I never liked these cars. Stupidly, I admitted this to Gene Hooker, the car's owner, while driving to the photo shoot. Not the smartest move, of course, and I clumsily tried to talk my way out of it. Instead of being angry (which he should have been), Gene smiled and said he never did either. Whew!
My intention was to compliment him on the excellent job he'd done restoring this particular Mustang, often considered an undesirable body style by some people. It just didn't come out that way.
Gene never had any plans to build a '72, though. He was going through a divorce in the late '80s and needed something to keep him occupied during the ordeal. "I had owned a '70 Mach 1 that got totaled while my wife was driving, and I wanted another one like that." But he couldn't afford any of the pre-'71 Mach 1s he looked at. Instead, he ended up buying this '72 on a local car lot for $1,000.
In hindsight, he thinks he paid too much for it. "It was in pretty foul shape," says Gene, a stoic guy who has a gift for speaking in understatement. "The engine knocked, the suspension was shot, the brakes were shot, the alignment was way off, it had a GM power steering pump that didn't work, the windows leaked, the floor was rusted through, and though it was originally a four-speed car, it had an automatic and only Second gear worked." He drove the car home from the lot, a 15-mile drive along country roads that should have only been a 20-minute ride. "It took about 45 minutes," Gene says. "My father followed me in case the car fell apart along the way." The trip seemed to last a couple of hours.
Once home, Gene went through the car, assessing the condition, saving up money, and tracking down replacement parts. In December 1991 he began working steadily on the Mach, fixing the mechanical things first. He wanted to keep the car driveable before sending it to the body shop. "I fixed the brakes and suspension first. I fixed the door handle too so I could get in the car." He then tackled the drivetrain, rebuilding the 351C and adapting a T5 transmission from a '93 Mustang. Then it was off to the body shop for an extensive cosmetic and structural overhaul. The floorpans were replaced as well as both quarter-panels, both doors, the decklid, and the front and rear valance panels. Martin Bennette of Asheboro, North Carolina, sprayed the freshened sheetmetal with a Gold Glow basecoat/clearcoat paint job.
He finished the major work on the Mustang in 1993, but Gene still continues to tinker. He added power assist to the brakes last winter and is toying with the notion of building a fuel-injection system for the engine. In the meantime he drives the wheels off the car. Currently there are 260,000 miles on the clock; about 100,000 of those were amassed after the car was restored. He goes to a lot of cruises and drives it regularly to car shows. We met him at the Year One Experience in Atlanta. He tells us he gets a lot of folks talking to him about the car, and the most common question people ask is "How do you see out of the back window?" "You don't," Gene replies. "You get used to it."
All the while, he's developed an appreciation for this Mustang body style. "No, I never used to like the looks of these cars. I guess it's grown on me over the years. I like it a lot now, and I don't have any plans for getting rid of it." He says the guy he bought his Mach 1 from was planning on parting it out rather than selling it complete. He's really happy he found it before that happened.
What: '72 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Owner: Gene Hooker
Hometown: Sophia, North Carolina. Sophia is located in Randolph County. So is Level Cross, hometown of Richard Petty.
Engine: Gene rebuilt the 351 Cleveland himself, keeping the stock crank and rods but adding 10.0:1 pistons. He drilled and tapped the oil passages in the block to accept the restrictor kit. Troy Machine Shop in Troy, North Carolina, bored and honed the block and resized the connecting rods.
Valvetrain: Going off a recommendation from a parts guy at his local Super Shops, Gene threw the Crane Cams parts catalog at the car. He slid in a Crane 296/296-advertised duration, 0.562/0.550-lift cam, Hi Intensity lifters, and Energizer pushrods and 1.7:1 roller rockers. He's happy with this decision. The engine runs and sounds good but is still streetable and gets decent mileage.
Cylinder heads: The stock 4V heads were ported and gasket-matched. Gene kept the stock 2.19/1.71 valves but gave them a three-angle valve job
Induction: An 800-cfm double-pumper Holley feeds those huge Cleveland intake ports through a Holley Street Eliminator single-plane manifold. But Gene is thinking of shelving all these parts for a Mass-Flo fuel injection kit. "I'm interested in the technology, and I think it would be different, too," he says.
Transmission: Wanting overdrive, Gene rebuilt a T5 from a '93 Fox-body Mustang, mating it to the engine via an adapter plate on the bellhousing. A friend made a crossmember that relocated the transmission mount, and he had the driveshaft shortened to fit. He uses the stock mechanical clutch linkage and a Hays pressure plate and friction disc.
Rearend: Richmond 3.50:1 gears fill the stock 9-inch housing, keeping things road-trip-friendly.
Gene is a toolmaker for Thomas Built buses. Anyone ride to elementary school in a Thomas bus?
Suspension: The Mustang's suspension was wasted when Gene bought the car. Things improved significantly when he upgraded to polyurethane bushings, 550-lb/in and 153-lb/in NPD springs, and Ford 111/48-inch front and 1-inch rear sway bars.
Brakes: Surprisingly, this Mach 1 had drum brakes at all corners. Gene kept the rear ones, but tossed the front set in favor of a pair of discs that were optional that year.
Wheels/Tires: No sense messing with stock Mach 1 wheels. BFGoodrich Radial T/As are mounted on the 15x7-inch front and 15x8-inch rear wheels.
Paint/Body: Cagle Automotive of Denton, North Carolina, hung all the new sheetmetal, followed up by a respray by Martin Bennette. James Powell of Silver Valley, North Carolina, applied the stripes.
Interior: Dave Spivey, of Asheboro, North Carolina, redid the interior with the stock Ginger upholstery.
Performance: Gene hasn't made any passes at the dragstrip, preferring to hit the streets in his Mach 1. He drives it as often as he can and figures he puts at least 6,000 miles on the car per year.