A few years ago, K.A.R. Auto Group found itself at a crossroads. Already successful in the vintage Mustang market with restorations, parts, and car sales, the company considered entering the late-model Mustang market in an effort to maintain growth. That's when K.A.R. president George Waydo says he turned to his employees.
"Our phone guys told me that we were starting to get a lot of calls from vintage-Mustang owners looking for modern updates," Waydo explains. "So we started monitoring phone calls and talking to people who walked into our store. As it turns out, a high percentage wanted non-stock parts."
At the Mustang Club of America's 40th Anniversary Celebration in 2004, Waydo walked the Nashville show field and noted that the majority of cars had some type of modification. That was Waydo's light-bulb moment. "Instead of getting into the highly competitive late-model market with its younger customers and slim margins, we decided to go the restomod route."
It made perfect sense. K.A.R.'s phone people and on-site technicians were already well versed in '65-'73 Mustangs. Adding restomod parts to the mix would require some research, but nothing like what would be needed for a corporate-philosophy overhaul if the company made a move into the late-model market.
Part of the restomod research included building a vehicle to test-fit parts, an undertaking that led to K.A.R.'s first STE Classic Mustang: STE for styling, technology, and engineering. "If we're going to be in the restomod parts business," Waydo explains, "we'd better know how to install the parts." Utilizing a red '66 fastback, K.A.R. learned a lot from the project. "We did things such as using a late-model 5.0 timing-chain cover, then realized we didn't have a place for the oil dipstick," says Waydo.
K.A.R. has used the learning experience to build its second STE fastback, resulting in the '65 model shown here that serves as both a showcase for K.A.R.'s expertise and as a continuing test vehicle. With gorgeous red paint and white Le Mans striping, it has the classic look of a vintage Shelby. However, as you can see from the long list of modifications in the Tech Specs sidebar, this Mustang is loaded with modern mods, from the Ford Racing 5.0L engine up front to the Fuel Safe fuel-cell at the rear."We wanted to fit all the components in one car to make sure they all work together," says Waydo. "There's no other way to do it other than to do it. Everybody out there makes good products, but they don't always work in sync with each other. We have to be able to tell our customers which parts will work together and how to install them."
As an example, Waydo explains how difficult it was to find small-block Mustang headers that would clear the various rack-and-pinion steering systems available for early Mustangs. After swapping numerous headers and racks on the STE Classic, K.A.R. eventually settled on a Randall's rack-and-pinion setup with Hedman Elite headers. "The Randall's rack mounts farther forward," Waydo tells us, "And the shaft comes out near the frame, which provides more clearance for headers."
Another combination that required considerable test-fitting was the FAYS2 Watts linkage rear suspension in conjunction with a rear-exiting exhaust, which Waydo wanted because it provides a quieter interior as opposed to an easier-to-install but louder side-exiting exhaust. Although the tailpipes had to be custom made, Waydo was pleased when his local exhaust shop proved it could be done.
K.A.R.'s goal for the STE Classic was a '65 Mustang fastback with street manners, road-car handling, modern creature comforts and safety features, and a sound that "says musclecar without being obnoxiously loud." Instead of sacrificing driveability by aiming for the magic 500hp number, K.A.R. preferred a tamer 350 hp from a Ford Racing 5.0 crate engine topped by an Edelbrock Performer intake and Barry Grant Demon carburetor. With 3.55 gears and a five-speed, the STE Classic offers a delicious combination of low-end acceleration and comfortable cruising.
Safety was also a primary goal, starting with the fuel-cell that eliminates the possibility of a rupturing fuel tank in the event of a major rear-end collision. The STE Classic is also upgraded with a dual-reservoir brake master cylinder, four-wheel disc brakes converted from an '02 Mustang GT, a Ford Explorer-type emergency brake, halogen headlights for improved visibility, oversize universal joints, and even a driveshaft safety loop.
Comfort was taken into consideration with a Classic Auto Air Perfect Fit A/C system, a Flaming River tilt steering column, and Rally reclining bucket seats. Between the seats is K.A.R.'s custom-built modular console with a front storage compartment and drink holders. The Alpine AM/FM/CD stereo head unit is ready for any of today's music options, including satellite radio and MP3 players.
As a total package, the STE Classic is a completely re-engineered, modern-day Mustang, and you'd think that K.A.R. has hopes of selling a ton of them as turnkey vehicles, but that's not the case. As Waydo explains, "Our goal is not to hand-build 20-25 cars a year-we'd be happy to build two or three-but our main goal is to be able to talk more intelligently to our customers. We want it to be easy for someone to duplicate in their home garage. Anybody can build this car. Everything is bolt-on; no welding required."
Although this STE Classic is basically completed, it continues to serve as a rolling testbed for K.A.R. Since our photos were taken on Labor Day weekend during the Mustang Club of America's 30th Anniversary Stampede, K.A.R. has added brighter LED taillights for additional safety. Power windows are also slated for the fastback.
Of course, building a car like the STE Classic is not an inexpensive proposition. In fact, if you'd like to own this particular fastback, it can be yours for somewhere around $79,500. Waydo hopes to lower the price of admission with K.A.R.'s next restomod project, a '68 hardtop.
Considering how the Mustang restomod movement continues to grow, we'd say that Waydo and K.A.R. took the right path when they faced the crossroads.
Ford Racing GT-40 crate engineEdelbrock Performer intake
Barry Grant Road Demon carburetor
Mallory Uni-Lite distributor
Hedman Elite equal-length headers
lowmaster 40-series mufflers
Custom serpentine pulleys
Cool-Flex aluminum radiator
Spal electric fan
Classic Auto Air Perfect-Fit air conditioning
Ford Racing World Class T5 five-speed
Custom K.A.R. aluminum shifter
Ron Morris Performance cable clutch
Ram clutch and pressure plate
Custom aluminum driveshaft with safety loop
Currie Stage II rearend
Currie 3.55 gears in Truetrac differential
Fuel Safe 16-gallon fuel cell
In-tank electric fuel pump
Custom 31/48-inch fuel line
Suspension & Steering
Fat Man front adjustable-strut suspension
Tubular lower control arms
1-inch front sway bar
Randall's power rack-and-pinion steering
Front-loaded 200-lb. rear leaf springs
Koni Classic adjustable rear shocks
Fays2 Watt's linkage assembly
'02 Mustang GT four-wheel power discs
Dual-reservoir master cylinder
Explorer-style rear emergency-brake system
Custom front-brake hoses
Wheels & Tires
American Racing 15-inch Torque Thrust II
Billet center caps with Mustang tri-bar logo
Cooper Cobra blackwall radial tires
Painless wiring harnesses
100-amp one-wire alternator
Optima Red battery, trunk mounted
Two-stage Firecracker Red paint
White Le Mans stripes
Racing-style front valance
Billet-aluminum grille with custom tri-bar emblem
Red-dot tri-bar headlights
Fiberglass hood with twin scoops
Molded side-body ground effects
'90-'93 Mustang convertible outside mirrors
White reflective side stripes
Billet taillight bezels
Billet gas cap
Rally reclining seats
K.A.R. Sole modular console
Custom-upholstered door panels
Billet door handles, pulls, lights, and so on
Lighted running-horse scuff plates
Billet pedal pads and throttle pedal
Flaming River adjustable tilt steering column
Grant steering wheel with Mustang logo
Custom-molded center dashpanel
Alpine AM/FM/CD/radio with iPod adapter and MP3 ready
Custom Autosound's kick-panel speakers
6x9 rear speakers in ABS-plastic rear trapdoor