Brad Ocock
September 1, 2009

Adventure. That's what it's all about. Whether it's the great pilgrimage to Bonneville or spending a weekend driving back roads looking for a possible barn find, adventure is where you find it. Getting to the fairgrounds early and scoring a parking spot under the tree? No, it's about how you had to strap the come-along to a tree to get the car out of the berries when you found it.

And it's about participating in events like the Targa Newfoundland, a week-long rally held in Newfoundland, Canada, each September. It covers over 1,300 miles, almost 250 in competition. Working closely with the government, the event begins in St. Johns and runs through and between small towns along the eastern side of Newfoundland. There's no prize money, but competition is stiff, with factory-backed teams and high-horsepower tube-chassis race cars common in the upper classes. Mostly, it's about regular guys looking for more adventure than their local closed-course track offers.

Chip Brunner and Gentry Zentmeyer competed in the 2004 La Carrera Pan Americana race in a stock class '53 Studebaker. The following year, someone wanted the Stude worse than they did, and they found themselves without a race car. By 2006, the need for adventure was there again, and the Targa Newfoundland seemed like the perfect venue. Chip and Gentry bought and prepped a '65 Mustang fastback for the 2006 race; we got to tag along

While many of us have Walter Middy'd ourselves behind the wheel of an open-track car, there's a big difference between a relatively safe race course and public roads where pine trees and fire hydrants take the place of tire walls and gravel traps. Runoff area? One local told us, "For every mile of road in Newfoundland, there's two miles of ditches." Added another, "They're six foot deep, and we store our rocks and boulders in 'em." Funny, but they weren't joking.

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Realizing the consequences of something going wrong at 110 mph versus 155 mph, Chip and Gentry wisely competed in the vintage classes where cars represent what was available off the showroom floor when the they were new. Durability and finishing the race cleanly are as important as all-out speed, but you still get to push the car well into the triple digits. In 1965, Shelbys were built to SCCA rules, which allows use of factory race goodies like an export brace, traction bars, bigger front discs, some fiberglass body panels, headers, and aluminum four-barrel intake, making it a perfect car for the Targa.

A good six-cylinder body was found on eBay, stripped to bare metal shell, and restored with sheetmetal and fiberglass from YearOne. To firm things up, all seams were welded, spot welds were doubled up, and convertible A-pillar boxes were added. The rules stress safety, but they don't want it to be used as an advantage. For that reason, no rollcage bars are allowed into the engine bay or past the centerline of the rear axle. An 8-point cage, window nets, 5-point harnesses, and fire extinguishers were installed around the mainly stock interior, which was also fitted with a Shelby-spec spare tire in the back seat area. A repro Shelby gauge pod, Terra-Trip rally computer, and Hurst shifter round out the interior, while the trunk was fitted with battery, Fuel Safe cell, scissors jack, four-way lug wrench, and roadside safety triangles. A tool bag and tow strap were also stashed into the driver-side quarter-panel area-both were needed frequently.

Step By Step

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The engine is a Holman-Moody built Hi-Po 289 with an electronic ignition conversion kit in the stock-type distributor and tri-Y headers with Flowmaster mufflers. A Top-loader four-speed from Orlando Mustang and 9-inch with 3.50 gears finish the drivetrain. The front suspension is basically stock with a quick-ratio steering box, Global West sway bar, and Stainless Steel Brake's 4-piston calipers, while the rear suspension has an extra leaf in the spring packs (five instead of four), override traction bars, drum brakes (per the rules), and another Global West sway bar. The 15-inch American Racing Torq Thrusts look like they were created specifically for Shelby Mustangs. Street tires are required, making 15-inch BFGs the tire of choice.

We arrived in Newfoundland expecting decent North American roads. What we found were North American roads, but more like Detroit. We quickly heard stories about a Porsche 911 getting its entire engine and trans-axle ripped out and a '65 Mustang loosing its oil pan. We immediately found a phone book and called Brian's Autobody, where we spent Saturday fabricating a skid plate, rewelding a leaky axle tube, and rebleeding the brakes.

The event is run as timed stages, with each car departing alone. A target time to complete the stage is set for each class and the drivers try to hit the time: too fast, you get penalized; too slow and you have time added to your overall score. If you miss or don't complete a stage, you're penalized. From Monday through Friday, there are 36 race competition stages, and you don't have the opportunity to make up for a bad day. The key, therefore, is to run well in every stage.

Each morning the drivers and navigators go over the day's route books. Each kilometer is mapped in detail, and the navigator's job is to tell the driver "Sharp turn to the left," "Blind corner with a sweeping left!" or "slow down!" The driver's primary job is to keep it between the ditches and get through as quick as possible. By Friday, it's common for drivers and navigators to barely be on speaking terms.

The crews typically follow the race, driving to the end of each stage to check on their car and drivers. The will to finish is intense-some 10-percent of the cars DNF due to accidents or mechanical failure. Several crews had to beat their cars back into shape after mishaps, at least two teams swapped engines to continue, and a Porsche team thrashed all night to dry their car after they missed a turn and landed in the ocean. All for bragging rights and a little metal plate.

Our Mustang finished in the middle of the pack, which wasn't a bad outing. We didn't crash (though there was a 180-degree spin), and we had our share of mechanical gremlins that required on-the-fly fixes, like clutch linkage adjustments, repairing the fuel cell that vented improperly causing gas to siphon out, tack welding a universal joint to the yoke, and replacing the pushrods in the middle of nowhere with a set found in an abandoned Ford truck. While it rained sideways during Hurricane Florence. Good times.

We can't wait to go back.

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