A Well Travelled Mustang
A Mustang that has been around the world without turning a wheel, completely different from the machine that left the factory and being owned by the same person twice, this car has a tale to tell also a gap in its history whilst residing on the other side of the planet. What we do know is the car was one of the first to leave the Dearborn Assembly Plant (D.A.P) late 1964 and shipped around the globe to have a RHD conversion by Ford Australia. The exported car chassis no 5F09T621672 was originally fitted with Fords straight six motor and was first registered 01.01.1965. The life the car enjoyed in Australia is the missing part of the jigsaw and owner Dave Lane would dearly love to fill in the blanks. Much later whilst still in Australia we do know the Mustang was fitted with a 427 cu big block competition engine and suspect it may have spent some time on the drag strip, we also believe the car was located just outside of Sydney. In 1993 it was back inside a container for the two month journey into the hands of engineer Keith Dickens.
KD Engineering of Warrington in Northern England was going to be home for the Mustang for quite some time as Keith began a full and detailed rebuild on the car. Renowned as a perfectionist no detail would be omitted and the highest standard of workmanship guaranteed as she was transformed into a full Shelby spec GT350. The car arrived without the big block motor and gearbox, it was and still is rust free and with two new front wings fitted. Over 2000 hours were clocked up with a full strip and bare metal re-spray in the correct Wimbledon White with the Guardsman Blue stripes. The rear seats removed and a Shelby Deck fitted. Under the lightweight hood a 289 cu in, V8 from an AC Cobra fills the space topped with Edelbrock Performance heads and carb, twin point distributor, alloy inlet manifold and the Cobra high capacity sump. Keith fabricated the side exiting competition exhaust that enhances the V8 symphony. A Ford T10 ‘top loader’ gearbox with Hurst shift and competition clutch controls the balanced V8 400bhp. The rubber is pushed into the tarmac with Koni competition suspension and the car sits 1in lower at the front. Ford Falcon brakes with 10 inch discs bring the 1265kgs to a halt. The steering box also taken from the Falcon is quick and precise and with a 9in rear end and Detroit locker means nothing is wasted, immense power with minimal wheel spin. Keith took two years to complete the project and then enjoyed the car for another three. The American Racing alloys and the full harness completes the look of a show winning car and after receiving many offers Keith finally accepted one from Manchester collector Peter Clay. The next seven years were spent as part of a large display of fine machines with minimal use before Peter’s interests went elsewhere and the entire collection was sold off.
A classic car web site had carried the advert for quite some time. Dave Lane watched with interest as this was just the specification he had been searching for and eventually Dave made his move and secured the car. Even though the price was fair it was still a lot of money and to raise the funds Dave needed two things, a re-mortgage on his house and an understanding wife. Driving the car home for the first time (Sept 2010) Dave says was one of his life’s highlights, the car was everything that he could have wished for, and much more. Autumn quickly turned to winter and very little chance to enjoy the Mustang. The spring and summer of 2011 were notoriously bad it rained for weeks on end and the car was driven very little, Dave became frustrated with his investment stuck under cover for nearly a year. Best friend Gary Mills only needed to see the car once to realise he wanted her in his garage and was relentless in his pursuit of the 350GT. Caught off guard in the middle of a house move Dave agreed his friend could be the next custodian of this fine machine, a decision he regretted immediately but the deal took place on the understanding that if it was ever resold he would have first refusal. We have all done it, let a car go and then wish you hadn’t and it’s rare to have the chance to put that right, so when the opportunity came his way to enjoy the Mustang again Dave took it without hesitation.
The fast, curving roads of the South Downs on the coast of England are perfect for the 350GTs firm suspension with minimal body roll even in the tight corners. Undulating countryside with steep inclines the V8 roars to the summits with ease, it is where the car belongs. Driving the car back home for the second time was as good as the first, Dave had corrected his mistake and in March this year the Mustang was back in its element and gave me my chance to admire her.
Littlehampton, a small coastal fishing village hosted a gathering of classic cars the type of scenario that takes place all over the country every weekend and ironically it was cold and windy. I had been tasked with a small article in a weekly publication to report on the machines on show, it was the soundtrack of the V8 that caught my attention as the highlight of my day parked up in the line. The norm for UK shows are small 4 cylinder side valves from the 50s and 60s , we get some 6 cylinder saloons or sports cars but booming V8s are not as common and I had to know more. A quick chat with Dave and a date was arranged to spend more time with him, get the story and to photograph the car at home in the countryside.
Looking for the right place for my camera to do the car justice Dave followed me to the location the Mustang filling my mirrors giving the impression the 350GT could just swallow up the tarmac and anything on it, exhaust notes echoing where the roads are cut into the hillside. Leaving the downs onto the main coastal road to the Battle of Britain Airfield at Tangmere, appropriately parked under the noses of other sixties heroes the Harrier and Phantom jets three icons from a decade of raw power, the Mustang as usual attracted a crowd and the clicking of camera shutters.
Why does the Mustang create such interest whenever it hits the road? Stopping for fuel takes twice as long as questions are asked and people admire. Unlike the Mustangs country of origin and its first home the V8 motor was and still is a rarity on England’s roads. So a big thanks to the Dave’s of this country, flying the flag for muscle cars, for me if I can’t own one at least I got the chance to spend time with his.
A Bel-Air Beauty
In certain circumstances pictures do speak louder than words, this is one of those times. My descriptive powers cannot match the Nikon lens, but the story behind the images is so great the battle for space will be hard fought. In 1999 neglected in the back streets of Bognor Regis the 1957 Bel Air was found by an American car lover Jack Keen. Purchased and trailered home Jack put the legendary machine back on the road, not the finished item you see here, just enough to be able to use and enjoy. The new decade saw his son Gary take the car on in 2002 and the trend continued, enough was done to keep it road worthy until early 2009. The decision to take the Chevy off the road and restore the 50 year old V8 was as massive as the car itself, using every spare moment it would take two years. With any project of this type you are never sure of what is involved until it is back to a bare shell and living in a coastal town the biggest issue for old cars is tin worm, it attacks on the sea breeze with a vengeance and shows no mercy. Gary tells of this time in his life as if it was yesterday, there were times over that period when there were doubts over completion. The 283 cubic inch (4638cc) power plant had a complete rebuild and an unleaded head conversion, finally finished in original Chevy orange. The two speed Powerglide transmission was also treated to the full restoration process. The body was basically solid, yes repairs were required but quality of the lead filling and the time taken to achieve the dead straight panels are there for all to admire, finished in the original red with correct gold and stainless trim parts; all 16ft is stunning. The original all drum brakes overhauled, a complete re-wire and a full hand-made stainless steel exhaust, the labour hours and costs just kept increasing. We all have many reasons for restoring a car, having been his fathers was the driving force for Gary. Jack Keen had suffered a stroke and was living in a local nursing home and so to finish this mammoth task and let his father see the transformation became paramount. New fuel tank and radiator had to be sourced and plumbed in. Gary was becoming the courier company’s no1 customer shipping original or authentic reproduction parts from the USA. The interior is just incredible; in its day being inside the Bel Air made every journey an experience. I felt like I was sitting in a fifties juke box, striking colours and gleaming chrome, again with a faultless attention to detail. The roar of the Chevy ‘small block’ competing with the hidden CD unit playing ‘Bad To The Bone’ the 1982 hit used in the film Christine, different car but you get the picture. The original valve radio on display also works perfectly with parts from Texas and the genius of a local restorer. A new wrap around windshield and complete wiper system and finally the original size 14 inch rims and white wall tyres sit perfectly with the rest of the car. Gary Keen can rightly feel extremely proud of what he has achieved. I am also certain of the massive pride his father Jack must have felt when he was introduced to the finished Bel Air outside the nursing home, just two weeks before he sadly passed away.
There is so much more I would like to tell about this car and the people behind it, they say a picture paints a thousand words, so best leave it to the pictures. To Gary and the memory of his father, I can only say thanks for your time, honesty and the chance to spend a few hours with the magnificent Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan.