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1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1 - Game Changer
It was green, and it had to go. For this Mustang enthusiast, a color change was just the right catalyst for a custom makeover
There is an old expression about the early bird catching the worm. That expression certainly applies to Alan Orenstein and the acquisition of his 1973 Mustang Mach 1. The Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, resident recalls, “I paid $2,600 for it as an unrestored running car in decent condition, on June 13, 1998. I believe the seller was asking $2,800, which would have been a fair price at the time. Today, it would be a hell of a bargain! I was just happy to be the first one there—the seller's phone was ringing off the wall while I was handing him the cash deposit." Orenstein often comes across a good deal. He's been an automotive appraiser for many years, so the Mach 1 was a nice personal score.
His Mustang was originally listed for sale in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He notes, “This was before the Internet changed the way we find cars and parts." It was a one-owner, well-documented car, which had been stored for 10 years. With just over 79,000 miles on the odometer, it was in remarkable condition. The icing on the cake was that it had a long list of options that included factory air, power steering, power front disk brakes, a Rim-Blow steering wheel, upgraded Mach 1 sports interior, tinted glass, folding sport deck rear seat, and the “convenience group" with rare automatic seat back releases. However, the blue exhaust smoke that filled the street during the testdrive, and the dull dark green paint, were not so desirable.
Undaunted by the mechanical and paint issues, Alan faced a tough decision, especially being cognizant of the rising values that restored muscle cars were beginning to fetch at the time. A full restoration was considered, but the paint was an issue, or more precisely, the color was. The other issue was, of course, the anemic 351ci two-barrel Cleveland tucked in the engine bay. Rated at 177 horses, Orenstein describes it as a “slug." Making it even less appealing was that blue exhaust smoke.
The issue with the color was a game changer. “I have to admit, I just didn't like the original Dark Green Metallic color," Orenstein candidly explains. “Once I gave up on the stock color, I figured I might as well build the rest of the Mach 1 the way that I wanted it. I got out the factory Mustang paint chart for 1973, but nothing did much for me. I really liked the later model Mustang Laser Red, but Chrysler's Candy Apple Red Pearl was a little deeper and really worked with the argent trim."
Making the car a personal statement involved both a mechanical and a body rehabilitation. Luckily, he knew his way around a wrench. Having owned, and restored a number of cars previously, for Alan, part of the overall enjoyment was the hands-on experience of doing the work.
The first phase of the makeover was tackling the body and paint issues. With sleeves rolled up, his mission was to do the bodywork and paint prep. Since the Mustang was going to sport a shiny red Chrysler skin, the issues with the old faded green paint had to be resolved. Alan started by gutting the car until he ended up with a rolling shell. Once fully immersed in the process, he points out that, “The original paint was actually very solid, so only the repaired areas were stripped and spot primed. The bodywork was essentially down to the usual dents and dings of an unrestored car, and alignment of doors, hood, and trunk. The best part was that the car was very solid. I had almost no rust to deal with which is pretty unusual for a Northeast car, even for one which had been garaged."
With the bodywork complete, the Mustang was then sent to Executive Auto Body in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. The staff there completed the paintwork by laying down the basecoat/clearcoat Candy Apple Pearl. They also painted the argent silver stripe on the hood, the rear wing, and installed a set of new old stock side and rear Mach 1 stripes. Adding a custom touch to the stripe treatment, Alan decided to also apply a set of Running Stallions found on the '79 Mustang Indy Pace Car. The last details included painting the rear bumper body color, and a blackout treatment around the taillights and rear honeycomb trim panel. Ironically, this panel was the only bit of trim missing when he purchased the car. “In 1998 it was very hard to find a used unbroken one, and reproductions were not yet available," he points out. “My wife, Lois, called all over the country to surprise me with one. She located one from some guy in the Florida swamps."
Mechanically, the 351 Cleveland mill had issues. The blue exhaust smoke was, however, a simple fix. Clogged oil return holes were the culprit. That aside, Alan wanted the 1973 to have the proper performance level of a late '60s Mustang. He points out that, “I really did not want to destroy the originality of the drivetrain other than the mods I made, which are pretty much undetectable."
While he was up to the task of tackling the bodywork, the engine side was another issue. For that, Alan enlisted the services of Frank Bash, the owner of Bash Speed Shop in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Bash was a local legend with the street and strip crowd. Known for building killer engines, he took the Mach 1 into his shop to do the engine rebuild.
Bash gave the 351 the full treatment. It was bored 0.030-inch over and a new set of SpeedPro flat-top pistons were installed, while the stock steel crank was polished and the entire rotating assembly balanced and blueprinted. A hotter Crane Wolverine Blue Racer bumpstick was also added. The cast-iron heads were completely redone and received new Federal Mogul intake and exhaust valves, valvesprings, and rocker arms. They were also fully ported and polished. This meant that a deeper set of lungs was needed. This was accomplished by replacing the stock cast-iron intake and two-barrel carb with an Edelbrock Performer four-barrel dual-plane intake mated to an Edelbrock Performer 600-cfm carb. While this combination greatly increased inbound airflow, the spent gases also needed a swifter exit. The stock cast-iron exhaust manifolds, and single exhaust, gave way to a set of Hooker Headers mated to a dual exhaust system backed by a set of throaty Flowmaster mufflers. The original three-speed automatic was also retained, but freshened up and given a B&M shift kit. In terms of delivering the additional power, Alan stated, “I replaced the original 2.75:1 rear with a 3.50:1, which really made a huge off-the-line and low-end difference, but the engine was screaming and the Flowmasters were deafening at about 3,200 rpm on the road at 70-75 mph. I dropped back to the 3.00:1 rear as a reasonable compromise between performance and driveability. A 3.25:1 probably would have been OK too, but the 3.50:1 rear was definitely the most fun!"
As with most custom projects, there is always a fair dose of bling under the hood. This didn't escape Alan when the engine was placed back in the engine bay. Those big Cleveland heads deserved cast finned Mustang valve covers and a matching oval air cleaner," he recalls. “It also deserved a chrome alternator, master cylinder cover, upper shock mounts, coil, breather cap, as well as stainless steel hoses and hardware."
Ride quality was another area he addressed. Since the car sat for so many years, Alan opted to replace every suspension component. The installation of Gabriel Hijacker gas shocks and polyurethane bushings went a long way in firming up the ride. That was further enhanced by a set 17x8.5 American Racing Torq Thrust II wheels wrapped in P235/50R17 Continental TouringContact AS tires at all four corners. That remedy served two purposes—a better ride, and improved visuals.
With the body and propulsion sorted, Alan focused on the last part of the rebuild—the interior. He points out that, “The interior is essentially stock; it's hard to improve on the original colors and design. I reupholstered the seats and installed new factory reproduction style carpeting and replaced the door panels, but the woodgrain inserts, cranks, handles, and other interior panels are original. The headliner and sun visors are also original and as new."
The entire project spanned two years. “I completed reassembling it in September 2000, on the day before its first trophy at the Adirondack Nationals in Lake George, New York," he recalls. “It was kind of daring to go on a 600-mile interstate round trip in a car I had never really driven, other than around the block. My wife, Lois, said, ‘We can always turn back.' So, we gave it a shot. I stopped at the first rest area to look underneath to see if anything was leaking or falling off. It was all good. We went and won the huge trophy for Favorite Mustang. The hard part was finding room for the trophy inside the car for the ride back home." Over the years, Alan has enjoyed the Mach 1 and can be regularly spotted at the numerous shows that take place every weekend in the Philadelphia area.
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Alan and Lois Orenstein's 1973 Mustang Mach 1
- 351 Cleveland, bored 0.030-inch over, 355 ci, balanced and blue printed, built by Bash Speed Shop (Langhorne, PA)
- Ford factory cast-iron cylinder heads, three-angle cut, ported and polished
- Federal Mogul 2.041-inch intake/1.655-inch exhaust valves
- Federal Mogul stamped steel 1.73 rocker arms
- SpeedPro hypereutectic flat-top pistons
- Ford steel crankshaft (polished)
- Wolverine Blue Racer hydraulic flat tappet camshaft 270.0/280.0-degrees duration, 0.484/0.510-inch lift
- Edelbrock Performer four-barrel dual-plane aluminum intake
- Edelbrock Performer 600-cfm carburetor
- Pertronix Ignitor electronic ignition
- 9.6:1 compression ratio
- Ford FMX three-speed automatic
- Stock torque converter
- B&M shift kit
- Ford 9-inch
- 3.00:1 gears
- 28-spline axles
- Hooker headers
- 3-inch aluminized steel tubes
- Flowmaster mufflers
- Front: Stock replacement upper and lower control arms, gas shocks, Polyurethane bushings
- Rear: Stock with Gabriel Hijacker adjustable air shocks
Front: Factory discs with stainless steel braided hoses and ceramic pads
Rear: Factory drum
- Front: American Racing Torq Thrust II, 17x8.5
- Rear: American Racing Torq Thrust II, 17x8.5
- Front/Rear: Continental TouringContact AS, P235/50R17
Stock Ford Mustang interior, re-upholstered front and rear seats, reproduction factory-style carpeting
PPG Deltron basecoat/clearcoat Chrysler Candy Apple Red Pearl paint, PPG basecoat/clearcoat Argent Silver painted hood stripe, N.O.S. 1973 Mustang Mach 1 side and rear stripes with '79 Mustang Indy Pace Car Running Stallion stripes, blacked-out rear taillights and rear trim