Jerry Heasley
September 1, 2007

Shouldn't NASA test-flight engineers be strapping J-2 rockets onto the backs of cars to set world land-speed records, or designing nuclear pellets to power cars and end America's dependence on foreign oil? Instead, outside his job, Jeff Fox is not a whole lot different than us car-wise. During the day, he may be working on the cockpit design of NASA's CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle), but after hours-when the Houstonite isn't playing championship pool-he's fawning over his Candyapple Red with white-stripe GT500 fastback.

OK, it's a clone (Jeff labels his Mustang a restomod hybrid), but that was the fun for a NASA engineer, to actually go out there and build to plan. His goal was to highly modify the car to look unmodified. You have to get up close and personal to uncover most of the differences from Shelby's original.

Engineers are not the easiest people with whom to hold a technical dialogue. Ask them the time, and they'll build a clock with quartz movement. "If this is boring you, let me know," Fox cautioned us. The affable and good-natured engineer was elaborating on NASA's CEV, which very much interested us. "It's going to start off going to the space station and then to the moon."

Ferreting out the clock stuff, we ascertained the CEV was not a car for planet exploration as we first thought. It was actually a living environment for space exploration. Those tiny capsules can get cramped, especially on long trips to Mars, another possible destination for the CEV.

Meanwhile, for getting around on planet Earth, a '67 Mustang in the style of the Shelby GT500 captured Jeff's fascination. It all started with a likely suspect, our longtime friend and confidant, J. Bittle.

"I was in a Texas A&M Sports Car Club from 1979 to 1984," Jeff says, "and J. Bittle showed up with his red Shelby. I always remembered his car. He ran in much more interesting circles and was always racing. I didn't have a car that raced. I'll never forget his car; it was the coolest." In 1985, J. Bittle opened up JBA Racing in San Diego. The company is going stronger than ever, and Bittle still has his awesome Shelby GT500-an original, but not a stocker, of course. It's powered by an old-school 427.

There's no denying the sexiness of a '67 Shelby, clone or otherwise, with the rare center-mounted headlight configuration. Jeff's Shelby clone is correct in every detail from a visual standpoint, with modern upgrades for safety and enjoyment everywhere else.

Twenty years after meeting Bittle, Jeff finally decided to do it, to go all the way and build the Shelby of his dreams. He even called Bittle in San Diego. It turns out the racer/vendor likes flying. Jeff was on one of his NASA test-flight missions to Edwards Air Force Base in California, so he invited Bittle.

"He came with his son and trailered his '67 GT500 Shelby from San Diego, which is about a four- to five-hour drive. In exchange, we got him in to see a flight test of the B-52 bomber."

We won 't go into the scientific details, but for reasons known mostly to engineers (gathering data on aero-surfaces and such), Jeff and his NASA engineers had to drop a prototype space vehicle off the wing of a B-52 from 45,000 feet. They then deployed a 150-foot long parafoil-the largest in the world-to slow the valuable craft from {{{300}}} mph to 40-60 mph for landing.

In this country, the space program and high-performance cars have a common bond-astronauts blast off to the moon; guys like Jeff and Bittle blast off in big-cube Shelbys. What do you think those big red lights are on the back of a GT500? They emulate rocket exhausts burning brightly on blast-off, of course.

The two spent a lot of time discussing Jeff's coming Shelby build. At first, Jeff figured he'd do about a $30,000 clone, with a nice engine and a stock interior in a '65-'66 fastback. "The more I looked at J.'s, the more I thought I can do what J. did. I can do a '67 and I can build it better." After all, Bittle's GT500 was an original and first modified decades ago.

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Houston School of Automotive Machinists (S.A.M.) built an incredible and streetable powerplant. "We called it an 'SLR' motor to match the capabilities we were looking for: streetability, longevity, and reliability," Jeff says. "Judson Massingill, Houston S.A.M. owner, and Pat Topolinski, lead dyno operator, were great to work with." Pat personally tuned Jeff's car in his garage at no cost, twice. He is now employed by NHRA Pro Stock team Greg Anderson and Jason Line.

After a six-month search, Jeff found the car you see here; of course it wasn't in this fine a shape. It started out as a C-code that had been upgraded to a 302 at some point in the past. Jeff upped the Bittle 427 ante with a 351 Windsor stroked to 408 cubes that, with aluminum heads, is 150 pounds lighter. New-school, it features a raft of high-tech, 21st century goodies (see spec chart.) The outcome is 510 horses at 5,400 rpm and 510 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm.

Jeff calls this tune "very usable." The automatic shifter looks Mustang original, but the familiar T-handle is pure stealth. Behind the 408 is a Lentech Street Terminator Plus AOD (three-speed plus Overdrive), with a 9 1/2-inch stall converter and a set of 3.70 gears in a 9-inch differential. "I can beat on that all day long," Jeff says, the engineer coming out in him. "I shift it all the time, 1-2-3. I love it. It's very streetable."

New tech blends with old in Jeff's GT500 clone. He could have gone with disc brakes in the back, but he preferred the blackout looks afforded by classic drums, which are "every bit as good unless you are repeatedly stopping."

Jeff's Mustang retains the retro look, inside and out. The body is correct to '67 Shelby specs right down to placement of the badges. "I did everything right, even the lower scoops. I made sure they were functional. I didn't skimp anywhere."

Inside, Jeff wanted A/C. He went with a Vintage Air system that featured black, plastic vents. This wouldn't do because the original '67s used brushed-aluminum vents. "The Vintage is all electric," Jeff says. "Ford's system is vacuum. We bought a dummy faceplate for the brushed aluminum with the levers. It looks stock, but behind, it's all electric. It was quite the engineering feat."

You may have noticed Jeff's license-plate frame on his Shelby clone. The frame was a joint idea of Jeff and his mother, Anne, who was battling breast cancer. Jeff and his mom had several hundred plate frames made, and with a donation to breast cancer research, Jeff and his mother would provide the donor a frame to promote awareness. The two then forwarded the donations to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation. Sadly, Jeff's mother lost her battle recently, but the fight continues.

Simpson belts and a Grant steering wheel are the two apparent concessions to stock inside. The Shelby gauge pod looks stock. It's not. Originals can cost two grand or more for the combination oil pressure and ammeter gauges. Jeff built his own with period Stewart-Warner gauges. He likes that the oil-pressure line doesn't run inside the cab on this late-model gauge, courtesy of an oil-pressure-gauge isolator.

Jeff prefers to drive his GT500 to weekend cruises, where people talk about cars and leave when they want. While he attends some shows, he isn't so eager to park his fastback for prescribed periods of time.

"When the car was new and just out of the shop, there was one scary moment when a defective starter cable came loose from the starter and welded itself to the car," he says. "That made for a lot of smoke and potential fire. I stopped all traffic in the middle of a two-lane road and flagged down a guy who had a wrench and removed the cable. We saved the car, but I'll never forget that sick feeling."

How fast is the 510-horse clone? Jeff hasn't put it on the strip, but he's had long talks with the engine builders. They estimate the high-10s for the quarter-mile and 185 top speeds. Crude estimates from Jeff and Ricky Cappel of Cappel's Auto Restorations put the amount of time to complete the rotisserie resto-modifications on the car to about 450 hours in the body alone and around 2,000 hours total in the whole car when counting all the wrenching, strategizing, special engineering (and there's a lot of it), and running-around time. According to Jeff, "There are few things on a car from top to bottom that Ricky can't make look like a million bucks."

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The PS Engineering Trans-Am wheels certainly make a statement and are a great look for a classic Mustang. Jeff painted the centers eggshell black and left the rim lips bare aluminum for a nice contrast. The T/A-style lug nuts are the crowning touch.

"The vehicle is a complete rotisserie restoration with all the modifications made during the process," Jeff says. "It looks the same underneath as on top; I just make sure not to drive it on wet streets, but it does get driven. It has 5,970 miles on it since the complete makeover but still looks good enough to roll into Barrett-Jackson. We built the motor for what I like to call 'SLR': streetability, longevity, and reliability-a tough thing to do with an engine like this. The car is capable of cruise, show, road racing, or drag racing (with a little prep). However, cruise and show are how it's mainly used.

"It's about an $80,000-$90,000 car, but I don't treat it that away. I drive it. When I finished the car, a friend told me I ought to put it in a bubble. Not me. I'm like J. Bittle. I'm probably going to drive it and hang on to it until I die."

That's par for a Mustang that's out of this world, and Jeff says he couldn't have done it without the support of his parents, Mike and Anne. His dad even drove the photography car for our action shots.

The Details
'67 Mustang Fastback

Owner: Jeff Fox, Houston, TX
Restoration by Cappel's Auto Restorations, Dickinson, TX

Engine

  • Houston S.A.M.-built 408ci 351 Windsor stroker
  • 510 hp at 5,500 rpm
  • 510 lb-ft torque at 4,800 rpm
  • 4.030-inch bore, 4.000-inch stroke
  • SRP forged pistons
  • 10.25:1 compression
  • Speed-Pro rings
  • Eagle 6.200-inch H-beam rods
  • Eagle 4340 forged crank, 4.0-inch stroke
  • Clevite bearings
  • ARP assembly hardware
  • Edelbrock Victor Jr. aluminum heads with aggressive porting
  • Comp Cams hydraulic-roller cam
  • Comp Cams Pro Magnum 1.6 roller rockers
  • Ferrea valves 2.08-inch intake, 1.60-inch exhaust
  • Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold
  • Holley HP750 carburetor with 1/2-inch phenolic spacer
  • Canton 7-qt. oil pan
  • ATI super damper
  • MSD Pro Billet distributor, 6AL ignition control, Blaster coil, and wires
  • Edelbrock water pump
  • Total Control Products motor mounts
  • Griffin big-block radiator with SPAL electric fan
  • 95-amp alternator
  • March performance pulleys
  • K&N air filter
  • Optima battery
  • Ford PMGR starter

    Transmission

  • Lentech Street Terminator Plus AOD
  • 9 1/2-inch 2,500-stall converter
  • Deep, finned, aluminum pan
  • Setrab transmission cooler

    Rearend

  • Currie 9+ 9-inch, narrowed 1 inch
  • 3.70 gears
  • Auburn posi
  • 31-spline axles

    Exhaust

  • Ford Powertrain Applications 1 3/4-inch headers, Jet Hot-coated
  • Heads drilled to accept "Dart" patterned header
  • Dr. Gas aluminized 2 1/2-inch exhaust with "X" crossover
  • DynoMax mufflers
  • Tennessee stainless tips

    Suspension
    Front: Total Control Products coilover, Baer bumpsteer correction kit, 1 1/16-inch sway bar, '70 drum spindles, Total Control Products power rack-and-pinion, KRC power-steering pump
    Rear: 4 1/2 leaf mideye springs, Edelbrock IAS shocks, subframe connectors, passenger-side torque box, MPG export brace and Monte Carlo bar, Total Control Products rear shock plates

    Brakes
    Front: Stainless Steel Brake 12-inch light-weight disc
    Rear: Finned drum, 11x 2 1/4-inch, functional brake cooling ducts

  • Stainless brake lines

    Wheels
    Front: PS Engineering Trans-Am five-spoke, 15x7, 4.25-inch offset
    Rear: PS Engineering Trans-Am five-spoke, 15x8, 4.50-inch offset

    Tires
    Front: BFGoodrich Radial T/A, P225/60R15
    Rear: BFGoodrich Radial T/A, P255/60R15

    Interior
    Black deluxe, Vintage Air A/C unit molded into stock controls and vents, tilt wheelcolumn, Grant steering wheel, Simpson quick-release lap and shoulder seatbelts,Shelby rear belts, Custom Auto Sound stereo, Eclipse speakers front and rear,Acousti-shield and Dynamat for heat and sound deadening, Shelby gauge podwith later-model Stewart Warner gauges, Auto Meter oil-pressure isolator system

    Exterior
    Original '67 Ford Candyapple Red in PPG basecoat/clearcoat; Wimbledon White Le Mans stripes; Shelby GT500 fiberglass, striping, and emblems; passenger-side mirror; rear-mounted electric antenna; 20-gallon fuel tank; detailed undercarriage; all new exterior glass