Jim Smart
March 1, 2008

Michael Rossa is a product of the '60s and '70s. In 1973, he was a sophomore in high school and living in San Francisco. If you remember the period, you recall real, authentic hot rods--those rumpity-rump-rump roadsters and shoeboxes that cruised through the school parking lot after a quick fill-up with 35-cents-per-gallon gas. They'd bark tires and haul butt out of the parking lot before the vice principal could catch up with them. These old hot rods cruised all week on $5 worth of Sunoco. They were striking, obnoxious, and lovable. So were the outcasts who drove them.

American Graffiti hit the big screen in 1973. Now a cult movie, the story was seen through the eyes of a young person and took place all in one warm summer night in 1962. It was all about graduating from high school, cruising for chicks, trolling for guys, practical jokes, profiling your ride in front of a store window, making out in the back seat, aspiring to be as cool as the dude with that yellow deuce coupe or heavy Chevy, growing up, and finally saying goodbye.

Ironically, American Graffiti was filmed not far from where Michael grew up. It was in 1973 when Michael Rossa met Michelle, a lovely young lady whose father owned a light-green '66 Mustang hardtop. It hadn't run in some time and was parked in the driveway on four flat tires. In fact, Michelle's dad had just purchased a new Chevy Nova, and her three brothers likely had their eyes on the Mustang. Michael didn't think he had a chance. Undeterred, he tried a gutsy move with his new girlfriend. He asked her father if he would sell the Mustang for $300. Her father said yes and, times being what they were, Michael handed him $100 and made payments on the rest of it.

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Michael had no idea why the Mustang didn't run. It was believed the engine blew because it died in a fury of fire, smoke, and noise. So Michael and his brother-in-law took a crack at troubleshooting. It needed fresh gasoline, for one thing, and a battery to give it inspiration. When Michael spun the engine, it singed his eyebrows with a miserable, defiant backfire from an open carburetor. When he removed the distributor cap, it crumbled in his hands--clearly the reason this car hadn't run in years. A trip to Grand Auto netted a new cap, and the engine roared to life.

Michael and Michelle fell in love, got married, and have spent the most treasured years of their lives together. Not only would they serve each other well through the years, so would their Mustang. In 1977, Michael decided to build a monument to their union and passion for automobiles. He built a classic Mustang hot rod at a time when few people had the nerve to do it. It was an Ebony Black hardtop with the roar of a V-8 and red-hot flames applied by SignalMakers in Colma, California.

In 1995, Michael tried something gutsy again. He chopped off the Mustang's roof and built a roadster. Remember, for the better part of two decades, restoring a Mustang to factory original condition was the only politically correct thing to do. Modifications of any kind were unacceptable, getting you a tongue-lashing from offended enthusiasts everywhere.

In the mid-'90s, however, restomod became a natural complement to concours restored when the Ronster from Mustangs Plus and Danny Banh's Canary Yellow '65 hardtop broke through all the barriers. People were stunned but grew to accept the restomod trend. Ron Bramlett's Ronster roadster stood us on our ears when it debuted in Mustang & Fords in 1997, while Danny's hardtop was a more conservative 5.0L fuel-injected five-speed ride everyone loved when it appeared on our cover in the late '90s. Sadly, Danny's trendsetting classic was totaled in an accident many years ago.

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Michael and his brother-in-law, Tom Lococo, massaged the body, including those super-outrageous fender flares, Shelby sidescoops, and air-grabbing hood. Beacon Auto Body in San Francisco applied liberal amounts of Ebony Black lacquer. The conversion to roadster in 1995 was a lot more involved than Michael ever imagined, being accomplished by Driver's Seat Investments of Roswell, Georgia [unfortunately, DSI is no longer in business--Ed.]. Michael says that when the car became a roadster, it went over the top. It has become an eye-catching Mustang hot rod everyone in Northern California has come to know and appreciate.

Underhood is this Mustang's original 289 mill with a 0.030-inch overbore and the engine's factory 2.87-inch stroke built the old-fashioned way with a forged Shelby steel crankshaft and 5.155-inch Shelby rods for strength. In harmony with the crank and rods are Keith Black Silv-O-Lite pistons with Perfect Circle rings. Because this is a period powerplant from the good ol' days sporting high horsepower, these are high-compression pistons putting an 11.0:1 squeeze on the mixture. Read that--114-octane racing fuel only. Michael's approach to his 289 is traditional, much like they did it 40 years ago with ported and polished iron heads by Baca's Racing Engines, utilizing swirl-polished stainless steel 1.94/1.60-inch valves, screw-in ARP rocker studs, and more. Comp Cams provides the roller hydraulic excitement with 0.512-inch lift and 220 degrees of duration. Roller-cam technology makes the most of what Michael dialed into his Mustang power package.

On top is a right-sized 650-cfm Demon carburetor dovetailed into a Weiand Stealth dual-plane high-riser. We say "right-sized" because you can have too much carburetion. With 294 ci, a radical street cam, and iron heads, 650-cfm carburetion is just right. This not-so-traditional induction system brought Michael's hot-rodding nuances into the '90s. Forty years ago, it would have been a 650- or 750-cfm Holley double pumper on top of an Edelbrock F4B--an outstanding high-rise manifold for its time. The Weiand Stealth takes Edelbrock's dual-plane high-rise approach and broadens the torque curve with modified intake runners that allow 2,500- to 7,000-rpm performance. Torque comes on strong, around 4,000 rpm, handing off to horsepower at 6,000.

As with thousands of hot rodders before him, Michael placed his trust in MSD Ignition to light the 289's mixture and keep it lit through 7,000 rpm. The MSD 6AL box sports a rev limiter, which keeps an aggressive right foot out of trouble.

Behind the 289 is an NHRA-legal Lakewood scattershield married to Ford's bulletproof Top Loader four-speed. In a world of Tremec five- and six-speed transmissions that do their job well, Michael wanted the genuine feeling of high school, which is why he chose Ford's tough and dependable cast-iron four-speed transmission. It's the way that old Ford box feels under hard acceleration. and it's the sound of an old four-speed in First and Second during swift acceleration that gets his motor running. Michael was smart about how he packaged everything because inside the Lakewood bellhousing is a Centerforce Dual-Friction clutch and flywheel taking the work out of clutching and shifting. In back are 4.11 gears inside a Ford 8-inch axlehousing.

On the ground are Ford Kelsey-Hayes 11-inch front disc brakes, and in back are 10-inch drums installed at the factory 43 years ago. These are American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels--pure American classics born for a hot rod. It's here that Michael does it like they did in the old days--with 14x7-inchers in front and the larger 15x8-1/2 size in back, all wrapped in BFGoodrich Radial T/As.

Inside is Ford's black vinyl Interior Decor Group known as the Pony Interior. Michael complemented Ford's efforts with a sizzling, old hot-rodding technique--an Auto Meter Monster tachometer for middle-aged eyesight, Stewart-Warner instruments, Hurst Competition Plus shifter, Custom Autosound system, TMI Sport Seats from Mustangs Plus, and more.

Michael takes tremendous pride in his Mustang ride because it's a reflection of not only Americana, but also of his and Michelle's affection for one another that has managed to last a lifetime.

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Michael and his brother-in-law, Tom Lococo, massaged the body, including those super-outrageous fender flares, Shelby sidescoops, and air-grabbing hood. Beacon Auto Body in San Francisco applied liberal amounts of Ebony Black lacquer. The conversion to roadster in 1995 was a lot more involved than Michael ever imagined, being accomplished by Driver's Seat Investments of Roswell, Georgia [unfortunately, DSI is no longer in business--Ed.]. Michael says that when the car became a roadster, it went over the top. It has become an eye-catching Mustang hot rod everyone in Northern California has come to know and appreciate.

Underhood is this Mustang's original 289 mill with a 0.030-inch overbore and the engine's factory 2.87-inch stroke built the old-fashioned way with a forged Shelby steel crankshaft and 5.155-inch Shelby rods for strength. In harmony with the crank and rods are Keith Black Silv-O-Lite pistons with Perfect Circle rings. Because this is a period powerplant from the good ol' days sporting high horsepower, these are high-compression pistons putting an 11.0:1 squeeze on the mixture. Read that--114-octane racing fuel only. Michael's approach to his 289 is traditional, much like they did it 40 years ago with ported and polished iron heads by Baca's Racing Engines, utilizing swirl-polished stainless steel 1.94/1.60-inch valves, screw-in ARP rocker studs, and more. Comp Cams provides the roller hydraulic excitement with 0.512-inch lift and 220 degrees of duration. Roller-cam technology makes the most of what Michael dialed into his Mustang power package.

On top is a right-sized 650-cfm Demon carburetor dovetailed into a Weiand Stealth dual-plane high-riser. We say "right-sized" because you can have too much carburetion. With 294 ci, a radical street cam, and iron heads, 650-cfm carburetion is just right. This not-so-traditional induction system brought Michael's hot-rodding nuances into the '90s. Forty years ago, it would have been a 650- or 750-cfm Holley double pumper on top of an Edelbrock F4B--an outstanding high-rise manifold for its time. The Weiand Stealth takes Edelbrock's dual-plane high-rise approach and broadens the torque curve with modified intake runners that allow 2,500- to 7,000-rpm performance. Torque comes on strong, around 4,000 rpm, handing off to horsepower at 6,000.

As with thousands of hot rodders before him, Michael placed his trust in MSD Ignition to light the 289's mixture and keep it lit through 7,000 rpm. The MSD 6AL box sports a rev limiter, which keeps an aggressive right foot out of trouble.

Behind the 289 is an NHRA-legal Lakewood scattershield married to Ford's bulletproof Top Loader four-speed. In a world of Tremec five- and six-speed transmissions that do their job well, Michael wanted the genuine feeling of high school, which is why he chose Ford's tough and dependable cast-iron four-speed transmission. It's the way that old Ford box feels under hard acceleration. and it's the sound of an old four-speed in First and Second during swift acceleration that gets his motor running. Michael was smart about how he packaged everything because inside the Lakewood bellhousing is a Centerforce Dual-Friction clutch and flywheel taking the work out of clutching and shifting. In back are 4.11 gears inside a Ford 8-inch axlehousing.

On the ground are Ford Kelsey-Hayes 11-inch front disc brakes, and in back are 10-inch drums installed at the factory 43 years ago. These are American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels--pure American classics born for a hot rod. It's here that Michael does it like they did in the old days--with 14x7-inchers in front and the larger 15x8-1/2 size in back, all wrapped in BFGoodrich Radial T/As.

Inside is Ford's black vinyl Interior Decor Group known as the Pony Interior. Michael complemented Ford's efforts with a sizzling, old hot-rodding technique--an Auto Meter Monster tachometer for middle-aged eyesight, Stewart-Warner instruments, Hurst Competition Plus shifter, Custom Autosound system, TMI Sport Seats from Mustangs Plus, and more.

Michael takes tremendous pride in his Mustang ride because it's a reflection of not only Americana, but also of his and Michelle's affection for one another that has managed to last a lifetime.

Photo Gallery

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