Jerry Heasley
April 13, 2006

The Ring brothers just completed their latest creation, a '67 fastback dubbed Kona, Hawaiian for black, and are already dreaming about the next Mustang on the drawing board.

"I don't want to give away all my secrets, but we want to build a car that, when it's done, looks like it's been almost through the ringer," Jim Ring explained, meaning as if the car had been road raced, used and abused, yet is brand new.

Maybe that's what's next for modified Mustangs: steering away from the bling, bling. That's where Jim and Mike Ring are headed. In the case of Kona, they tried "really hard" to make the '67 appear "not homemade."

Just three years ago, their first creation, a '66 convertible, sent shock waves through the Mustang world. Their second Mustang restomod, a '65 fastback in a more subdued bluish-gray, grabbed even more attention. Both cars were heralded as much more than mere modifieds. Basically, the Ring brothers' Mustangs are more like high-dollar street rods, yet they aren't. They're restomods. Instead of having a combination of aftermarket bolt-on parts, a lot is fabricated from scratch.

Kona, their third build, has already gathered as much or more fanfare from the cognoscenti. On display nationally last July at the 8th Goodguys PPG Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, word quickly spread. Amateur snapshots flashed on various Web sites, and the hobby was abuzz. Jim remembers one Web post: "Not too bad; another top five pick for a couple guys with a body shop who are not car builders."

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"Not too bad" is the understatement of the year in the classic Mustang and Ford hobby. "Not car builders" is definitely no longer true. "Top five" refers to the top five finalists for Goodguys Street Machine of the Year.

The arrival of a new Ring brothers Mustang has become an event, like the unveiling of a new car. If you're a Web geek, perhaps you saw this '67 fastback last summer when word burned across sites like wildfire. We got a phone call from a Mustang aficionado who feverishly asked, "Have you seen the new Ring brothers Mustang? Everything's black; the body, the interior, even the wheels. It's incredible." They named the car Kona for a reason.

"I think we're going to start naming all our cars, so people can identify them," Mike Ring explains. "That beats calling the first one 'that red '66 convertible' or the second one 'that bluish-gray '65 fastback.'"

We flew to Milwaukee and drove the 125 miles to their shop west of Madison in Spring Green, Wisconsin, population 1,444. Classic Auto Body sits on a corner lot on the south side of Highway 14 going through town. An unassuming business catering to exhausts, tires, and bodywork for late-model cars, the building hides a small, new shop in the back where we found Kona parked alongside a couple of classic Mustangs in various states of disassembly. An upstairs level with wooden shelves was neatly stocked with Mustang parts.

Perhaps most revealing was the CNC machine operating under the supervision of Todd Milanowski. "He's one of our partners," Mike explained. Todd was watching the CNC machine bore out another hood hinge from a block of solid aluminum. "See that row of aluminum blocks? That's $2,000 worth."

Billet aluminum is not cheap. Dissatisfied with stock Mustang hood hinges, the Ring brothers built one of their own. After careful consideration, they paid big bucks for a CNC machine so they could carve out copies of this beautiful set of hinges that make hood alignment precise and smooth as silk. The owner of the '67 Mustang currently under construction wanted a set of hinges, at $600 a pop, for his 289 Hi-Po coupe.

In the break/conference room, we noticed an ink sketch of a '67 Mustang fastback propped up on the window ledge. A noticeably un-bling green, this 'Stang is the next project. Kona, unlike the first two Ring Mustang modifieds, also started out as a sketch.

"This is the first time we had somebody help us draw the car. That was Shawn Smith out of Los Angeles," Mike explained. "He's a designer for Honda, so it's kind of nice to bounce some ideas off him. Hopefully, we can cut down on hit and miss."

Apparently, the Ring brothers are gearing up. Fabrication-wise, their first two cars were hit and miss. Jim would build a part basically from scratch, and if he didn't like it, he tossed the metal in the scrap heap and started over. Such trial-and-error designing and building is very time-consuming.

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As we approached Kona in the corner of the shop, the car appeared cool, although not in the style of a vintage Shelby re-creation or any other classic we'd ever seen. Those sidescoops had something inside them. On closer inspection, we could see they were B&M transmission oil coolers. In addition to cooling the Performance Automatic C4, the radiators channel air via a big, custom box that catches the air and funnels it back through the wheelwells to cool the rear brakes.

The scoops in the front valance are unlike anything we've seen hung on a Mustang before. The taillight housings are also brand-new, another Ring fabrication, popping out of a custom carbon-fiber taillight board. A large R in the flat pop-open gas cap matches the R offset in the blackout grille. The R, of course, stands for Ring.

The metal inserts in the tops of the fenders are extremely cool; ditto for the metal fixtures in the sail panels of the fastback roofline. Obviously custom-built, they are metal and have an OEM look about them. Even the rocker panels are custom-built and made of steel.

Todd bored out hood hinges in the CNC machine less than 50 feet away. The Ring brothers are moving towards being car builders, and Todd could machine any one of these custom parts for installation on other Ring brothers builds, or if the market is there, on other custom Mustangs.

"If somebody wants to build the taillight panel, we can sell them the buckets," Mike said. "Or, like the cowl, anybody could just bolt those pieces into another Mustang," referring to the inserts on top of the cowl just behind the fiberglass grille. It seems everywhere you look on this car, there is a unique, fabricated part.

Press the red button inside the rear scoops and the door pops open. Inside, the Ring brothers have gone to extreme lengths. "My mother always said, if you can get over the dog, you can get over the tail," Jim recalled, "And I guess what I mean by that is, if you can get through the outside of the car, you can spend a few hours on the inside."

Anybody can buy and install parts. What makes this interior pop is the fresh, new layout. The white gauge cluster is completely custom, laid out on a carbon-fiber dash directly in front of the Waterfall steering wheel from Flaming River. Really trick and new-car fresh is the start/stop button in the center of the dash.

Tor Caraway, who has experience fabricating parts clear back to Shelby-American at the Los Angeles International Airport facility, is one of the shop crew who built Kona. He and Jim do the fabrication work. His son, Simeon, who laid the black paint on Kona and runs Classic's collision body shop, popped the hood-lock pins so we could eyeball the engine. A car this innovative must have something cool for power.

"It's a fuel-injected eight-stack," Jim said. Horsepower is around 500-525 for the Roush 402R, which is a bored and stroked 351. The stacks refer to the four Momar injection units, each topped with a small air cleaner sandwiched between polished housings, too much bling for Jim's ever-accelerating pursuit of a more OEM-appealing restomod.

"You either revert to all painted stuff, which has been done a billion times, or all chrome stuff, which has been done a billion times. We're trying to find a way through the middle of all that mumbo jumbo to come up with something new in the engine compartment."

As you can see, the Ring brothers are treading a fine line in the looks department, and although going fast is not the be-all, do-all, end-all purpose of their build, Kona is no slouch on power. This is a hot rod, but the Ring brothers question the exact meaning of hot rod and the direction of state-of-the-art, Mustang-restomod car building.

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"What do people want in a hot rod?" Jim asked philosophically. "To feel shook up and deafened by the exhausts or clean, crisp, unseen ideas put together with good horsepower, good brakes, and a smooth, quiet ride? If that's possible in an old car, what are we chasing?"

Jim and Mike even discussed the suspension. Basically, it's got a Fat Man front suspension with an Air Ride four-link in the rear. They contemplated going back to all rubber mounts and trying to build a car that's "cool and soft."

As far as looks go, cool is the objective. Jim believes everybody throws up their hands in resignation, thinking the only thing that's cool is to go back to the early days and the Shelby look as far as scoops and stripes and so forth.

"It was cool, don't get me wrong, but nobody can think outside that box. That's what we're trying to do, think outside that box to create ideas and things that people will look back on 30 years from now and want."

We can't wait to see the next Ring brothers Mustang. Give them another seven to eight months. We'll be back.

The Details

1967 Mustang fastback, Kona
Owner: Les Orosz, Madison, WI

Engine

  • Roush 402R, 500-plus horsepower
  • Concept One pulleys
  • MSD Pro-Billet distributor
  • K&N air filters
  • Momar eight-stack fuel injection
  • Weldon fuel pump and filters
  • Griffin radiator
  • Earl's fittings and braided hose
  • Fuel Safe fuel cell
  • Classic Tube stainless fuel and brake tubing

Transmission

  • Ford Racing flywheel
  • Performance Automatic C4

Rearend

  • 9-inch by John's Rearends
  • 3.55 gears

Exhaust

  • Hooker headers
  • Flowmaster mufflers and tubing, 21/2-inch
  • Exhaust tips made from 1/4-inch aluminum plate

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Suspension

  • Front: Fat Man with Air Ride air struts
  • Rear: Air Ride Air Bar
  • Total Control X-bracing and sub-frame connectors

Brakes

  • Front: Baer brakes, 13.5-inch rotors, PBR two-piston calipers
  • Rear: Baer brakes, 13.5-inch rotors, PBR single-piston calipers

Wheels

  • Front: SSR 18x9, exclusive through Tire Rack
  • Rear: SSR 19x10, exclusive through Tire Rack

Tires

  • Front: Goodyear F1 Supercar, P245/40ZR18
  • Rear: Goodyear F1 Supercar, P285/35ZR19

Interior

  • Honda start button
  • Flaming River steering column and Waterfall steering wheel
  • Stewart Warner Maxim gauges from Fuel Systems of Milwaukee, WI
  • Recaro seats
  • Kenwood stereo and speakers
  • Hurst shifter
  • All Mustang parts purchased from Mustangs Plus
  • Dash, console, door panels, rear seat delete, rollbars, and sill plates handmade by Ring brothers

Exterior

  • Glasurit Hi-Intensity Black applied by Sim-the-Great
  • Molded-in rear valance, aluminum diffuser in valance
  • Three-piece bumper
  • Carbon-fiber taillamp panel
  • Custom-designed taillight housings built with CNC machine
  • Ground effects made from steel
  • Eliminated door handles and drip rails
  • Custom-designed front-fender inserts built with CNC machine
  • Reworked Shelby-style hood
  • Complete front nose made from foam and fiberglass
  • Custom-designed front brake scoops built with CNC machine
  • Front bumper length and width cut down
  • Custom-designed cowl covers built with CNC machine
  • Hand-built engine compartment
  • Custom-designed hood hinges built with CNC machine
  • Rolled all four fender lips
  • Hand-fabricated aluminum bellypans