Jeff Huneycutt
March 30, 2012

Quick quiz: In 1969, NASCAR legend Richard Petty won 10 out of 54 races driving what car?

OK, given that the title of the magazine you're reading is 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords, you probably saw through the trick question. But most people are surprised to learn that Richard, who was famous for driving Plymouths, and later Pontiacs before retiring from the driver's seat in 1992, ever drove for the Blue Oval.

Petty Enterprises made the switch for the '69 season after the suits at Chrysler refused to allow the organization to switch from Plymouths to Dodges even though the boxy Plymouth bodies weren't competitive at superspeedway races. The aerodynamic shape of the Torino combined with Ford's engine technology helped Richard win his first race with the manufacturer and wound up finishing second overall in the point standings.

By 1970, Petty Enterprises had returned to the Plymouth nameplate, but Ford and the man known as The King would again team up beginning in the '10 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. That partnership continues to this day.

So it only makes sense that when Richard Petty founded Petty's Garage speed shop out of his famous race shops in Level Cross, North Carolina, that he would eventually put his mark on Fords once again. Petty's Garage started the Signature Series with a short production of Dodge Challengers in 2010. Next up will be a limited run of 50 Signature Series Ford Mustangs. And what you see here is the first model completed.

Based on a '12 Ford Mustang GT, the Petty Series Mustangs feature a unique mixture of performance upgrades with unique NASCAR-influenced styling. The car was delivered to the Petty's Garage shops brand new, and the crew immediately set to work blasting it into its individual components.

The car was completely repainted from black to the famous Petty Blue, which first debuted on a Petty Enterprises race car in 1959. Back then the famous light blue came to be because, as the story goes, there was some white paint in the shop and some blue but not enough of either to paint a complete car. Always the pragmatists, bothers Richard and Maurice Petty simply blended the two colors to get enough paint and finish the car so that they could race. This time around, however, the unique shade of blue is produced by BASF in a water-borne formulation that not only lays down evenly and looks great, but it is also better for the environment (and painters' lungs) than old school solvent-based paints.

This is just one of a handful of striping-pattern options penned by Murray Pfaff for the Signature Series Mustangs. And while the first car is appropriately blue, Petty's Garage General Manager Greg Steadman predicts that most of the Signature Series cars leaving the shop will be black—which is also The King's favorite color when it comes to his personal street machines.

But the most eye-catching feature is probably the Richard Petty signature that rides along the Mustang's haunches. This is no fake signature chosen from a script font on a computer and cut out of vinyl. Instead, this is Richard Petty's famous signature that he's signed many thousands of times for fans across the world. The signature was digitized and transferred to a mask so it could be painted on the car and then clearcoated. It is definitely a love-it or hate-it type of feature, and Steadman believes most customers will choose a more traditional route without the signature, but it is definitely an eye-catcher.

Besides the paint, the bodywork received a few modifications designed to improve both performance and looks. Up front a new Ford Racing Performance Parts front fascia provides a racier look, and also adds functionality. The lower foglamps have been removed, and the area is now used as an inlet to duct cooling air to the front brakes. The hood is a custom piece from Cervini's with a 2.5-inch cowl, which is required to provide adequate clearance for both a supercharger and a strut-tower brace. The rear bumper is also treated to an FRPP rear fasica, but a custom fabricated spoiler has also been added to provide a racy look along with tons of rear downforce.

Underneath the Cervini's hood, the GT engine is now fed through a Ford Racing supercharger, which punches the power level up to 624 horses. That extra flow required the exhaust system also be upgraded to stainless steel headers and a Borla after-cat system. Petty's Garage also designed and fabricated its own strut tower brace, and fittingly, it features Richard Petty's signature too.

To handle the extra power, the suspension has also been significantly upgraded. Greg, who was still working with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race teams until he moved to Petty's Garage in 2009, says the suspension setup, including the shocks, are all custom Petty's Garage units.

Stoptech brakes are used on all four corners with 14-inch rotors up front and 13s in back, but this is no ordinary brake upgrade. For the rear, Petty's Garage has worked with Hayworth Racing Brakes to design a dual-caliper system, much like what you see on Dodge Vipers, for exceptional braking power and feel.

Achieving this required much more than simply bolting up an additional caliper bracket per side. In fact, the entire rearend is torn down so that the housing can be cut down and fixed-mount caliper brackets affixed. In the process, a stronger 9-inch-style axle bearing and retainer is installed to help the rearend hold up when all 600-plus horsepower is applied to the pavement.

Changes inside the cockpit have been kept minimal and tasteful. The seats have been reupholstered with Katzkin leather with immaculate red stitching, and the Petty's Garage logo on the headrest and Richard Petty's signature on the backrest are both stitched in white. A Hurst shifter improves the driving experience, but otherwise, the excellent Mustang interior is left unmolested.

"Everything done to this car has been done for a purpose," Richard Petty told us. "Everybody in the shop has a say in the development process, and we've all been around racing and race cars long enough to know that things have to be done right."

Of course, no one at Petty's Garage has more say than The King himself. When we arrived in Level Cross to see the Mustang, the shop crew had just finished making a last minute change to the wheels. Originally, the lower valance of the Mustang's body was to be painted black. But after considering the overall look of the car, Richard nixed the idea.

"That black band along the bottom separates the car from the pavement and makes it look like it's sitting up too high," he explained. "So we decided to paint it Petty Blue all the way down. But then the wheels were solid black and there was nothing to tie them back into the rest of the car. So we decided to repaint the lip of the wheels Petty Blue also, so that they would work with the car better. It's all a process, and if we don't get it right the first time, we aren't afraid to keep working until we do."

Overall, the first example of the Petty Signature Series Mustangs makes quite a statement without being over-the-top. There are a lot of custom Mustangs out there, and it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. But by mixing just the right amount of racing heritage with new performance technology, Petty's Garage appears to have done exactly that. 5.0

Horse Sense: The cost of a Signature Series Mustang is expected to be $30,000 to $35,000 on top of the car, but the complete color change including the Petty signature will set you back another $11,000.

5.0 Tech Specs

'12 Mustang GT

Engine and Drivetrain
Block Low-pressure cast 319 aluminum w/pressed-in thin-wall iron liners
Crankshaft Forged steel, fully counterweighted, induction hardened
Rods Forged steel
Pistons Stock cast aluminum
Camshafts DOHC w/Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing
Cylinder Heads Aluminum, four valves per cylinder
Intake Manifold FRPP/Whipple intercooled lower
Power Adder FRPP/Whipple 2.3-liter supercharger
Fuel System Stock w/FRPP fuel injectors
Exhaust Borla after-cat
Transmission Getrag MT-82 six-speed manual
Rearend 8.8 w/9-in ends, fixed caliper mounts, and 3.73 gears

Electronics
Engine management Copperhead w/Petty's Garage tune
Ignition Stock coil-on-plug
Gauges Stock

Suspension and Chassis Front suspension
K-member Stock
A-Arms Stock
Struts Petty's Garage
Springs Petty's Garage
Brakes Stoptech 14-in
Wheels Forgeline
Tires Continental Extreme Contact
Rear suspension Shocks Petty's Garage
Springs Petty's Garage
Control Arms Stock
Brakes Stoptech 13-in
Wheels Forgeline
Tires Continental Extreme Contact