Jim Smart
April 17, 2012

Phil Nelson's '66 Mustang GT is a practical family man's approach to the classic Mustang experience. It's sharp. It's fun. It looks like it was dipped in Candyapple Red paint. Open the hood and a vintage hollow-letter Cobra dress-up kit excites the senses. Check it out from any angle and there's wanton lust because this car has been executed so well. And by the way, did we tell you it is also practical with stealthy modifications?

Sporty and practical is exactly what Phil had in mind when he bought this '66 Mustang GT hardtop. He wanted great looks and practical function in a common sense weekend driver. Phil's passion for classic Mustangs manifests itself nicely in this period-correct restomod. However, his love of Mustangs dates back to adolescence.

Phil had just turned 15 when his father asked if he wanted a Mustang for his first car. Of course, he obliged, which cost his father 45 bucks for a rusty and non-running '66 Mustang. Phil's dad hauled the car to a local vocational school and got the engine repaired. He also fixed the rust, worked the body, and laid down fresh paint. Phil enjoyed his first car for a while, but like a lot of us, sold it when something more exciting came along.

Fast-forward 30 years. Phil's wife, Shelley, told him, "The next car we buy needs to be a classic Mustang." Phil tells us she didn't have to suggest it twice and the search was on. Phil found this one in Rhode Island, a long way from his home in Newton, Kansas. His friends thought he was nuts—all that way for a hardtop instead of a fastback or convertible, likely a rust bucket to add insult to injury. Turns out the Rhode Island car was actually a rust-free ride, originally from Arizona.

When Phil and Shelly bought the car, it had already undergone a full-scale restoration and was ready to drive. They took it on its inaugural journey around the northeast to visit Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire before heading back to Kansas.

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On the drive home, Phil realized that he wanted his Mustang to look and feel like his first Mustang. Not interested in modern billet mods, he decided to install the period-correct speed parts that he grew up with. Although it took time, Phil found what he was looking for in the Shelby/Cragar five-spoke wheels, Shelby Moto Lita steering wheel, and Cobra dress-up kit.

The Mustang is an A-code GT originally fitted with the 225-horse 289, but Phil upgraded the small-block to K-code 289 High Performance specifications, right down to the wide balancer, head castings with screw-in studs and spring pockets, exhaust manifolds, and mechanical camshaft. On top is a Cobra high-rise dual-plane intake manifold topped by an Autolite 4100 carburetor. A fast-idle solenoid copped from a late-model 302 comes in handy for lengthy hot idle periods with the air conditioning. A Sanden compressor reduces workload and provides great cooling efficiency.

Behind the 289 is a Tremec T-5 five-speed splined into a 9-inch Ford differential with 3.55:1 Traction Lok, allowing Phil to cruise at 70 mph and keep revs modest at 2,000 rpm. Phil also achieved a period sound with a reproduction Arvinode exhaust system from Waldron's Antique Exhaust.

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On the ground, Phil has the factory four-piston Kelsey-Hayes front disc brakes and extra-wide rear drum brakes borrowed from the Ford parts bin. He upgraded to a dual braking system for added safety. Wheels are period 15-inch Shelby/Cragar five-spokes wrapped in BFGoodrich P205/70R15 Radial T/As. Phil opted for KYB gas shocks in front and Koni classics in back.

The black vinyl Interior Décor Group package is equipped with factory air conditioning, Moto Lita steering wheel, and Rally-Pac. Mounted mid-dash is Custom Autosound's USA66 stereo system, a modern modification that looks like an original AM/FM.

Many of us are searching for that elusive fountain of youth. Phil seems to have found his in this youthful hardtop that not only meets his objectives, but also surpasses his first Mustang by a wide margin.