Miles Cook
August 19, 2016
Photos By: Mike Slade

If you take a look around on southeastgassers.com, you’ll get a pretty clear picture of what Jimmy Finley is getting at with Snake Bite, his 1965 fastback drag car. Built to race with all kinds of other traditional gassers like Anglias, 1955-1957 Chevys, Henry Js, and at least one Willys or two, Finley has built a car that some might consider to be too new in terms of its model year compared to the above-mentioned cars from the ’50s and earlier.

But Finley, who lives in Belton, South Carolina, has done such an impressive job building this high 8-second fastback, he is welcomed with open arms by the Southeast Gassers (SEG). The car has been built in a way that perfectly matches all the others that partake in the club’s races. “I am one of the few cars in the club that runs a Ford engine,” Finley says. “My car is also one of just a few in the club that doesn’t have the engine set back several inches.” He also categorizes his Mustang as something that’s a bit more like a real car because he starts it with a key switch.

The body remains pretty much stock except for the 3-inch radiused rear fenderwells. It also has 1966 Shelby rear quarter windows and a fiberglass hood and trunklid. The gold roof, rear window, and trunk areas are contrasted with Vintage Burgundy sides.
Although it looks like a 351W, it’s actually the aforementioned 427 Windsor, using Ross pistons in a 4.125-inch bore with a 4-inch stroke. The cam is a Comp solid-roller and moves Howards lifters and T&D shaft rockers. The Edelbrock Victor, Jr., aluminum heads were prepared by BES Racing Engines and are home to the aforementioned tunnel ram intake and pair of Holley 660cfm carbs. The custom-built fenderwell headers were fabbed by John Harford.
Finley does some sheetmetal work here and there, and he fabbed up this old-school mailbox-style scoop.

And like the Anglias, shoebox Chevys, and pretty much all the other cars that run with the SEG, Finley’s fastback started life as a real Mustang with a 289 two-barrel and a C4 automatic trans, much like the legions of 1965 Mustangs that were so equipped. Having owned other vintage Mustangs, including a 1967 and a 1969, as well as a dip in the late-model side of things with an 2003 Cobra, Finley decided to go all-in with this full-tilt racer after discovering the fun of SEG racing activities.

The car exudes a vintage-gasser-era racing vibe, and the SEG rules allow engine internals the advantage of modern updates. For starters, there weren’t even 351Ws until 1969, let alone stroked Windsors with a full 427 cubes of displacement. To get a Ford engine that big in those early days, it pretty much had to be an FE, which is generally a good bit heavier than a 289/302/351W small-block. But today, there are 427Ws—and even 460W strokers—that match the size of an FE 427 or a 429/460 big-block without the weight penalty associated with some of the earlier big-block Ford engines. And the diet has paid off, Snake Bite weighs less than 2,800 pounds.

Not much is needed here in the office for a day at the races. There is, of course, a full rollcage built to NHRA and SEG rules for an 8-second car. The shifter controls a Hightower four-speed that’s fronted by a Ram clutch and flywheel. Gear ratios in the trans are a 2.83 First, a 1.83 Second, a 1.33 Third, and a 1:1 Fourth.
The Fenton wheels are 15x3.5s in front and 15x10s in back. Mickey Thompson tires are all around, with ET Fronts in a 24/4.5-15 size, and rears running 29.5/10.5-15s.

With that in mind, Finley went with a 427W, which matches the vintage FE 427 size but is built using the small-block Windsor architecture. It uses a 351C-based tunnel ram intake modified to fit a Windsor, because there really aren’t any tunnel rams for taller-deck Windsor engines, only for shorter 289/302s. “The custom Windsor tunnel ram is worth upwards of 4/10ths of a second on the track,” Finley says.

Moving to suspension particulars, it follows other SEG cars featuring a solid front axle and spindles from a 1965 Chevy van. Strange four-piston front-disc brakes squeeze 11 1/4-inch rotors, and Finley surmises the front ride height is about 2 inches higher than stock. In back, a 1968 Galaxie 9-inch is placed with Speedway Motors coil springs, Viking double-adjustable shocks, and ladder bars. Gear ratios vary depending on whether he is running 1/4- or 1/8-mile tracks, and he has both 4.86s and 5.14s in place. The brakes in back are drums from the same 1968 Galaxie, and it is fitted with 44-inch wheelie bars.

Jimmy Finley during a hot day at the track.

The on-track performance trajectory has been a good one. Finley reports low- to mid- nines during earlier outings, with a 9.26 at 148mph being a particularly strong pass. And that was before the tunnel ram and its twin Holley 660s were added. Running the intake got the car into the high-eights, with a best pass so far a 8.89 at 150mph.

In addition to the 1/4-mile runs, numbers look good in the 1/8-mile, too, with times in the 5.60-5.70-second range at speeds approaching 125mph. “The 1/8-mile racing is plenty of fun. If something goes wrong, it will be quite a bit easier to get out of trouble in the 120 to 125mph range, than at speeds approaching 150.” We’ll certainly agree to that and congratulate Finley on building a super-cool vintage gasser Mustang. In fact, it’s probably the best one you’re ever going to see. It’s certainly the best one we have ever come across.

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