

The body resembles the shape that project designer Joe Oros approved more than half a century ago right down to the backup lights, front turn signals, and drip rails. Scoop and lightness withstanding, the carbon fiber Ringbrothers hood mimics the steel one. The company’s wrinkle-finished door handles replace the originals. But there’s more to the body than the obvious. Benson not only wrestled poorly molded fiberglass bumpers in place, he narrowed and tucked them closely against the body. The rear bumper ties into the quarter-panel extensions so its closer fit called attention to the production-grade tolerances. So Benson reshaped every edge to come together in a tight and precise line. He also filled the small gap between the bumper and extension by extending the filler downward in an inverted peak. Many of the Metalworks crewmembers, among them Gary Hogensen, Phil Cook, and Jesse Benson pitched in to finish the bodywork. Benson and Tim Bridges applied the BASF/Glasurit two-stage urethane finish; Heath Johnson cut and rubbed it to a glass-like finish.

Those are P305/30ZR19 Bridgestones on Boze wheels, with fitment made possible thanks to the Detroit Speed wheel tubs.
Check out how the dashpad was removed and the metal dash was reshaped to look like the pad.

Actually we got a little ahead of ourselves. Removing the dashpad revealed a little of the Mustang’s DNA in the form of the Falcon dash. The lighter line inspired the removal of the pad’s bracket, making the bare dash itself the finished product. But rather than leave it Falcon-like, Benson reshaped the top to resemble the dip in the factory dashpad. He also shaped the face to take a double-DIN Alpine multimedia head unit and restomod vents to go with the Vintage Air Gen IV SureFit climate-control system behind the dash. The insert sports a set of Dakota Digital VHX gauges. A 15.5-inch Budnik Tungsten steering wheel and ididit tilt column replace the tiller and fixed stalk. Matt Powell wired the car and installed the audio system. He mounted Audison 6-1/2-inch component speakers in the kick panels but because they’re open to the fenderwells Benson formed pods that isolate the drivers’ backsides from the elements. An enclosure in lieu of the rear seat mounts two 10-inch-diameter JL Audio subwoofers. A pair of JL Audio XD-series amplifiers—400 watts for the staging and 600 for the subwoofers—powers everything.

Upon acquiring a pair of Scat Procar seats and Crow harnesses, the fastback went to Jon Lind Interiors. There, Lind fabricated the interior, including the elaborate sculpted door panels, and trimmed the seats, panels, audio enclosures, and rollcage in black leather.

Only instead of doing a plain seam he employed red French seams throughout. He bound the square-weave wool carpet in leather as well. He also finished the trunk, concealing not only the audio gear but also the 16-gallon stainless DSE tank.

This may not be a rags-to-riches story but it’s certainly a story to love. Bob loves it, at least the conclusion. “My idea was to have a car that you could drive anywhere you wanted to drive, as fast as you wanted to drive it, but have it still look like a really nice 1965 fastback,” he says. And what’s not to love about that?

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