As much art as there is in the execution of updating a classic muscle car, in so many cases the real art is more in the restraint. We've all seen cars that we want to like, but it just feels like the builder went a little too far and muddied the final product. In a full custom, there's a much higher threshold, but when you want to pay homage to a vintage icon while still modernizing it, there is a limit to how far you can deviate. The parts may be awesome, the workmanship top notch, and it may be quite functional, but sometimes the "feel" can get lost. Knowing when to stop in order to keep the vision pure is the biggest challenge.
Case in point is this gorgeous '65 Mustang fastback. With the absolute cornucopia of innovative products continually coming out for classic muscle machinery, the sky is the limit on updating one, but if you want to capture the essence of an iconic car while stepping into the Pro Touring world, that's a very fine line to tap dance along when it comes to a Mustang fastback.
Owner George Russo had grown up a Ford guy and still owns the '65 Mustang coupe he drove as a teen, though it's now built in the image of one of the 16 '65 coupes Shelby built for the Trans-Am A/Sedan class (fastbacks Mustangs were classified as two-seaters, which made them ineligible). In his heart, though, George always wanted a fastback, specifically a Shelby GT350. The problem was that fastbacks had always been way more expensive than coupes, making it easy to deviate from the '65 coupe he had in hand. The explosion in muscle car popularity and prices had only served to make things worse. "Back in the days before Dynacorn reproductions, I once saw just the roofline for a fastback for sale at $10,000," George told us. As for whole cars, only the roughest of the rough were in the price range he was searching. Then, amazingly, one with real potential popped up in Texas. After talking to the owner, George and his son decided to take a chance and fly down to see it in person.
To score a cheap Mustang fastback, of course, meant accepting the fact that a lot of work was going to be needed. George and his son knew that—they just wanted to make sure they wouldn't be in over their heads. The car had been hit, but was driveable and fixable, the floors were soft, and there was quite a bit of rust and filler evident, but the price still seemed right. George and his son struck a deal, and they decided to gamble on an adventure driving the fastback home.
Unfortunately the Russos didn't make it too far down the road before one of the brittle old fuel lines split. They managed to get it to an auto parts store and replace the line in the parking lot. That got them back out on the road, briefly. Shortly thereafter, the heater core burst, putting them on the side of the road again. It was an easy bypass, but at this point the Russos decided they may be looking at the tip of the iceberg and it was time to rent a truck and trailer.
George had his fastback captured, but due to other obligations, the work didn't begin for a while. The Mustang sat for four years until he got around to stripping it down and taking a serious look. It quickly became apparent that mediablasting was in order to get to the real truth. That truth was pretty ugly, with an inch of filler over chicken wire, shoddy patches, and rivets in the quarters. The floors disintegrated, and the trunk, firewall, and framerails needed patching. Rather than get disheartened, George decided to dig in and have the work done.
The fastback initially went to Mustangs Etc. in Van Nuys, California, where it spent the better part of a year getting the repair metalwork done and the body panels fitted. From there, things started to accelerate. George wanted a GT350 Shelby-style clone, but he also liked the idea of updating a few styling cues, and improving the handling and performance. Around that time, Ford introduced the Coyote 5.0 in the new Mustangs and George pondered using one of those engines. Of course that would require a front suspension swap and shock tower delete, but he had read an article on installing a custom front suspension clip that would make way for the big quad-cam. George had run across Bodie Stroud's name while admiring the '61 Starliner his shop built, so he called the shop and inquired about the swap. Stroud was actually in the middle of designing his own suspension system for vintage Mustangs, so he suggested George's car be the first candidate. And so the two years snowballed from capable driver to perfect Pro Touring Shelby.