Fred and Kathy Kuhman of Walhalla, South Carolina, purchased this '66 Mustang convertible from the original owner about five years ago. Originally yellow with a black manual top, the car had only 80,000 miles showing on the clock. Things were tired but in good shape.
Because the car was in such complete condition, Fred thought about doing a restoration to original specifications. That was until he read about some folks doing 5.0L EFI conversions on their classic Fords. After considerable thought, Fred decided to up the ante with the purchase of an '01 4.6L 32-valve Cobra V-8 engine from MPS Auto Salvage, formerly Mustang Parts Specialties, of Winder, Georgia. The new crate engine included the engine wiring harness and computer, as well as a T-45 five-speed manual transmission mounted to the engine and including a clutch assembly.
It's easy to see that Fred and Kathy don't fiddle around when upgrade time comes, and they knew going in that this was not a simple procedure like a 5.0 swap. The project was a three-year undertaking.
Step one was to get the car outfitted with a new front end from Rod & Custom Motorsports (R&C) of Florence, South Carolina. The R&C front end uses Mustang II components and is a complete front-suspension makeover that eliminates the shock towers and includes disc brakes as well as rack-and-pinion steering. The shock towers are eliminated with the R&C kit, making enough room for the DOHC engine.
Fred says it was an exciting day when the new engine and transmission assembly was finally installed with the new shifter fitting through the original automatic-transmission shifter hole. Everyone involved agreed that this was indeed a two-shoehorn job.
To complete the car's drivetrain, Moser Engineering constructed a 9-inch center section with 3:00 gears and installed it into an axle housing narrowed to accommodate the oversized rolling stock. In this case, 17x8 Cragar S/S wheels and Michelin P245/45ZR17 tires.
The fun was just beginning as Fred and his cohorts, Mike Wright and Tony Heaton, dug into the substantial job of wiring the car for the modern 32-valve engine. A main harness from a '96 Cobra donor car was the basis for the electrical system. Fred recounts many hours spent with both a laptop computer and shop manual before the wiring was finally sorted out with unused leads removed.
The engine installation is...
The engine installation is super-clean and does indeed look like a two-shoehorn job. The Rod & Custom Motorsports front end makes all things possible. When the shock towers leave the scene underhood, there's enough room for almost any engine. The 32-valve conversion is an ambitious job well worth the undertaking. A 460 would fit in here as well.
The late-model seats with...
The late-model seats with custom upholstery offer more lateral support than the original, and they are probably a lot more comfortable on long trips. Pony-style door panels have been modified to match the seats. The digital instrumentation is a modern contrast to the wood-styled steering wheel, which is original equipment. The stereo and air conditioning are unobtrusive and look like original equipment.
One of the nice things about...
One of the nice things about the Dakota Digital panel is that you get both tachometer and speedometer function in the central dial. All of the traditional readouts of volts, oil, water temp, and fuel are provided in the wing gauges. The unit fits in place behind a standard GT or '66 instrument bezel.
With the powertrain safely in the car, the next challenge was paint and body. After attending many car shows and much deliberation, they decided the original Springtime Yellow color had to go in favor of late-model Ford Torch Red. Jeff Stone at Flat Rock Body Shop did the excellent paint and body work. Jeff is a noted perfectionist, and Fred credits him with the car's awesome appearance.
Inside the Mustang, a Dakota Digital gauge cluster fits in with the modern powertrain and does an excellent job of keeping the driver informed. To keep the heat at bay during those South Carolina summers, a Vintage Air air-conditioning kit was installed. The controls for the air-conditioning system fit nicely in the factory ashtray opening. Pro Street Interiors of Blairsville, Georgia, did the stitch work on the new upholstery. The Shelby convertible-style rollbar came from Mustangs Unlimited and is a nice finishing touch to this comprehensive vintage Mustang project.