The old story of “We were just going to do a quick tidy up, and it got out of hand,” is probably the most common thing we hear over the phone in the NZV8 offices. And this 1969 Mustang belonging to Matamata couple Gary and Tina Walker is one that story befits. The difference, though, is that at a certain point they embraced how the build had begun to spiral and changed plans accordingly, with the result of the revised blueprint being a car up there with the best we’ve ever seen.
Having always dreamed of owning something American, when the time was right the hunt began, and in 2008 Westcoast Classic Imports had just the thing — a rust-free Californian car. “We just intended doing a panel and paint, new interior, keep the 302 and auto in and then putting a set of wheels on it, [but] the day we brought it home we took it for a quick drive up the street and then completely stripped it,” says Tina of what was to have started out as a simple procedure.
Upon that strip-down, a crack was discovered in one of the front shock towers. After looking into the best way to repair it, they decided that removing the towers altogether was the best option. We’re guessing this was Gary’s input, and that he had a secret plan all along, as the job was the equivalent of saying that, instead of just topping up your engine with oil, you’ll drop in a new engine instead. It’s making a massive job out of what could have been a small task.
At this point in time, the plan was just to run the 302 that the car had come with, although they preferred it to be manual rather than auto, so they found a Toploader gearbox they could drop in once it was back from being painted.
A fresh coat of gloss black saw the car take on a whole new look. It also saw the couple think that perhaps the Toploader wasn’t going to be the optimum gearbox. Owning one of just a handful of manual BF XR8 Falcons in the country, and loving the six-speed in it, they decided perhaps one of those would be a better option. The only issue was that the one they found for sale came complete with an engine. Unfazed, they decided to grab it with the thought of selling the unneeded engine off.
Of course, on getting it home, and realising that their newly painted strut tower–free engine bay would be big enough to drop the whole package into, the plan took a complete U-turn. If you know your Fords, you’ll know the XR8 Boss motors are a massive piece of gear, their quad-cam design making them not only wide, but also heavy. Fitting one in was never going to be a simple task, so the couple knew they needed to turn to someone with plenty of knowledge and skill to make it work. That person was master fabricator and race car engineer Mike ‘Bic’ Anderson at Sonic Race & Machine. When discussing the issues involved in the conversion with an Australian-based friend, he came up with the suggestion of converting it to right-hand-drive at the same time … which added even more complexity to the build.
Being a man of many talents, though, Mike soon had the engine mounted and the steering conversion sorted. But being a perfectionist, he also thought it’d be a good opportunity to get the suspension set-up up to scratch too. With custom-made double A-arms and QA1 coilovers along with a new rack-and-pinion steering assembly, the car would soon drive better than the pair’s much loved XR8. To ensure this was the case, a four-link was created to replace the stock leaf-spring suspension, and plenty of under-body bracing fitted to ensure the weight of the engine didn’t cause any undue stress.
By this time, both Gary and Tina realised the project was far beyond what they’d first envisaged, but if they were going this far, they may as well keep on going, and end up with the car of their dreams. Even if that did mean waiting longer and paying more than they’d originally anticipated.
It was around this time that Simmons wheels went back into production, and having always wanted a set, some custom 19x9s and 19x10s were soon ordered. Of course, this meant the car needed bigger brakes, too. Bic was soon set the task of fitting Wilwoods front and rear along with a matching pedal box.
Rather than keep the factory side-exiting intake plenum, the pair tracked down an Australian company who were just launching a new forward-facing carbon item onto the market, and placed their order. This in turn saw the job of engine-bay detailing spiral as well. Instead of wiring in a stock ECU, the decision was made to run a Link G4 Xtreme, which not only allowed for the custom loom to be hidden, but also gave scope for even better performance.
Just when they thought the build was almost complete and the sweet taste of success was so close, the couple noticed something funny with the paintwork on the car. The result was the whole car requiring a repaint, even though it was yet to even be driven!
Understandably they were less than impressed with the situation, but they could see an upside, and that was that they could now have Muscle Car Fabrications perform a swag of custom bodywork before it was repainted. The MCF touches include a custom rear spoiler, removal of the side markers and handles, creation of custom exhaust outlets, a custom bonnet, and a repositioning of the fuel filler. One thing was for sure, though, and that was the car was going to remain black. This time around, it was a super-deep custom DuPont hue that was chosen. Adding a touch not often seen here, the centre of the bonnet was left in a matte finish.
The finishing touch to the seemingly never-ending build was thankfully one of the smoothest so far, and that was re-trimming the interior. Jason Fell from Waikato Motor Trimmers was handed the task of covering every surface possible with a new black trim. With Stewart Warner gauges and a custom gauge console, the interior has been given a modern look to match the modern motor that now lies under the hood.
While at times throughout the build the couple could have easily washed their hands of the project and the car scene in general, now that it’s finally complete, there’s no way they’d ever reverse the route they chose. It was supposed to just be a basic build, but instead the result is a dream come true, even if the path to perfection was one paved with drama. The past is exactly that, though, and there’s no way the pair will be letting any of it get in the way of enjoying what has to be one of the coolest cars we’ve ever had the privilege of featuring.
Gary and Tina’s Mustang was featured in NZV8 Issue No. 94 (March 2013). You can grab a copy here.
Engine: Ford 5.4-litre DOHC, custom carbon-fibre plenum, custom twin 65mm throttle body, MSD fuel pumps, custom surge tank, custom-built equal-length headers, HPC-coated custom 2.5-inch exhausts, Aussie Desert Cooler radiator, twin fans, custom cold airbox, Link G4 Xtreme ECU, Canton header tank
Driveline: Tremec T56 six-speed manual, lightened flywheel, 9-inch diff, 28-spline axles
Suspension: Custom double A-arm front end, QA1 adjustable coilover shocks, Wilwood two-inch drop spindles, custom steering rack, three-position adjustable sway bar, custom four-link
Brakes: Six-pot Wilwood front calipers, four-pot Wilwood rear calipers
Wheels/Tyres: 19×9-inch and 19×10-inch Simmons FR19 rims, 245/35R19 and 275/35R19 Kumho tyres
Exterior: Custom bonnet, shaved handles, modified tail lights, shaved marker lights, custom rear spoiler, custom bumpers, custom rear valance, recessed number plate, shaved fuel filler, custom exhaust exits, DuPont black paint
Interior: Right-hand-drive conversion, Wilwood pedal box, custom seats front and rear, custom re-trim, Momo steering wheel, Stewart Warner gauges, custom instrument panel