"I never saw a Mustang I didn't like," Jack Roush tells us as we stroll past the line of Mustangs in his Livonia, Michigan, auto collection. Of course, that statement incorporates not only Mustang automobiles, from the '64 1/2 hardtop he bought brand-new to the '11 NASCAR Nationwide Mustangs being developed by Roush Fenway Racing, but also World War II-era P-51 Mustang fighter planes. Over the past four decades, Mustangs have played a large role in Roush's success as drag racer, businessman, and race team owner.
While most of us recognize Jack from his racing activities, starting in the 1960s with his Gapp & Roush drag racing efforts with then-partner Wayne Gapp and stretching to his current NASCAR Sprint Cup teams, he also owns a number of successful businesses under the Roush Enterprises umbrella, including Roush Industries, a freelance engineering firm that does specialized work for auto manufacturers, and Roush Performance, which builds Roush Mustangs and offers a line of performance parts. His companies employ over 2,000 people.
In college, Jack earned money by working on cars. By the time he landed a job at Ford as a trouble-shooter at assembly plants, primarily Dearborn, in May 1964, he had saved enough money for a healthy down-payment on his first new car, a '64 1/2 Mustang hardtop. It would be the start of a long and fruitful relationship with Mustangs.
"If you look at the lineage of what we've done in racing, it started with that '64 1/2 Mustang," Jack told us. "It was carried forward by the fact that I had a job at the Dearborn Assembly Plant, where I was exposed to Ford engineers from development and competitive points of view. The basic 289 powertrain formed the basis of what has become Roush Industries and Roush Racing today."
"This '64 1/2 represents my first Mustang, which was a hardtop, not a convertible. It was the same color, with simulated knock-off wheel covers, rocker panel molding, and C-stripe. In 1964, I waited six weeks to get the car to my specifications. The biggest engine you could get at that point was the 289 with 210 horsepower, regular gasoline, four-barrel, single exhaust. I drove it for about five years and put 100,000 miles on it. Over a period of time I made upgrades-Arvinode exhaust system, 9-inch rear axle, mechanical lifters, bigger carburetor, and exhaust manifolds with exhaust flow casting considerations."
Jack first raced a Mustang, a '66 Hi-Po fastback, as part of The Fastbacks, a Detroit-area drag racing club. Since leaving Ford in 1970 to start his own company, Jack has raced Mustangs in everything from drag racing to IMSA GTO, at one point winning 10 consecutive 24 Hours of Daytona races in a row. In 1988, he ventured into NASCAR, amassing over 100 Sprint Cup wins and two championships over the past 20 years. Last July, Roush Fenway Racing was part of the Mustang's debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
"The Mustang has been the river that runs through my career, since I got out of college and for all of my racing career," Jack says.
His affinity for Mustang goes beyond racing, as the cars in his collection attest. Thanks to his success, Jack has been able to put together a collection of his favorite cars, overseen by his oldest daughter, Susan Roush-McClenaghan. According to Susan's latest list, the collection includes nearly 150 cars, from a 1918 Rauch electric car and Model Ts to former race cars and engineering prototypes, including the twin-turbocharged Mustang 25th anniversary concept and Ford SVT's '94 Boss 429 show car. Nearly a third of the cars are Mustangs.
"The first Mustang I bought for restoration was this black '66 convertible, which I acquired in 1967 or 1968. It had an engine bay fire from a rubber fuel line that had ruptured at the carburetor. The guy wanted it out of his garage for not a lot of money. It was seriously damaged and was on its way to the junkyard. I didn't have the wherewithal to restore at that point so I had it in storage for a while."
As we're strolling by the row of Mustangs parked along a back wall, Jack stops and turns to Susan to ask, "Am I going to get to drive one today?" It's obviously a family joke as he points out, "I've got to get on my hands and knees to get the keys. Susan remembers when she was a teenager that maybe one time she had trouble getting the keys for a car when she wanted it. Now she has the power and authority to withhold my opportunities to drive the cars. I'm pretty sure I can miss a curb but she's not so sure."
As we talk about his favorite Mustangs in the collection, we can tell that Jack is well-versed about the earlier cars. But when we get to the later models, starting with the '95 Cobra R, Jack relies on Susan to fill in details. "I need Susan to help me before I get myself in trouble," he admits.
We notice that one special Mustang is missing from the Livonia collection. Turns out, Jack's maroon '69 Boss 429 is at the Roush Fenway shop in North Carolina. "I bought it in 1971," Jack says, "from a young man who was having trouble with the payments. He tried to drag race it and had blown the engine up twice. After storing it for about ten years, we got it out and restored it to showroom condition. It's the 429th car produced in 1969 out of about 500 cars."
Jack's daughter, Susan Roush-McClenaghan, oversees the Roush auto collection, which is located in one of the many Roush buildings in and around Detroit. It's open to the public on special occasions. Susan is a racer in her own right, competing at NMRA and NMCA drag racing events in her '03 Mustang.
As Jack describes his Mustangs, we notice a common thread running through much of the collection. "I'm a nail-straightener," Jack explains as he notes Mustang after Mustang that he's saved from the junkyard or Ford scrappage. It started in the mid 1960s when he bought a '66 Mustang convertible that had been damaged by an engine fire. It's still part of his collection. More recently, he took a Roush Mustang that had fallen off the hauler and turned it into the first Roush BlackJack.
We asked about the attraction to P-51 fighter planes. "It was the coolest, meanest-looking, fastest, most efficient airplane that the Air Force had. It would burn roughly half the fuel and go faster than any other airplane that the U.S. Air Force had in their inventory. So with the fuel they could carry on-board, they could escort bombers all the way from England through Germany and into western Russia. I knew that even as a youngster."
"I've got three children-Susan, Patricia, and Jack-and I gave each of them a choice of restoring a car, whatever they'd like, when they graduated from college. This '65 GT fastback was for Jack. We went to a Mustang show at Charlotte Motor Speedway around 1990 and this car was for sale. We rebuilt the Hi-Per powertrain but I think the paint was pretty much as you see it today. From time to time in the summer, we'll go for ice cream in this car."
So whether it's a car or an airplane, if it's a Mustang, Jack Roush has a place for it. "The least Mustang that I ever drove-or flew-was just wonderful."
"I went to the same Charlotte car show a year later and bought this maroon Hi-Per fastback, which was more of a project-it had some rust and things. I found a California body that had missing components but no rust and put the two cars together."
"For the Mustang's 25th anniversary, Ford asked us for a powertrain proposal for a 25th anniversary edition. We started with a marine 351 engine and added the marine camshaft and put fuel injection on it. We gave it back to Ford and they said the performance was improved over the 5.0-liter but it wasn't enough. At the same time, we were working on the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe with the small Borg-Warner turbocharger. So I hung two turbochargers on the 351, one on each exhaust manifold. Ford said it was irresponsible. It was so fast you couldn't keep it in your lane if you stepped on the gas. The result was that they did something that did not have a powertrain feature for the 25th anniversary. The only car that I think was done correctly is here in our museum. It's a one of a kind."
"In the late 1980s, early 1990s, Ford made the decision to shut down the Dearborn Assembly Plant, which had been building the Mustang all those years, and they were going to rebadge the front-wheel-drive Probe as a Mustang. After market surveys, they figured out that the car was not going to be well-received. That's when Ford came to me. They said it would take them 50 months to completely redesign the Mustang. But they didn't have 50 months. So they asked what I could do. After talking to my guys, we said we would make a commitment to do the job in 30 months if they would co-locate the Mustang team-designers, engineers, planners, and prototype build activities-in one of our buildings. For '93, they were just hanging on with what they could do with the dated Fox-body platform. So they decided to do a Cobra Mustang with better flowing cylinder heads and intake manifold, bigger brakes, different front fascia and rear spoiler, etc. We bought this '93 Cobra off the production line. It has no miles on it."
"Ford came to us around 2000 and asked if we could help them with a concept for a car to celebrate Steve McQueen's Bullitt movie and the green '68 Bullitt Mustang. We took a car out of our inventory and put on the hoodscoop, unique wheels, aluminum gas cap door, aluminum panels on the inside, and a few other appointments. Ford eventually built several thousand as a limited production car. When they were done with this car, they came to get it and said they were going to scrap it. I said, 'Wait a minute, that car is ours, it does not get scrapped.' So now it lives comfortably in Susan's collection here."
"I was so proud of the SN95 project and the fact that we brought it off in 28 months that I wanted a car to represent that body type. So we took an old development car-it's a '94 development car that did 100,000 miles of rough road testing-and built a brand-new car. I wanted side pipes so that was the first time we did them. Because I'd been in NASCAR, I raised the back of the hood about an inch to create a window for cowl induction. We made a log-type intake manifold, turned the throttle body toward the windshield, and sealed it to take the air off the base of the windshield. We put a 355 cubic-inch short-block together, put a set of larger valve cylinder heads on it, and put some tires, brakes, and suspension parts on it. I thought maybe there were ideas that Ford might be interested in, so they took the car and started passing it around. It was gone for two years. The engine got worn out and I never got to drive it. I was sure that intake manifold was going to be the hot setup so we tooled it and cast some, and to the best of my knowledge we've still got them in inventory."
"We bought this '95 Cobra R off the production line. We did all the development and had a lot of input into this car. It was for enthusiasts, considered to be optimum for using as a starting point for road racing. Built in limited production, it has the same basic engine as the 25th anniversary proposal car that we made for '89. Like the '93 Cobra beside it, this car has not been driven."
"This 427R functioned in my NASCAR activities. I've got a coach that I stay in at the races and I drag a trailer behind it to carry a 4-door Fusion and one of our Roush Performance Mustangs."
"We have a fleet of test cars, and this one was pretty much used up for chassis testing. It was still in our pool, but it had wrinkles under its eyes and looked like it needed a shave. I said, 'Give me the keys to that car.' So we saved the car, putting some new wheels and new suspension components on it as early development for the Stage III. It was headed to the boneyard but it got saved."
"I manage by wandering. Around Christmas 2004, I went through the paint shop to see what was going on and saw this car under a cover. I made the mistake of lifting up the cover to see that the sheetmetal was bent front and rear, even the frame was bent. I then asked two dumb questions. The first one was, 'Did this thing drop off a building?' And I was told that it fell off our truck's lift-gate from what would be a second-story height. Then I asked the second dumb question: 'Who does this car belong to?' Well, because it was a brand-new car that was being delivered to a customer, when it dropped off my truck, it belonged to me. Normally, a car like that would be scrapped. But it was Christmas and I'm a nail-straightener, so I told them to strip the sheetmetal and make arrangements to have the frame straightened. They put new sheetmetal on it, added big brakes, and put on a show-car quality black paintjob with 21-inch flat black stripes on it. We blacked-out some other things to make it monochromatic. I looked at the car and said, "It's a Blackjack." This is BlackJack 1. If it hadn't been for this car falling off a truck, there probably wouldn't have been a Roush Blackjack Mustang."
"We were working for Ford SVT and there was grudge between them and the hot rod cars from the GM and Chrysler folks across town. SVT's John Coletti wanted a car that would settle all disputes. He asked us to put in a Boss 429 engine. The first engine that went into the car was one of the two that I bought from the Wood Brothers in 1971 or 1972 as they made their switch from NASCAR Boss 429s to the 351. My recollection is that Ford provided the Mustang and we did the work, with the understanding that when the car was done with its promotional activities, and meeting challenges on some of Detroit's highways, we'd get the car back. So like all of the cars here, it's found a nice place to live."
"Since I own and restore P-51 Mustang airplanes, the guys wanted to tie my car Mustang activities together with my airplane Mustang activities. I resisted that for a number of years because we didn't have anything worthy of carrying the P-51 Mustang legacy into the car side. Then Eaton came out with a 4-fluted rotor supercharger system. So we had the prospect of taking our three-valve 4.6 liter engine, which was producing about 430 horsepower, and creating a supercharger package that would add another 100 horsepower or so to make the car interesting. Then they asked what we should do about the exterior. I said, 'Well, you guys pay attention. I'll bring an airplane model over and show you what to do.' If you look at a P-51 Mustang that flew in Eighth Air Force in the European theatre in 1944 and 1945, they were not camouflaged. They were polished aluminum for the most part. They wanted to be seen so the Germans would come up and challenge them. They were actually blotchy with different shades of brilliance. So I said we needed to accent the Ford silver with another silver that was off a little for the hoodscoop, chin spoiler, and rear spoiler. When you look at it, you might think we didn't get the colors right. But that was the purpose."
"This is Paul Newman's Mustang GTO that won the GTS class and finished third overall in the 1995 Daytona 24 Hours. The number 70 is significant because Newman was 70 years old. Paramount Studios sponsored the car; they had some marketing money left over from Newman's movie Nobody's Fool. Newman, Tommy Kendall, Mark Martin, and Michael Brockman drove it as a team. That was the end of an era of 14 years of road racing where we won 48 percent of the races we entered."
Jack's collection also houses a number of his former race cars, including Tommy Kendall's All-Sport Mustang that won 10 out of 12 Trans-Am races in 1997. Other than mechanical servicing, it remains as last raced.
The collection goes beyond the cars in the main warehouse. In another section of the building, cars are stored as they await refurbishment. In the photo, you can see two of the three '79 Mustang Pace Cars (with T-tops) that were used during the 1979 Indianapolis 500. They were repainted for the inaugural Detroit Grand Prix and remain in that condition today.
Jack wasn't sure about this California Roadster, so Susan provided the details: "It's a California Roadster with a little different flavor. The California Roadsters were primarily cosmetic packages, but you could get upgrades for them. With this car, we upgraded it with the BlackJack brake and engine packages. However, the BlackJack brakes were too big for the California Roadster wheels. So the wheel manufacturer made us some larger California Roadster wheels so we could fit the BlackJack brakes. This is the only set that exists."
Susan showed us this '69 Mustang Cobra Jet convertible that's undergoing a restoration in the shop area. "Dad bought it as a used car. He built it to run one event, the Nationals in Indianapolis in 1971. Even though it had Gapp & Roush on the side, Wayne Gapp had nothing to do with this car. Dad won the Super Stock class, then sold the car to another competitor. He put the winnings and proceeds back into his business. Seven years ago, we were able to buy it back. It's been repainted the correct color. It didn't have a rollbar in it when Dad raced it but we've put one in it. The idea is that we may do some nostalgic racing with it."