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Former 1965 Mustang Hot Rod Project Car Is New Again
The Return of the Magic Mustang
The year was 1978. Disco ruled the pop music charts. President Carter got Egypt and Israel to sign the Camp David Accords for a treaty. Gas cost .63 cents per gallon. The popular television shows were M.A.S.H., Three’s Company, and Mork & Mindy. Then there was the car scene.
Like the Travolta wannabes hitting the discos, cars were built to be flashy, wild, and even gaudy. In the last issue of the year, readers of Hot Rod Magazine were starting to follow one of these over-the-top cars, the custom build of a 1965 Mustang 2+2 by staff editor Bruce Caldwell intent on building himself a hot street car.
“We wanted an early fastback for aesthetic reasons, but for someone on a tighter budget the hardtop coupe would be a better choice,” Bruce’s introductory article said. “Early fastbacks are skyrocketing in price and getting difficult to find. The early Mustang looks very contemporary, even today . The long front end and short trunk, coupled with crisp lines is a timeless body style that would be tough to improve on. Average, running examples with a V-8 easily bring $2,000 in Southern California.” Ah, to have a time machine, right?
Bruce found his 289-powered fastback for a mere $1,000 in what he described as basket case condition. True to magazine project car builds of the day, he threw the aftermarket catalog at the car, enlisting veteran Hollywood stuntman, inventor, and car-builder Eddie Paul at E.P. Industries in El Segundo, California (this magazine’s home base, by the way). With that introduction, we’ll let the car’s current owner, Mike Underwood, tell the story.
“In the warm SoCal winter of 1978, Eddie focused on widening the body 12 inches and smoothing out the sheet metal, then fabricating the front flares. He retained the original fender by widening it with his air chisel, working with surgical precision. He went on to blend the front flares into a Trans Am-style front air dam, Eddie Paul hand-forming it from 22-gauge sheet metal. Tackling the rear fender flares, Eddie fashioned them, with much hammer-and-dolly work, from Mustang quarter panels. All told, the car features 11 scoop openings. He filled the enlarged fenderwells with Appliance Diamag wheels rolling Uniroyal Laredo R60’s with raised white letters, de rigueur for 1978.
“The story continued in the February 1979 Hot Rod with Eddie tackling the suspension, brakes, transmission, and rearend that had previously suffered the slings and arrows of 100,000 road miles. The tired stock C-4 tranny was replaced with a high-performance B&M Street & Strip C-4 retaining the original’s core. The anemic stock 2.80:1 gears were tossed in favor of a Perfection American Zoom 4.11 rearend, in anticipation of drag-strip testing.
“Hot Rod next perused the pages of the Maier Racing Enterprises catalog, selecting a bevy of components, including the quick steering kit offered with the 1965-1966 Shelby G.T. 350s, as well as front and rear anti-sway bars and a set of Koni adjustable shocks. Next, attention was paid to the brakes, the grabbers benefiting from Deccel shoes and wheel cylinders. Not last and certainly not least, attention was focused on the 289 V-8, which showed the wear and tear of 100,000 miles, though it was still good at the core. So it was disassembled, blueprinted, and fitted with a Crane Blazer 228-2H cam. Now fed by a Carter Super Quad 625cfm carb, the goal was set for producing 275-300hp—final dyno testing indicated 276 ponies at 6,000rpm with 242ft-lbs torque.”
For the interior, Bruce and Paul went with a set of Recaro LS seats, Deist safety belts, and a Haan 14-inch leather-covered steering wheel. Rounding out the interior package was a set of AutoMeter gauges and a Motorola AM/FM stereo (high tech in 1978!). “Done deal,” Mike said. “The project was completed. It eventually appeared, not only in the pages of Hot Rod, but also on the cover of the August 1979 Hot Rod and as the cover story on the Petersen Mustang and Engine Swapping special issues.
After its moment in the spotlight, the Magic Mustang disappeared—for 30 years. “I followed the paper trail as the car passed into other hands, Mike said. “While it made showings at several Chicago car shows, it also spent long stretches cooling its heels in a body shop, a carport, and even a barn. It had some run time in Illinois and Florida, and eventually ended up in Missouri. During 2004, it was put up for grabs on eBay. In late 2003, I was surfing the web looking for a unique 1965 or 1966 fastback. The ad talked about Eddie Paul and his work building cars for the movies, so it had a little of the Hollywood flavor going for it. I thought it was unique. How they made a wide body out of it. I thought it would be nice to fix it up. I guess you’d say the first indelible impression that led me to wanting the car was back in my childhood when my uncle had two Mustang fastbacks, a 1965 and a 1966. I got to drive both of them as a teenager, and thought it would be nice one day to have one.”
When Mike first encountered the car after traveling from Tennessee to Missouri, it was in fairly good shape considering, at least the body, while the interior needed some TLC. The car ran, to a point. “I took it for a little test drive, about 5 miles. It ran okay, but I realized it needed a lot of work. On the way back, I was hoping I’d make it back to the guy’s garage.” After spending several months tracking down some missing components, Mike decided to turn the car over to the original builder, Eddie Paul. After reading a copy of the ’78 Hot Rod that had the original build feature, along with story about Eddie and his wild spectrum of car creations, it seemed like he should work on the car. “I called Eddie, and he was just as welcoming as if we’d known each other for years. He had heard the car had been up on eBay and was all for working on it again.”
In a case of history repeating itself, Eddie went to work on the restoration, smoothing out the metal, reviving the interior, tackling the mechanical and electrical gremlins, and spraying new paint. Upon inspection, the undercarriage needed work due to the towing process hooking up the wrong places on the frame. The wheelwells were welded, the rusted front air dam repaired with new metal, and a new hood found.
“Fortunately, it was pretty much all there, and the engine still running strong,” Eddie said, speaking back in 2009. “The only changes from the original version were the addition of disc brakes and a little bit of extended striping on the rear. It was re-sprayed with House of Kolor, then color-sanded and buffed. And Mike also wanted me to sign my name on the trunk. Bottom line, we restored it to the same condition and original specs as the day it first left my shop in 1978. ”
All told, it took about two years. The process was affected by the ebb and flow of economics, as well as Eddie’s busy schedule building movie cars. The day came in 2009 when “The Magic Mustang” was ready for the next 30 years, and about to go to Mike’s new home in Albuquerque, where Mike retired after 22 years in the Air Force. “Magic is one of Eddie's virtually unknown works of art,” Mike said. “He also built this car with his Dad holding a special place in his heart. I think that's why he agreed to restore it for me. “
A bit of postscript—after originally purchasing the car in January 2004 Mike shipped out for Baghdad in March. Fortunately, after three months on duty, he returned home safe and sound. “The Magic Mustang was now in the garage but the real magic was that my daughter was born the night I got back,” Mike. ”We named her Destiny.”
Eddie Paul, Jr. : The Man Who Made Magic in All Forms
We’re sad to report during July 2016, Eddie Paul, Jr., passed away at 68 due to health issues. In tribute to his unique personality and creativity, we offer the following from Paul Garson:
“I first met Eddie in 1984 on an L.A. movie set where they were filming Streets of Fire, a fairly bizarre retro-futuro Walter Hill-directed, Wilhem Dafoe-starring flick about warring street gangs. Eddie, an experienced stuntman himself with a well-earned rep, had been hired to wrangle the extras for the biker sequences, as well as gather a bunch of cars that included a propeller-nosed ’51 Studebaker. Eddie simply called in a bunch of his friends from various bike clubs, who historically had not been all that chummy with each other, but thanks to Eddie, peace held throughout the filming. Eddie went on to direct the special effects for cult classics like the original Gone in 60 Seconds II, and built cars for Grease, Stallone’s Merc for Cobra and Vin Diesel’s XXX GTO, plus some cars for Pixar cars, among many others.
“Who was Eddie Paul, Jr.? His office bookshelf held about every book about Albert Einstein. An author himself of several books on custom building, he also held many patents. He devised a simple and inexpensive means for optical 4-D imaging, a superior pump now aiding fire departments across the country, even designed and built mechanical Great White sharks, as well as some 200 custom cars for the movies. He even did a bunch of extreme motorcycles, including ones for Jay Leno and a Kanye West music video. He was an early exponent of hang-gliding, rode a motorcycle the 268 miles from L.A. to Vegas without touching the handlebars, and created all kinds of explosive special effects for the flicks, not to mention several special projects for the Department of Defense.
Over the years, I was fortunate to spend time with him and pen features about his many accomplishments. Moreover, I enjoyed his company. Eddie was truly a man for all seasons, always using his analytical mind to find new and better paths to solving challenges of all kinds. Like his work, he was one-of-a-kind.