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1966 Ford Mustang Hardtop - 21st Century Coupe
Neil Brown's "old" '66 Hardtop is brand-new and modern underneath.
With 22 Fords, most of them high-performance with names like Shelby and Boss, I wondered why Tulsa's Neil Brown built a '66 coupe. "That's the one that was just sitting here not doing anything." Mustangs tend to sit when the excitement wears off. Neil did not want to sell the '66 because he liked the car's looks. But he wasn't driving the hardtop with so many other choices in his Ford arsenal. Then one day, Brown's friend James Lubbert said, "If you're not going to drive the car, have you thought about restoring it? "Brown thought about late-model Mustangs fitted with classic Mustang bodies, or "the luxury of a new car with an old body." He wanted to do the reverse: "Leave the old body there and put a new car underneath it."
Actually, he also kept the original unit-body construction. But, he says, everything else has been updated, including a new stroker small-block, five-speed transmission, braking system, suspension, and more. What he did was bring his '66 coupe into the 21st century, minus computers, while keeping the vintage looks. For the build, he called upon Lubbert, who does not make a business out of building cars. He actually built this '66 coupe in his home two-car garage in McKinney, Texas. Lubbert credits his father, Steve, with the paint and bodywork, performed in his home shop in Strafford, Missouri. Brown wasn't too concerned with the engine details beyond a carbureted V-8 and gave Lubbert plenty of leeway. Lubbert suggested a bored and stroked 302, ordering a DSS Racing stroker kit for a 1990's vintage 5.0L "roller" block.
"I got in a couple of boxes with crank, rods, pistons, rings, everything I needed," Lubbert says. "I took it to the machine shop to have everything balanced, then did the assembly myself. "Huge horsepower was not a goal. Brown was after a "stout street engine." The basics on the 5.0 roller-tappet turned out to be Edelbrock Performer cylinder heads, Edelbrock's new Performer Air Gap intake, and an old-school 750-cfm Holley topped with a Cobra oval air cleaner. The result is 322 horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque, both peaking at 5,800 rpm. In an era when 1,000 horsepower is a popular goal, the suspension these days often seems to take a back seat. After all, suspension modifications are, for the most part, hidden. From the passenger side, I thought I could see a traction bar. Except this suspension is far from old-school. What was it?
In a stock '66 Mustang, longitudinal leaf springs locate the rear axle. A traction bar is a common 1960s technique to link the frame and rear axle to take pressure off the springs during heavy acceleration and braking. The visible bar here is actually a Griggs Racing lower control arm; one on each side runs lengthwise to replace the leaf springs. Instead of old-school traction bars, a torque arm runs down the center to connect the rear axle housing to the frame to prevent the driving wheels from rotating the axle assembly. A panhard bar controls side-to-side rear axle movement. Lubbert says the components from Griggs Racing emulate a three-link set-up in a late-model Mustang.
Up front, Lubbert replaced the stock upper and lower control arms, shocks, and coil springs with a Griggs Racing GR350 suspension designed to use a short and long arm similar to race cars. The long arm attaches the bottom of an SN-95 spindle to one side of the K-member, which is welded to the frame rails. The coil-over shocks mount from the lower control arm to the Griggs Racing tower mounting bracket, also welded to the car. With the hood open, no one is the wiser to the radical suspension changes because Lubbert did not remove the shock tower mounts. Overall, the body resembles a '66 coupe with mild Shelby upgrades--hood with scoop, front valance, body side scoops on the rear quarters, and rear spoiler. Brown also went with sequential LED taillights inside billet aluminum housings.
The interior follows a similar theme. With 21st century handling, Pro-Car buckets were a necessity. The woodgrain instrument cluster might look stock, but it's actually billet aluminum to house the AutoMeter gauges. Air conditioning is from Vintage Air. The retro shifter is connected to a modern Tremec TKO-600 five-speed. Visible behind the American Racing Torque Thrust II wheels are Cobra disc brakes measuring 11.65-inches out back and 13-inches at the front, within an inch of the car's original wheel diameter. The '66 coupe is no longer parked. It's actually become one of Brown's favorite rides. He says, "So far, we've taken it on the Hot Rod Power Tour that stopped in Stillwater, Oklahoma, last June. "He added, "I'd much rather be driving that car with an old body because it's all brand-new underneath an old car."