You know the feeling, running into an old flame after she’s put on 50 pounds in the years since you broke up. As you struggle with feeling fortunate and like a superficial slimeball all at the same time, you realize that sometimes timing really is everything. For muscle car buffs, the same goes for the tumultuous years leading up to the smog era, especially if Mustangs are your thing. Everything was cool until 1970, but even Mustang diehards despise the bloated proportions and disfigured mugs of the ’71-73 models, disparagingly labeling them “Clydesdales” for all eternity. With Mustangs of this vintage, Mach 1 more aptly describes the speed at which mortified onlookers ran from them rather than their go-fast potential. The bottom line is that if you were going to buy a Mustang in the ’70s, then 1970 was a good year to do it. And if you’re fortunate enough to have scored the last of the good-looking vintage Mustangs—regardless of whether it’s a coupe or a fastback—it’s your civic hot rodding duty to uphold the Mustang legacy by transforming it into a badass street machine.
At just 16 years of age, Colby Henton was ready to answer the call. Granted, the year was 1990, and he had the advantage of critiquing the Mustang lineage through retrospective eyes, Colby set the cutoff point at the ’70 model year while searching for his first car. Ever since he was a kid, he knew his first car had to be a Mustang, as Ford’s ponycar runs deep in the Henton household. Colby vividly recalls his uncle, grandfather, and grandmother each owning Mustangs during his childhood, and dad was a Blue Oval-or-bust man as well. “I’ve always liked the ’70 body style because I think the early coupes don’t look that aggressive, and the ’71-and-later Mustangs got too big and strayed from the muscle car formula too much,” he says.
Colby got a job at Dairy Queen one summer, and started shopping for his first car once he saved up some money. He found the perfect target when he ran across a nicely restored ’70 Mustang that still had the original 302 small-block. “I didn’t have enough cash to buy it, so I talked my dad into cosigning a $2,500 bank loan for me. He went out and bought the car a week later without telling me about it, so it was a total surprise,” he says. “One day while I was in school, he left the car in the student parking lot, and dropped off the keys in the office for me with a note attached to it. I didn’t know what it was at first, but then I saw a horse on the key ring and figured it out. It was one of the best days of my life. I drove the car all afternoon and took the long way home.”
The Mustang has been kept...
The Mustang has been kept in the garage for the last 20 years, and it shows. Early on in the build, Colby got hurt in an ATV accident and could no longer work on the car. He hired Doug Leopold of Classic Collision and Restoration (Bryan, Texas) to finish the build. The scoop was added by the car’s original owner to cover up a dent.
With the limited resources of a teenager’s budget, Colby kept the car mostly stock throughout high school. He bolted on as many engine mods as his budget allowed, and engaged in some street skirmishes here and there. Then in 1997, Colby hit the dragstrip and got hooked. Since the stock motor was getting tired, he dropped in a fresh 302 and a set of 4.11:1 gears, and sprayed the Mustang to 7.14-second passes in the eighth-mile. That’s equivalent to a deep 11-second pass in the quarter-mile, which was pretty darn quick for the era. Unfortunately, Colby got a little too greedy with the nitrous pills, and like many Mustang racers before him, he split the delicate factory block in half. After that episode, Colby started messing around with trucks and the Mustang sat for the next six years.