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Full-Tilt Road-Race Mustang
Harley Padilla’s “baby” is a full-tilt 1965 Mustang built to decimate road courses
Not many people are lucky enough to still own their first car, but Harley Padilla is one of them. He got this Mustang from his dad when he was 14 years old, and he used the car to learn what to do and what not to do when working on cars. “When I was 16, I cut the dash out of the car to make it lighter,” Harley says, “and my dad went through the roof. But he didn’t know that I kept the dash and had Bodie reinstall it for this last build.”
That obsession with weight savings played a big hand in the car’s current and final stage—a no-compromise, full-tilt road race machine with almost 800 hp, a 2,800-pound curb weight, and the goal of pinning a smile on Harley’s face as he thunders down the front straight of Willow Springs at ludicrous speeds, leaving Porsches and Corvettes in his dust. Harley says, “The car has been restored four times over the years, each time a new evolution with a different engine, different bodywork, different paint, etc., but it’s in its last stage now. Now I finally got it the way I want it.”
Harley’s father planted the racing seed in his boy early on, taking him to a vintage race at El Toro Marine Base in Southern California when he was young. “Around the time he gave me the car, he ‘accidentally’ took me to a road race, and ever since then he’s dreaded it,” Harley says with a laugh.
Since the stock Mustang Unibody is too flexible for ultimate handling without a ton of work, Harley went to Bodie Stroud at BS Industries (BSI) in Sun Valley, California, for one of his company’s complete 1965-1968 Mustang chassis kits. The BSI chassis is welded to the stock Mustang floorpans and framerails, turning it into a full-frame car with much less flex than stock. Add in a 14-point rollcage, and this thing is as stiff as a Trans-Am car. Bodie tells us, “Harley came to us with a Fairlane project, which has been here for two or three years because he got anxious and put this Mustang in front of the Fairlane. We had built him a black ’65 fastback before, a period-correct Mustang that he used for vintage road racing, but then he crashed his blue Mustang. Having seen our chassis for Mustangs, he wanted it for the blue car and told us to put it in front of the Fairlane.”
True to his nature, Harley wanted his car to be as light as possible, and he spared no expense to get what he wanted. Bodie says, “We wanted to make it as light as it can be, so the chassis and ’cage are chromoly, there are a lot of titanium fasteners, everything is as light as it can be. We really went to town on it, putting in new floors, quarters, fenders, and built the complete chassis. It came out unbelievable.”
One main design objective was to stuff as much rubber as possible under the stock sheetmetal, and after a lot of engineering and thought, BSI got P305/45R18s to fit. “We brought the track width in, really tucked it in but maintained the correct roll centers and scrub ratios. There’s a very small fender flare there but not much more than factory,” Bodie says. BSI also did all the bodywork and paint, spraying it in “the lighter of the three Ford GT blues,” says Harley. All of the sheetmetal on the car is N.O.S., not reproduction; the only exceptions are the Shelby Cobra R front fascia and hood, which no doubt will annoy the Mustang restoration crowd.
The drivetrain is equally serious. The all-aluminum 363ci engine was built by Jim Grubbs at JGM with a Dart block, AFR 205cc cylinder heads, a Sonny Bryant billet crank, Oliver rods, a Comp Cams solid roller cam riding on roller cam bearings, an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake, and a BLP road racing carburetor that Harley says, “is by far the best carburetor I’ve ever used. I put BLP carbs on all my road race cars.” With 14.5:1 compression and running C12 race fuel, the small-block makes 778 hp, enough to make it scary fast on a road course. The transmission is a Jerico four-speed with a Tilton 7.5-inch triple-disc clutch, which feeds through a Mark Williams carbon-fiber driveshaft to a Speedway Engineering 9-inch with a Strange aluminum third member.
Harley has already put a bunch of laps on the Mustang, running it at Willow Springs, Buttonwillow Raceway, and Sonoma (Sears Point), and the car is in the “sorting” stages now as they dial in the suspension to Harley’s tastes. He generally runs open track and club events, as competing in the Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA) series would be difficult. Harley explains, “I race it just for fun. I might do some VARA races, but they’ll bump me up from Vintage to the Modified class, and I don’t know if I can keep up.” Technical inspectors at the race track are often confused by the car. Harley says, “Every time an inspector goes over the car, they ask, ‘What class did you build this car for?’ and I answer, ‘None of them; I built it the way I want it.’”
He still has the black Mustang, saying, “I let Dad drive it on the track when we’re racing. It’s a street/race car that’s vintage correct.” He’s also building his father a Shelby clone, and he just bought Roush chassis number 005, the old Motorcraft-sponsored 1984 Mustang SCCA race car. He also owns Roush chassis number 002, the ex-Willy T. Ribbs/Greg Pickett Capri racer. “I’m a Roush nut,” Harley says. He is also having Matt Walrath, who did a lot of work on this Mustang, build him a Trans-Am car as we write this. Those Roush racers should fit in just right with Harley’s Mustangs and his upcoming Trans-Am car, creating a garage scene we can all envy. Especially those of us with road racing blood in our veins.