Sometimes our connection with cars begins at an early age and when it does, it often blossoms into a lifelong obsession. That's the way it began for Matt Swartwood, an executive in the retail fashion industry and resident of Jacksonville, Florida. His Ford heritage began with his father, Howard Swartwood, an active Blue Oval enthusiast who was employed by Ford in Cleveland. Under Dad's supervision, Matt began tearing things apart in the garage at a young age, learning how they worked and realizing that he had the ability to easily put them back together. The experience set the stage for future fun. Dad was a fan of the sometimes maligned Mustang IIs, restoring several over the years and, although Matt and his dad spoke many times about restoring a car together, unfortunately, it didn't happen before his father passed away.
Matt's first real car experience began after leaving military service and settling in California. While on a business trip to San Francisco, he spied this '66 Mustang coupe on the campus of Stanford University. Using the For Sale sign in the window, Matt contacted the owner of the six-cylinder daily driver and after the exchange of some cash, took the car to his home in Sacramento. The car was in fairly good shape, except for the floorpans, which he replaced; the first of many changes on the way to becoming a show winner.
Long a fan of Shelby Mustangs, Matt was particularly fond of the black and gold Hertz editions. With a plan in mind and the old Pony pointed in the right direction, Matt was finally able to enjoy a father-son project (although now with a different generation). He and his sons, Kyle and Cody, disassembled the Mustang, separating the drivetrain from the body. The 18-month smoothing and painting process was not a quick one, but it was thorough, beginning with Eddie Calderon from Eddie's Paint and Body in Placerville, California. Eddie bead-blasted the body, removing six separate coats of paint off of the car. Matt smiles saying, "The body was probably rust free because of all those layers of protection!" Once the sheetmetal was returned to factory-fresh condition, Eddie finished the exterior by spraying the Vivid Black paint along with the bright Hertz Gold on the hood and sides.
As soon as the car returned from the body shop, serious suspension began to ensure that the car could handle the aggressive powerplant scheduled for it. Frame connectors went on along with a chrome Monte Carlo bar and strut tower brace. The front end received Bilstein Sport/Track shocks, a Performance 620 coil spring kit, a 1-inch antisway bar, and a Unisteer Electra-Steer power steering upgrade. Being able to rein in the Pony was made possible with the addition of 11.5 inch Granada disc brakes up front and SSBC 10.5-inch versions on the rear. Matt chose a Ford 9-inch rear, fitted with lots of performance enhancements like a Detroit Locker, 3.50 gears, and 31-spline Moser axles. Stabilizing the tail end was accomplished with a set of Grab-A-Trak five-leaf springs and a second pair of Bilstein Sport/Track shocks. Matt filled the wheelwells and added just the right amount of rake with the three-piece, powdercoated black, VIP Modular VR08 rims, 18x8 up front and 19x9.5 in the rear. All four were wrapped in Hankook Ventus rubber, P245/35ZR18 up front and P275/30ZR19 out back.
At this point, the old six-cylinder engine was long gone, replaced with a rebuilt 302, backed by a C4 transmission. But, about two years into the build, the small-block began showing signs of trouble. So, Matt opted for a major upgrade, delivering the tired V-8 to GRC Performance in Mission Viejo, California. Performance expert Umberto Gizzi went through the engine from top to bottom, creating a responsive and reliable powerplant. The precision-machined 302 block uses an Edelbrock RPM Performer Endurashine intake with a Holley 670-cfm carburetor on top, and a trunk-mounted 110-gph electric fuel pump to ensure adequate fuel flow. The charge swirls through Edelbrock RPM aluminum heads with 60cc combustion chambers and bronze guides for the Edelbrock stainless valves, sized at 1.90-inch intake and 1.60-inch exhaust. A roller tappet Comp Cam activates the valves, filling the combustion chambers where the air/fuel mix is compressed by Federal Mogul 9.5:1 hypereutectic pistons. Eagle rods spin the nodular iron Eagle crank and an MSD Pro billet 6AL distributor provides precisely timed sparks. Creating the perfect blend of minimal back pressure and performance sound, the wrapped Hedman headers use 15⁄8-inch primary tubes to dump into an H-pipe and Flowmaster 40 Series mufflers.