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Editor’s Choice: Home-Built 1966 Mustang Fastback
Fantasy to Reality: Melissa and Denny Aungst built our favorite Mustang with a road-race vibe at the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals
Isn’t it cool when a dream becomes reality? That’s what happened to Melissa Aungst. She and husband Denny knew they wanted to build a first-generation Mustang fastback and turn it into a Shelby G.T. 350 clone. She especially wanted an original Ivy Green car with a black interior, and it had to have a 289 and four-speed.
“Melissa originally wanted to build a Shelby clone,” Denny says. “After attending several car shows, she was convinced she didn’t want to do something plain. It had to make people stop and take notice. Her car is a different twist on the Mustang. We started with a vintage Trans Am race-car-style build, knowing that pony cars were built to handle well.”
As a result, they built the car around the chassis, which is truly one of a kind. It’s a road-racing-style tube chassis designed for a rear-sump engine and to be completely bolt on with minimal body modifications. It uses front-steer spindles, manual rack-and-pinion steering, manual four-wheel disc brakes (from SSBC), 17-inch Billet Specialties wheels, and Afco adjustable coilovers. “The plan was to eventually market it as a bolt-on suspension system with no modifications to the body,” Denny says. “This never materialized because we took too long to develop the car. With the many options available now for Mustangs, our design is a bit primitive. However, it worked well on the road courses we tested it on, and Melissa now has a good-handling pony car with a very unusual build.”
Under the hood is a 347 built by Jensen Engine Technologies with Brodix heads, but what catches your eye (and looks the road-racer part) is the four Weber IDF carburetor setup with isolated intake runners mixing pump gas between a set of Holman/Moody valve covers with custom sparkplug-wire routing through the carbs. “The four carburetors and velocity stacks are reminiscent of the Cobras and GT40s,” Denny says. “It provides people with the opportunity to ask many tuning questions and gives us very stout low-end torque for autocross events.” The multiple carbs were fairly easy to set up, according to Denny, and have given them few issues. “Attention to detail when synchronizing the idle and throttle plate lift is the key,” Denny says. They drive the car everywhere, and the biggest carb issue has been due to water-and-fuel contamination after driving in the rain. That problem was because of a hood-scoop mod, which has been fixed. “There are no chokes on the carburetors, making it fussy to start in a cold climate,” Denny says.
No longer behind the engine is the Top Loader four-speed, but rather a custom-built G-Force T-5 five-speed. The 9-inch rear came from a Galaxie, narrowed by Chuck Koenig of 9ninewright Differentials. Even though the car wasn’t built for the drag strip, Melissa is a drag racer at heart. She trips off mid-12-second quarter-mile passes at 110mph in full street trim, and only uses the first three gears, as well as a lot pedaling on the throttle.
During their initial discussions about finding a project car, Melissa and Denny would often reminisce about a classmate’s 1965 Mustang 2+2. We agreed we would buy it if it ever came up for sale. “Well, we got a call from a friend about at 1965 Mustang for sale in Pine Grove (Pennsylvania) on eBay that had us scrambling,” Melissa says. “This turned out to be the one and only 1965 Mustang we had discussed time after time. The car was painted blue at the time but had originally been Ivy Green and was equipped with a 289 and Top Loader.”
And that was it. After one bid of $10,100, the car was Melissa’s. “And the car was practically in our backyard,” she says. After $65,000 and tons of elbow grease, the couple had a beautiful fastback. It’s no wonder we choose their car for the Mustang Monthly Editor’s Pick at the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals during summer 2016.
In February 2007, Melissa and Denny first got the car. For a few months, they enjoyed just driving it. But in August, they tore it apart and began the build. Seven years later in July 2014, the car made its maiden voyage. “The build took much longer to finish than we had expected as a result of two bad car accidents during those years and several surgeries that we had to recover from,” Denny and Melissa said. “Life happened, but we never lost the drive to finish Melissa’s dream. We just took a bit longer, instead of rushing the end or cutting corners in any way.”
The official first outing came in 2014, but like any custom build, a few things popped out that they had to fix. “We originally built the car with power brakes,” Melissa says. “However, the isolated runner intake lacked a vacuum plenum, so we used an electric vacuum pump to supply the booster. This was not ideal. The noise and vibration made it unbearable to drive. Instead, we opted for a manual four-wheel disc-brake system from a Lincoln, and we love it.” Likewise, the emergency brake went through a couple of iteration, until they settled on an E-Stopp electronic cable actuator.
“We also went through two brands of clutches, until we found a McLeod system she was able to use in traffic and still prevent slip at full throttle,” Denny says. “The pedals were just too firm, and she was uncomfortable in heavy traffic conditions. Though we originally used a cable clutch, the performance clutches caused premature failure and an even harder pedal. We recently converted to a McLeod hydraulic throwout bearing, and she now has a very comfortable clutch pedal.” That was the last change, which happened right after Jerry Heasley shot the photos seen here at the Carlisle show.
In addition to our Editor’s Pick, the legendary Pete Brock designated Melissa’s car his celebrity pick during a show at Pocono Raceway during the vintage-racing festival (where they also got to take five laps on the track). And in February 2016, Armin Hostetter gave the car the Memorial Award at Motorman’s indoor event in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“Melissa is questioned regularly about her owning and building this type of modified car because she is a woman,” Denny says. “I’m a mechanic by trade and did help her build the car. I taught her what she needed to learn, but the plan was always to build it together. Melissa does indeed own it. She was involved in every part of the build, and even helped assemble the Mustang.”
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During a car show near their home, one of the so-called expert spectators she ran into asked her about her carburetors. “The carbs are four separate two barrels turned sideways,” Melissa says. “This man replied, ‘You need to get your facts straight honey.’ He then explained to her that she had eight Strombergs on the car and walked off. We had a bit of a chuckle knowing this ‘car guy’ was incorrect and still doesn’t realize it.”
Melissa and Denny want to recognize the people who helped them make the Mustang a reality. “Special thanks has to go to our friend Dave Lehr who helped us locate the car and bring it home,” Melissa and Denny said. “Thanks to Kevin Shappell for getting us a meeting with the fabricators to use our car as a prototype test mule for the suspension package. I also have to give a thanks to Scott Aungst, Rodney Updegrave, and Wayne Witmer for their help. Probably the most deserving of thanks has to be Michael Potts, who was there almost every time we worked on the car and helped at every stage.”