"What number car is this?" He laughs. "You mean right now, owned cars? I have seven, no wait, let me see. . . ." Denton Miller looks to his thinking spot and tries and fails to add them all up on his fingers. Right before he goes for his toes, he gives up.
He shifts from one foot to another as he stands with us at the mouth of a labyrinth of small machine shops pumping a greasy metal dust into the salt air. Car number something-something is a '65 Mustang standing in stark contrast to the grit and unpolished flavor of the San Diego shipyards. It's clean, it's buffed, it draws you like a gnat to a bug zapper.
Denton is not a pro car builder, he's just a guy who got in way over his head from the start. Sink or swim. He blames it on a coworker who had the car sitting for seven years right in front of him without lifting a wrench to fix it up. "It was just a shell, and after I bought the thing, I received boxes of Mustang parts for the next three days and spread them out across the garage floor." Denton smiles, but in the weird, troubled way.
Ever the resourceful hunter/gatherer, Denton would strike out on his own when he got stuck. Eventually he found his way to Hilltop Classics in Escondido, California, and a local expert known simply as Julie. She quickly grew tired of Denton showing up at the shop with parts in his hand saying, "What is this for?" So one day she dropped by his house and crawled around telling him what went where.
"I had to totally assemble the car just to see what was missing, what was good or bad, and how everything fit," Denton said. "It was all jacked up with chrome rims, and it looked suspiciously like the body had been hit." While Julie was under the car, she found the "new" floors had been laid over the old ones. Then there was the trunk and quarter-panel Bondo, and the headlight buckets didn't fit because of botched welds. The roof and rear valence are the two original panels left.
Denton reassembled the 289 so he could drive it to Hilltop when he needed something to be welded. "Once in a while, I had to get on my goggles and drive it to Julie's shop without the windshield. The Bondo stuff would fly in my eyes from the sanding. I was a ticket waiting to happen, but I kept making it back home."
With the body hammered back into shape, Denton thought about the color. "It was going to be red, then white with a blue stripe, then blue with a white stripe, then the Hertz colors, then at the last minute I saw a Blue Pearl Acura NSX in a showroom and thought, yup that's it, that's the color."
During the trip to the paint shop, Denton saw a Shelby on the freeway and chased it down in hopes of finding more parts. That was when he was introduced to Paradise Wheels in San Marcos, California. Owner Craig Conley had recently purchased the rights to remake the original Paxton superchargers from the '60s. He even had a stash of NOS blower belts for applications like Denton's. "I had broken an exhaust bolt off in the head, and the Edelbrock heads were only a couple hundred dollars more, so I bought a pair," Denton said. The larger combustion chamber on the Edelbrock heads dropped the compression ratio a couple of points, and since Denton had just met a guy who makes vintage supercharger setups, the inevitable occurred.
With a clear idea of how the car should look, Denton jacked into the Web to pick out some more '60s Shelby goodies. "I ordered and read all of the books about the Shelby cars that I could, and [I] scanned magazines to pick the options that I thought were cool. I picked up the roll bar because it both looked cool and was an original option back then." His goal was to add as many '60s-era Shelby parts as he could without adding anything too modern to the overall look. "I saw the wheels on the Internet [at Mustangs Plus], and they had the classic '60s look and feel, and it was like, wow, someone is reading my mind. It was perfect. After that, the rest of the car just came together."
What: A Shelby-like '65 Mustang fastback
Owner: Denton Miller
Hometown: Escondido, California, a little bit north of San Diego
Body mods: There are four different grilles for the '65 Mustang available from Mustangs Plus: a '66 swap, a billet aluminum grille, the standard replacement grille, and the GT grille. Denton accented his GT grille with the Shelby front apron without the chin spoiler.
Cooler: The Griffin radiator design varies by the year of the car and whether it has an automatic transmission. Aluminum is better than copper/brass only because it's lighter and can use larger cooling tubes.
Dash: Mustangs Plus offers five different dashboard inserts and two different gauge packages. Denton went for a machine-turned bezel and glovebox insert with Haneline gauges.
Engine: The 289 really didn't have any problems aside from a broken head bolt. Denton fixed it with a set of Edelbrock heads, a Performer intake, and a cleaned, stock block with 0.030 overbore. The Ford Racing valve covers are from Mustangs Plus.
Exhaust: He didn't admit it, but we're sure he drove it uncapped to the muffler shop in El Cajon, California, where he had 2.5-inch Flowmasters installed.
Goodies: Under the hood are a billet export brace and a chrome Monte Carlo bar from Mustangs Plus. Denton "kicked it up" by adding the funky blue headlights and amber light bar. Or so he said.
Heads: The Edelbrock Street Legal Performer heads are available with 1.90-inch intake valves for stock '65-'95 289, 302, and 351 engines. Denton ordered 2.02 intake valves that only work with aftermarket pistons.
Ignition: Denton uses an MSD 6BTM and a Pro-Billet distributor to control boost-induced detonation. The 6BTM is boost referenced and preset by a dial mounted under the dash. For every pound of boost the box sees, it retards the corresponding amount of timing.
Interior: One of the boxes in Denton's garage was full of upholstery, but it was blue and he wanted black. He sold the stuff on eBay and bought a new interior from Hilltop in Escondido. Julie helped with the chrome accents and the rollbar. Behind the sunvisor is a stereo face from Custom Autosound. It's AM/FM and controls a 1,000-watt amp and CD changer in the trunk.
Rearend: The cool thing about Ford rearends is the removable third member. Denton bought a complete 3.25 unit with a limited slip and bolted it in.
Supercharger: Paradise Wheels purchased the original tooling for the '65, '67, and '69-'70 Shelby Mustang Paxton supercharger kit, and the company builds new ones in two forms. The original kit has a blue-painted compressor and brackets and pulleys specific to original Shelby Mustangs. The kit Denton purchased is universal in the sense that it will fit most '60s and '70s V-8 Fords. It comes with all the parts and a trick boost-referenced mechanical fuel pump. The Cobra enclosure is also from the original Granatelli design and hides a Demon 650 carb, also provided by Paradise. The kit adds 35 percent more power at 5-7 pounds of boost.
Suspension: Denton put the "not-for-street-use" Grab-a-Trak suspension kit on it. The Polygraphite bushings and heavy-duty sway bars and lowering springs brought it down, and the 17s brought it back up. He says, "The downside to the suspension is that it rattles stuff loose. You have to make sure everything is snug. It makes it that much more fun to drive."
Transmission: It's a pretty basic rebuilt four-speed with a stock clutch.
Wheels/tires: It was love at first sight with the 17x8 Torq-Thrust IIs. They have 4.75-inch backspacing and 235/45R17 Yokohama A530 tires.