Conversion: 21st Century Classic Mustang
Text and photography by Richard Truesdell
A quick back story here. This feature was produced in the Fall of 2019 and was submitted to Mustang Monthly in November 2019, to be published in its April 2020 issue. Less than a month later the publisher, Motor Trend Group, shut down 19 of its 22 print titles, including Mustang Monthly. The closing of those 19 titles signified the end of an era in automotive publishing in America going back to January 1948 when Robert “Pete” Petersen founded Hot Rod magazine and built the Petersen Publishing empire which he sold in 1996.
Normally, that would mean the end of the story. But in May 2020, I discovered Medium. As I have produced more than 1,000 magazine features since 1989, countless web articles, and three automotive books, I thought this completed-but-unpublished story would be perfect for my first traditional automotive feature, submitted to Medium.
If you want to see more stories like this, please leave a comment below.
Richard Truesdell, May 2020
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Engine swaps in classic 1965 to 1973 Mustangs are nothing new. But usually, they involve pulling out a six-banger or a past-its-prime 289 or 302 and replacing it with a built small-block or some variation of a crate motor, including versions with the displacement that rivals a seven-liter big-block. Thanks to Ford Performance, there are many choices.
And of course, you can go the big-block route, made easier on the 1967 to 1973 models, some of which came equipped originally with big-block engines like those displacing 390-, 427-, and 429-cubic-inches. These cars, especially the seven-liter cars, stand at the top of the classic Mustang food chain.
But what about something different? How about a modern DOHC five-liter Coyote engine? Given that many have been installed in late-model Mustangs, rebuildable examples have now proliferated at your local Pick-A-Part. There is one issue; these engines are physically huge but they are the modern-day equivalent to the legendary Boss 429 motors, also an overhead-cam design.
For Richard Blackman, a retired architect living in the suburbs east of San Diego, going the modern update is a route he’s now traveled two times. With his wife Michelle, he’s owned more than 50 cars during their marriage, including many Mustangs, starting with a 1966 Mustang GT convertible. In Richard’s words, it was a fun car but with its tiny back seat, it didn’t exactly fit the needs of their growing family.
Like many of his buddies, he started working on cars while still in high school but credits his early growth to Michelle’s dad Elbert “Al” Roth. “My father-in-law had the biggest influence on me as far as car building. He knew everything about cars. He owned a service station in his early years and later on went to work for the California Division of Highways.”
(Over the years the couple has owned a numbers-matching 1970 Mustang Mach 1, a 1968 Shelby GT500 tribute car — more on this in a bit — a 2011 Mustang convertible, and a 2016 Mustang GT I used as the parts car for the car you see here, a Coyote-powered 1969 Mustang SportsRoof, a design that many view as the high-water mark in classic Mustang design. The design for the 1969–70 Mustang is sometimes credited to Larry Shinoda who came to Ford in 1968 and was responsible for the Boss 302 and Boss 429 packages. But the design of the 1969 models was locked-in long before Shinoda’s arrival and represent another brilliant design by Gale Halderman, who recently passed, who penned the design for the original 1965 Mustang.)
Yes, we said Coyote-powered 1969 Mustang SportsRoof. But this isn’t Richard’s first rodeo driving down the Coyote-powered Mustang highway. His first was the 1968 Shelby tribute shown in this two-car photo above. “My first adventure at installing a Coyote into a Mustang was my red Shelby GT500 tribute car,” says Richard. “I bought the car sight unseen from Ken Mackel who lives in Pasadena, Maryland. The car initially had a worn-out 302 with a four-speed transmission. The idea of installing a Coyote into a classic Mustang came about after reading articles in Mustang Monthly and Car Craft. I purchased the Shelby with that in mind. I thought if this engine was around during Carroll Shelby’s performance-car building time, he would have used this engine. It’s lightweight and you can get a lot of ponies to the ground with it.”
Richard started building the Shelby Coyote six years ago. It was featured in Car Craft back in 2017 in a story written by my colleague Jim Smart. But as one car was finished, Richard, with some time on his hands, started thinking about what would be next. “Installing that Coyote in the ’68 got me to thinking about doing another build with a ‘69,” relates Richard. “My personal favorite of all the Mustangs is the 1969 models. The design is one of Ford’s best. There were several lessons learned with the ’68 and while some translate into the ’69 build, there were other challenges. For example, the Gen II Coyote has slightly different dimensions than the Gen I. This required modifications to the firewall in the ’69, which we didn’t do in the ’68. I also wanted to put a hydraulic booster on for the brakes which required more surgery to the firewall and driver’s side wheel well.”
When talking about the ’69, there are subtle design elements that are not immediately apparent. Richard relocated the fuel filler from the rear panel to the side. He eliminated all of the chrome except the door handles and wheels (check out the B/C-pillar treatment in the photos) The flared side scoop is shaped into the metal and does not look like it is an afterthought. And a third tail light and a backup camera are integrated into the rear fascia while the Shark fin antenna is a very modern touch in keeping with the car’s overall design. With the 18-inch wheels the car is restrained in its outward appearance, still instantly identifiable as a 1969–70 Mustang, but with very modern, updated styling cues.
The back end of the car, after the relocation of the fuel filler to the driver’s- side rear quarter panel, looks much more contemporary. It’s almost as if the classic silhouette of the two-year-only 1969–70 SportsRoof profile has been seamlessly transformed into something that would look at home today in a Ford showroom.
Richard notes that installing a Coyote V-8, in this case from a 2016 Mustang GT donor car, into a classic Mustang is not an easy task. “It required a lot of up-front planning. The shock towers have to be removed; new motor mounts; firewall modification; transmission tunnel modifications for the six-speed Tremec transmission, just to name a few.”
The headers, as seen in the photo above, presented Richard’s biggest challenge. “The single biggest obstacle that we overcame was the installation of the headers. On the ’68, I purchased a set of Doug’s long headers, specifically made for the Coyote. I did the same for the ’69. Due to alignment issues the Heidts suspension, I wasn’t able to use Doug’s headers. Heidts recognized in their design of the suspension and engine mounting for the Superride Gen II, that a new header needed to be fabricated, so Heights sold me a set. And while the driver’s side fit, the passenger side did not. I had a header specially made for the passenger side.
Richard feels that a coil-over set-up is the only way to go on a build like this. He advises to contact providers of a variety of front-end suspension kits and discuss with their technical representatives what you would like to do. Use this information to help decide what will best work for your particular application.
Moving to the inside, you’ll see that within the framework of the original dash, almost everything this has been updated, giving the interior a look that would not be out of place in a contemporary Mustang.
Richard explains. “I worked off the theme that I used in the Shelby only pushed it a little further. With the Shelby, I bought Corbeau seats and had them re-done in black leather with a red thread diamond stitch. On this new build, I used a similar concept with the diamond stitch, but I made the inset out of a buckskin/tan suede. I took that theme and incorporated it into the gauge bezels on the dash and the inserts to the door panels. I also used a TMI uni-suede single piece headliner and sun visors. The upholstery was done by Avant Garde Design in Palm City, Florida.”
For comfort, the car has been updated with a Vintage Air HVAC system. And like his previous ’67 Shelby build, this car is equipped with a Kenwood double-DIN touchscreen infotainment system mounted in the lower portion of the center stack.
When Richard and Michelle take to the road, they will not only keep cool, but will have cool tunes and should never have trouble getting to their destination courtesy of the Kenwood double-DIN receiver’s fully integrated GPS navigation system.
The car debuted at the 2019 Mustangs by the Bay Car Show in San Diego at the Seaport Village where it drew a lot of attention among show-goers. Our thoughts, when Richard raised the hood for the first time was simply, “WOW!” Knowing the physical dimensions of the Coyote engine and its DOHC design we thought, “What went through the minds of the guys at Kar Kraft back in 1969 when they shoehorned the Cammer between the shock towers? Certainly, the big hammer approach used made the Boss 429 production-viable. But would they have preferred to take a similar route to what Richard has done here?
That is a question that shall remain unanswered. All we can say is seeing what Richard has accomplished with what he calls a “Conversion,” is that this is a Boss 429 for the 21st Century. Mustang fans, do you agree?