For many of us, growing up in neighborhoods with a hodgepodge of ethnic backgrounds meant that it was not uncommon to go to a friend's birthday party where the highlight of the event occurred as mom and dad brought out a piata and hung it from a tree branch. Kids would gather 'round the papier-mache replica of a favorite animal, person, or even a car, and the blindfolded birthday boy would swing a stick at the ersatz icon hoping to break it in half allowing the contents to spill about the yard. Kids would rush the scene picking up candy and toys all the while laughing and screaming. For Russell Rosales, building his '68 Mustang was a lot like building a piata. Taking all the best goodies and treats and putting them together in a beautiful shell that all the other kids admired. The best part though was when he was done with construction and was able to beat on it.
Building cars has been a passion of Russell's for many years. He started as a 15-year-old kid with a '63 Chevy II sporting a blown head gasket that he bought for peanuts; he dropped in a 327 and a four-speed in time for his 16th birthday. Car after car of every make were bought, built, poked, stroked, and run down the strip. The process continued along happily until the local Fremont/Baylands Dragstrip shut down. Following the course of life, he backed out of the hobby for awhile during the whole marriage/kids/work deal, but got bit again a few years back after checking out a vintage car road race at the famous Laguna Seca race course. He was offered the chance to make a few laps around the circuit, and was once again hooked.
Russell played with more modern cars after that for a while, but felt the need to get back to his muscle car roots. "I started building a lot of the late-model cars like the 5.0 Mustangs, just because they were cheap, and you could get a lot of good go-fast parts. The problem with that was the cars themselves just never did anything for me as far as the car itself. I was a vintage guy at heart." Russell says trying to figure out exactly what to build was one of those serendipitous times in life. His buddy was selling a bunch of stuff off the back of his trailer and Russell spied a Canton road-race pan for a small-block Ford in an early Mustang chassis that looked "oh so good." He said he'd sell Russell the pan for a 20 spot. Russell says: "I bought the pan from him and decided I was going to build the whole car around that oil pan."
After scouring the Craigslist ads, he came across an empty hulk of a '68 Mustang that became the basis for his latest obsession. Knowing full well the intended purposes of the vehicle, road-race ready and street legal, he made plans to create the car with modern (but vintage-legal) suspension and drivetrain, and with the visual cues harkening back to the heyday of pony car Trans-Am racing.
Like the piata mentioned above, the car had to have a good likeness of the original it represented. Russell spent hours poring over old pictures of road racers from the era, noticing and replicating the styling cues that were unique to cars built for the twisties. A lack of front and rear bumpers, radiused and rolled wheelwells, and naturally, big meatballs on the sides identify it as purpose-built. The color was also a key issue. One of Russell's buddies was kind enough to lend him a piece of an original '69 Shelby Dan Gurney team car, which he took to his paint guy to recreate the correct shade known as Corporate Blue. (Sorry guys, the mixture remains a guarded secret for now.)
Russell's compadres will verify his nitpicky neatness when it comes to car builds. Perfection comes not necessarily from a high-dollar paintjob, but rather from attention to details that make the car utilitarian and authentic at the same time. For example, the fuel cell used is an ultra-sano drop-in piece that was actually taken from the hind quarters of a classic Shelby GT350H.
Crawling into the driver seat...
Crawling into the driver seat is like stepping into the past. Details like the camera-case black paint and Holman-Moody decals bring the old days of Trans-Am racing back to life.