Getting things done the ghetto fabulous way is what blue-collar hot rodding is all about. Take the paint on Chris Moore’s ’72 Maverick, for instance. The dude at Maaco was supposed to spray the car down in GM Bahama Blue, but ran out of materials. So like any self-respecting, chain-smoking hack would, he mixed the paint up with some random cans of blue that were laying around the shop. “I just tell people it’s some kind of custom blue,” Chris chuckles. It’s a tale that’s both amusing and sad, but seriously, how much quality can you expect for $300? Growing pains and impromptu compromises like this are what the cash-strapped hot rodders among us can relate to, and what we find so endearing about budget-built street machines. Despite the challenges of capping the budget at $30,000, Chris has managed to transform his Maverick into a 347-powered, overdrive-shifted, corner-clinging g-Machine that runs near the top of the autocross time sheet on any given weekend.

One common thread amongst budget hot rodders is that they often end up building cars they never envisioned owning. “My dad was always a Maverick guy, but I never wanted one. There was something about the way they looked that I just didn’t like,” Chris admits. “I was more into Camaros, Novas, Tri-Fives, and ’Cudas, but then I realized those cars were way too common at car shows. I made up my mind to build a ’70 split-bumper Camaro, but even those cars were too popular. I had to have something different, and fortunately, I ran across a magazine article on Tom Hackmann’s ’72 Maverick that he built Pro Touring style. That convinced me that with the right stance, wheels, and body mods, Mavericks can indeed look cool.”

For months, Chris’ search for a solid Maverick in the swampy South proved challenging. Lucky for Chris, his dad was about to throw some fatherly love his way. “My dad had just finished restoring this ’72 Maverick, but he found another Maverick he thought was in better shape. He sold me the car for $2,800 back in 2004, which was a fraction of the money he put into it, so he could buy the other Maverick,” Chris explains. Chris’ new toy was far from show quality, but it still looked plenty presentable and was itching for a Pro Touring makeover. His old man had already replaced the quarters, floors, roof, and tailpanel, and painted it in the aforementioned custom blue mix. As such, Chris wasted no time getting the project rolling. “Over the next couple of years, I modified a few things here and there in my apartment parking lot including new 18-inch FR500-style wheels, a Mustang chin spoiler, and a Comet GT hoodscoop to give it a more aggressive muscle car look,” he says. “To get the stance just right, I cut the front coils and de-arched the leaf springs. After I started going on some long cruises with my dad, I quickly realized that the hacked-up suspension and stock C4 wouldn’t cut it.”

Swapping out the stock slushbox for a T5 five-speed manual lowered the cruise rpm nicely, but sorting out the suspension took a bit more work. After enduring a punishing road trip through Louisiana, Chris started researching ways to improve ride quality while maintaining an aggressive ride height. Right as he was about to order up a Total Control Products front suspension package for Mavericks—which included a set of tubular control arms and coilovers—he found a similar TCP setup on eBay for half the price. The catch was that this particular kit was designed for Mustangs, but Chris figured that having to adapt it to fit was worth the cost savings. “Mustang and Falcon suspension components will supposedly bolt right into a Maverick, which is somewhat true. The height of the upper coilover mounts is different, so I had to cut and redrill the Mustang mount down 1 inch, then install a drop spindle to correct the interference issue between the sway bar and strut rod,” he explains.

The fruits of Chris’ labor were increased suspension travel and a much more compliant ride without raising the ride height. Unfortunately, the rear suspension was now on its last leg. The ghetto fabulous re-arched leaf springs had collapsed, cutting suspension travel down to next to nothing. “Through my research I discovered that no off-the-shelf rear suspension will bolt into the Maverick. The next best option was a Total Cost Involved torque arm suspension system designed for Mustangs,” he recalls. “I ordered it up, figuring that the Mustang setup couldn’t be all that different from the Maverick, but boy was I wrong. All the brackets and mounting points had to be moved around ¼ inch everywhere, which turned what should have been a fun bolt-in project into a nightmare. Did I mention that I did this all in a two-car garage on jackstands without any prior fabrication experience? Summers here in Texas are no fun, even in the shade.”

With the suspension complete, Chris yearned for some more grunt out of the stock 302 small-block. To pump some more power into the old lump, he installed a set of Airflow Research 185cc aluminum cylinder heads and a Ford Racing 224/224-at-.050 hydraulic roller camshaft. While the new lungs provided a big boost in top end punch, Chris now wanted some more low-end torque to go along with it. As luck with have it, his dad had a 347 stroker kit he decided not to use, so Chris took it off his hands. In no time flat, he pulled the motor, bored it .030-inch over, then fitted the block with a Scat rotating assembly. Obviously, the parts combo in Chris’ Maverick never stays the same for very long, and he’s made a yearly tradition out of mixing things up. “My philosophy all along has been to use this car as a working mock-up vehicle,” he explains. “Each year, I tear the car down and upgrade one area of performance with the intent of getting it back together in time to attend a certain event. One year I swapped in the overdrive, then the suspension a year later, and then the heads and 347 package a year after that. I’ve upgraded the car little by little, with each change getting a bit more adventurous than the last, as both my checkbook and confidence grew.”

Although Chris is now very well versed in turning wrenches in the quest for speed, what he enjoys even more is turning the steering wheel in autocross combat. “I ran the Maverick on the autocross for the first time a few years ago at Goodguys, and had a blast. The car ran well, but I wanted to go faster,” says Chris. “There are some truly amazing cars that show up to these events, and the pro-built cars with pro drivers are hard to compete with. Even so, I was able to run in the top 10 all weekend long at the last Goodguys autocross, and small budget be damned, I’m going to find a way to get faster.”