It just wouldn't be responsible, advocating violence before a mass audience of impressionable readers, but we can't help it. Our jealousy burns so deeply that the visceral caveman within tells us to pop Keith Kaucher in the nose. Not that he's wronged us in any way, but having scored a '65 fastback Mustang for a paltry $500, we're seething with so much envy the advanced reasoning capacity more evolved Homo sapiens such as ourselves should have seems to no longer function. At least we can find solace in the fact that this Mustang defines the very essence of a handling street machine in every way and looks damn good doing it.
The story is the stuff of time-honored myths, but it really happened and the proof stands before us in the sheetmetal. Just by chance, Keith spotted the fastback parked in front of a pawn shop while cruising the streets of L.A. one day. He tracked down the owner and struck up a deal for $500, which even 14 years ago was an unbelievable bargain. These days, that much dough wouldn't even cover tax on a sad hunk of rust that merely resembles a fastback Mustang. "I went out bragging to all my buddies about how much I got it for, and they were all just stunned," says Keith. "I totally lucked out." The car was far from show-worthy, however, and required eight years of hard work to finish. "Someone had stopped loving it a long time ago when I found it. The car got messed up in the L.A. riots, and it was in really cruddy shape. The hood was munched, and the windshield was destroyed."
Formerly a diehard Chevy man--having once owned a '66 Corvette, '67 Chevelle, '69 El Camino, and a '72 Monte Carlo--inspiration to jump ship to the Ford camp came from multiple sources. After helping his best friend put together a Shelby Mustang, Keith wanted one of his own. Although he couldn't afford a real one, building a clone was a viable alternative. "I've always liked the black and gold color scheme of the GT350H," he explains. "I saw one for the first time when I was 17 years old and thought 'If I ever do a Ford, that would be a cool one to build.'" Furthermore, he had some vows to keep. "I had to sell my '66 Corvette in order to pay for school, so I promised myself that once I was better off, I'd build another car and never sell it."
A custom car designer by trade, Keith already had a good idea of how he wanted to build the Mustang. The plan called for designing a purposeful track car that could still be driven comfortably on the street. As for what type of track it would be raced on, his buddies once again played a role in helping make up his mind. "I still hang out with the same friends I went to high school with, and we all used to street race back then," he says. "Then one day one of my friends came back from an open track event, and couldn't stop talking about what a thrill road racing was and how much better it was than drag racing. After that, we all stopped drag racing and have been building road race cars ever since."The heart of any serious track car is the chassis, and Keith turned to the pros at Maeco Motorsports (Northridge, Calif.), who have tuned the suspensions of many vintage Trans Am racers in their time. The Mustang's underpinnings feature boxed front upper and lower control arms and custom-valved Koni shocks at the corners. Providing the roll stiffness are Maeco 720-lb/in front coils, 160-lb/in rear leafs, and a 13/16-inch front sway bar. Braking is handled by a set of stock Mustang front discs with carbon fiber pads up front and stock Lincoln Versaille units out back. Since the Mustang is primarily a track warrior, the rolling stock is all go, and easy on the show. No monster billet wheels here. DOT-legal Hoosier slicks (measuring 245/45) wrap 16x8-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust II wheels. And yes, he drives with them on the street, too.
Like most road racers, Keith knew obscene power wasn't necessary to run up front, and kept horsepower figures within reasonable levels when designing the engine combination. It's based on a 302 small-block that's been bored 0.030-inch over for a grand total of 306. Following the keep-it-simple theme, the rotating assembly consists of a stock crank, Eagle connecting rods, and 10.75:1-compression Speed Pro pistons. Finishing off the top end are a set of mildly ported Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum heads, an Edelbrock intake manifold, and a Holley 700-cfm carburetor. An Engle 244/248-at-0.050 solid-lifter cam bumps Erson roller rockers and 2.02/1.64-inch valves. Steve Beck of Check Point Automotive (Los Angeles, Calif.) put it together. On the chassis dyno, the motor puts out 348 rear-wheel hp at 6,500 rpm and 410 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. Although those numbers will hardly blow people away on paper, it's more than enough for a car weighing just 2,890 pounds. For added durability, there's a custom oil cooler and after 20,000 miles, it seems to be doing its job just fine. "After eight years and lots of brutal sessions on the road course, it still runs as hard as ever," says Keith.
To couple that power to the tires, the stock automatic was junked in favor of a Top Loader four-speed trans. It's fed by a McLeod clutch and lightweight flyweel, and shifted with a Hurst Competition Plus handle. Keith says the new clutch and flywheel combo dropped a solid 24 pounds from the stock Boss 302 hardware that was previously in the car. Out back lives a 9-inch rear end with 4.11:1 gears and a Detroit Locker differential. Although the combination works great, he plans to upgrade to a five-speed gearbox in the future.
The all-business motif accentuated by touches like the custom-flared fenders and blacked-out wheels on the outside permeate into the cabin as well. Frivolous embellishments are kept to a minimum, and the focus is on purposefulness.
There's no radio, and A/C switches are nowhere to be found. In lieu of extravagant gauges is a bevy of unassuming Sun Pro instrumentation housed in the stock cluster. In line with the original Shelbys, the steering wheel is a repop wood-and-aluminum piece. The most noticeable upgrades are the Procar seats that, along with Jaz five-point harnesses, cinch the driver into place during Corvette-hunting sessions at Willow Springs Raceway.
A purpose-built package like this needs to back its implied intentions with some numbers, and the Mustang definitely impressed through our battery of tests at California Speedway. Keith estimated 12.70s in the quarter-mile, and the car came pretty close by running a best of 12.81 at 114.4 mph. Not too shabby for a car that's neither set up for drag racing, nor has ever been down a dragstrip.Likewise, the Mustang clung to the skidpad with .94g of lateral grip, and blazed through our 420-foot slalom at 47.5 mph--one of the fastest speeds we've ever recorded. This news was no surprise to Keith. "The suspension works extremely well, and it's an incredibly well-sorted package," he says. "Compared to my previous suspension setup, it's helped me shave a good six to 10 seconds off of my lap times." The only test the Mustang didn't tear up was in 60-0 mph braking, where it posted a total distance of 144.4 feet--not shabby for a late-model Mustang or Camaro, but not the retina-detaching performance the hardware would indicate. However, Keith already has a remedy planned and 13-inch Cobra brakes are in the pipeline. Considering Keith intends on tacking on even more straightaway speed with a new 331ci stroker motor, that idea seems even better.
Ultimately, there are just so many reasons to be enamored by Keith's Mustang. It's not a car that has a little bit of everything that does nothing well, but rather a car appropriately trained for its mission's objectives and set on kill. It excels in instrumented testing, and dominates at the track. Its fastback lines flow so seductively that Ford engineers copied its shape decades later, and struck gold yet again. Unfortunately, summarizing this car's merits brings up the jealousy thing again, and we're still aghast that Keith managed to buy it for $500. We must apologize in advance, but to hell with being responsible. We still want to sock the guy.
"The last time out at Willow...
"The last time out at Willow Springs, I could pass anyone on the track within two laps, including Z06 Corvettes."--Keith Kaucher
|Quarter-mile:|| 12.81 at 114.4 mph|
|60-0 braking:|| 144.4 ft.|
|200-ft. skidpad:|| 94g|
|420-ft. slalom course:|| 47.5 mph|