Jim Smart
July 31, 2007
Photos By: Johnny Hunkins

Jay Bittle of JBA Racing loves high-performance Fords. He still has the same '67 Shelby GT500 he drove in high school more than 30 years ago, and it's taken on all kinds of different identities through the years; small-blocks, big-blocks, 427s, and more.

This '68 Mustang hardtop vintage sedan racer is yet another form of entertainment for San Diego's Jay Bittle. He's craved road racing since the earliest days of SCCA Trans-Am competition in the late '60s when he got into SCCA amateur road racing. This passion is the motivation behind the purchase of this old Ross-Hinchliff team vintage racer from south of the border.

Jay contacted Ed Hinchliff and Steve Ross to learn everything he could about the car's history. He discovered this 302ci Tunnel Port Mustang race car had four different color combinations and just as many numbers, and the Hinchliff-Ross team campaigned it independently in SCCA Trans-Am competition heavily in '68-'69, running at Daytona in 1970 (with a Boss 302 underhood) and the SCCA National Runoffs, before it was sold to new owners in Mexico. There, it was raced in the Pan American Racing Series, where a lot of old team racers went when their U.S. careers were over. Many never came back, so Jay got lucky the day he bought this car from Chris Liebenberg, a race car specialist and enthusiast who discovered the car in Mexico.

Mustangs had successfully campaigned in SCCA B-production and Group II Sedan racing in '65-'67, when the 289 High Performance V-8 made its peak torque in the 6,000-7,500 rpm range. When it gave way to the 302-inch Tunnel Port in 1968, popular belief was the 302 would perform even better thanks to the unusual heads. Although the 302 Tunnel Port made more power than the 289 High Performance, it did so at 8,500 rpm, and the unusually high revs were their undoing. The 302 Tunnel Port V-8s were blowing up, scattering all over racetracks from coast to coast. The following year, Ford looked to the new 351 Cleveland head, ultimately leading to the Boss 302 and making the 302 Tunnel Port a short-lived, unpleasant chapter in Ford racing history.

When Jay brought this one back to the United States, his goal was to bring the car back to its former glory when it was a Hinchliff-Ross team car in '68-'69. During the 4-year restoration, he opted for the most photographed color combo, the silver/black of '69, for this 2,800-pound car. When he spins the starter and cracks the throttle, the 302 Tunnel Port sports a snarly bark from its aggressive side exhausts. The inside has what you might expect from a vintage racer: a full rollcage built to '68 specifications, Shelby R-model bucket seats in black leather, a Jones period-correct mechanical tach and Stewart-Warner instrumentation, a fire suppression system, a radio block-off plate, a camera mount for an inside view, and more.

Under the hood is a real 302 Tunnel Port small-block, a rare survivor left over from a dark era in Ford racing history. It was prepped and built by Jay's own people to both make power and survive the blast. Arias forged pistons squeeze the mixture to 12.5:1 with help from Speed Pro rings, Crower 5.500-inch rods, and steel 4340 3.00-inch-stroke crank. Comp Cams ponied up with a mechanical roller camshaft that bumps the huge 2.12/1.60-inch valves. If the valve sizes seem unusual, remember, these are rare Tunnel Port cylinder heads, C8FE-6090-A experimental castings. Jenn Bridges did the port work on both the heads and intake manifold. On top is a period-correct Ford dual four-barrel manifold with a pair of Holley four-holers.

When Jay took this JBA-built 302 Tunnel Port to the dyno, it made more power than it did in 1968: 450 hp at 7,300 rpm and 320 ft-lb of torque at 3,200.

Behind the Tunnel Port small-block resides a Hurst-shifted, Donnie Araki-built, close-ratio Ford Top Loader four-speed with 2.32 First gear, 1.69 Second, and 1.29 Third. Out back, a 9-inch Ford floater with an N-case Ford nodular and 4.57 gears handle the power output from the transmission.

For those of you who appreciate vintage racers of the '60s, the chassis was originally prepared to SCCA Trans-Am/NASCAR GT specifications by Ed Hinchliff himself. Jay opted for slightly better technology without adversely affecting the car's originality: Calvert Racing rear leaf springs, Koni adjustable shocks, AFCO 600 front coils, a 16:1 Ford manual steering gear, Ford Kar Kraft control arms, Ford/Kelsey-Hays 12-inch four-piston front disc brakes, and 10.5-inch rear discs.

For the thrill of living a little bit of history, Jay's objective was to campaign this car with Ed Hinchliff at some of the vintage endurance races. He brought the car out at the Paul Revere 250 where it finished Seventh in class and Eleventh overall.

Finding an extraordinary sedan racer like this one was undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime event for Jay, a genuine blast from the past he'll continue to savor for many years to come.