A FEW months ago, a tilt-tray dropped off a heavily weathered 1969 Mach 1 Mustang at the Street Machine studios. We were told that the car barely ran and that we might have to push it. However, 1969 Mustangs are heavy, so to save us some sweat Scotty jumped in and got the car fired up with some judicious application of choke and throttle – sealing the deal with the obligatory car-park burnout.
This was Sidchrome’s latest project, and, while we knew we wouldn’t be able to keep it, Scotty and I had that same sense of wonder we always get when we buy a car and start the getting-to-know-you phase.
With the car inside and the roller door down, we gave it a good look-over under the studio lights. It was evident straight away that the Mach 1 was quite complete, with only the front air dam, rear wing, a couple of badges and the aerial missing. Just about everything else that makes these old bangers characterful was there – the 12-slotter rims, the bonnet scoop and locks, chunky fuel filler, flip-up rear sun visor and the stripes.
Condition-wise it was a patina-lover’s dream, with a few dings on the body and bumpers, some patches of primer, chalky paint and a few tell-tale rust spots. Delightful!
Likewise, the interior was in pretty good nick for its age – everything was there and functional. Apart from some splits in the dash and the steering wheel, all it really needed was a good clean and maybe some new windlacing.
This was the kind of thing any car nut dreams of finding – a barn find with potential and character. There is a bit of a fascination in some quarters for this type of thing – just check out the Instagram hashtag #rattymusclecars to see what I mean. We have some sympathy for this viewpoint, and if the Sidchrome Mustang was ours we would have been inclined to patch up the rust, give the outside a polish and the inside a clean and then concentrate on renewing the mechanicals.
The Sidchrome team had loftier ambitions, and rightly so, considering the car is to be given away to a lucky Sidchrome customer.
Their vision was a 180-degree turn from our ratty Mustang idea – a pro touring-style build, incorporating some great Aussie components to radically transform to radically transform the Mustang’s roadholding abilities.
To make it happen, they enlisted the help of Charlie S c h w e r k o l t ’ s Team 18 Supercar operation. Charlie entrusted Mark Grange with the task of project two mechanics and management and pulled two mechanics and a hoist from the race team to work full-time on the Mustang. The aim? To have the car ready for the Supercars Retro Round at Sandown in September. It was an ambitious timeline, but Charlie has built up an impressive black book of contacts, which was put to good use.
RRS was enlisted to supply the upgraded underpinnings, including power rack ’n’ pinion steering and a three-link out back. Harrop came on board with the Forgeline wheels and some seriously big stoppers. And while the boys would have liked to fit a brand-new Coyote motor to the Mustang, Mark quickly saw that it would have blown the budget, so they compromised and charged engine guru
Charlie Saliba with the task of reinvigorating the factory 351 Windsor.
After our initial photoshoot was done the Mustang was taken to Team 18 and completely stripped, with every last piece of trim bagged and tagged. Mark made a dizzying list of parts – which ones could be repaired, which ones needed replacing, and which ones needed powdercoating or paint.
Here at Street Machine, we tend to build our own cars purely from lists of jobs scrawled on the back of beer boxes, but Mark was operating at another level, using a spreadsheet and an intricate timeline to ensure the job would stay on schedule. Luckily, parts catalogues for Mustangs of this vintage are vast and bountiful, so he was able to order what he needed and get it shipped over in quick time.
Of course, you have to make your own luck sometimes. Blasting the bodyshell revealed that the rot was nowhere near as bad as I’d first feared – testimony to the value of an expert pre-purchase inspection. Using professionals is another way to keep Lady Luck on your side.
Peter Murnane at Personal Panel Service slid the Mustang into his shop full of Studebakers and got stuck into the rust repairs, while the lads from JRT Truck Refinishers were involved the whole way along to make sure the finished product would be immaculate.
It was a pleasure to watch all the guys and girls involved do their thing – especially once Team 18 started bolting everything back together. But then again, this kind of resto job is probably something of a doddle for blokes who get Lee Holdsworth’s ride to
stay competitive in one of the hardest-fought racing categories on earth.
Proof of the pudding, however, was in the driving. My first punt in the Muzzy was down the Monash Freeway at the height of peak hour – not ideal, but it was a good real-world test. The car started up and idled without fuss, sounded great, and took the traffic in its stride. The rear vision isn’t the best and took a little getting used to – as did the attention I was getting from fellow road users!
A few days later, we took the car through the hills to give it a proper workout. The suspension has been set up fairly hard for maximum sportiness, but this can easily be dialled down if you prefer a plusher ride. The brakes are monsters that respond like any decent set of modern stoppers, and the power steering is perfect.
Power-wise, the car has enough to punch hard when you feel like it, but with perfect street manners. And if the new owner wants more grunt, the chassis is definitely able to cope with a lot more. And that new owner could be you!
For all the details on how to win it, check out sidchrome.com.au/projectcar. s