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Six is Enough – 1966 Ford Mustang

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Feature Article from the June, 2013 Hemmings Classic Car. Photography by Jeff Koch.

It was hard to escape the gravitational pull of Ford’s Mustang in the mid-1960s. This youthful and exciting car was a force of nature, rivaling the Beetle and the Beatles as a cultural phenomenon and selling a million units in less than two years.

Performance to match the Mustang’s sporty style was only a few ticks of the options sheet away, and the majority of Mustang buyers wanted eight cylinders under those long hoods. An overwhelming preference for V-8s left the base straight-six engine with a milquetoast reputation, but 47 years on, this subtly enhanced 1966 Mustang Coupe happily belies that presumption.

“When are you going to put a V-8 in there?” That’s the question that Vern Pfannenstiel hears almost every time he raises the hood of our feature Mustang. He isn’t tempted to swap in a 289, though, and for some unique reasons. “I have always been a V-8 guy. But I also have a fondness for sixes, especially after driving a relative’s six-cylinder BMW and seriously considering the overhead-cam six in a Pontiac Firebird or Tempest.

“But the real interest stemmed from a good friend from Australia who worked with me here in Flagstaff, Arizona,” Vern explains. “My friend, Peter Fuss, bought a four-speed 1965 Mustang GT fastback to ship back home, and I helped him work on it. Peter is a serious car guy, and he gave me the rundown on the ‘Oz’ car scene, and how the big deal was to build ‘hotted-up six-bangers with triple carbies and dual extractors.’ The Sixties for them meant hot sixes, not necessarily V-8s; Ford’s straight-six was very popular Down Under, and you could get a lot of performance options.”

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In 2004, armed with this knowledge and a desire to build something out of the ordinary, Vern turned to his local club, the Route 66 Car Club of Flagstaff, where he learned of a project six-cylinder, automatic 1966 Mustang coupe down in Phoenix. “It needed a lot of work yet, but the harder and more expensive stuff was already done, and done well.” This lifelong desert car was solid, only requiring replacement of a damaged fender and door. It had very light traces of surface rust on some interior sheetmetal, but the typical Mustang rust areas were solid. It had received a nice exterior respray of Wimbledon White paint–a previous change from the factory Vintage Burgundy–and the interior was brightened by a new headliner, correct red vinyl seat covers and carpeting. “The engine and engine bay looked 40-plus years old and had lots of incorrect pieces, but the car’s interior and exterior were down to mostly detail work,” Vern reports.

He was planning to eventually pull the tired engine and transmission for rebuilds, but a flex plate failure soon made this a priority. Remembering Peter’s stories, Vern says, “My goal was to keep the outward appearance of the car and engine as stock-looking as possible, but to hot up my six-cylinder engine with internal things like a performance camshaft, ported cylinder head, ignition upgrade, exhaust and the like. I took the engine to Joel Long, a small-block Ford guy who runs Flagstaff Engine and Machine. He said, ‘I’ve never done a six-cylinder engine for performance before, but we’ll do some special things.’ He’d ensure the rebuild went the extra mile for better performance within my constraints.”

In stock form, the Mustang’s seven-main-bearing, overhead-valve straight-six displaced 200-cu in via a 3.68 x 3.13-inch bore and stroke. It had a 9.2:1 compression ratio, and used a single-barrel Autolite carburetor to make 120hp and 190-lbs ft of torque. “Joel bored it 0.040-over to clean up the cylinders, so it’s now a 204,” Vern says. “He balanced the bottom end, raised the compression, installed a higher-lift Comp Cam and ported the head, as he would a small-block Ford V-8 head. The intake of those sixes is cast into the cylinder head, so you can’t do a lot with the carburetion; my car had the wrong carburetor on it when I got it, so I sourced and rebuilt the correct one.

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“Joel told me that you make your power on the exhaust side of these Ford engines, so besides the head porting, we fitted a 1968 exhaust manifold with slightly larger ports, along with larger-diameter exhaust pipes and a turbo muffler and resonator. I don’t know what all this has done in terms of power increases,” he admits. “We knew we couldn’t get much of a top-end horsepower boost because we were keeping the one-barrel carburetor–I don’t need to go too fast in a car with ’60s safety technology, anyway–so we worked more on the torque side with the camshaft we used. These Ford sixes can make very good horsepower with high-end modifications like pistons, a camshaft, a four-barrel carburetor and an aluminum cross-flow cylinder head, but I don’t think I’d consider much additional, aside from a dual-port Weber carburetor and Clifford Performance split exhaust header with dual exhausts.”

While the engine was being rebuilt, Vern gave the three-speed C4 Cruise-O-Matic similar treatment at Flagstaff’s John Rogers’ Trans-Mission Man, Inc.; the automatic was rebuilt and enhanced with a mild shift kit.

The worn-out suspension was rebuilt using stiffer polyurethane bushings to help increase steering sharpness and give more responsive handling, while the front end got new coil springs, Monroe gas shocks and a .75-inch-diameter anti-roll bar; the solid-axle rear was fitted with new leaf springs and matching gas shocks. The four-wheel, nine-inch-diameter drum brakes had been rebuilt by the previous owner, so Vern wrapped the factory four-bolt, 14-inch steel wheels in new radial tires and restored the original hubcaps with polishing, touch-up paint and new center emblems.

While the engine bay was empty, Vern repainted everything and started the ongoing process of ensuring that all the correct fasteners, accessories and finishes were in place. He replaced the bent front and rear bumpers with reproduction chrome pieces. Turning to the interior, he rebuilt the window mechanisms, replaced the seals (“The wind noise went from howling to relatively quiet”) and got everything to fit. “I was nervous because there’s a lot going on in those doors and the adjustments have to be just right. The repair manuals aren’t very clear–luckily, I found a Mustang Monthly magazine article that detailed this,” he says.

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Vern is justifiably proud of the interior. “I love doing detail work. When I bought the car, the center console had a big crack in the middle, most of the paint was rubbed off and the brightwork was scratched. I epoxied behind the crack, put some filler in on the front and reproduced the texture. I spray-painted the console in the original colors for a red interior, and bought new parts for the shifter mechanism and trim; it looks great, like a brand-new console,” he explains.

“The instrument panel was worn, too; you could hardly read the dials. Restoring the needles took nothing more than shooting some orange survey paint into a little bowl and brushing it on. I buffed out the plastic dials, starting with Brasso because it’s a light abrasive, then working my way down to Meguiar’s plastic polish to finish them off; they came out almost as good as new. I did a bit of repainting, put everything back together, and didn’t spend anything more than a bit of paint and elbow grease. It’s the old German blood in me, I can’t stand to throw stuff away,” Vern laughs.

Although he continues to refine the details and ponder his options (“I need to retrofit the 1967 dual-circuit brake system for safety”), Vern’s already having fun maintaining and driving his Mustang. “My standard oil is Pennzoil 10W-30 with Comp Cams zinc additive. I use Meguiar’s Ultimate Wax, their Quick Interior Detailer and Show Car Glaze #7, if necessary. Mother’s Showtime Detailer is the best, and for tires and some vinyl, you can’t beat Jax Wax Super Blue after clean-up with Westley’s Bleche-Wite. Metal and chrome really shine with California Custom Purple Metal Polish.

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“It will always be a 10-footer and not a show car, but it still looks good and is a great cruiser,” he says. “It doesn’t have power steering, so it’s a bit of a bear until you hit 5 MPH, and then it’s fine. It shifts nice and crisply, and it has a nice, sporty feel. You punch the throttle and you feel it jump–it launches pretty good, I’ve been surprised. It will run 70 MPH on the highway all day long. We don’t pass a lot of cars, but we pass a lot of gas stations… I’ve hit 24 MPG on longer cruises.”

So what’s Vern’s perspective when he gets that typical V-8 question at a car show or during a nostalgic, romantic Sunday cruise with his wife? “The base six-cylinder Mustang represents a piece of history, a car everyone could afford that satisfied the urge for something that was sporty and fun to drive. I think a lot of those six-cylinder cars became parts donors for V-8 Mustangs over the years, so they’re both less valuable and much less common. I get kind of tired of looking at so many redone V-8 Mustangs–I like to see something different, something more unique. It’s satisfied my wish for a classic Mustang. I love the looks it gets, and how I can share my time machine with others, this car that brings joy and takes us back to special times in our lives.”