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180 Degree 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Midstream during restoration of his 1969 SCJ Mach 1, Tom Cantrell made a 180-degree turn away from his initial concourse intent
Tom Cantrell has had his share of high performance Mustangs and Fords. Among them have been a number of museum pieces, along with plenty of cars that he’s driven with zeal—the most recent being a currently raced Trans Am Boss 302. Having experienced both sides of the coin, Cantrell has come to understand what cars he enjoys the most, and his recently finished 1969 Mach 1 is a prime example.
Simply put, Cantrell prefers the thrill of driving a healthy V8—often at full song—over any kind of static show experience. That’s not meant as a knock to anyone who’s fully immersed in the show world, it’s just one guy’s personal preference. With due respect for the Mach’s original 428SCJ status, Cantrell had a “no new holes and no welding” mandate for the build, meaning that with the right factory parts at the ready, this ’69 could be transformed into an original spec show winner in a matter of days. It’s why we take a “why not” mentality towards it, and find the modifications to be drool-worthy to say the least.
“I originally intended to restore the Mach 1 to concours standards,” says Cantrell, “but in the midst of the process I realized that once it was finished, I’d be unlikely to really drive it. It would be too nice, too correct, and frankly, too dated to really have fun with. I decided I wanted the car to be something I could drive and enjoy, so I ended up boxing up the original bits and pieces, and had the car finished with the kind of parts that spark my interest.”
You don’t have to look long before you understand what motivates Cantrell, both literally and figuratively. That’s an all-aluminum Robert Pond Motorsports 485-inch FE in place of the 428CJ, making in excess of 600 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque—normally aspirated of course! As expected, it’s loaded with hardcore performance parts, including CP forged pistons, H-beam rods, a 4.25-inch stroker crank, a Comp hydraulic roller cam, CNC ported cylinder heads with 2.25/1.73-inch valves, T&D roller rockers, a big Holley carb, JBA headers, and much more. Backing the big-inch engine is the original C6, rebuilt and beefed with a low gear set, roller bearing conversion, deep sump pan, and 3,500 rpm stall converter.
While big-block Mustangs aren’t exactly known for their handling prowess, the aluminum construction on this one puts its weight in the same ballpark as a 351. With the resulting front/rear balance, Cantrell made the most of the handling and braking potential by using a complete tubular suspension setup from Total Control, including rack and pinion steering, and Wilwood discs at all corners. Foose Legend wheels put the rubber on the road—in this case Nitto P235/45ZR17s up front and P255/45ZR18s in back.
We think it important to note that Cantrell isn’t some Johnny-come-lately owner to this particular ’69, without respect for its provenance. To the contrary, he’s owned this one since 1983, and has plenty of memories that motivate a “drive it” mentality. “I bought it while I was temporarily living in Anchorage, Alaska. Believe it or not, it was for sale in a local Sears parking lot, the owner having moved up from California a year earlier, and finding the limited driving season a poor fit.” The original equipment proved an interesting blend of go-fast and look-sharp. The 428SCJ and its 3.91 Traction-Lok rear, ram-air, manual drum brakes, and manual steering all lean towards the former. The Mach 1 package, rear deck spoiler, and Sport Slats spoke to a concern for the latter. Needless to say, Cantrell found the combination to his liking and quickly made a deal.
During half a dozen years in Alaska, Cantrell and young son Brandon would take the Mach 1 out for ice cream during summer’s long weekend evenings, outings that Brandon, now 33, remembers clearly. Dad was also known to enjoy bracket racing at the local track, Thunder Valley Raceway, but the car was understandably a summer-only distraction that enjoyed long hibernation periods during the harsh winters.
Restoration of the car began in 1987, but with other automotive distractions, it sat on the back burner for years—until Cantrell got excited about the modified direction. Without question, the current gorgeous appearance is due in large part to the sparkling two-stage topcoat applied by Byers Custom and Restoration in Auburn, Washington. And yes, it’s done in the car’s original Candyapple Red hue. Cantrell is quick to give credit where credit is due, and truth be told, he was too busy with business endeavors to do much wrenching on the Mach 1 himself. Instead, he turned to several talented individuals—John Anderson, Dick Knight, and Craig Wick, who all contributed mightily to the final results.
And it seems that in some ways, life has come full circle since Cantrell’s initial purchase in Alaska all those years ago. Son Brandon has sons of his own now, Bronzyn age 9, and Christian age 2, and all have continued the tradition of running for ice cream on weekend summer evenings in the same red Mach 1. While the car is much nicer now than it was in the 1980s, there’s no worry if somebody spills a bit of Chocolate Almond Fudge on the upholstery. This one is all about the fun!