Transmission shops are supposed to build transmissions. No, we're not competing for the Captain Obvious award, but in-between swapping out servos and replacing smoked clutch packs at Arcadiana Transmission, they just happen to build stunning street machines that can go toe-to-toe with the most respected and well-established car builders in the country. Owner Joe Brown does all this in his spare time, in a small inconspicuous corner of his shop. Considering the caliber of craftsmanship showcased in his creations, it seems rather preposterous that few people outside of the small town of Lafayette in southern Louisiana have ever heard of him. That's about to change big time, because after seeing the magnitude of this man's talents before you in high-res glory, he's going to be on everyone's radar.

Hot Rod Joe's Rod and Custom was formed almost by accident. Joe has been in the transmission repair business for nearly two decades, and as an avid hot rodder, he always had personal project cars in various stages occupying space at his shop. "People saw the kinds of cars I was working on, and started asking me to build cars for them as well. It dawned on me that if I can make a few extra bucks on the side, then I could use that money to build my own personal cars," Joe says. "It's still a secondary business, but it's growing very fast. We might just be a small shop in rural Louisiana, but I definitely think we can go up against the big guys."

Sure that's a bold statement, but the closer you inspect Joe's '67 Mustang fastback, the more obvious it becomes why he's so confident. Originally a 302 small-block car, the factory motor and four-speed trans were long gone by the time he picked it up four years ago at a swap meet. In fact, just about everything was missing, as the Mustang was nothing more than a bare hull. Fortunately, most of the sheetmetal was solid, and only the driver-side doorskin needed replacement. At first, the plan was to drop in a 4.6L Mod motor, rebuild the suspension, then go cruising. That evolved into fortifying the entire chassis, which further morphed into an all-out Pro Touring project with modern technology and aesthetics. "Since this was my own personal car, I had free reign to do whatever I wanted to, and there were no limitations. The idea was to integrate lots of mechanical elements and subtle body mods without taking away from the character of the car," Joe says. "Chrome and shiny parts were out of the question. Everything had to be hand-ground, hand-sanded, and hand-smoothed. Now that it's finished, even people familiar with early Mustangs can't put a finger on exactly what model year Mustang the car is."

One of the Mustang's most prominent visual cues is its killer stance, but there's far more to it than just massive visual appeal. Typically, getting a car to sit this low involves an elementary hack job that nets half a millimeter of suspension travel. To avoid bludgeoning the bumpstops into pancakes and punishing his lower back, Joe completely re-engineered the chassis. The entire unibody was cut from the A-pillar forward, and from there, Joe custom-fabricated a new front clip. This allowed moving the suspension pickup points upward, and tucking the control arms and spindles high up into the chassis. The backend received similar treatment, with custom framerails and brackets for the four-link and shocks pushed way up into the body. Much like in a '70s NASCAR chassis, the entire driveline, suspensions, and exhaust are squeezed so tightly into the body that nothing hangs below the floorpan. Equally impressive is a central backbone that runs the length of the frame, ties into the rollbar, and triangulates the chassis at critical stress points. This harmonious convergence of moving parts, wrapped in a steel exoskeleton perfectly, captures the mechanical essence Joe hoped to achieve. "When we started fabricating the chassis, everything below the rocker panels was cut off," he says. "The floorpan, radiator support, and the entire front clip are brand new. Packaging the engine, driveline, suspension, and exhaust so high up in the body was the most difficult part of the build, but it was well worth the effort."

In order to justify the custom chassis, tubular front control arms, four-link, and QA1 coilovers, the Mustang packs a legit wallop. Power comes from an '03 Cobra-spec 4.6L crate motor from Ford Racing. Huffed by a Kenne Bell twin-screw supercharger, the twin-cam small-block churns out 720 hp. Gear reduction comes by way of a Tremec T56 six-speed manual trans and a McLeod twin-disc clutch, which send the ponies back to a Ford 9-inch rearend. Not surprisingly, Joe can't stop raving about the on-throttle experience. "This car is a beast to drive. It's so awesome you can't keep your foot out of it," he says. "It idles very quietly, but gets raspy and starts screaming when you're on it, and that's the way it's supposed to be. We've built lots of show cars for customers, so we wanted people to see that you can have show car looks in something you can still drive and have fun with on the street. This Mustang does just that."