We see old clips of the cool '60s-era cars racing around on the Trans Am circuits and wish we could know the feeling of tossing that Mustang, Camaro, or whatever around Daytona Raceway or some other hot race track. For many of us, we just daydream about this, but Jay Bittle of JBA Headers and JBA Performance Center in San Diego, decided to make this dream a reality. Jay did not want to merely build a car like the ones raced decades ago, he wanted to build an actual car that ran in the races "back in the day." But where do old Trans Am race cars end up at the end of their fast lives? In this case, Mexico. Seems that after the slick Mustang ended its career in 1970, it found new owners south-of-the-border where it competed in the Pan American Racing Series. Jay bought the car from race-car specialist Chris Liebenberg after it was discovered eight years ago in Mexico. Jay had already raced GT1 in SCCA Amateur Racing events and when he got the opportunity to acquire the vintage-worn body and chassis, he jumped at it.
During the restoration, Jay traveled and met with the original builders of the car, Steve Ross and Ed Hinchliff. He also met with many of the past crew and family members. "Researching the history of the Hinchliff/Ross Mustang was a lot of fun," says Bittle. Through his research he learned that the venerable Stang wore four different color combos and numbers during its career. Jay chose the silver and black combination because the 1969 season was so well photographed. It was important to Jay during the reconstruction that the car maintained its vintage spirit and heritage so that he could compete in West Coast HMSA (Historic Motorsports Association) historic races.
With a plan in mind, Bittle attacked the Mustang's body and paint. Hot Rod Hell in Escondido, California, repaired the majority of the original battle damage. However, minor wrinkles such as the ones in the passenger floor pan that were received when the car got in a fender scuffle in a '69 T/A race, were left as proud battle scars. The Ford was then shot in the original Silver Mink PPG paint. All the graphics were then painted on by Lyle Fisk of Fisk Design in El Cajon, California.
Now that the paint and body were done, it was time for Jay and his JBA crew to tackle the rest of the race car. The chassis was originally build by Ed Hinchliff of Ypsilanti, Michigan, to SCCA Trans Am and NASCAR GT specifications, so again, restoration, not a lot of modifications, were needed. Ford Racing Kar Kraft manual steering and control arms, AFCO 600-pound front springs, Calvert Racing rear springs, Koni double-adjustable shocks, a front 1.25-inch Cobra Automotive sway bar, and a Watts link rear suspension all work together to keep the muscling of the Trans Am racer firmly in touch with the asphalt. Steering commands are sent to Goodyear vintage bias-ply tires; in 6.00x15 front and 7.00x15 rear sizes wrapped around Magnesium 15x8 wheels. Input is then transferred through a '68 Ford manual recirculating-ball steering box with a 16:1 ratio. Whoaing the pony to a stop is a Ford four-wheel disc brake system by Kelsey-Hays measuring 12-inch front and 10.5-inch rear. The four-piston calipers are from Lincoln and are the same ones used on the factory Trans Am team cars.
For mechanical Mustang motivation, Bittle decided to go with an ultra-rare '68 Ford 302 tunnel-port engine. Starting with the Ford block, JBA Racing Engines (the company Jay owns) did the entire machine work and balancing. The company then stuffed in Arias pistons with Speed Pro rings, a Crower crankshaft and matching connecting rods, and a Comp Cams solid roller camshaft (with .640-inch lift and 273 intake and 283 exhaust duration). Valves measuring 2.12-inch intake and 1.6-inch exhaust are installed in a set of Ford 302 tunnel-port cylinder heads that were ported by John Bridges. JBA also port-matched the Ford 2x4 aluminum intake manifold for maximum flow. Topping off the intake are two Holley 615-cfm four-barrel vacuum secondary carbs, and it is all sparked by a MSD 6AL ignition system set at 38 degrees of timing. Of course, the open 3 1/2-inch side-exit exhaust is exited through a set of JBA 1.75-inch headers. Keeping it all cool lap after lap is a custom radiator by Ron Davis, which features an electric fan. The 12.5:1 compression motor is fed by a 22-gallon fuel cell. Once completed, the engine dyno'd at 450 hp at 7,300 rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. Getting the power from the engine to the track is left to a Ford four-speed Top Loader close-ratio transmission built by Donnie Araki in San Diego, which is dressed out with a Quartermaster Multi-disc clutch and a Hurst Comp Plus shifter. The The original differential is a 9-inch Ford floater with 31-spline axles and a Detroit Locker in a nodular case with 4.57 gears, all built for Jay by Driveline Services in San Diego. So how does all this work? We wanted to know, so we booked our favorite test facility, the parking lot of California Speedway, and put Jay's vintage pony to the test. Even with era-correct road-race rubber, the coupe ripped up the quarter-mile to the tune of 12.67 at 115.1 mph. And braking? Without the benefit of modern ABS, Jay's Stang stopped in just 120 feet from 60 mph--with 35-year-old brake hardware. On the skidpad, our jaws went slack as Jay piloted his pony to 1.01g on 15-inch bias-ply rubber. The 420-foot slalom was handled to the tune of 44.2 mph, one of the best speeds we've seen.
Keep in mind, this car was, and still is, a race car, so the interior is all business. Paradise Wheels of Vista, California, recovered the original Shelby R-model fiberglass buckets in black leather while Fred Galloway of JBA did all the wiring work. The dash retains its original layout from its Hinchliff days, and vital systems are tracked using a Jones mechanical tach and Stewart-Warner gauges. An original Grant 14-inch three-spoke steering wheel keeps Jay in control of the historic Trans Am racer. You will also notice the vintage racer is missing many of the things found on a street car, like carpet, turn signals, headlights, wipers and such. In their places are necessities like a fire suppression system, power kill switch, camera mount, and the original rollcage. The Hinchliff GT Mustang also features unique sculpturing to lighten up the doors internally and employs other little tricks to shave weight wherever possible. Sure, it's not a cushy interior, but it is safe and it gets the job done.
So what do you do with a restored race car? Well, if you are Jay Bittle, you race it, of course. Since the ex-Trans Am car was finished in mid-2002, it has competed in a average of five to six races a year, including the vintage race at Nashville in 2004 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Mustang. Jay also is a member of the Historic Motor Sports Association, Shelby American Automotive Club, SCCA and NHRA. When we asked Jay what his future plans are for the car he answered: "It is my dream to to return the car to Daytona, and co-drive with Ed Hinchliff and Rich Ceppos at one of the annual Daytona endurance historic races." Whatever the future holds, it's nice to know that this historic racer was reborn to once again tear up tracks around the country.