As a kid from the South who grew up a diehard Atlanta Braves fan, I remember Jack Morris for one thing and one thing only: shutting down my team in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. His epic 10-inning shutout was the stuff of legends, and I watched in agony as the Braves helplessly whiffed away at Morris's devastating forkball. He got a ring. I got my whittle feelings hurt. Baseball remembers him as arguably the greatest big-game pitcher the sport has ever seen. I remember him as a villain. Consequently, I never dreamed that 22 years later I'd be tasked with writing up a story on a '69 Mustang fastback that Morris masterminded. Despite my best efforts to hate the thing, I just can't. Putting my lame personal bias aside has nothing to do with upholding journalistic integrity. With a 622hp all-aluminum small-block, racy suspension bits, and voluptuously sculpted sheetmetal draped over a custom tube-frame chassis, this car is just too badass to hate.

Typically, an athlete or celebrity claiming to be a car guy is usually someone with a garage full of Bentleys and Ferraris. The more serious ones drop their Escalades on 26-inch rollers, then stuff them full of stupid electronic gadgets and personalized tributes to their own greatness. "Like, check out my autograph stitched into the headrests, fo shizzle!" This '69 Mustang fastback, on the other hand, is an enigma in many respects. Athletes aren't supposed to build muscle cars from the ground up. That's what real car guys do. They're not supposed to build cars with the latest and greatest in aftermarket engine and suspension hardware, either. Furthermore, building such a machine on top of a custom tube-frame chassis is just unheard of, even for serious hot rodders. Obviously, Morris isn't your typical clueless athlete. He knew exactly what he wanted, and he commissioned Neal's Custom Metal (www.NealsCustomMetal.com) to transform his vision into sheetmetal. "Jack wanted something truly unique that pushed the Pro Touring envelope. He wanted a big motor, big brakes, and big tires in a car that could be driven long distances on the freeway and at the track," car builder Neal Letorneau explains.

One of the primary design mandates in creating this one-off Mustang involved resculpting the factory sheetmetal without corrupting the essence of the fastback's iconic body lines. Since all of the metal would be modified in some shape or form, the project started out as a typical Midwestern rat. The quarter-panels, floors, fenders, hood, trunklid, and rockers were all rotted beyond repair, and only the roof skin could be salvaged. With the factory suspension and subframe out of the way, Neal cut out the floors in preparation for the fully custom chassis. "There is no unibody structure left on this car. We cut it all out, and built a custom chromoly tube-frame chassis in its place," Neal says. "We started out with 3x4-inch rectangular tubing at the front, which extends three quarters of the way down the car, then transitions into round tubing from that point rearward. Building a custom tube chassis allowed us to push the suspension pickup points as far up into the body as we could to achieve an aggressive stance. After completing the frame, we built a custom four-link suspension in the rear and matched it up with a Heidts front clip."

While quite a bit of time went into the chassis, compared to the painstaking sheetmetal work that would ensue, fabbing the frame was the easy part. Neal cut the front bumper into four pieces to narrow it down and fit it closer to the body. Next, he built a custom front spoiler with functional brake cooling ducts. Not content with the fitment of the factory headlights, he modified the buckets and pulled them in more tightly to the body. Clearly, Neal is a stickler for details, and the bulk of the body mods made to the front of the Mustang are nearly imperceptible to the casual observer. "From the side profile, the rocker panel pinch welds stick out like a sore thumb so we stretched the rockers downward 2 inches to get rid of them. This also required stretching the back of the fenders to blend them into the rockers, resulting in a much smoother overall look," Neal explains.

Granted that the metal tweaks out back aren't as subtle, but they still take a keen eye to spot nonetheless. "The factory decklids on these cars are too flat and tame, so we cut it off and fabricated custom quarter-panel extensions to kick them upward 3 inches. The lip of the deck has been moved 2 inches rearward as well," Neal says. The net result is a much more aggressive decklid angle that looks the part of a bolt-on ducktail spoiler, but is integrated into the quarter-panels. Furthermore, Neal built a custom single-piece rear valance to eliminate the factory seams, and he finished things off by narrowing and flush-mounting the rear bumper. Toiling away tirelessly with fellow craftsman Larry Dahl, it took Neal two years to finish all the fab work. While it seems like a waste to exert so much effort into subtle sheetmetal tweaks many people won't even notice, that's not the point. This Mustang was meant for trained eyes to appreciate, and appreciate it they do. "The car took Second Place in the Street Machine class at the 2008 Detroit Autorama, and I ran into Chip Foose at the show. He looked the car over for a while and said, ‘It looks so plain if you're a no one, but to people who know Mustangs there's so just much going on that it takes a while to pick it apart.'"