Cletus Emmett Wheelwelker
When Ford introduced the Mustang for the first time in April 1964, it was an instant hit. Selling 121,000 units in its first year, the Mustang was one of the first "pony cars;" a smaller, lighter alternative to big block muscle cars. However, by 1968, Ford found itself in the middle of a performance war against rival manufacturers. Needing a more powerful engine to keep pace on the track and in showrooms, Ford created the 428 Cobra Jet engine. However, the automaker worried that simply throwing the new power plant into a GT wasn't enough to differentiate it as a standalone performance model. Ford needed an equally impressive moniker to accompany the 428. Not just a simple re-badging, the Mach 1 name came to denote high performance variants of the Mustang until 1978.
After updating the fourth generation Mustang in 1999 with bolder, more muscular lines, Ford debuted the Bullitt in 2001. Inspired by the dark green GT-390 from the 1968 film of the same name, it was Ford's first heritage vehicle based off the "New Edge" platform. It was a wild success. Playing off the positive reception of the Bullitt, Ford resurrected the Mach 1 name for the 2003 model year. Featuring a 4.6 liter DOHC engine, larger brakes, a lower stance, and unique interior and exterior bits like a functional hood scoop, the Mach 1 package offered a boost in looks and performance over the GT. Only 16,783 of the special edition ‘stangs were made over a two year run, making them highly desired.
A dozen years since its rebirth, the Mach 1 remains a sought-after collectible. The rarity and performance of the car makes for a unique story in itself, but the tale of Houston’s Barton S. and his 2003 Mach 1 has more to offer. It is one of frustration and broken valve springs. One of perseverance and high horsepower. It is a story of an auto enthusiasts' hard work and determination in creating a magnificent Mach; the winner of Modded Mustang’s February 2015 Ride of The Month.
Barton's Mach 1 isn't his first Mustang. He owned a '66 in high school, and later on a 1999 GT; a car he planned on building. However, he always had his eyes set on something else. “Every time I’d come across pictures of a clean Mach 1, it’d just kill me how much I wanted one,” he said. “So I decided to commit and start looking.” In October 2012, he found a possible car for sale. The owner had already heavily modified it, installing a new 5.0 stroker and bolting on body components off a 2003/2004 Cobra. "He sent me the receipts from the reputable shop that built the engine and the dyno chart showing that it made over 400 RWHP naturally aspirated. It had a few more modifications done to the suspension and what not so that also intrigued me," Barton recalled. Ecstatic to find a Mach 1 with those upgrades in his price range, he purchased it.
Merely a week after buying the mighty Mach, it was in the air on jack stands. The previous owner had built the car with an emphasis on drag racing, however, Barton had visions of transforming it into a corner carving animal. But getting the pony to handle required drastic measures. The solid rear axle was dropped all together, and an IRS from a 2003/2004 Cobra took its place. A Full Tilt Boogie Racing bushing kit complemented the new rear end, while a new set of wheels were thrown on at the same time. Work progressed steadily, but the further along Barton went, the more issues he encountered. “The more I dug into the car, the more I found shoddy craftsmanship from the previous owner,” he explained. “Everything, and I mean everything he had a hand in modifying was done halfheartedly.” From poorly wired harnesses, to a seemingly failed attempt at cutting the radiator support to clear turbo piping, the Mach had a new surprise around every corner.
Eventually things were sorted out, and with the car on its new suspension and wheels, it was time to see what kind of power it was making. After strapping the car to the rollers, a dyno tune reflected a very healthy 389 RWHP on pump gas. All motor, need I remind you. But with the impressive numbers came an intermittent stalling issue at idle. One shop wouldn’t help Barton, citing there was nothing that could be done, and that such problems came with the territory of owning a modified vehicle. Despite the hiccup, Barton continued to drive the car, eventually entering it in an event pitting Mustangs against Camaros in autocross and drag racing. He ripped down the strip a few times, and then tested the car around the cones. But during one of his runs, the Mach 1 suddenly and unexpectedly died, refusing to start again. After a $300 tow to the performance shop, it was discovered that the main wiring harness had rubbed through on the back of the engine, shorting it out.
With a new harness, the car was back on the road, though the stalling issue remained. Then, on a warm day in August of last year, Barton headed out on his lunch break at work. He got in his car, inserted the key, and went to turn the engine over. But instead of hearing the v8 roar to life, he heard a bone chilling assortment of clanks and bangs. Immediately shutting off the Mach, Barton had it towed back to his house. After a few days of trying to pull the valve covers, he found the problem. A valve spring had broken in half, and from looking at what brand of springs were used, Barton deduced that they had been installed around 2008, when there was a faulty batch manufactured. After some deliberation on how to progress, Barton decided to pull the entire motor. While it was out, he replaced the valve springs with new Brian Tooley units; installed Ford Racing blue powder coated valve covers; threw on “Powered By Ford” coil covers; replaced the clutch with a new Exedy Mach 500 piece; and installed a Maximum Motorsports k-member, A-arms, bumpsteer kit, solid steering shaft, and poly motor mounts.
A few days before the writing of this article, Barton finally had his car buttoned up and back on the road. He mentioned that he has hopes of entering the Mach in autocross events in the near future. When describing the ultimate goal for his Mustang, Barton said the intent of the car "is to be a corner-carving naturally aspirated monster that can still be driven on the street as any other vehicle, and without compromising the few comforts that New Edge Mustangs came with."
Full modification List:
•MMR 5.0 stroker crank
•MMR Stage-3 head work
•Forged 10:1 CR pistons and rods
•JLT Ram Air Intake
•ATI Super Damper
•MAC long tube headers
•TR3650 with Exedy Mach 500 clutch
•MGW short throw shifter
•2003 Cobra IRS with Full Tilt Boogie Racing bushings and tie rods
•FRPP differential cover
•Vogtland rear lowering springs
•Full length subframe connectors
•Maximum Motorsports k-member
•Non-offset front control arms
•Front coil overs
•Solid steering shaft
•Solid steering rack bushings
•18x9/18x10 Silver FR500 wheels with Nitto NT555 tires
•Shaved 03/04 Cobra rear bumper
•03/04 Cobra side skirts
•03/04 Cobra spoiler
•03/04 Cobra mirrors