Tom Wilson
November 1, 2007
Photos By: E. John Thawley III
Similar to the 200-inch mirror in the Hale Telescope, David Haymond's Concept 3 project took 11 years to build. Again, like the 200-inch mirror, he needed to take a nearly four-year break from construction, but finished with a concentrated four-year run of daily activity. David estimates he has 15,000 hours in the Concept 3. Stunning good looks have a habit of standing up to time, and the Mach III underscores the point. Dating from the Fox Mustang era, the Concept 3's lines are still mistaken for the next-generation Mustang or Ford sports car every time David takes it out. People can't believe it's a '92 design, with a school bus driver yelling down to him, "That's an '08, right?"

Horse Sense: While his largest automotive project, the Concept 3 isn't car-holic David Haymond's first shop job. He has restored or modified a '29 Model A roadster (when he was 13 years old), a '57 T-bird, four '65 Mustangs, and a Lambo Countach-just for something different.

It doesn't take long to figure out that David Haymond is an extremely intelligent individual. Only a few minutes after meeting him and circling his magnum opus Concept 3 roadster, we were self-consciously in the presence of an exceptional human being. Relative to the usual human fodder, David is excruciatingly creative, approaching obsessive in his drive, and clearly skilled with his hands. He manifests an eye for beauty, function, and an understanding of historic precedent. His car is cool, too.

That made it all the more fun to ask him the unfair and unanswerable, "Why?" when viewing his magnificently rendered re-creation of Ford's Mach III show car. "I've asked myself so many times," was his fading reply, an entirely full and honest response considering his accomplishment.

Let there be no mistake: What David has finished is an accomplishment, not the hollow diploma of merely having enough money to buy a well-crafted automobile or the vacuous pomp afforded those with bolt-on horsepower and some vinyl skull appliqus. But he knows the deep satisfaction won only by those who have really tried and succeeded.

What David has achieved is building his own Mach III concept car, arguably at the production level had Ford taken it that far. That he did it in his home shop for his own amusement is the truly bewildering part, but that's talent for you.

There's a hint of Thunderbird proportions in the Concept 3 bodywork, especially in the generous rear overhang. Some of this is simply a 2+2 chassis working as a two-seater, but the styling tactic gives generous interior volume for the fuel tank, stereo gear, and IRS. David placed the fuel tank where the rear seat used to be and fitted custom exhaust pipes around the later-model Cobra IRS.

What is a Mach III? Actually, there were two of them built in 1993 in anticipation of the upcoming SN-95 Mustang introduction in 1994. Commissioned by John Coletti, the SN-95 program manager, the two-off Mach IIIs were handbuilt with borrowed funds from the Mustang's launch budget. Intended strictly as show cars, the pair was to foreshadow the new Mustang's rounded body lines and highlight the Four-Valve modular power that was still three years distant.

The Mach IIIs did their job, making the magazine and car show rounds. I drove the red one for the June '93 issue of Super Ford magazine, but it was ultimately destroyed in a 1994 transporter fire while returning from a Canadian show. The green car is still extant, but it's shuttered away these days. Forget any ideas about owning one-the car never saw serial production (even if we poised the possibility 14 years ago) and the survivor is Ford and Mustang history.

It's difficult, even in retrospect, to say what single theme or item highlighted the Mach III, but if forced to choose, the voluptuous exterior styling would be our pick. If you like them rounded, the Mach III is your gal. The details, from the LED taillights to the cleavage-bearing windshield, were well ahead of their time. Some of the curves and cutlines would've been tough-or impossible-for a production car, and the windshield, so curved and so low you had to look under or over the header, was obviously a designer's folly. The overall shape was exciting and has carried a classic timelessness of proportion.

Hidden under the roadster body is a '96 Cobra platform and modified suspension. Because of the Mach III's 1.5-inch wider body, the Mustang Cobra track has grown by almost 4 inches, necessitating custom-fabbed wider front control arms. Custom offsets in the huge wheels make up the rest of the track gain. Adjustable KYB coilover units are anchored by custom camber plates in front; Bilsteins do the honor in back with the IRS. All four corners are augmented by airbags for variable ride height.

The powertrain was also impressive. Again, three years ahead of its production intro in the Mustang Cobra, the Four-Valve was the stuff of dreams in 1993. Internally it was a stock Lincoln Mark VIII mill, but the Mach III sported an Eaton supercharger and a fussy-but-effective liquid charge cooler. Closely resembling a modern water-to-air cooler, the Mach III's system used glycol-why not water, we don't know-and in addition to the usual front-mounted radiator, the glycol passed through a special tank filled with the working fluid from the air-conditioning system. This chilled the 225-degree blower discharge air to 80 degrees for up to 30 seconds at wide-open throttle, allowing advanced ignition timing and high power under all but extended wide-open bursts.

Behind the engine, the Mach III was competent, but not revolutionary. Built off the '94 Mustang GT engineering hack chassis, the Mach IIIs wore a then-novel T56 manual six-speed gearbox and the standard 8.8-inch live-axle rearend. The chassis and suspension were pure production SN-95, and in all, the two cars were never fully finished with details such as a top, side windows, or working instruments. In truth, they weren't designed for real driving. We were allowed to motor the red car for photography purposes and get a hint of the power, but were casually informed that 35 mph was the limit.

The car's handlers on our day graciously let us loose solo on the EVOC test track, and soon everyone was winging the experimental engines to who knows what rpm to revel in the then-unique sensation of the gloriously smooth blown Four-Valve power rush. I recall letting it rip all the way through Third gear-triple-digit fun-and wondering if something was wrong with my Taurus SHO when I drove home. It felt so anemic that I scanned the instrument cluster in alarm, convinced something was wrong with the 8,000-rpm V-6. There wasn't; the Mach III had simply recalibrated my Levi's-clad thrust meter.

Let's also recall the Mach IIIs had nothing more than a slap-dash show car interior. The rearview mirrors were bits of flat glass, the blue suede interior highlights quickly glued in place, and the instruments as faux as Paris Hilton's respect for the law. It was hard not to keep glancing at the phony gauges to check the rpm, only to find the overly ornate needles stuck in the same position. It was like trying to gain meaningful information from prom night decorations.

Putting 400 hp to the rear tires, the Kenne Bell- boosted 4.6 Four-Valve in the Concept 3 has no trouble launching it to exciting velocities, and a simple pulley change could net more if desired. It's interesting how the polished modular engine seems almost ordinary while the equally dated Mach III styling retains its exotic appeal simply because it hasn't been seen as often.

Fake can't be found on David's Concept 3. A self-confessed compulsive builder, he latched onto creating a Mach III for himself upon seeing the original in a magazine. He "had to do a car project," loved the Mach III's looks, and willed himself to build one for his own pleasure. Thus, it had to work, and well.

Plus, David is not one to suffer kitsch. "No cheese!" he implored when pointing out some trim he had whittled from billet. He's not about to build or accept rice cookie ornamentation on his car.

That David had the time and money for such an audacious endeavor is thanks to gumballs. Specifically, the always-tinkering man had previously invented a spiral gumball machine that made him big money and started his invention and prototyping business that has made him wealthier still. The business has also given David the prototyping skills and equipment needed to summon a car out of the ether, a rare position in our bolt-on world.

David began with a '95 Mustang convertible that had "been burned to a crisp" in a fire-and not the summer heat in David's Phoenix hometown. This burnt offering was ignominiously glued with large foam blocks which David sculpted into the Mach shape. From this, male plug Polylite molds were made, yielding a female mold for the final body panels. Those bits were built up using glass mat and vinyl esters and not carbon fiber like the Mach III.

Three-slash taillights instantly identify '94 and '95 Mustangs, but they first appeared a year earlier on the Mach III where they fit nicely. David made his taillights from LED arrays; although reported as sequential units elsewhere, they are not. They shine with the intense clarity expected from LEDs, however. Round functioning Super Trapp mufflers mark the Concept 3. The Mach III boasted trick, custom-built triangular Super Trapps, but they were only for show. The exhaust on the Mach III simply dumped under the rear of the car.

Unlike the Mach III, David gave his self-labeled Concept 3-the legal eagles at Ford won't let him call his car a Mach III-production-like cut lines in the rear. The Mach III was one piece from the doors back, but the Concept 3 offers a separate bumper cap, a more realistic and workable arrangement.

With the body panels thus made, they were fitted to the base car, a '96 Mustang Cobra convertible. At this point, the mind begins to boggle. Sculpting an existing body from photos was only the beginning. We can understand how some might think it's probably just like glassing a giant surfboard, but those details. The invisible door latches, the taillamps, the headlights, the seatbelt pass-throughs, knobs, all interior paneling, the exhaust system, and so on were all built or modified by David. Yes, plenty of existing bits and pieces were employed from across the automotive spectrum-"The hell of this car is finding stuff you can use," is how David put it-but still, have you seriously considered making your own headlights? Sure, the headlamp mechanicals are from Bosch, but aside from the bulbs, shielding, and reflectors, the remainder was drawn by David in Solid Works and whittled from solid stock, then assembled to sealed specifications with full aiming capabilities. The more you study the curves and superb fit, the more impressive the accomplishment becomes.

David did far better than Ford in his wheel choice. Instead of the Tron-like split three-spokes on the Mach III, the Concept 3 wears custom three-piece Vellano billet wheels and Continental SportContact2 tires. They measure 20x9 inches in front and 20x11 inches in back; the tires 255/30ZR-20 and 305/25ZR-20 respectively. Braking is stock Cobra augmented with two-piece Baer rotors.

David's craftsmanship is well represented in the two-seat interior. Unlike the nonfunctional original Mach IIIs, the Concept 3's living quarters are completely operable and better finished. Sure, David had the benefit of a '96 Cobra cockpit to begin with, but he's spent a lot of time making it fit the theme, just as Ford would have done had the Mach III seen production. David bought some of the bright switchgear from UPR and the seats are from Cobra, but anything that looks custom is his handiwork. The center console was hand-fabricated while David was on crutches-he lost six months to a nasty ladder fall in the shop and finished the car while either in a wheelchair or crutches-and incorporates a shifter moved aft several inches, similar to an S197 mounting.

Some of the challenge was purchasing the exact raw materials David wanted. Those leather-trimmed Cobra seats, for example, aren't typically available in the U.S. and Cobra insisted on a minimum special order of three sets. So he bought three sets, built and installed the custom belt pass-throughs and sold the other two sets once he had his pair working. The driver seat is power adjusted; the passenger seat is manual.

Another find were the Magic Touch "door poppers," as David calls them. These are solenoid-operated door latches. While they're completely invisible, they're activated simply by laying your hands on a certain spot on the door. At that point, the door latch pops ajar and it can be swung wide open.

More attention to detail included "using the stock armrests to maintain the Mustang heritage," as well as duplicating the stock surface grain texture in his mold of the center console finish.

Of course, with so much aftermarket gear available, some items are off-the-shelf, at least partially. The sound system is a 1,000-watt Kenwood touch-screen unit with CD and DVD nav; it powers two trunk-mounted subwoofers and six speakers. Auto Meter instruments were partially used, along with white faces on some stock Mustang gauges. The instrument layout is custom and the brightwork surround cut from billet.

The interior of David Haymond's creation is its greatest improvement over the original Mach III. David's handiwork is everywhere, especially in the rear bulkhead and center console.

Providing what little protection the interior receives, save for Concept 3's long-range enclosed trailer transport, is the cut-down '96 Cobra windshield. To shorten the glass, David scored it top and bottom, let the Phoenix sun do its thing for several hours, then smacked the top section off. The windshield frame, of course, was chopped to fit.

Replicating the Mach III powertrain was in some ways easy-David's '96 Cobra starting point already boasted a Four-Valve 4.6-and there was no desire or need to exactly copy the original's intricate charge cooler and flex-fuel capability. For whatever thematic continuity is lost in avoiding the handbuilt penance of duplicating the complex charge cooler or paying homage to green leanings, we'd give David a bye run in the engine compartment after all that work on the body and interior. As it is, the modern engine hardware he used is effective and likely what Ford would've done in production.

The modern equipment David added includes a polished 1.7 Kenne Bell Twin-Screw supercharger, a K&N air filter, a 90mm mass air from a Lightning, 42-lb/hr injectors, JBA headers, a Bassani X-shape crossover, and Super Trapp mufflers. He rates the powerplant at 400 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque at the rear tires using stock Ford engine management.

David did pay homage to the Mach III's charge cooler, but without the complexity of tanks and glycol. Instead, he routed the intake air through the air-conditioning system's underdash ducting. When the air conditioning is on, the engine benefits from whatever cold air the A/C can provide. In practice, he figures this gives the engine a burst of cold air for a few seconds whenever he mats the throttle. Otherwise, the Kenne Bell supercharger isn't charge cooled, as David bought his blower before Kenne Bell offered its water-to-air charge cooler.

Highlights include a push-button starter and an absence of wood. The Nardi steering wheel and wooden shift handle of the Mach III, along with its baroque instrument pointers jarred with the design's otherwise forward outlook.

Curiously, David could have fitted a T56, but he stayed with a five-speed T5. With all the torque for acceleration and long trips handled in an enclosed trailer, the lack of a sixth gear is hardly a major constraint, and the reduced transmission weight doesn't hurt performance. An aluminum driveshaft and a later Cobra IRS rear suspension turning 3.73 gears finish the powertrain.

Smart as he is, David succumbed to letting us drive his car-solo, no less. The venue was an abandoned airport, and while I was able to roll into the throttle to check the power, I didn't want to take the same liberties with the privately owned Concept 3 as I had with the corporate Mach III. Furthermore, without a proper road to work with, judging the competent chassis dynamics at their limit wasn't really on. Nevertheless, it was a special drive, a sort of historical check for my memories of a long-gone era as well as a functional verification of David's work. As you'd guess, the handbuilt Concept 3 sprinted like a champ, with plenty of that now-familiar blown Four-Valve power. It was great to sit behind a windshield rather than crouch behind a screen as I did with the original, and in general it felt the same as a blown Mustang Cobra-except the seats, seating position, lateral support, and shifter placement were all superior. Overall, the scale of David's accomplishment is what weighed heaviest in my impression of the Concept 3. It packs show car looks but the functionality of a production vehicle. Bravo, David.

What's next for the Concept 3 is uncertain. David has another gumball machine to prototype, an all-consuming process (we wager most of his are) that won't allow much fiddle time with the "3." Still, he would like to upgrade some of his car; he mentioned installing HID headlights. On the other hand, if someone were to offer him a large amount of money, he'd let it go. He's already talking about building another one, this time in carbon fiber. But that's it for Concept 3s; his tooling isn't designed for more than a body or two, and with that, it seems the Mach III saga will come to a fitting end. In the meantime, a tip of our helmet to David for a magnificent accomplishment and a great blast down memory lane.

Not only did the Mach III make a strong impression on the public, but it left an indelible mark on those who built it. To this day, many from the design team gather every other month to renew their Mach III association. They enjoy punting around their glory days and fallout from the Mach III builds.

One question they can ponder indefinitely is, "What if the Mach III had made it to production?" It's tough to say what such a car could've done for Ford, but one positive is the Mach III would have been a step forward, a new design, whereas what Ford did produce in the sports and specialty markets has been derivative of past glories. It was one of those cars, the Thunderbird, that played the largest part in the Mach III's shelving. The T-bird clearly holds the title as Ford's two-seater; something the Mach III wasn't strong enough to push aside. Ford wasn't ready to built two two-seaters, so the Mach III concept was likely never seriously considered for production.