Jim Smart
May 31, 2016

When Ford introduced the all-new 1979 Mustang in the fall of 1978, few of us believed it would ever be collectible. At the time classic 1965-1973 Mustangs were coming into their own as hot collector cars and they got all the attention. Late model Fox-body Mustangs weren’t even considered Mustangs by the old guard who predicted the Foxes would never be classics. They were deemed modern throwaway automobiles. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Flash forward, Fox classics are hot now and coming into their own as collectibles with folks who grew up with them and just have to have one now. Prices are rising as their popularity grows and post-boomers begin to relive their youth. Bruce Couture of Modern Driveline in Caldwell, Idaho grew up with and has grown to love the Fox body Mustang. He owns three of them, including this four-eyed 1984 Mustang GT convertible purchased new by the late Charlie Bruno.

Bruce’s passion for Fox Mustangs dates back to his youth in the 1980s. His first car was a 1979 Mustang with the 2.8L V-6 with the SROD four-speed purchased in 1985. It was a fun car to own and drive. He swapped in a 5.0L small-block, enjoyed the car for a while, and sold it in 1988 when it was time to buy a new Mustang. Bruce visited a Ford dealer in his native Vermont and bought a new black 1988 Mustang GT hatchback, which he still has today restored as a 1993 SVT Cobra replica. Bruce has grown Modern Driveline in a spirit of service to classic Mustang enthusiasts with great five- and six-speed conversion kits. What’s more, cool hydraulic clutch conversions for most of them including the 1979-1993 Fox body Mustang.

When Bruce was in high school in the mid-1980s, another Mustang enthusiast, Charlie Bruno, 3,000 miles away in San Jose, California, was ordering this 1984 Mustang GT convertible from Sunnyvale Ford. It was a no frills convertible, exactly what Charlie wanted, void of those fluffy options most people like. Manual roll-up windows, heater only, 5.0L-4V High Output V-8 with five-speed, 7.5-inch axle, aluminum wheels, and clad in Medium Canyon Red Glow with a Charcoal interior.

It would be years before Bruce and Charlie would shake hands and become friends in the Mustang brotherhood. It was cosmic in nature where all of the tumblers fell into place. Charlie founded Charlie’s Mustangs where those of a like mind collected, built, and talked Mustangs. It was a place to share ideas and shape dreams. Bruce could count himself among them when he began his career in the silicon industry not far from Charlie’s shop a continent away from his New England roots.

Charlie had a blast with his GT convertible for many years before an overwhelming impulsive urge overtook him and he hauled it into his shop for extensive modifications. He was going to build something more exciting. Charlie understood Fox Mustangs like few others ever have. He knew its weaknesses and strengths. He looked at its weaknesses and explored how they could be overcome. He stripped the car down and took a long look at structure. He built an elaborate subframe connection system that stiffened the convertible; ready for canyon cutting using Global West components where he could. He welded and gusseted the Mustang’s body to where all flex was gone. It became a rock solid platform on which to build performance.

Charlie was a born engineer and idea guy. He looked at everything around him with an eye on improvement. His very demeanor was one of inventiveness, building a better mousetrap. He researched, he conceived, and he built. His 1984 Mustang GT convertible project would go on for many years with Bruce having a front seat for most of it. He and Bruce became very close friends and worked on a lot of Mustang projects together. Bruce tells us most of what he has learned about Mustangs came from Charlie Bruno.

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When Charlie was finished with structural modifications he turned his attentions to suspension and handling. He looked to Griggs for suspension components at the time. By the time Charlie was finished with platform and underpinnings he became distracted and moved on to other projects. “Whenever I went to visit Charlie, I’d see the Mustang sitting in the middle of the shop on the body dolly,” Bruce comments, “Years went by and Charlie was always focused on other projects. Many were his own. For years the car sat collecting dust. Many of us believed Charlie would never touch the car again.”

It can safely said by the many who knew him Charlie spent most of his time serving others and pursuing new ideas. He was always moving on to new projects. However, he could never get back to the Mustang, which was pushed outside and forgotten. Charlie succumbed to a sudden and massive heart attack and died in 2001 doing what he loved most — serving Mustang people.

Charlie’s passing was especially hard for Bruce and others who knew him. His absence has left a large void no one has been able to fill. When Charlie passed, Bruce became committed to finishing Charlie’s vision for the Fox convertible, which suffered from the elements after being left outside for years. Plans were to scrap the body, which was viewed as a lost cause. However, Bruce wasn’t having any part of that. He hauled the Mustang to his new home near Boise, Idaho and put it on a rotisserie to begin an action plan to get the car finished.

Charlie’s Mustang would sit in Bruce’s shop for years protected from the weather. There simply wasn’t the time to devote to the car and grow a business. Bruce spent a lot of time planning his vision for Charlie’s GT convertible. His first priority was getting the car free of rust to where he could begin the build and make the most of Charlie’s work. This was where Charlie’s structural modifications presented a challenge because these modifications made it tricky to install factory components.

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It was always in Charlie’s plan to revise the car’s appearance to an 1985-1986 GT, which Bruce never forgot when he was planning this project. Charlie purchased a wrecked 1986 Mustang GT parts car along with a bunch of new-old-stock Ford parts to make the car as authentic as he could. “I liked the look Charlie was going for and followed through taking Charlie’s dream to the next level,” Bruce reflects. Bruce’s 5.0L SEFI High Output engine from his 1988 GT hatchback was enlisted for Charlie’s convertible. He wanted the car to be fiercely reliable and fun to where he could jump in with his wife, Chris, and go cruising in Charlie’s memory under the big Idaho sky.

When Bruce got the car mechanically sound his next order of business was paint and final assembly. Bruce looked to Scott Brideau of Car Concepts in neighboring Nampa, Idaho. Scott’s craftsmanship is extraordinary, with people looking to him from all over the country for his talents and expertise. Bruce met with Scott who examined the body and explained what it would take to get the body show perfect. Bruce wanted more than a production paint job and Scott was the guy to do it. After some 200 hours of body work to get the body perfect, Scott laid down Glasurit Torch Red two-stage paint, then, colored sanded and rubbed it out. It is one of the most stunning Fox-bodies we have ever seen.

Bruce looked to some the best sources in the industry for 1979-1993 Fox Mustang parts; National Parts Depot, Fox Mustang Restoration, and TMI Products interior parts from Late Model Restorations for everything he needed to get the car finished and ready to drive. Fox Mustang Restorations and National Parts Depot provided everything Bruce needed to install the convertible top and weatherstripping.

To transform this car from a 1984 to 1986 GT specifications Bruce had to find good donor cars with all the parts he needed to make the car authentic in addition to what Charlie had already accumulated. It was remarkable what Charlie had accumulated from Ford when these parts were still available new. Finding donor cars with good parts wasn’t easy for Bruce because so many of these cars are gone today, considering this was the only four-eyed Fox with SEFI.

Although 1984 and 1986 Mustangs look similar there are engineering changes that make them different. Bruce had to figure out how to make 1986 parts work on a 1984 body. Some holes had to be welded up while others had to be made. Even the firewall was different. Especially difficult for Bruce was the 1986 climate control system, which was a completely different system nearly impossible to install in a 1984 Mustang. Bruce had to graft the firewall and modify the cowl and dashboard to get the 1986 system to fit.

Another hurdle for Bruce was power windows, which the car did not have. He had to find power windows from a donor vehicle and figure out how to fit them into the 1984 body. Once installed came a very tedious path to adjustment, which took extraordinary patience and time due to changes in the bodies. A base sticker price Mustang GT convertible became well-appointed with power windows and air conditioning. Once Bruce had the power windows working properly it was time for weatherstripping, soft parts, and a new convertible top installed by Brandon Hursburg of Interior Revolution in Nampa, Idaho. Once these items were installed Bruce had to make even more adjustments.

When Bruce completed the car he took it out for its first spin in nearly two decades. Like Charlie, Bruce began to examine what needed improvement. He became focused on sloppy handling and original equipment four-lug Fox Mustang brakes. The car did not measure up to Charlie’s standards in terms of braking and handling. Bruce looked to Maximum Motorsports, Baer Brakes, and Summit Racing Equipment for solutions. Maximum Motorsports provided a complete suspension system including control arms, caster/camber plates, coilovers, spring isolators, shocks and struts, and sway bar. Baer provided a complete braking package for all four corners.

Charlie would be impressed with what Maximum Motorsports and Baer did for his Mustang project. Baer discs provide unequalled stopping power. The Maximum Motorsports suspension package coupled with Charlie’s unwavering platform keep a slippery Fox glued to the pavement. Big-huge Baer six-piston 13-inch disc brakes mounted on SN95 spindles lead the charge with 13-inch SS4 Baer binders in the rear. Summit Racing Equipment provided the Motive Gear five-lug 28-spline rear axle shafts for this disc brake conversion.

When Bruce mounted the Baer disc brakes he encountered yet another hurdle; what to do about wheel sizing. The custom powder coated SN95 three-spoke Cobra wheels he had planned for the car would not fit the four- and six-piston Baers. He had to find wheels that would fit. Ironically, the sculptured 1993 SVT Cobra seven-spoke wheels he had on the 1988 GT fit perfectly and wound up looking better than what he had planned to begin with, with cool Baer calipers visible through the spokes.

Before the car was completely finished, Bruce entered it in the Boise Roadster Show along with friends from the Treasure Valley Mustang Club, where it received positive reviews. The following June Bruce put his son, Kyle, behind the wheel to learn how to drive a manual shift. Kyle logged the car’s first 75 miles. That same month the car received its first award in a car show.

Charlie Bruno would be moved with what Bruce has done in his memory. And this is what great friends do for each other. Bruce did a lot of soul searching and asked himself what Charlie would have done with the Mustang and then he did it. Then, Bruce did something extraordinary. He hauled the Mustang down to San Jose for everyone who knew Charlie to see. The Mustang was a hit for those who knew and admired the Silicon Valley legend. Those who knew Charlie were overwhelmed with emotion and couldn’t believe the car was finished looking better than it ever had. Bruce headed for home knowing he had completed Charlie’s dream with a deep sense of inner peace.

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