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Richard Blackman Wanted a 1968 Mustang Fastback That Was Anything But Ordinary
Richard Blackman lived in rural San Diego County, California, for most of his life. The only time he hasn't lived there was during military service time in the 1960s when he trekked across the vast Pacific to South Korea during the Vietnam conflict. When Richard was in Asia, he thought a lot about what he wanted for his life when he got out of the Army. He wanted to be an architect, and he also wanted to be with Michelle. They've been best friends for a lifetime—and married for 48 years. Richard came home from Korea and got right down to the business of what he wanted most.
In the years ahead, there would be a career to chase, bills to pay, and children to raise, with very little playtime. As the years passed, Richard wanted a classic Mustang to restore and drive. His dream car was their 1970 Mach 1, which has given Richard and Michelle great pleasure through the years. "Itching to begin another restoration project after we finished the Mach 1, we decided on a '67'68 Mustang fastback," Richard says. "We've always liked the lines of the '67'68 Mustang fastback and its aggressive stance. It was a big improvement over the original '65'66 Mustang design and, I think, even better than the '69'70. Don't get me wrong, the 1970 Mach 1 we have is very nice and almost completely restored to original condition."
Richard goes on to say, "Our goal with the 1968 fastback was to build a modern car in every respect—classic looks with modern technology. We wanted to keep the exterior as classic as possible yet find a good used Coyote 5.0L engine and Tremec T56 six-speed." He adds he wanted a Mustang II front suspension, which is very popular with street rodders.
"Some may ask why do this," Richard says. "There is the initial investment of buying a 48-year-old car the collector car market deems valuable, thus very expensive, then go to the expense of converting it into a modern car with a computer-controlled engine and driveline. For the money we spent on this Fastback, we could have had a nicely appointed BMW, Lexus, Audi, or even a new Shelby GT350. Our rationale is simple: when all is said and done, we want to be able to say we accomplished something very few have tried and succeeded with."
Richard's search for a suitable project car began in 2013. However, it wasn't until mid-2015 he found a replica 1968 Shelby GT500 for sale online. It was bright red and, according to the classified ad, had been built by a well-known restorer a continent away in Maryland. "We contacted the seller, Ken Mackel, mostly out of curiosity and learned he'd purchased the car in 2004 as a graduation gift for his son," Richard says. "However, his son was a Chevy guy who opted for a Camaro instead." The Mustang spent nine years in the garage and was rarely driven. In all that time, Ken put 600 miles on the car.
Several phone conversations transpired between Richard and Ken as well as the restorer, Fred Warf. Richard decided to make an offer after reviewing photos of the car, and it arrived in Southern California a short time later. This was one of those rare occasions where an East Coast car wound up in California.
When Richard pulled the Mustang into his garage and put it on the lift, he was impressed with the restoration work. However, he knew the car needed a different agenda if it was ever going to be reliable and fun to drive. It was never going to be what he and Michelle truly wanted with a 302ci small-block, Top Loader four-speed, and 3.00:1 cogs. Not long after Richard took delivery, he began his restomod project in earnest. He gutted the interior and removed the engine and driveline.
Close friends Norv Hollinger and Dave Lembcke arrived to help Richard with the Mustang. His son, Jim, drove all the way from Arizona to help. At about the same time, a buddy called who had a customer with a 5.0L Coyote engine with just 5,800 miles on it that he wanted to sell. It became clear to Richard what was next. Conventional small-block wisdom was not going to prevail. It was time to do something completely different. He looked to Jeff Audi's Quickdraw Racing where all electrical and powertrain work would be performed. Richard further consulted with Dave Toth of Classic Resto Garage to get a realistic build sequence going.
"Our goal was to be methodical—not rushed—yet be focused at the same time," Richard says. "We didn't have the budget to buy parts only to find out they were not the right parts and causing delays. With both car and engine at Jeff's Quickdraw shop, the next step was going to be transmission, brakes, and suspension." Richard put his faith in Heidt's IFS, including Wilwood disc brakes, coilover shocks, mid-apron panels to replace the shock towers, subframe connectors, and numerous other chassis refinements. Other essential parts include the Doug's headers for exhaust scavenging, a PCM system from Late Model Restoration, tilt steering column from IDidIt, complete electrical system from American Autowire, and an alternator and starter from Summit Racing.
With the help of friends and seasoned professionals, Richard took a bare Mustang Fastback shell and weaved new life into its skin. "The complexity of the wiring took both patience and skill," Richard says. "What would normally be a three-day project wound up taking much more time." Once Richard and his buddies got the wiring sorted out, there were other more challenging aspects to the interior, such as how to get the seats mounted and working properly. Steel reinforcements had to be welded to the floorpan to accommodate the seats. Wiring had to be added to operate power seats.
Richard looked to Rick Herrera of Ar Jay's Upholstery, who tackled the classic diamond-tuck upholstery with red stitching on both seats and door panels. That's a Kenwood DDX9702S entertainment and navigation system. The interior is lit with LED lighting. Around you are all of the nice appointments normally associated with a modern ride.
Ninety-five days into this project, Richard fired the Coyote engine, which ran very well. Once they had the engine running, it was hauled to the JBA Speed Shop nearby in metro San Diego for a thorough tuning. Horsepower at the rear wheels from a stock Coyote was 416 to 420, with torque bumping the scales at 383.
When you've accomplished something the likes of Richard Blackman's 1968 Mustang Fastback, you tend to wonder how you did it. A Coyote swap into any vintage Ford takes more than a sparse amount of hair on your chest. Richard understood who had the knowhow to get it done and made the decision to go forward with a project the likes he had never witnessed before. When Richard saddles up and grabs the shifter, he quickly understands the value of the decision he made and friends who helped make it happen.