Craig Waltjer has always been a Ford guy, driving nothing but Dearborn's finest—apart from a quick dalliance with a Chevy Nova—since he slipped behind the wheel of his first car. It was a '66 Galaxie 500, but in the decades since, he's never owned a Mustang.
It's not that he didn't lust for a Mustang. Waltjer wanted one ever since high school, when his brother cruised around in a K-code '66 fastback and another friend had a '69 Mach I. But like so many enthusiasts, the cadence of life made it a difficult aspiration to achieve.
"My interest in getting a Mustang yielded to college, marriage, my career, and children," says the air traffic controller from Cypress, Texas. "That interest was rekindled a few years ago when my brother bought a '70 Mach I and started a restoration business in South Dakota, where I grew up."
With a blue-oval-sized hole in his heart, Waltjer started searching for the perfect project-car candidate. It had to be a '69 SportsRoof, and preferably a Mach I. He apparently struck gold on eBay, where he located a project car that matched the description a few hours away on the northeast side of Dallas.
"It was an original S-code 390 car, but the original motor was long gone," he says. "In its place was a 351 Cleveland and a small-block C6 trans. The engine was frozen from sitting in the elements for about eight years without an intake manifold on the engine, too. Overall, the car was pretty rough, but it was basically rust-free, so I started bidding on it."
He won the bid, but before he could make the 4½-hour drive up to get the car, Hurricane Ike struck the Houston area, and Waltjer was occupied with the cleanup of his property.
He told the seller he'd be delayed in picking up the car, but for the cost of fuel, the seller agreed to deliver it.
"I got the impression his wife really wanted the car gone," Waltjer says. "He brought it right to my driveway."
Waltjer then made arrangements to send the forlorn filly up to his brother's South Dakota shop for a complete restoration, with perhaps a few tasteful mods to make the Mustang a better driver on the street. After delivering a customer's car to Texas, Waltjer's brother, Rod, arrived with his own trailer to haul the rust-free carcass back up north to his shop, Muscle Car Creations, in Tea, South Dakota. It was during that journey from Texas to South Dakota that Waltjer's package from Marti Auto Works arrived and threw a wrench in the plans: The car was not an original Mach I.
"I was surprised and, of course, a bit disappointed," he says. "I ended up with something that wasn't quite what I thought it was."
Waltjer is surprisingly philosophical about the revelation, though, and doesn't believe the seller was necessarily trying to put one over on him.
"It was clear from the moment I met him that he wasn't a Mustang or Ford guy. He was a Chevy guy who just happened to have a Mustang he wanted to get rid of," he says. "It wouldn't surprise me if he honestly thought the car was a Mach I, just like all '69 Camaros are Z28s, right?"
The details on the Marti report created another dilemma for Waltjer: While not a Mach I, the car was actually a much more rare '69 Mustang GT. There were nearly 72,500 Mach Is built in 1969, but only about 5,400 GT models, including Sportsroof, notchback, and convertible body styles. They came with much of the same performance equipment as Mach 1s—with engines ranging from a 351-2V to the R-code 428—so it's not entirely surprising that a less-than-knowledgeable Chevy guy (aren't they all?) thought he had a real Mach I in his yard.
"It took about six months to think through it all, deciding whether to do an original-type restoration or go with a modified car," he says. "Although the GT is rare, it just honestly doesn't have the following of the Mach I and Boss cars and with the original drivetrain being long gone, we ultimately decided to go the modified route. Some purists will likely complain, but there isn't a shortage of factory-restored Mustangs out there."
And while it took a while to sort out what to do with the car, once the decision was made, Waltjer knew immediately what he wanted for an engine: an FE big-block. For that, he turned to South Dakota's Cressman Enterprises, a renowned Ford racing engine shop known for Ford-powered Sprint Cars. They started with a Genesis 427 aftermarket block and punched it out to 530 cubic inches. Breathing through a relatively rare, vintage Holley 3916 three-barrel, 950-cfm carburetor—it has one large secondary venturi instead of two smaller venturis—the engine produced more than 600 horsepower and 640 lb-ft of torque on the engine dynamometer.
"My goal for the engine was pretty simple: I wanted it powerful, but reliable, streetable, and able to run on pump gas," says Waltjer. "The engine makes 500 lb-ft just off idle, which gives it an incredible feeling of power on the street. It's exactly what I wanted. It's a blast to hop in, hit the gas, and feel the rear end kick out sideways. The rumble from the engine through the Spin Tech mufflers is awesome, too, and we put cut-outs in the exhaust system, so it really sounds mean when you want it to."
A Lentech-built AOD four-speed transmission backs the big-block and enhances the driveability, especially on longer drives, when the overdrive gear keeps the FE's revs down. It's controlled with a ratcheting B&M shifter.
The rest of the car's transformation was the collaboration of Waltjer, his shop-owning brother, and Greg Scheepstra, who did most of the grinding on the sheetmetal in the shop. In true restomod form, the car retains a mostly stock exterior, save for a monochromatic appearance achieved by painting the bumpers, grille surround trim, and more, the same color as the body: PPG's Velocity Red Pearl. There are subtle mods, though, including extended rocker panels that roll under the body for a more seamless appearance, as well as shaved driprails, door handles, and side-marker lights. The body seams were also smoothed over. There's no fiberglass in the body, either—just expertly massaged steel on that cancer-free Texas body.
Blacked-out taillamps and dark windows complement the red exterior and lend it a more aggressive look, while Ride Tech's air-adjustable suspension system gives the car a decidedly aggressive stance. It consists of StrongArm tubular front control arms, a bolt-on four-link rear suspension and ShockWave dampers that replace the coil springs and shocks. An LCD control box on the Mustang's dashboard directs the system, feeding commands to the large Airpod compressor in the trunk.
"The ride quality is phenomenal," says Waltjer. "It drives like a modern car; very smooth and controlled. I love it, especially being able to drop the stance at shows and cruise-ins."
Contemporary rack-and-pinion steering and Baer four-wheel disc brakes with ABS Power Brake electro-boost also contribute to the car's contemporary driving experience, giving it a more immediate and connected feel on the road. For those who haven't heard about ABS Power Brake's system, it replaces the conventional brake master cylinder with an electric-hydraulic system that is very compact. It doesn't require vacuum for operation and features a built-in accumulator, so if the engine stalls, the brake pedal can still be pumped 20 times before the power assist goes away. For big engines in tight engine compartments—namely FE-powered Mustangs—it's a godsend.
While Waltjer may have initially wavered on what to do with his Mustang after finding out it wasn't a true Mach I, his vision for a street-friendly driver was always clear.
The engine produced more than 600 horsepower and 640 lb-ft of torque on the engine dynamometer
"It's fast, but it's also comfortable and I made sure we didn't compromise or skimp on items like air conditioning. That's a must down here in the Houston area," he says. "It idles great and doesn't get hot in traffic."
Still, the family's first high-powered hot rod has taken some getting used to by at least one family member.
"My 16-year-old and 12-year-old sons love it, but my wife is always yelling ‘slow down… slow down!'" Waltjer says with a laugh. "I try to keep it all reasonable on the street, but after waiting so many years to finally build the Mustang I always wanted, I'm definitely going to enjoy driving it."
And that's exactly what he plans to do for the foreseeable future, including bolting on a set of drag radials to see what sort of elapsed time 600 horsepower's worth of FE fun will deliver at the dragstrip. That's one of the reasons he went with a built automatic transmission and the ratcheting shifter.
For an enthusiast who thought he was buying an original piece of muscle car history, the outcome of Craig Waltjer's Mustang quest proved much more interesting and personal. Instead of adhering to the conformity of the restoration world, he was able to indulge his creativity and build a unique car that balances classic styling with a modern driving experience.
Indeed, it appears that surprising Marti report was a blessing in disguise, transforming what could have been a huge disappointment into a genuine thrill ride.
Craig Waltjer's '69 Mustang GT SportsRoof
Ford FE-type with Genesis 427 cylinder block
530 cubic inches
4340 forged steel crankshaft
Eagle H-beam forged connecting rods, 6.70-inches-long
JE forged aluminum pistons with friction-reducing skirt coating
Total Seal piston rings
9.5:1 compression ratio
Comp Cams roller camshaft with 0.515/0.520-inch lift and 224/230-degree duration
Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads, ported and polished
Ferrea valves, 2.25-inch intake and 1.75-inch exhaust, Manley dual-coil valvesprings
Speed Pro 3⁄8-inch-diameter pushrods; 8.50-inch-long (intake) and 8.55-inch-long (exhaust)
Crane 1.76-ratio roller rocker arms
Edelbrock Victor Jr. aluminum intake manifold
Holley 950-cfm three-barrel carburetor
MSD distributor and 6AL ignition box
Old Air air conditioning system
Horsepower: 604 at 5,500 rpm
Torque: 640 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm
Engine built and dyno-tested at Cressman Enterprises, Hartford, South Dakota
Ford AOD four-speed automatic, modified by Lentech Automatics, Richmond, Ontario, Canada
Lentech torque converter, 2,800rpm stall speed
B&M Hammer ratcheting shifter
Ford 9-inch rearend
Detroit Locker differential
Ford Powertain Applications headers, 17⁄8-inch primaries, 31⁄2-inch collectors (with electronically controlled cut-outs)
3-inch stainless steel exhaust system
Spin Tech mufflers
Front: Ride Tech StrongArm tubular control arms and ShockWave air-adjustable dampers
Rear: Ride Tech AirBar four-link and ShockWave air-adjustable dampers
ididit tilting steering column
Front: Baer Track disc, 13-inch rotors, four-piston calipers
Rear: Baer Track disc, 13-inch rotors, four-piston calipers
ABS Power Brake Systems electro-boost master cylinder
Front: Bonspeed Quicksilver, 19x8-inch, polished aluminum
Rear: Bonspeed Quicksilver, 20x10-inch, polished aluminum
Front: General Exclaim UHP, P245/35ZR19
Rear: General Exclaim UHP, P295/30ZR20
Black with red trim, custom center console, carbon-fiber instrument panel bezels, Auto Meter gauges in JME gauge panel, '08 Mustang seats with TMI Mach 1 seat covers and three-point lap belts, Momo steering wheel, Alpine head unit and Rockford Fosgate sound system
PPG Velocity Pearl red with Black Pearl hood and taillamp panel accents; Anvil Auto body-colored fiberglass rear bumper and matching body-colored front bumper and grille trim; extended rocker panels, shaved door handles, shaved driprail moldings, shaved side-marker lights; filled body seams, bodywork, and paint performed by Muscle Car Creations, Tea, South Dakota