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Kiwi’s Big-Block 1966 Ford Mustang Custom
Kiwi Coupe: A New Zealand Native Tweaks an Classic American Mustang
When Chris Slee migrated from New Zealand to the United States, he not only brought his family, he also brought his love of automotive craftsmanship and American cars. Chris had big plans, but like many new Americans, his dreams were bigger than his bank account. However, Chris was determined to follow his passion: restoring and building custom cars. With a knack for metal work and good old-fashioned ingenuity, Chris opened his own custom car and restoration business in a small Franklin, Tennessee, shop. Kiwi Classics and Customs was open for business, but there was only one problem: The shop needed customers.
Chris thought the best way to showcase his skills and promote his business was to build a rolling business card. A 1966 Mustang coupe sourced from Craigslist would do nicely. He set out with only a few criteria: big block power, attention-grabbing craftsmanship, and on a shoestring budget. Three years later, he would realize those goals—well, maybe the first two.
The bulk of his attention went into the metalwork. At first glance, the coupe just looks right, but trained eyes will notice his subtle massaging: a little nip here, a little more metal there.
“I wanted it to not only look good but actually work,” Chris says. “That meant not sacrificing suspension travel or ride comfort,” This took a lot of metalwork.
Overall, the body is 3 inches wider on each side. To achieve the stance he wanted, Chris essentially lowered the body over the suspension. “Whatever didn’t fit got cut out of the way,” he says.
Chris started with an extra-wide Heidt’s front suspension crossmember that’s welded higher in the chassis to maintain proper suspension geometry. Sounds simple, but he then needed to raise the front wheel arches 2 inches, as well as notch the front framerails to clear the steering rack.
The rear suspension is also altered significantly in the interest of stance. Chris again turned to Heidt’s for the basic hardware, but the pickup points, shock mounts, and even the floor above the axle housing and driveshaft tunnel were all raised to preserve suspension travel. Taking a page out of the custom pickup scene, he notched the framerails for axle housing clearance.
The subtle details continue above the belt line, as Chris extended the trailing edge of the C-pillars 4 inches, creating what has been dubbed a semi fastback. “It softened the lines and took away some of the boxy-ness of the coupe,” he says.
While Chris was massaging the metal on the coupe, John Bouchard was building the power plant. Starting with a Ford 460 (another Craigslist find), John started with a 557 cubic-inch stroker kit from Scat. The rest of the engine reads like a price list from Trick Flow: the cylinder heads, intake manifold, rocker arms, and even the pushrods were sourced from the Ohio company. A Comp Cams roller bumpstick works with a Holley Terminator EFI system to coax 750hp and 754lb-ft torque from the 9-liter monster. See the complete engine build in the February 2015 Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords magazine.
The enviable task of transferring the big-block’s torque to the Tremec Magnum six-speed transmission is an Atomic Twin clutch from American Powertrain. Chris sourced the rear axle from a Ford Explorer, as it was the perfect width to fill his widened wheelwells when fitted with chrome 17x10.5-inch Bullitt wheels from American Muscle. Behind the front 9-inch-wide wheels are six-piston Wilwood brakes matched to four-piston rears. He retained vacuum assist for the binders by sinking the booster into the firewall, so it cleared the big-block’s left cylinder head. The big-block breathes through custom 2-inch headers that lead to 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers.
Turning to the interior, the tasteful touches continue. Chris settled on the seats he wanted early in the project. “My wife had an Audi A4 convertible and when I sat in its seats, I thought to myself these are really nice seats!” Chris says. “So, I got a pair for my Mustang. Since the seats were from a convertible, they flipped forward, which was required to access the back seat in the coupe. The aforementioned back seat owes its roots to a 1970 Thunderbird. “I really liked its wraparound style.” Another subtle touch is a two-gauge pod from a 1963 Pontiac that resides in the radio’s former location. He fabricated his own all-steel center console, which surrounds the manual shifter that’s connected to a Magnum six-speed transmission. TMI’s full-cover door panels and one-piece headliner finished off the interior.
Chris takes pride that everything on the car is formed from steel, including the hood. Speaking of that hood: The filter is encased in the cowl. “While it’s a cool feature, it was actually a bail out!” he says. Why? When Chris lowered the body and raised the crossmember in the chassis, he ran out of space for item number one on his list: the big-block. But, he was determined to make it work. Fortunately, the Trick Flow’s EFI intake and Holley’s low-profile throttle-body freed up the necessary space to avoid major hood surgery.
In a nod to his Kiwi heritage, Chris dubbed his coupe the “KSV9000,” a reference to his native land’s “HSV” or “Holden Special Vehicles.” HSV is the in-house skunk-works team that creates up-rated versions of Holden vehicles, similar to Ford’s SVT (Special Vehicle Team). The number corresponds to the engine’s displacement of 9 liters, or 9000cc.
Fellow middle Tennessean Kevin Tetz sprayed the custom Matrix System paint, and his shop neighbors, RES Automotive, graciously shut their doors for a week to help him during his final thrash to debut the cars at the 2014 SEMA show.
Even though the build snowballed a bit from its budget genesis, the project has ticked all the other boxes for Chris, including filling the Kiwi Classics and Customs shop with customer cars. It shows what passion, vision, and a little Kiwi ingenuity can do in a country on the other side of the world.