In 1963 — and 1963 only — Ford released a model known simply as the ‘300’. It was pretty much a base model Galaxie, devoid of almost all chrome trim and ‘luxury’ accessories. Of course, in typical ’60s fashion, Ford made the cars available with the option of a 427ci FE engine, producing a quoted 425hp, and a four-speed manual gearbox. The combination of big power and — relatively — light weight made the cars essentially factory-optioned drag cars, and a popular choice with drag racers of the day.
As far as cars of the period are concerned, the Ford 300 is roughly comparable to the Chevy Biscayne, as a pared-down base model available with a big-power motor. Of these Biscaynes, the L72 option — signifying the 427ci big block, and producing a quoted 425hp — is one of the rarest and most sought after.
Auckland businessman Mark Barton owns an L72 — essentially also a factory-optioned drag racer, complete with high-power 427ci big block, Muncie M22 four-speed manual gearbox, and 12-bolt posi traction rear end. Experts have estimated it to be one of only around 30 still in existence.
The rare nature of the L72 meant that, although he was always willing to give it a decent thrash, Mark was never quite comfortable with the idea of really standing on it. He needed a car that he could hammer without fear of destroying something, but a few criteria needed to be met: it had to have a big-power V8 under the bonnet and a manual gearbox; it had to cater for Mark’s love of two-door ‘post’ sedans; and last, but definitely not least, it had to have those traditional looks that only come via chunky rubber, steel wheels, and hubcaps — as Mark puts it: “I don’t like shiny shit. If it doesn’t have hubcaps, I’m not interested.”
Shopping around for a car that fitted the bill was easier said than done — locally, the pickings were slim, which meant searching in the USA. Purchasing — or contemplating purchasing — a vehicle sight unseen comes with risks, of course. Mark’s search led him to this 1963 Ford 300, which appeared to tick all the boxes. It was a car that he’d seen and heard of a couple of times before, without actually looking any closer at it. Now that he was in a position to buy it, he began to take note, as it seemed to be everything he was after.
The person selling the car was John Jinnings, from Fort Wayne in Indiana, and the sale proved to be the antithesis of the many horror stories we hear about Kiwis importing cars from the States. John was knowledgeable and helpful, could provide a documented history of work done to the car, and is actually now one of Mark’s good friends. The work that had been done to the car proved to be extensive, without going overboard, and finished to an extremely high standard.
The first thing you’ll notice is the arrow-straight bodywork — handled by Evers Collision Works in Fort Wayne — which had been coated in a period-correct shade of Corinthian White. The tough ’60s looks are enhanced by the distinctive Ford Thunderbolt fibreglass ‘teardrop’ hood and fibreglass bumpers finished in matte silver. The overall effect of the big Ford’s appearance is tastefully understated, but the vehicle exudes an air of menace that tells you not to mess with it.
That’s confirmed by what’s under the bonnet. Neither John nor Mark had any qualms about sticking non numbers-matching gear in it, and this opened up a world of opportunities to make huge power. That said, it still looks pretty understated under the bonnet, but don’t make the mistake of lining it up at the lights — it’ll still blow your doors clean off.
The engine was built by Felice Performance Engines in Michigan, and is made up of a parts list that would have any petrolhead salivating. It’s still a tough FE, but the cast-iron monster that it left the factory with is long gone. In its place is a Robert Pond all-alloy FE block, now displacing a behemoth 496 cubic inches, thanks to a Scat crankshaft and H-beam rods, and Diamond pistons.
The monster motor’s lungs come courtesy of Comp Cams hydraulic roller cam and lifters, with Isky valves — measuring a huge 2.19 inches on the inlet and 1.75 inches on the exhaust — and Harland Sharp rockers in the alloy Edelbrock heads. A Pro Systems 1040cfm carburettor delivers all the food the big engine could ever require, and dumps it out through factory cast-iron headers. The three-inch exhaust system, with exhaust cut-outs and Flowmaster mufflers, sounds like a toned-down version of the apocalypse.
Since Mark doesn’t do automatics, the gearbox behind all of that motor was always going to need a third pedal. It is a four-speed Ford Toploader, with a clutch assembly by Fort Wayne Clutch — another Indiana-based outfit. It’s a pretty tough unit, although Mark reckons it could be nearing its limit if he pumps any more power out of the motor.
Behind the chunky four-speed is a Ford nine-inch LSD with Moser axles, which has so far held up reasonably well to the treatment Mark’s delivered. The same can’t be said of the driveshaft, which he actually managed to twist whilst doing a big stand-still burnout.
“I just stuck it in third, dumped the clutch, and the rears lit up,” Mark explains.
If only the driveshaft had enjoyed it as much as he did! It’s all been repaired now, and Mark’s always keen to get into the big Ford and drive it whenever he can — including in the rush-hour traffic to our central Auckland photo studio.
“It’s an interesting thing to drive,” he says of the car’s low-speed road manners, which are clearly not helped by the car’s unassisted drum brakes all round, manual steering, and stock suspension. At least the cabin is a comfortable place to be in — provided you’re not the one wrestling with leaden steering and pedals that feel as though they’ve been set in concrete.
The upholstery is in amazing condition; all Mark had to do in that department was swap the door cards — with help from Kelly O’Donnell — for period-correct items.
The aftermarket steering wheel soon found its way into the bin, replaced with an original item. So, too, for the big Auto Meter tacho the car came with — swapped for a nifty Moon half-sweep tacho that looks as though it’s been plucked straight from the pages of a ’60s Mooneyes catalogue. Look a little closer and you’ll notice the neatly hidden trio of Auto Meter gauges, which allow Mark to keep a close eye on the big engine’s well-being, and the Hurst shifter — with integrated line-lock button — that hints at the car being a little more than just a tough cruiser.
It wasn’t just the interior bits that Mark had to take his hand to before he was fully satisfied with the car, though. He ripped out the engine’s ignition gear, replacing it with new MSD gear, including a Pro-Billet distributor and 8.5mm leads.
The car was riding on Halibrand-style five-spoke alloys on the front, with steel wheels on the rear. Since Mark’s all about making his car look the way it would have looked had it rolled during that era, he sourced some period-correct Ford steel wheels measuring 15×6 and 15×10 inches, and had them refinished in the same off-white as the body. Mark also managed to locate hubcaps specific to 1963. All this, combined with the Firestone tyres — with ‘cheater’ slicks out back — give the car exactly the chunky tyre and steel wheel look he was after.
Those cheater slicks look awesome, but they’re a bit of a handful in the wet, as we witnessed in Mark’s (unintentional) sustained loss of traction up the damp road as he left the photo shoot. Come drag time — yes, he will take the big Ford to the strip — they’ll be swapped for a pair of M&H drag slicks identical to the pair worn by Steve Keys’ Thunderbolt, which Mark hopes to line up against in the near future. That’ll be worth seeing just for the spectacle as much as anything else.
The sound of Mark Barton’s big Ford 300 at full noise won’t be confined to the drag strip, either — as it is fully road legal, Mark enjoys taking the family out to various cruises and events in it, and beating up on the car the way he’d always intended. With 600 manually shifted horses on tap in a 1960s two-door post sedan, it sounds as though Mark’s finally got the car he’s always wanted. The only issue is that, as someone who admits he has an incurable case of the car bug, he’ll no doubt be looking for something else soon — when you’ve got the car that is perfect for you, what could you possibly get next? Only time will tell, but, looking at Mark’s car history, we know that whatever it is will be pretty damn impressive.
1963 Ford 300
- Engine: 496ci Ford, Robert Pond all-alloy FE block, Scat crankshaft, H-beam rods, Diamond pistons, Hastings piston rings, ARP stud kit, Comp Cams hydraulic roller camshaft, Comp Cams lifters, Edelbrock alloy heads, 2.19-inch inlet valves, 1.75-inch exhaust valves, Isky valve springs, Harland Sharp rockers, Edelbrock Victor 427 inlet manifold, Pro Systems 1040cfm carburettor, one-inch carb spacer, McRobb high performance mechanical fuel pump, Ford cast headers, three-inch mandrel-bend exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, MSD Pro-Billet distributor, MSD 8.5mm leads, Ford ignition coil, alloy radiator
- Driveline: Ford Toploader four-speed manual, big-shaft gearbox, Ford nine-inch diff, LSD head, Moser axles
- Suspension: Factory coil spring front, factory rear leaves, CalTrac rear traction bars, manual steering
- Brakes: Factory unboosted drums
- Wheels/Tyres: Ford steel wheels, 1963 Ford hubcaps, Firestone 7.10–15 tyres (front), Firestone Dragster 8.20–15 tyres (rear)
- Exterior: Fibreglass Thunderbolt ‘teardrop’ bonnet, fibreglass bumpers
- Interior: Hurst shifter, Moon half-sweep tacho, Auto Meter gauges, reupholstered interior, radio delete
- Performance: Time will tell
This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 124. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: