Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
February 28, 2007
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

Many of you will recognize Steven McCarley as the driving force behind last year's Mustang Club of America 30th Anniversary Celebration in Birmingham. MCA members will also recognize him as the club's new vice president. He's definitely an emerging leader in the Mustang hobby. Butfirst and foremost, Steven is a Mustang enthusiast, as evidenced by the '66 Mustang hardtop he built himself. If you're thinking the VP of the MCA owns a concours show car, think again. Steven's creation is modern restomod with vintage-musclecar appeal.

The first thing most people notice about the hardtop is its stance. In fact, the car won the "Best Stance" award at the NMRA's Atlanta event last year. The car sits just right with Steven's combination of ride height and wheel/tire fitment. Check out the "Getting the Stance" sidebar for his explanation of how he chose the suspension components.

About eight years ago, Steven was working on another early-Mustang project when a coworker suggested he check out a Web site with collector cars for sale. While scanning the site, Steven stumbled across a '66 hardtop in Auburn, Georgia, located on the opposite side of Atlanta from Steven's home in Stockbridge. "The car looked good in the Internet photo, so I drove over to see it," he tells us. "It was a bone-stock hardtop, an A-code with a four-speed that the seller's father had purchased brand-new. It was well-used-well-used-up would be a better description-but it was clean and complete. I actually drove it home."

He later confirmed that the Mustang was indeed an original 289 four-barrel car with a factory four-speed. Plus, it had factory disc brakes, a Pony interior, and the quicker-ratio GT-style steering box. "The interior was toast, the suspension was shot, and the paint was badly oxidized, but it was still nicer than my original project, so I switched cars."

Even though Steven is heavily involved in the MCA, which is recognized for its concours standards, he knew from the start that he wasn't building a restored trailer queen for trophies. "From day one, it was going to be a hot rod," he says. "I'd love to own an original '65-'66 GT hardtop, but I like to play too much to keep my cars stock."

From inside an 18x20 building in his backyard, Steven began disassembling the hardtop. The car was rust-free and undamaged, so cleanup consisted mainly of removing dust and dirt. For his purposes, the body and chassis were clean enough to forego chemical dipping or media blasting. The cleaned-up chassis and subframe, including the engine compartment, were coated with Eastwood's Chassis Black paint.

Steven says he performed 99 percent of the work in his backyard shop, including the suspension assembly; restoration of the interior was done with help from his wife, Nancy, who came up with the two-tone red-and-black theme; and revitalizing the exterior paint with assistance from Sam Murphy from Murphy's Restoration. Amazingly, the black lacquer, applied "26 years ago for the original owner by an old man in a barn," came back to life with color-sanding by Steven and buffing by Sam. The Mustang still has its original glass, bumpers, and stainless trim, but nearly everything else was replaced.

Steven also tackled much of the engine rebuild, doing "about 75 percent" himself with help from Scott Milner at Coupe Performance. Utilizing the original 289 block and crank, everything was polished, balanced, and blueprinted before going back together with new Ford pistons and rods secured by ARP bolts, along with a performance camshaft from Competition Cams. Steven shelved the factory heads and intake in favor of Edelbrock components, including aluminum RPM heads and an Air-Gap intake topped by a Barry Grant carburetor. Other mods include roller rocker arms, Shelby headers and valve covers, March Performance pulleys, an MSD ignition system, and a PerTronix Ignitor inside the distributor. Dual K&N oil filters mounted remotely on the inner fender keep the oiling system squeaky clean.

For spirited street driving and the occasional open track, he says the power from the 289 is perfectly acceptable. However, he has his eye on a blow-through supercharging system from Paxton.

Steven also rebuilt the four-speed and 8-inch rear axle, going with a Ford locking differential and 3:55 gears in place of the original open 3:00s. Stainless Steel Brakes Corporation rebuilt the factory front disc brakes with stainless sleeves and pistons, and he added an SSBC rear disc-brake kit.

Steven's hardtop is proof-positive that super-nice Mustang restomods can be built by individuals without corporate sponsorship or professional fabricators. It's a real-world Mustang built by a real-world guy for fun on the street, along with show competition in World of Wheels and MCA events, where the hardtop has already garnered a number of awards. Best of all, Steven can say he built it himself.

Getting the Stance
After we reported on Steven's "Best Stance" award in our Atlanta NMRA coverage, reader Mike White from Austin, Texas, e-mailed us to see if we could find out how Steven achieved the stance on his hardtop. Here's his explanation:

"I gathered the parts as my budget would allow and assembled it during a couple of weekends. I should say I assembled it, disassembled it, assembled it again, disassembled it, and so on. At the front, I used Total Control Products' upper/lower control arms and strut-rod assembly. I used 620-pound springs from Mustangs Plus, having installed them earlier so they would settle. I drilled for the Shelby upper control-arm drop, used new spring perches, and cut the springs a total of 1/2 coil, which is where the apart-together-apart-together thing came into play. Leaving the shocks off helped, and once I realized the cutting wheel would fit without totally disassembling everything, it all went a bit quicker. I also added a Mustangs Plus 1-inch sway bar and pillowblock frame mounts from National Parts Depot.

"The rear is really straightforward. I used a standard '66 Mustang 8-inch rearend (a 9-inch just adds weight to a small car such as the Mustang) with mid-eye 4 1/2 leaf springs from Mustangs Plus and 1-inch lowering blocks. I probably could've used reverse-eye springs without lowering blocks, but I wanted the ability to raise or lower the rear of the car if needed. I did disassemble the springs and painted them the factory grayish color. Lastly, I used a 3/4-inch rear sway bar, also from Mustangs Plus, and KYB shocks all around.

"Since my Mustang is a street car, I used the same size rims and tires on the front and back. I could've done the big-and-little combo, but I wanted to avoid the hassle. The rims are Vintage Wheel Works' Vintage 45s, 16x8-inch with a 4.5-inch backspacing. The tires are BFGoodrich 225/50x16 KD radials. There's even a matching spare in the trunk because I compete in MCA national shows; it's part of the rules in the Street-Driven Occasional class.