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This Mustang-Turned-Supercar Packs An 800HP Kaase Ford Hemi!
Jon Darbyshire's "Archer 520FX" '69 Fastback melds the best of old and new.
In recent times, the business coupe has changed. Traveling salesmen defined the body style while stuffing their wares in stripped down, rear-seatless coupes. The lack of options and seats meant that the cars were thrifty and traded passengers for inventory. Practicality was the key, allowing for the spread of consumer culture in America before the advent of department store catalogs and the impending takeover from the internet. By the 1960s, the business coupe body style fell out of favor as vans, carry-alls (the proto-SUV), and pick-ups became more prolific for cross-country efforts. So then, what's a modern business coupe?
For jet-setting entrepreneurs, four wheels can be an escape from the world, even if they're a little slower than a pair of wings. More and more, we're seeing the business coupe evolve from what owners needed (like a fleet vehicle), to what fuels childhood memories and passions. Eschewing the sardine-can experiences of airlines, there's been a return to purposeful customs that seek to impress you more as it storms the highway than in the rolling field of a local car show.
"I'm a long-time Mustang lover," said Jon Darbyshire, the owner of this cross-pollinating 1969 Ford Mustang fastback, known as the Archer 520FX. "One of the earliest memories that I had of having a car was the Mustang coupe that I purchased and worked on with my grandfather. It wasn't anything special, but it's what I had while learning to work on cars. When he was alive, he was a hard working blue collar guy. He taught me and my brother how to work on cars. Even if I had just a little money, he'd help throw on chrome valve covers or put a carburetor kit in, little things like that."
Jon eventually went on to start his own software company in the 1990s, carrying his grandfather's name. As time went on, his son, Dylan, also picked up an early Mustang, and the two began to build it in much the same vein as his own. This is when Bobby, Karen, and Bruce Schumacher (of Vintage Fabrications in Independence, MO) entered the picture.
"During World of Wheels, Jon had walked up to our booth and started talking to my wife and son. At first, it didn't stand out enough for him to say anything to me. You know, you talk to a lot of people," Bobby told us. "But at 8:30 the next morning, Jon pulls up in the driveway of the shop!" Jon had brought his son's Mustang up to finish a few odd and ends in the motor and interior, and it didn't take long for the two to begin discussing the real motive: Jon's own plans for a 1969 Mustang. The idea was to build a super car wrapped in unique, vintage steel. To Jon, the idea of another Ferrari or Lamborghini rolling around wasn't enough, though he looked to the high-end supercar factories for what truly made them different than your plebian transportation.
Any time parts are mixed across eras and models, getting the fixed lines and shapes (such as the 2009 headlamps and grille) to integrate so that the melting pot pours out a smooth, well-proportioned design takes a careful eye. "When we started this project, I went with a guy out of California, but he just couldn't get the look right. He left too much of the 1969 Mustang-look to the nose," Bobby felt. "Luckily, I was at World of Wheels. Jason Slover, from Pete and Jake's, said, 'Well, why don't you have Larry Erickson do it? He designed the '05 Mustang, CadZZillla, and Aluma Coupe for Boyd. '" Larry's hot rodding carrier might've been launched in California, but his work started further back than that as the designer of the 1992 Cadillac Seville and Eldorado before eventually landing with Ford Motor Company to design the 2005-2009 Mustang.
He continued: "We go up to him and tell him the idea, it's the Mustang Ford should have done. And he got kind of excited, and he goes, 'I'm not limited to production stuff, I can do stuff we couldn't do back then.' That's where Larry led us. Every body line, every seam was thought about like it was done at the factory."
"Being a corporate guy, I made a Power Point [he laughs] with different pieces of different cars and Mustangs that I really liked," Jon told us. "Then Larry started doing a number of models for us, showing what it would look like with two different front ends."
Two Faces, Two Years
You'd be forgiven for thinking this was a fascia swap at first glance, but in reality it's a 5,000-hour tour de force of body work. With every square inch in sheet metal, the nose was hand-fabricated with Larry's design at the helm.
To do this, the innocent '69 Mustang fastback fell under Vintage Fabrications' team to bow the front fender 2 inches up and 3 inches out to accommodate the one-off 18x10-inch Boze Wheels shod in 285mm-wide Michelin Pilot Super Sports. The nose was stretched ahead of the front wheel wells, while the hood was pulled tighter against the windshield. At Jon's desire to reproduce a short run of 520FXs, the nearly 900 pieces of sheet metal were digitized and turned into CAD files for plasma cutting to recreate the intense hand-fabbed metalwork in the Archer 520FX.
"I wish you could have seen it built, one fender at a time and getting it perfect before you do the other side," Jon mentioned. "They're like artists—there's so many curves, bends, and lines, and your time welding on a piece of metal to make it flow. That took a lot of time."
The rear quarters were pushed out 2 inches for the 20x12-inch Boze hoops and massive 345mm-wide Michelin rollers. The quarters' brake ducts were even made functional for the Baer brakes. The rockers were dropped 2 inches before turning attention to the rear of the Archer 520FX, which retains the traditional styling cues from the '69 while sharpening the edges and adding an adjustable spoiler. The shotgun exhaust is flanked by a pair of blades which mimic the uprights of a diffuser.
Things were still contentious as the front end became reality. "We tore it apart a little bit and changed some of the things that he saw on the side of the car, in the lines, that Larry just didn't feel fit together. We didn't want it to feel bolted-on, we wanted this to feel more integrated," Jon emphasized. "Larry went down the car with a fine eye for a day with tape lines to make the front-end and fenders feel like they were coming around without looking bulky. The car looked amazing when it came out of metal, but those little changes just added a lot."
Larry used later 2009-2014 Mustang headlamps with 2015 Mercedes SL550 driving lamps inside the custom, laser-cut grille. The curbside glance from up front draws into question which era the fastback profile behind it is from. Anytime you meddle with the facial features of an icon, it's polarizing, but Jon's vision, Larry's execution, and Bobby's fabricators pulled the look together before Carrender Collision sprayed Archer 520FX in Rhodium Silver with Platinsilber Pearl strips (from the Porsche 918 and Boxster, respectively), with Eric Campbell hand-pinstriping the details.
Outclassing the Upper Crust
If you're spending hundreds of miles at a time in a machine, its cockpit needs to be fit for the job at hand. Today, custom interiors are more than an exercise in exotic materials, wild stitching, and the sheer number of one-off bits—the tactile feel of the interfaces mean about as much as the comfort in the seats. Jon surfed Ferrari dealerships and poured over photos of the new Ford GT super car. "At the time I owned an Aston Martin; what I really enjoyed about that car was the feel of the interior. It felt like a cockpit," he remarked. "We were going to pull the switches from a modern Ferrari, but then Bobby came back and said, 'We'll just make them custom; we'll make them fit the car. '"
"He sent me pictures of switches from Lamborghinis, even those start buttons, that's where all the touchy-feely stuff came from because he wanted the inside of the car to feel like the outside of the car," Bobby elaborated. "When he picked up the car, the only thing he found wrong was that the A/C controls still said 'Vintage Air' on them, so we had that machined out. It's okay to make a custom car, but he wanted to make it look factory."
Vintage Fabrications kept the factory eye-brow dash contours, but from there, everything was retooled half-a-century newer with subtle, machined touches around the Classic Instruments gauges, switch gear, starter button, door panels, and center console (pulled from a late-model Mercedes). Ron Wright, of VF, followed through in wiring the modern luxury touches, like the Pioneer head unit and accent lighting, along with the Vintage Air HVAC.
The Highway Missile's Airframe
The answer here was simple: "He decided he wanted the best-of-the-best chassis, so we went to Roadster Shop," says Bobby. A fully-independent Roadster Shop Elite Series chassis was the foundation for this muscular super car, capable of handling the thrust of Kaase's 520ci reactor, thanks to the Penkse double-adjustable shocks.
"If you drive a nicely restored Mustang, the front end still sways just a little bit; you hit the brakes, sometimes the car will push left or right," Jon mentioned. "What's different about this is that you can get on it and it just flat-out accelerates. It takes off, you hit the brakes, and it stays in its lane. It's more like a luxury sports car. You turn the steering wheel just a little bit, and it reacts. The suspension is really tight, but not rough."
The underside of the Archer 520FX reflects its intent: you won't find polished chrome and candy paint, it's all business with only select hardware, like the chunky RS billet control arms and 3-inch stainless steel exhaust, standing out with their natural finishes.
Super Car Arms Race
With the look, feel, and foundation of the Archer 520FX carrying the modern super car touches that Jon wanted, it was time to give them a powerhouse that'd surely send their dime-a-dozen flat-plane-crank V8s and V10s packing. "I kept telling Bob that I wanted this to be a combination of luxury meets NASCAR," he joked.
In doing so, Bobby called up Jon Kaase Racing Engines for the individual-throttle-body-fed, 520ci Boss engine. With a 4.390 x 4.300 bore and stroke, the Ford Performance block was stuffed with a Lunati rotating assembly and Diamond pistons. The mild 10:1 compression ratio and hydraulic-roller Comp camshaft make for a street-friendly package that's capable of belting out nearly 800 wheel hp through a Bowler Transmissions 4L80E with Compu-Shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Italy will forever be known for its shrieking V12s, but the 520ci Kaase mill rattles the teeth of those high-strung hellions with brutal torque and the unmistakable chest-drumming of a big-cube V8, which is the effect Jon and Bobby wanted.
"The whole experience of building the car with Vintage Fabrications reminded me of working in the garage with my grandfather on Sundays. With a brother, we'd fight after church on whose car he'd work on first. We didn't have great cars, they were always breaking down, but they were also as cool as we could make them," Jon reminisced. "We'd always talk while looking in the magazines for the cool things you could do, and this car has all that cool stuff we always talked about, plus a whole lot more that we never knew about back then! Archer is a family name. The company that I founded, Archer Technologies, was named after my grandfather. We sold that company, and started a foundation. It means something to our family to call it 'Archer.' The FX was gleamed from Larry and Bobby, because when Ford first designed its cars, they were called 'Future Experimental' or FX. And of course, the 520 is the 520ci Kaase motor!"