It’s a hard road losing someone you love. You can trust Darren Gojak on that one; he’d been with his wife Sue for 17 years when she passed suddenly in 2019, leaving him at a loss. There’s no rulebook on how to cope with grief, but eventually you’ve got to move forward. And few things move a man forward like a worked small-block V8.
It was simpler days back in 2013 when Darren spied a green Mustang coupe on Gumtree. Sue agreed it was worth checking out, and before long, it was in their driveway. There were a few imperfections bringing it down, including an untidy set of 80s-spec Delta Wires, but wheels are easily fixed. Importantly, Sue liked it, the paint was excellent and the potential was evident.
Darren wasted no time making the car his own, with the wheels the first things to go, replaced by a set of Magnum 500 steelies wrapped in whitewall tyres. He then got cleaning to bring the car up to the standard he knew was there underneath all the grime. “The seller had lived on a farm, so it had all the gunk that came with that,” he explains.
Some careful polishing brought the car up a treat – a testament to the quality paintjob. “Later, I met some guy at a car show who remembered working on it,” says Darren. “He reckoned he spent months and months on the paint back in 2004.”
After an interior tidy-up, all Darren had to do was load up Sue and get cruising. “For us, car nights were always burger nights,” he says, getting a bit misty-eyed. “If we were going on a cruise or something, Sue and I would always get a hamburger from somewhere. It became a tradition.”
Sadly, traditions don’t last forever. Although Sue was battling pancreatic cancer, she had been in remission, and 2019 was looking pretty positive for the Mustang-cruising couple – until it wasn’t. Sue developed septicaemia – blood poisoning that can cause a cascade of organ failures. As someone whose health was already compromised, it was a battle Sue wouldn’t win.
With the kids already flown the coop, the household was reduced to just Darren and the dog, but he found a way to keep on plugging, gradually returning to the odd car event in either the Mustang or his EH Holden wagon. However, just as Darren was achieving his ‘new normal’, two more tragedies struck; his mum Vilma passed in August 2020, with his dad Anton joining her the following June.
Anybody would be reeling from that sort of rollercoaster, so Darren focused his energy on the green pony car in the garage. “Ever since I bought the Mustang, I always thought it might be a bit faster,” he says. “With Sue’s passing, then my parents, I thought, ‘Now is my time.’”
Sue had cherished the Mustang but hadn’t been too keen on Darren chasing more horsepower. For her, the prime aim was cruising and burgers, something the Mustang did fine without a power boost. “To be honest, that’s one of the reasons I upgraded – Sue isn’t around to tell me that I can’t!” Darren laughs.
28When Darren picked up the car, it was running a 289ci Windsor with a 600cfm Holley, alloy heads and extractors. “It was a low-comp motor ready for a turbo or a blower,” he says, “but the last guy had never actually got around to buying a supercharger.”
Darren had a few power options in mind, running various alternatives past Jason at Lonsdale Autoshop, who would handle the mechanical work. The pair settled on a 363ci Dart Windsor stroker from Pavtek in Melbourne. The mill arrived without pulleys, alternator, bracketry or a water pump, ensuring Jason had plenty to do before dropping the donk into the Mustang.
While Darren had envisaged a quick turnaround and a timely return to cruising, his mid-project decision to tidy up the engine bay slowed things down somewhat. Adam at Southern Classics & Customs filled around 100 holes, removed the heater box and trimmed the radiator support to fit a bigger PWR unit. With everything getting larger in the bay, Darren relocated the battery to the boot.
In keeping with the all-out nature of the new build, Darren chose to bin the second-hand Kelsey-Hayes front disc brakes he’d previously fitted in favour of a set of Wilwoods all ’round. With the new brakes beyond the capability of the original system, Jason at Lonsdale fitted two new boosters – one for each end, with the back one housed in the boot.
Of course, Darren didn’t want his return to cruising cancelled by canaries, so the Mustang’s mods were built with an engineering certificate in mind. Sot from Modified Vehicle Engineering required chassis connectors underneath to really tie the Mustang together, with Jason’s skills coming into play again. The front suspension arms also required strengthening and a set of gusset supports to accept a set of Viking coil-overs. Although the steering is stock Mustang, Jason adapted a Holden Astra electric power steering pump to suit, then hid it away under a cover fabricated by SC&C.
With the Mustang coming together nicely, Darren suggested to Sue’s daughter Tarryn that she use it for her wedding. Unfortunately, some unforeseen delays hampered progress. Not only was Jason’s work slowed down by an incorrect water pump arriving in the post, but it also took three radiators – all custom-built – before one would fit snugly in the Mustang’s cooling hole. “The water pump was all Jason,” Darren laughs. “He ordered an early Windsor pump, but he needed to order an early-early Windsor pump!” Finally, Damon at Airs Race Pipes was engaged to fab the exhaust, crafting a system comprising custom four-into-one headers and twin three-inch pipes.
Tarryn’s wedding date was imminent, but with the Mustang still unfinished, Mick Cox stepped in to get the bride to the ceremony on time in his Gen 3 Hemi-powered AP6 Safari. Phew!
The last screws were finally tightened on the Mustang late in 2021, and Darren is enjoying the extra neddies when he goes cruising. “While I’m not planning on racing it, I’m definitely going to give it a few runs to see what it’s got,” he says. “I’ve got to head out to The Bend to line up Jason in his 350-cube EH sedan – although last time he went roll racing, he was beaten by a Sigma!”
Story: Dave Carey
Photos: Troy Barker