Close this search box.

Serious Bite: Igor Sutich’s custom Matamata Panelworks ’65 Mustang

16 April 2020



Igor Sutich is a man who knows what he wants, and when he decided that he wanted the best damn Mustang in the land, he wouldn’t stop until he got it!

The old ‘work hard, play harder’ adage is one that Igor Sutich knows all too well. A savvy businessman by day, Igor’s had a passion for custom and classic cars for as long as he can remember. However, when people ask him what he’s owned over the years, there’s a bit of a surprise in store. That’s not because he’s not owned anything of interest — far from it — but because, as the one-time owner of iconic Auckland car yard Hollywood Cars, he’s had at least one of almost everything. Hollywood Cars was the go-to place for those with a passion for cars out of the ordinary, and Igor clearly also got to sample some of the good. 

Fast forward to around 2010, and, by now in the property industry, Igor was keen to put something classic back in his stable. Now, let’s face it, with Igor having been behind the wheel of many Italian and German supercars in the intervening years, whatever he got into was never going to impress him if it drove like an old car.

The car had to be set up to give Igor the same driving experience as the supercars did, which meant a whole lot of customization would be required. Plus, like any perfectionist, Igor was never going to settle for a car that didn’t look as good as it drove.

Sadly, Igor’s first foray into getting what he wanted didn’t go so well, with a supposed metal-file finish turning out to be a less-than-ideal bog job. Not impressed but keen not to throw the whole car and to do it right, Igor was more determined than ever to get the car that he wanted. 

The obvious team to help Igor on the right journey were Matamata Panelworks, a business that has a long list of trophy winners and NZV8 cover cars to its name. It seems each and every build that rolls out of the doors there is better than the last — and that was exactly what Igor was after. He wasn’t about to settle for having the second-best car it’d built, so, in a meeting with business owner Malcolm Sankey, the challenge was set — make it the best. 

It wasn’t just a matter of signing a blank cheque and walking away, though; Igor would work closely with the Panelworks team during the four-year build, with both sides having their input into it. 

Obviously, the initial plan of replacing the car’s Shelby-style front bumper and flaring the guards grew somewhat during the initial design phase. Having a Ferrari F430 in the garage and loving the lines of it, Igor instructed the Panelworks design team to incorporate some of the aspects of that car into the 1965 Mustang, which arrived as a blank canvas. Other than that, the team could let their imaginations run wild to work out the rest of the look of the vehicle — bouncing each idea off Igor first, of course.

Once the tick of approval had been given, the team could set about crafting the exquisite custom metalwork that we’ve known to expect from them, each and every part beginning as a flat piece of sheet steel and being loving crafted into a key component of the vehicle’s identity.

Right from the get-go, RRS Suspension was chosen for the car to ensure that it handled as well as required. A set of 19×9-inch and 19×12-inch Santa Cruz wheels wrapped in 235/35R19 and 305/30R19 tyres was also purchased, so that the bodywork could be built around the wheel size and ride height. At 12 inches wide, there was no way that the rear wheels were going to stay within the confines of the factory bodywork — well, not this time around, at least — and custom flares that tuck tightly into the radius of the tyres were started. Likewise, at an impressive 19×9 inches, the front wheels were far too big to fit happily beneath the narrow haunches of an early pony car. 

With the flares defining the overall width of the body, the team could move on to the rest of the build, such as the complete custom front bumper assembly. The lines of the custom front-end sheet metal flow through to the sides of the car, thanks to custom integrated side skirts. See those vents in the flanks of the car? They’re McLaren inspired, as requested. The same lines also defined where the replacement rear-end sheet-metal work would end up. The exact design was a combination of ideas from the Panelworks team and Igor himself.

But good looks were only part of the package; the engineering on the car extends far beyond what the eye can see. To stiffen the whole vehicle, custom braces were fabricated below the front fenders to triangulate the shock mounts to the bulkhead. Custom torque boxes were fitted under the floor, while the transmission tunnel was enlarged to suit the planned transmission. 

While there’s no mistaking a Panelworks car, mainly due to the amount of custom work that goes into it, each and every one is significantly different from the last, despite being built on the same formula. However, the interior of Igor’s car is above and beyond any other, thanks to both the metalwork undertaken by the Panelworks team and the soft coverings — which were looked after by Trevor and his team at Auto Interior Specialist Ltd.

With modern cars as inspiration, the car was kitted out with a full scratch-built custom dashboard to house the suite of electronic goodies that would be installed, such as air conditioning, a reversing monitor, and, of course, high-end audio. Nappa leather was chosen — not just to wrap the seats but also for the intricate door trims, which seamlessly blend into the rear panels and custom parcel shelf. Not a single surface inside the cabin remains as it was when the car rolled off the production line back in ’65; in fact, there’s not much in the cabin that was even thought of back then. The Dakota Digital Gauges, the Dynamat insulation, and the pure luxury it all exudes are clearly on that list.

With a car that has had this much custom work and has been built to keep a supercar fan happy, getting the right engine combination wasn’t an easy task. While the desire was there for power, it needed to be matched with drivability, not to mention reliability. No one involved in the build was keen on mechanical dramas, so the choice of a Roush crate engine was a wise one. 

Known as one of the best Ford-based engine builders around the globe, Roush Performance offers a range of options aimed at builds such as this. Discussion between Roush, Panelworks, and Igor resulted in the purchase of a Roush 427 IR engine. The beauty of this is not just the two-year warranty it came with, but the stack-injected EFI system, along with the full billet front-drive set-up. It ticked Igor’s boxes: it looked good, and, with 560hp and 540lb·ft of torque, it sure had enough performance.

The IR series of motors is built specifically to be backed with a manual gearbox, which, of course, was always the plan for ‘VENOM’. The box of choice — a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed — was matched with a McLeod triple-plate clutch. Behind the box is a custom driveshaft and a Ford nine-inch diff fitted with a perfect 3.5:1 cruising ratio.

As with the front end, RRS suspension was chosen for the rear in the form of a three-link and adjustable platform coilovers. With this set-up and an RRS steering-rack conversion getting rid of the steering box and the vagaries that go with it, the car handles exactly as Igor hoped it would. Prior to his getting behind the wheel, the finishing touches needed to be added, and they were made exactly as the car was being set up on display at the CRC Speedshow in July.

While the beautiful Blurple paint, applied at Panelworks in-house paint shop, had, by this stage, long since dried, fitting up a car such as this takes a whole lot of assembly work. Included in that assembly was the fitting of the new flush front and rear screens, custom tail lights, LED headlights, and, of course, the countless custom body panels. While it was a rush to get the car to the show, the effort was well rewarded by the judges and the crowd alike. 

It was four years from the time the concept developed in Igor’s head until the completed car rolled out the door, three of those in production. The result is more than a car, though; it’s a work of art that Igor is privileged enough to drive, and he couldn’t be happier with how it goes.

Igor states, “Big thanks must go to the team at Matamata Panelworks. They sure know what they’re doing; whether it’s engine, suspension, panel, paint, or parts, they are a one-stop shop and experts in all, so I couldn’t have wished for better hands to do my build. It’s taken six long-but-enjoyable years to get the car finished and into its first car show. It was a very proud moment when I heard my name read out as first in Custom class at the CRC Speedshow recently. It makes all the moments of madness disappear, and you can reflect on the years of enjoyment ahead. So, the big lesson — and there have been a few: don’t leave it until you’re too old to enjoy it. Life is for living, so do it now!”

Malcolm sums up not just this build but others when he says, “People arrive as customers, but they depart as great mates”, and that was the situation here, too. While stories of fallouts between owner and builder are all too common in the modified car world, that wasn’t the case here. The way this result is best summed up is ‘flawless’. 

Igor Sutich
Age: 55
Occupation: Property investor and trader
Previously owned cars: Too many to list, as the previous owner of Hollywood Cars, Grey Lynn. Favourites included 1985 Holden VK Group A Brock, 1987 Porsche 911 turbo
Dream car: VENOM and a 1962 Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolet
Why the Mustang: Have loved ’60s American cars since I was six years old
Build time: Six years — not full time
Length of ownership: Six years
Igor thanks: Malcolm and all 18 staff at Matamata Panelworks, Sparked Auto Electrix, Tim at The Krysler Shop, Trevor and the team at Auto Interior Specialist Ltd, Rapid Radio 

1965 Ford Mustang
Engine: 427ci Roush IR engine, iron four-bolt block, steel crank, H-beam rods, forged pistons, aluminium CNC ported heads, roller cam, eight-stack intake, custom fuel cell, twin 2.5-inch exhaust, Roush ECU, AEM Performance fuel pumps, custom fuel cellDriveline: Tremec TKO600 five-speed gearbox, McLeod triple plate clutch, custom drive shaft, Ford nine-inch diff, 3.5:1 ratio
Suspension: RRS Phase 6 front suspension, RRS coilovers, RRS three-link rear end, RRS GT rack and pinion steering, reinforced lower control arms
Brakes: RRS under-dash offset brake booster, RRS six-pot front calipers, four-pot rear calipers
Wheels/tyres: 19×9-inch and 19×12-inch Santa Cruz wheels, 235/35R19 and 305/30R19 tyres
Exterior: Custom front bumper, custom wheel arches, custom side skirts, custom rear bumper, custom rear lower valance, custom bonnet, flush-fitting windscreens, custom operating side vents, custom tail lights, custom smoked glass, LED headlights, custom fuel cap, custom door handles, custom grilles, custom PPG Blurple paint
Interior: Full nappa leather retrim, custom dash, custom centre console, custom seats, custom inner door panels, custom overhead console, custom interior trim panels, Dynamat insulation, Vintage Air air conditioning, Dakota Digital gauges, electric windows, billet switches
Chassis: Custom chassis connectors, custom inner tower support, custom torque boxes, custom tunnel
Performance: 560hp