Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
December 22, 2011

It was dark times in the performance world come the early 1970s. The muscle car horsepower wars were ending, insurance premiums were rising, and gas was in short supply. Hell, even convertibles were going away. It was painful to be sure, and while we're enjoying a modern-day horsepower war now with today's muscle cars--the Mustang, Camaro, and Challenger--the '70s were not too kind to Joe Panciarello, either. Joe, of Bay Shore, New York, worked for Pan Am in 1973 as an airplane mechanic. Recently laid off from turning wrenches, but still working for Pan Am slinging luggage on the tarmac at JFK, Joe continued to drive to work in his daily driver '65 Pontiac GTO. Because he lived in an apartment he kept all of his airframe tools in the trunk of his GTO. Unfortunately, Joe lost all of his tools when his Goat was stolen one night. The GTO was found stripped to a bare shell with a pair of his own locking pliers on the steering shaft where the steering wheel used to be. While no doubt a painful experience, Joe knew he had to find another car fast to get to and from work.

The very next day, Joe got lucky and found a '66 Fairlane GT in the local paper. It had more than 70,000 miles on it, but was in decent shape. Best of all, the owner was asking only $1,500 for it. This certainly wasn't Joe's first Ford (or his last) and the green two-door immediately became a family favorite.

"It was the nicest muscle car I've ever owned--certainly not the fastest, mind you--but the nicest riding one for sure," Joe commented.

The love affair with the Fairlane would be short lived, however. As gas became increasingly hard to find (back then, fuel purchases were determined by your license plate number and how many gallons you could buy), there were days where Joe had to call in sick because he didn't have enough fuel to make the 100-mile round trip to work in his Fairlane. Due to the thirsty big-block, no overdrive, and other fuel efficient upgrades we take for granted today, the Fairlane just had to go. When Joe sold it, his wife began to cry as the new owner drove off in their green Fairlane GT.

"It was a favorite of hers, of all the cars I've owned. I made her a promise that someday we would get another Fairlane, I just never thought it was going to take 32 years!" Joe told us.

It was now 2000, and Joe had been building his late-model Mustang performance business, Mustang Magic, for the last 10 years. Day in and day out, Joe handled the latest in EFI technology, superchargers, turbochargers, stroker engines, and more, to turn late-model Mustangs into 600-, 700-, and even 800-horsepower monsters, but that Fairlane was still on his mind. He eventually started the search in earnest for another Fairlane, and found the car you see here, another '66 GT through eBay, in 2007. That's right, it took Joe seven years to find just the right Fairlane. It was being sold by Motorama Classic Cars in Mooresville, North Carolina. Joe had a local friend stop by to inspect the car and when Joe got back the clean bill of health, he bid on the auction and won the Fairlane. It was clean and unmolested with the 390/four-speed drivetrain just like his original.

As soon as the Fairlane arrived at Joe's thriving shop, the ideas started flying. One of his techs suggested a 427 stroker Windsor with twin turbos.

"I wanted to go back to my roots and build an old-school car devoid of power options and modern drivetrain, as we would have ordered them when they were new," Joe told us. To that end, the FE engine, four-speed, and 9-inch rear got the nod to keep the Fairlane motivated, but that didn't mean Joe couldn't build one heck of an FE with the help of G&R Performance, which builds all of the engines for Mustang Magic's customer cars. G&R stuffed the original block with Diamond forged pistons, rebuilt rods, and a stock crank that was cross-drilled and chamfered. A custom-ground Comp Cams roller cam found its way into the valley and actuates Smith Brothers pushrods and Dove rockers. Topping off the engine is a set of Edelbrock's aluminum heads and intake, and a Pro Systems custom Holley carb. All together the combo is good for nearly 550 hp.

While the engine was getting new life breathed into it, K&M Autocraft smoothed the flanks of the original sheetmetal and sprayed the original silver blue color on the Fairlane. Save for the Crites 427 Fairlane-style fiberglass hood, all panels, stainless trim, and glass are original on the Fairlane. The interior is original with a few light mods like a Grant wheel and some gauges. Meanwhile, Joe upped the ante in the suspension department with some serious hardware front and rear. Up front is a full TCP setup with Master Power discs, and out back Joe threw the Calvert Racing catalog at the car, knowing the Fairlane was going to see some track time (to the current tune of 11.82 at 118mph!).

"I wanted to honor the car, so we did nothing that can't be reversed and I have every stock part we removed stored in my garage," Joe explained. The Fairlane was finished in April 2009 and Joe has been driving it every chance he gets, including taking home show trophies and hitting the dragstrip.

At one time, Joe remembers several new Mustang customers lamenting about their long-gone muscle cars. At first, Joe couldn't understand their stroll down memory lane, as their new Mustangs had better handling, improved braking, more power, and, of course, all those modern conveniences like power windows, air conditioning, and more. It wasn't until he finished the Fairlane and started driving it that he understood what they were missing, as he had been missing it too, and the Fairlane made him truly realize that.

"Now I understand what my customers were talking about. Driving a car like this really brings back the memories," Joe shared with us. Joe's shop ultimately attached the name Project Old School to the Fairlane, as it's about as basic you can get. Three pedals, a big wood steering wheel, a cam that makes the bumpers vibrate, and not a power accessory, airbag, or navigation system in site. That's what we call kickin' it old-school!

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

The Details

Joe Panciarello's '66 Fairlane GT

Engine

  • 390 FE big-block (395 ci)
  • 4.080-inch bore
  • 3.78-inch stroke
  • Stock steel rods
  • Diamond forged pistons
  • Stock crankshaft, cross-drilled and chamfered
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM FE aluminum cylinder heads, ported
  • Comp Cams hydraulic roller cam, 0.645/0.638 lift (custom grind)
  • Dove roller rockers
  • Smith Brothers pushrods
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum intake manifold
  • Pro Systems Pro-Series XE Holley 750-cfm carburetor
  • Moroso deep-sump oil pan
  • Edelbrock aluminum water pump
  • March serpentine pulley kit
  • Tuff Stuff Performance polished 130-amp alternator
  • Griffin aluminum radiator and SPAL electric fan
  • K&N air filter
  • MSD distributor
  • MSD 6AL ignition
  • Moroso 8mm plug wires
  • Machine work and assembly by G&R Performance, Babylon, NY
  • 544 hp, 510 lb-ft of torque

Transmission

  • Ford Top Loader four-speed
  • Hurst shifter
  • McLeod Long style clutch
  • McLeod hydraulic release bearing
  • Stock bellhousing

Rearend

  • Ford 9-inch housing
  • Aluminum carrier
  • Detroit Truetrac differential
  • Moser 31-spline axles
  • 3.89 gears

Exhaust

  • Doug's Headers long tubes, 2-1/8-inch primaries
  • American Racing Headers fabricated 3-inch stainless dual exhaust
  • 3-inch MagnaFlow mufflers

Suspension

  • Front: Total Control Products tubular control arms, double adjustable Varishock coilovers
  • Rear: Calvert Racing Split Mono-Leaf springs, Calvert Racing CalTrac traction bars, double adjustable Varishock shocks, MI Performance full-length frame connectors

Brakes

  • Front: Master Power Brakes 11-inch disc, single-piston caliper
  • Rear: Stock 10-inch drum

Wheels

  • Front: Billet Specialties Street Lite, 15x6, 3-inch offset
  • Rear: Billet Specialties Street Lite, 15x8, 3-1/2-inch offset

Tires

  • Front: Mickey Thompson Sportsman SR, 26x8.00R15LT
  • Rear: Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial, P275/60R15

Interior

  • Original dark blue vinyl bucket seat interior, Fairlane GT console, Grant Products wood grip steering wheel, Auto Meter Sport-Comp II tachometer, oil pressure, and water temperature gauges

Exterior

  • Silver Blue base/clear paint by K&M Autocraft, Deer Park, NY; Crites fiberglass 427 hood; all other body panels, trim, and glass are original; hoodpin kit; white GT rocker stripes
  • Topping off the engine is a set of Edelbrock's aluminum heads and intake, and a Pro Systems custom Holley carb