1968 Ford Mustang Fastback With 4.6 Cobra Engine - The Ultimate Mustang
DVS Restoration's '68 Mustang Fastback Combines Totally Vintage Looks With Thoroughly Modern SVT Cobra Technology
David Stribling says he got the idea when he overheard a customer's wife talking to her husband: "Honey, I like your old Mustangs, but I prefer the ride and convenience of my new car."
That was Stribling's light bulb moment. Why not, Stribling thought, combine the vintage looks of a classic Mustang with the power, handling, and performance of a late-model Mustang? As the gears churned, Stribling sketched out his "Mustang in Black" project: a '68 Mustang fastback with a modern SVT Cobra drivetrain and underpinnings, right down to the ABS braking system and independent rear suspension.
As the owner of DVS Restorations in Crawfordsville, Indiana, Stribling is well-versed in vintage Mustangs. In fact, DVS specializes in concours Mustang restorations, so it seems strange that the company would embark on such a wild, restomod-like undertaking. But the restoration knowledge played right into Stribling's hands.
"It's not a restomod," Stribling states emphatically. "Restomods take advantage of aftermarket parts and outside engineering efforts. The Mustang in Black project was designed from the beginning to be a true hybrid vehicle using classic styling and the latest Ford engineering. Ford parts, old and new, were used wherever possible."
Stribling was strict in adhering to his objective of maintaining the '68 Mustang's external appearance, with no extra scoops or fender flares for the body or non-factory items in the interior. Unless you open the hood or peer underneath, you don't realize you're looking at anything other than a nice '68 fastback.
But pop the louvered hood and you're in for a treat. The '68 Mustang's engine compartment is crammed fender to fender with a '99 Cobra 4.6L four-valve powerplant, a 320hp monster obtained from Ford Racing Performance Parts; and modified shock towers. In keeping with the Ford-only theme, the engine remains stock-as if it needed more power anyway-right down to the 57mm throttle body, hoses, wiring, sensors, and fasteners. Scanning the engine bay, you'll spot other late-model clues, like the radiator and electric fan, plastic power distribution box, and brake master cylinder, all swiped from a '99 Cobra. The only non-Ford item is the Hotchkis caster/camber plate kit, which allows more adjustment than the factory setup. Otherwise, it's a '99 Cobra bolted to a '68 Mustang.
The exhaust system consists of '99 Cobra H-pipes and mufflers in conjunction with custom-bent tailpipes ending with '68 Mustang dual exhaust tips.
To utilize the Cobra's T45 five-speed transmission, Stribling designed a universal-fit crossmember and lengthened the driveshaft to accommodate the longer '68 Mustang chassis. To position the shifter correctly in the '68 Mustang, a unique off-set shifter adapter was created to move the shifter handle rearward. The knob includes a five-speed pattern in the '68 style instead of four-speed, and the circular ring used originally in '68 to release the reverse lock-out now serves as a traction control override.
We've seen late-model modular drivetrains in vintage Mustangs before, so the 4.6 engine swap isn't totally out of the ordinary. However, DVS's adaptation of the '99 Cobra front suspension and independent rear suspension to a '68 Mustang chassis takes the merging of old and new technology to a new level.
At the front, DVS designed a McPherson Strut Conversion kit, soon to be available separately, to adapt the '99 Cobra front suspension to the '68 Mustang. It utilizes the factory lower control arms, rack-and-pinion steering, and 13-inch Cobra brake rotors and calipers, along with Koni shocks and Ford Racing lowering springs.
Likewise, DVS offers a kit for mounting the '99-and-later Cobra IRS rear suspension in a vintage Mustang. Designed around the brackets needed to attach the IRS-either used or a new assembly from DVS-to the vintage Mustang's rear sub-frame, the kit tucks the IRS neatly beneath the car to provide late-model ride and handling. Rear disc brakes and Koni coil-over shocks are also used. The kit works only with '99-'04 Cobra IRS units, not Thunderbird versions. An emergency brake kit adapts the '68 Mustang's factory emergency brake handle to the late-model Mustang's cables. The wheels are Ford Racing 17x8, vintage-style five-spokes, as used on late-model GTs, with Goodyear Eagle 245/45ZR17 tires.
There are also some tricks up Stribling's sleeve for the interior. Yes, it appears to be a stock '68 Mustang interior, nicely optioned with the Interior Dcor Group, floor and roof consoles, fold-down rear seat, tilt-away steering, and woodgrain steering wheel. But to bring the comfort and convenience level up to late-model standards, power windows, power door locks, and cruise control are stealthily included. The Electrolift power windows are mated to Hotronics switches so the original window cranks can operate the windows up and down, while SPAL power door locks are remote controlled to eliminate the need for additional door panel buttons. For cruise control, Stribling mated '99 Cobra electronics to new-old-stock '68 cruise control switches, including the Set switch on the end of the turn signal stalk and the underdash on/off switch. Air conditioning is a combination of late-model compressor with modern R134 and vintage dash controls.
Mating the original-style speedometer and tachometer to the modern sensors proved to be one of the more challenging aspects of the project. Electing to go with a 160-mph speedo but using original-style numbering, Stribling discovered an Auto Meter electronic 160-mph speedometer that not only worked with the electronic '99 Cobra sensing, it also was a match for the instrument panel and original-size faceplate. For the tach, Stribling located an original 8,000-rpm unit, used with performance '68 Mustangs, and adapted it through a Ford Racing tach-driver, which converts the late-model 35-pulse-per-rev signal into four-pulse, as used by vintage tachometers. It wasn't quite that easy: Some rewiring was required, but in the end, Stribling got his fully-operational vintage speedometer and tachometer.
For modern music, Stribling mounted a Alpine receiver behind the console's sliding door. Because the factory opening is not wide enough to accommodate the insertion of CDs, a six-disc CD changer resides in the trunk, along with the battery and late-model space-saver spare tire.
Externally, the fastback is all vintage Mustang, restored like a concours show car and painted in BASF black urethane and clearcoat. Besides the wheels, there are only two other deviations from stock: The C-stripes are subtle with charcoal color to match the wheels, while the black-out grille hides a pair of Hella Black Magic driving lights.
Many of the components and conversion kits developed during the building of the Mustang in Black are now available from DVS Restorations. Of course, DVS will be glad to build another complete car to your specifications.
It's been over five years since David Stribling's light bulb moment. Now he's finally got a completed car to showcase, one with totally vintage looks and thoroughly modern SVT Cobra technology.
Behind The Wheel
During the Derby City Mustang Club's September in the Park show in Carrollton, Kentucky, Dave Stribling and I slipped away for a drive in the Mustang in Black '68 fastback. I was curious to experience the vintage/modern creation firsthand on the curvy Kentucky backroads.
Basically, the car sounds, drives, and accelerates like a '99 Cobra, only you're looking out over the long, twin-louvered hood of a '68 Mustang. The senses struggle with conflict because the view from behind the steering wheel is all vintage, yet mashing the '68-style accelerator pedal results in the smooth, powerful rush that comes only from a modern four-valve modular engine. The '68 steering wheel itself is huge with the familiar thin rim, but the turning effort is minimal and there's none of the center free-play that's so common with the old-style steering boxes. The shifter also has a familiar feel, albeit a bit notchy thanks to the T-45, so it's weird to shift out of fourth and into fifth.
Notably-but thankfully-missing is the rough, bumpy ride we've become accustomed to with the Mustang's solid rear axle. With the IRS, the Mustang in Black glides over pot-holes and rough surfaces. It's like riding in an old Mustang that rides like a new Mustang Cobra.
Which is exactly what David Stribling had in mind.
Do It Yourself
The research and development for DVS's Mustang in Black project has resulted in a number of available kits and components so others can duplicate some or all of the conversions. Some were still under development at press time so check the Web site for current availability.