American Racing founders Romeo Palamides and J.O. Ellison most likely had no idea how much of an influence they would have on American car culture when they started the company in 1956. The Torq-Thrust wheel helped launch an entire after-market industry, bringing performance wheels from the track to the street. When the Mustang was introduced in 1964, it didn't take long before Torq-Thrusts became the performance wheel of choice among Mustang owners.
So when American Racing began its initial plans for building a SEMA car, the vehicle of choice was obvious. "Our goal was to make a car in the theme of the SCCA cars of the late-'60s, many of which ran on our Torq-Thrusts," says Tony Millunzi, brand manager of American Racing. "We wanted to highlight this history and show that we are American Muscle. If you want to build a great American musclecar, you have to start with the quintessential muscle-car, the Mustang." The American Racer was born.
The Planning Stages
At first, American Racing planned to build an all-out race car. "The initial vision was much more hard-core," Millunzi says. "We had talked about taking the dash apart, pulling the carpet, installing a custom 'cage and nets-basically making it a race car." That was soon scrapped in favor of something more streetable. "We settled on more of an 'inspired by' theme after realizing that we actually wanted to drive the thing."
With the vision in place, American Racing recruited Jason Cenora, owner of 281 Motorsports, to help build the car, and Hillbank Motorsports in Irvine, California, to supply the parts. Cenora, who was Hillbank's sales director at the time, is known for building some incredible Mustang show cars. You might remember his Shelby CS8 Mustang that graced the cover of the Aug. '07 issue of Modified Mustangs. "Jason has a real passion for Mustangs, and he brought that enthusiasm to this project," Millunzi says. "He treated the car like it was his own, and went above and beyond to get it done." Hillbank's relationships with other vendors were essential in getting the project completed, and having their help, along with Jason, ensured that it didn't become just another corporate show car that no one would want to own.
Looking the Part
An additional reason for building the Mustang was to show off American Racing's new wheel, the TXM. It was important to style the Mustang to highlight the wheels, which are finished in matte black with a machined face. "Initially, I had planned on going to Jeff at Merzee's Paint and Body in Santa Fe Springs to have him paint the racing stripes," Millunzi says. "After telling him about the wheel, he mentioned that he had a really cool paint idea he'd been saving for the right project. Using Alsa Ghost Chrome paint, he could make the car look like brushed aluminum." The result matches the wheels perfectly and is a paint job like we've never seen. Although it's difficult to capture in photographs, the brushed-aluminum look is so real, you'd swear it's the actual thing.
"There were some people internally who doubted a brushed-aluminum paint scheme, but when I was asked at SEMA how we got an aluminum body, I knew we had made the right call," Millunzi says. The paint is nicely matched with two wide, flat-black stripes with thin red pinstripes that run the full length of the car. A 3d Carbon "Boy Racer" body kit completes the race-car theme, including a rear wing that's painted to match the stripes.