One man's tribute to an automotive icon
Ford’s Mustang pony cars have certainly withstood the test of time like few other muscle cars. The distinctive grill and emblem, which were abandoned, much to Ford’s cost with the ill-fated Mustang II and other compact variants in the ’70s and ’80s, remain the timeless signatures of one of the automotive world’s most enduring model lines.
But the epitome of the Mustang family tree remains anything built by the equally legendary Texan Carroll Shelby, himself an icon to so many, regardless of their brand allegiances. And right on the front row of the Shelby grid are the GT350 and GT500 cars that are amongst the rarest and most sought-after of the high-performance variants of Ford’s performance thoroughbred. And even rarer are the convertible variants, with only four built for the 1966 model year. This is a tribute to one which was originally ordered by Shelby’s mate, Bob Shane, a member of the popular ‘The Kingston Trio’ folk group of the 1960s.
Which brings us to Pete Dout, of Melbourne’s Pete’s Garage, who to many enthusiasts is known as one of Australia’s leading practitioners and custodians of the Mustang performance tradition and heritage.
There is little Mustang history and knowledge that has eluded the 58-year-old, who these days numbers some of the country’s top racers and collectors among his customers and mates. We’ll let Pete explain the motivation behind his extraordinarily beautiful tribute pony car.
"I saw a ’67 fastback when I was 18 and fell in love with Mustangs from that moment," he recalls. "I was working on Fords at Murray Carter’s workshop in Melbourne at the time."
While working for one of Australia’s most loved and stalwart Ford privateer touring car drivers pretty much doomed Pete to a life-long devotion to the Blue Oval, it also set in motion a drive to establish his own credentials as a leading Ford fettler.
The car you’re looking at on these pages came to Pete as an ex-Variety Bash car, and while it was in pretty average condition overall, it at least had the fundamentals to turn it into the beautiful GT350 tribute Pete envisaged when he bought it.
"It already had the Paxton centrifugal blower and a four-speed Tremec ’box, but the body needed a lot of work and most of the initial effort went into chasing pockets of rust all over it," he explained.
The idea from the start was to craft a very special tribute based on a one-off car that Shelby built for Bob Shane. But I wanted it to also handle, brake and incorporate a few of the other tricks I’ve learned over the years, so while it looks factory, there is plenty of modern stuff under the skin.
"Luckily, I had Max (Max Hayes, of Vintique Moto) working next door at the time. Max is a real metal artist – one of the best around in my opinion – and eventually, he took on all the bodywork and hand-built a lot of parts, like the side scoops and bonnet mods etc. He also made the doors fit better than they did from the factory and, really, without Max’s input it wouldn’t have ended up as good as it is."
Pete was determined to build the car as close as possible to how it would have looked if it had been born in the hands of Shelby, so it has been converted back to left-hand drive, with the dash ‘mirror-imaged’.
"Again, it was Max’s idea to have the dash and glovebox reverse-imaged and printed so it looked as authentic as possible," explained Pete. "And we moved all the switches and everything else over so it’s as close as we could get to original. Typical of Max, it looks so good you really can’t tell that it was right-hand-drive to begin with.
"We also decided to use a Dakota digital dash because I’ve put them in a lot of my other cars and while they look authentic, they are 100 per cent accurate as far as their readouts go."
Drawing on his years of racing experience, Pete has incorporated a few subtle and not-so-subtle mods, including what he calls the "Shelby Drop" on the upper control arms, plus some "aggressive" suspension adjustments, including four and a half degrees of castor and half a degree of camber, as well as sturdy sway arms and quality adjustable Koni shocks all-round. Steering is via a Falcon steering box with a special power steering cooler to cope with the extra under-bonnet heat generated by the blower.
At the rear is a relatively conventional, though tough factory K-code nine-inch diff, fitted with 3.25 gearing and larger-than-stock drums and shoes.
The braking side of the equation hasn’t been neglected up front, either with factory Mustang Kelsey-Hayes four-piston calipers hooked up to a modern, large-capacity VH40 booster off a Falcon, fitted snugly inside one of the front guards.
Wheels are period-authentic Shelby replicas, that are slightly wider than the stockers and, of course, as is common practice, they’re 15-inchers rather than the stock 14s to take advantage of better rubber choices.
But most enthusiasts’ eyes – and ears – will be drawn to what lurks beneath the bonnet, which is where Pete’s years of Ford small (and big) block experience have paid off. In K-code spec, as per the original GT350s, the 289 cu in engines were fitted with solid-lifter cams with adjustable rockers and four-barrel carbs, plus freer-flowing exhausts and toughened internals to cope with the extra stresses imposed by the 271hp, high-performance small block.
Capacity has been boosted to 331ci, based on a late-model 302 block and Scat aftermarket crank and rods hooked up to Mahle pistons. The cam is a special Comp Cams roller unit to suit the Paxton blower, agitating roller lifters and a pair of high-flow Dart cylinder heads fed by a genuine, and very rare GT350 aluminium inlet manifold topped off by a 650cfm "Boost Reference" Holley carbie, specially modified to cope with the boost from the blower.
Burnt gases exit very quickly and efficiently via a set of Doug’s Headers and twin two-and-a-half-inch pipes.
"All the engine internals are pieces I’ve had a lot of experience with in racing over the years, and the combination has a great piston-to-rod ratio, so I know that it’s a high-revving unit that will do the job reliably and without letting me down."
Connecting all that boosted pony power to the rear end is a factory top-loader, close-ratio four-speed gearbox with a modified Hurst shifter.
Impressively, pretty much everything that couldn’t be readily sourced from online catalogues was either fabricated in-house or built by Max Hayes.
"We make what we can’t buy. And the same goes for Max – he makes what we can’t buy."
As its creator explained when asked the ultimate question: why (as in why go to such great lengths to build his homage to the godfather of performance Mustangs), Pete’s answer was typically straightforward and to the point.
"Firstly, because if someone says ‘no – it can’t be done’, then we’re the ‘yes guys’ who can make it happen. And I’m basically obsessed with building cars and seeing how good we can make them. I always start with a vision and then the aim is to get it as close as possible to what I wanted."
As someone who is clearly driven to create, Pete has already mentally moved on to other project(s), so the GT350 is currently up for grabs. When I asked him why he wouldn’t want to keep it, his answer was again, blunt and concise.
"Why would I? I kept my last Shelby, a GT500 Fastback in the showroom and it just sat there gathering dust for years. Even the dog wouldn’t get in it coz it was too loud."
Can’t wait to see the outcome of the next project – as, no doubt, will Bill The Dog.
Pete Dout has almost as interesting a history as his ’66 Shelby GT350 tribute beauty. The occasionally acerbic Ford enthusiast spent his Mustang apprenticeship in Hong Kong, of all places, where he fettled and spannered on a variety of cars for well-off expats during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. The Mustang lovers raced their cars far and wide throughout Asia and were able to do so because Pete became a leading expert at making Mustangs go faster for longer. He was, and remains, Asia’s leading exponent of fast pony cars.
Returning to his native Melbourne in 2007, he soon established Pete’s Classic Garage, a small but very active workshop in the suburb of Moorabbin, and is now one of a leading and exclusive group of local Ford devotees who ply their trade for some of Australia’s leading Mustang racers and collectors.
Those who know him will attest to his sometimes prickly ("I’m Dutch, so it’s not my fault") manner and his quirky sense of humour, but there’s no doubting his abilities and knowledge in literally every nook and cranny of Mustang lore and myth. Bring up a rare, little-known model, historical fact or anecdote, and chances are Pete knows the real story and has those responsible on speed dial, regardless of where they are on the planet.
But his Mustang journey really took off after he found himself back-packing in Hong Kong and came up with the idea of setting up his own Mustang specialist garage for race-hungry expats and locals. That lasted for three years, followed by 15 years of spannering a 383 cu in Cleveland-powered ’67 Fastback for an English customer, who raced it at various racetracks, including Macau and Shar Alam, around Asia. In fact, Pete now owns the car and it resides in his workshop to this day.
Years of racing and tuning Mustangs in relative isolation taught Pete to think for himself and gave him a wealth of experience to draw on when he eventually returned to Melbourne to set up his own specialist Mustang performance business – although he is quick to point out that his services are available for pretty much any enthusiasts of classic marques, from E-types to Porsches and Beemers. And he still builds and tunes cars for his Hong Kong clients after all these years.
His services also extend to custom and performance work, epitomised by an E-type Jag that he built recently for a customer.
"It’s a beautiful car," he enthuses. "It has 17in wheels, 6-piston calipers on the front and outboard discs on the rear. It looks stock and has a Jag six under the bonnet, but is an absolute weapon of a car and kills ‘em all in classic racing. It’s fantastic!"
The business also has a small, but growing fleet of Mustang hire cars for those who can’t afford ownership, but still want to enjoy driving cars of the muscle car era.
The GT350 tribute perhaps best depicts all of the services offered by Pete’s Garage, with hardly a part not fettled, fine-tuned or fabricated in-house, apart from the many sheet metal bits crafted by Pete’s mate Max Hayes.
Story: Chris Beattie
Photos: Shaun Tanner