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1965 Ford Mustang Fastback Illustrates How a Project Can Snowball
Just a Driver: Originally slated to be a basic driver, John Olesuk’s 1965 fastback ended up serving show car duty
If you’re into instant gratification, restoring a car might not be the best activity to pursue. The closest you might come to that quickie rush is if you cut a check for a turnkey ride. If you have a few restorations under your belt, you know they don’t happen overnight, or in a year, or two. For New Yorker John Olesuk, wrenching on restoration projects has been a lifelong endeavor, with a number of Mustang rescues to his credit. He explains, “I have always had a classic car for cruising or showing since resurrecting my first 1966 Mustang back in 1972.”
In the mid ’90s, he embarked on a new rescue project by purchasing a 1964½ Mustang convertible. This particular car was going to have a full nut and bolt makeover. Working on the ragtop kept him occupied and somewhat satisfied by easing the Mustang itch, however, it only lasted for so long. As the work progressed on the car, a certain level of impatience began to settle in. The desire to be behind the wheel of a Mustang increased—it had become an itch that needed to be scratched.
As a result, he initiated his search for something that was presentable and reliable, in other words, a driver. That quest lasted a few months. “In February of 1997 this 1965 fastback was found through an advertisement in Hemmings Motor News,” he recalls. “It was a three-owner car that had spent its entire life in Ohio before I purchased it and brought it to New York.” Visually the car was in decent shape. It had been repainted in the mid ’80s, yet the paint was still in fair condition. Mechanically, the original 289 mill and C4 tranny appeared to be mechanically sound, however, the previous owner did have a few quarter-mile passes with the car and at some point during one of those blasts a coolant hose exploded and made a mess under the hood. Those issues aside, this was definitely a driver that cured the itch.
Did we mention this was supposed to be a driver? That was the initial plan, but John pointed out that, “I brought it home, but I couldn’t bring it to a cruise night the way it was. I took the nose off the car, and pulled the drivetrain out of it, and was just going to detail everything.” Then every married car guy’s dream happened—his wife, Valerie, told him that since he had the Mustang torn apart, even though the paint was in nice condition, that he should repaint it because it didn’t really meet his standards.
By the time he was done tearing the 1965 apart, all that was left was a bare shell. As he dug into the car, he points out, “I found the usual stuff with the Mustangs, some rust here and there. I discovered some rust in the framerails, and under the battery tray. As I got more into the car, I found some patch panels laid over the top of some rusty sheetmetal that were just welded in place, so I ended up replacing the floorpans. I also replaced the quarter-panels, front fenders, and added a fiberglass Shelby G.T. 350 hood. These rust issues aside, overall the car was really pretty solid.” Tackling the bodywork was beyond his capabilities, so Combined Auto Collision in East Northport, New York, was chosen to do all the work. They also laid down the two-stage PPG Rangoon Red urethane. John completed the rest of the work, including the bright red interior. The original standard interior was upgraded to a deluxe interior and further enhanced with the addition of TMI’s bolstered Pony Sport Seats with headrests. The original 289 was put back in its place; however, the C4 tranny was swapped with a BorgWarner T-10 four–speed. This project ended up being a nut-and-bolt restoration that spanned 3½ years, and in September 2000 it was completed. The end result was a concours correct Mustang with some personal touches added.
For the next two years he enjoyed the fruit of his labor by attending cruise nights, club events, and car shows, but that all changed in 2002. On the way to a show in Long Island, New York, the 289 dropped a valve and put the number one piston through the block. At that point, any concerns he may have had about maintaining the vehicle’s originality went out the window. This misfortune, while frustrating, opened the door for a new path. The Mustang would again enter a phase where it would undergo significant changes. The one advantage going in was that almost all of the cosmetic work was already done.
The first of those changes started with finding a suitable replacement for the 289. That came in the form of a new Ford Racing 302 crate engine. Equipped with Ford Racing aluminum GT-40 cylinder heads, this combination is rated at a healthy 345 horses. However, since it doesn’t come with an intake or carburetor, John chose an Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum manifold and 600-cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor. While that combination easily handles what is coming in, Hooker Headers dumping into 40 Series Flowmaster mufflers freely assist the exit of the spent gases on their way out. The T-10 four-speed was also swapped with a BorgWarner T-5 five-speed now taking its place. At the back, power is distributed via a Ford 8-inch Traction-Lok differential stuffed with 3.55:1 Richmond gears.
Ride quality was kicked up a notch with the addition of larger rolling stock in the form of Rocket Racing Booster chrome wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich G-Force Super Sport tires. KYB shocks at all four corners along with SSBC four-piston calipers up front replaced the OEM style units, which improved the handling and stopping characteristics.
All of this work turned John’s driver into a full-blown show car. He spent numerous years on the show circuit and snapped up a considerable stash of awards. He has been consistently showing the Mustang at the Mustang Club of America (MCA) Nationals, and in 2011 earned an MCA Pinnacle Award. Recently, it has started living up to its original intent—a driver. He is getting out more and is using the car to go to local shows, and Mustang club meets. Now, you might be wondering what happened to the 1964½ convertible? That pony currently resides in a storage container and has been destined as a retirement project.