Jim Smart
October 31, 2005
Photos By: Mark Houlahan, Patrick Hill

Would you believe this '68 Mustang convertible project unfolded in just six months, just one year after it was purchased? It signals the dawning of a new era in restomod called street-rodding. Street-rodding isn't anything more than a more modern application of classic American hot-rodding. What you see before you is street-rodding applied to a '60s classic Mustang. It's not much different than the building of a '34 Ford Vickie or a '40 Ford coupe.

But, this is getting ahead of ourselves. A Mustang purchase isn't what Brent VanDervort had in mind for his street-rod project. It started out as a high school car for his daughter. It had been totaled in a head-on collision enroute home from the body shop with the previous owner. The owner became disgusted and placed the mangled body on concrete blocks in the backyard. That's when Brent stepped in, bought the car, and planned a full-scale restoration for his daughter. Ultimately, this car became the prototype Mustang engineering mule for Brent's company--Fat Man Fabrications ((704) 545-0369; www.fatmanfab.com) in North Carolina. Instead of becoming the stocker Brent had intended, it became one of the cleanest Mustang restomods we have ever seen.

It is stunning and certainly different than most restomods we see around town. We admit to being in love with its execution--an '05 Ford Copper Metallic applied by Gary Rawlins of Reflections in Charlotte, North Carolina. But this is only tapping the surface. It's more than just bodywork, paint, and a pretty face. It's about intelligent thinking and execution that began from the ground up. Underneath, the factory Ford underpinnings are gone, replaced with genuine Fat Man components: an IFS strut kit in front that utilizes late-model Mustang parts, and a Wonder bar air-ride suspension in back. The Fat Man rack-and-pinion steering system uses parts from a mid-'80s Ford Escort. The Fat Man system enables Brent to adjust ride height and suspension stiffness as his needs warrant.

Because this Mustang is more about looks, cruising, and showing, it doesn't have the mechanical appointments you might be expecting. There isn't the 9-inch rearend street-rodders have embraced for ages. Nope, just a peg-leg 8-inch unit with 3.00 gears, great for cruising. Underhood is a stone-stock 302 small-block V-8 with a smooth idle and respectable low-end torque. The box-stock small-block offers nice, crisp performance as it comes off idle because there's a mild hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft inside. Cruise power dovetails into a C4 Cruise-O-Matic transmission. There's very little to understand here, just good, tolerable performance.

Inside, Brent opted for nuances that make his Mustang as unusual inside as it is outside. Check out the custom dashboard sporting a Carriage Works split bezel with Classis gauges and a Vintage Air Sure Fit system. That's a Colorado Custom steering wheel. The seating is as stock as the 302-inch mill beneath the bonnet.

Outside, those are Colorado Custom Sugar City 16x7-inch wheels (front) and 17x8-inch (back) wrapped in BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires. He tells us the car hooks up so well that it will not spin the tires. The body received a lot of special treatment, including a molded deck spoiler and end caps, relocated fuel filler, custom grille (with a Taurus Ford emblem), tucked bumpers, LED front turn signals (molded into the chrome bumper), smoothed firewall, and more.

The message we get from Brent's Mustang drop-top is, life marches onward, with a conservative era of vintage Ford restoration evolving to street-rodding. What this means for a lot of us is the freedom to build our Fords anyway we like without fear of persecution. this is music to Brent's ears because his Mustang is in good company with a couple of '33 Fords, a '30 Buick, a '49 Chevrolet fastback, a '56 Ford hardtop, and more in his garage.

Brent, we will see you at the Street Rod Nationals.

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Recently Brent VanDervort traveled to the central Florida area to attend an air show with a friend and drove his '68 convertible down for the week. Before heading back to hills of Carolina, Brent stopped by the Primedia offices to show us his ride. Donald Farr, editor of Mustang Monthly, and I took a few turns behind the wheel of Brent's Mustang, and we must say, the ride is exceptional. While the car doesn't have enough power to do the rear Wonder Bar suspension justice, we could still feel the rearend raise slightly on its haunches and just plain plant the tires upon acceleration from a streetlight--no squatting, no tire squirm, just instant traction.

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The steering response was quite nice, though, honestly, this was the first time I've driven a classic Ford with a rack-and-pinion conversion. When you hear the words "Escort rack" come out of someone's mouth, there's not a whole lot of confidence inspired by those words, but when we took a look under Brent's Mustang and saw the design of the rack mounting and the ease of installation, it quelled our nervousness. We were a little surprised at the poor turning radius, but Brent called us a few weeks later to let us know the rack had not been centered correctly during installation and alignment so we weren't getting the best radius possible in one direction. The turning radius is also dependent upon your wheel and tire size and wheel offset, as well.

Braking was pretty standard fare for a four-wheel disc brake conversion, but knowing there were late-model Mustang spindles up front meant that if we owned this car and wanted more braking, options abound. Everything from factory Mustang Cobra 13-inch binders, all the way up to six-piston Alcon setups will bolt right on. The same goes for the front struts. The Fat Man system is designed to use stock '94-'04 Mustang struts, meaning you can choose from direct bolt-ins from several companies, coilovers (which Brent's car had), or even Air Ride air struts for suspension adjustments at the touch of a button (which is what Brent plans to upgrade to soon). All-in-all, the Fat Man '68 Mustang was a well-handling car with a well thought out suspension that can be built with anything from salvage yard used parts to the raciest high-dollar stuff you can find.

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The Details

  • 1968 Mustang convertible
  • Brent VanDervort, Matthews, NC

Engine

  • 302 small-block V-8
  • Pertronix Ignitor ignition system
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM intake
  • Powermaster alternator and starter

Transmission

  • C4 Cruise-O-Matic

Rearend

  • 8-inch open
  • 3.00 gears

Exhaust

  • Flowmaster mufflers

Suspension

  • Front: Fat Man Fabrications coilover strut
  • Rear: Fat Man Wonder bar suspension with air Ride shockwaves

Brakes

  • Front: Stainless Steel Brakes disc conversion
  • Rear: ECI disc conversion

Wheels

  • Front: Colorado Custom Sugar City, 16x7-inch, 5-inch back spacing
  • Rear: Colorado Custom Sugar City, 17x8-inch, 5-inch back spacing

Tires

  • Front: BFGoodrich Radial T/A, P205/55R16
  • Rear: BFGoodrich Radial T/A, P245/45R17

Interior

  • Custom dashboard with Carriage Works split bezels and Classic instruments
  • Stock seats with custom upholstery
  • Vintage Air Sure Fit climate control system Colorado Custom Sugar City steering wheel
  • Sony stereo with dash and rear panel speakers

Exterior

  • '05 Ford Copper Metallic
  • Molded rear deck spoiler
  • Tucked bumpers
  • Custom grille
  • Smoothed and scooped front valance
  • Smoothed firewall and inner fender panels