Twisting With The Mach 1
Labor of Love
When the redesigned 1971 Mustang was introduced, the days of factory-supplied, Spartan, all-out street brawlers and thinly disguised off-the-showroom-floor race cars were largely a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean the new Mustang wasn’t a capable performer and an all-around great car. The ’71s were larger than their predecessors in every measure, with the wheelbase growing 1 inch, the track growing by 3 inches, the length by 2.1 inches, and the width by 2.3 inches. The additional size meant additional weight, but buyers got the longer, wider, lower look they wanted, and in 1971 the additional weight could still be offset by choosing the right combination of performance options.
The Mach 1 package was, of course, a sensible starting point. Available only with the SportsRoof body style and a V-8 engine, the Mach 1 option included contrasting black or argent paint on the twin NACA-ducted hood, matching body-side stripes, special badging, pop-open gas cap, heavy-duty springs and shocks, quick-ratio steering when power assist was added, and several other features.
The performance capability and stunning good looks of the ’71 Mach 1 are what led Gregg Gunta to seek one out. Though some 36,499 examples were produced that year, finding a good one today can be challenging. “I found the car in Iowa,” he recalls. “It was from a guy involved with a Mustang club that stopped functioning, and I bought it from a consignor.”
The car was in need of a lot of work, but that didn’t dissuade Gunta because he planned to modify it for enhanced performance anyway. Also, he was particularly attracted to the Twister Special package the car has. The Twister Special was offered by the factory in 1970 for Kansas-area Ford dealers, and a total of 96 were made. Each started life as a Grabber Orange Mach1, and each got competition suspension, special graphics, and either a Super Cobra Jet Ram Air or 351C engine. Though not a factory offering in 1971, a number of Twister Specials were produced by Kansas dealers to meet customer demand.
“Because the Mustang was in sales trouble in 1970, they created the Twister Special to lure buyers into the showroom,” Gunta explains. “In 1971 some people still wanted a Twister Special, and the dealership made a few on its own. My car came from Kansas City when new, and the dealer repainted it Grabber Orange from its original Wimbledon White and transformed it into a Twister Special.”
Though it was sorely in need of mechanical work Gunta was able to drive the car from Iowa to Milwaukee. “The engine and drivetrain were in really bad shape. The suspension was horrible and it rattled like an old man. The taillights didn’t work and the gas tank was so gummed up I changed the clogged fuel filter every 30 miles in order to get it home!”
To improve both ride quality and handling Gunta turned the car over to West Bend Dyno Tuning for chassis upgrades. Up front the wizards at West Bend installed a Total Control Products front end from Chris Alston’s Chassisworks, complete with VariShock single-adjustable coilovers, rack-and-pinion steering, and strut tower braces. Out back they replaced the stock suspension with a Total Control Products four-link setup that also utilizes VariShock single-adjustable coilovers. Wilwood disc brakes with four-piston calipers were added all around to improve stopping power.
For enhanced power and reliability, Gunta completely rebuilt the car’s 351C engine, and it now makes 460 hp and 493 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. It’s paired to a C6 automatic from Automatic Transmission Design with a Hughes Performance Pro-Street 30 Series 3,000-rpm stall converter that West Bend Dyno installed. The engine’s twist goes through a Ford 9-inch rear to reach 15x8 five-spoke mags shod with P245/60R15 BFGoodrich rubber. Identically sized wheels and tires are used up front.
Though the car’s interior was in excellent condition overall, Gunta had Perfection Auto Trim in Milwaukee do a few upgrades. They installed new seat covers and a 14-inch teardrop billet design Grant steering wheel. Gunta added new seat and shoulder belts, and power rear quarter-windows to replace the SportsRoof’s fixed windows with parts he bought from someone in Australia.
To complete the transformation of his Mustang, Gunta went through it from one end to the other, straightening out all of the electrical problems, restoring the hood’s ram-air system, and getting everything else working like new. In keeping with his original intent, he drives the car as often as time and weather allow. “It has the beautifully aggressive appearance of a classic ’71 Mustang,” he reasons, “with dramatically improved performance that makes it incredibly fun to drive!”