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Brian Thomas purchased his original California-built, numbers-matching, K-code car in January.
Brian Thomas purchased his original California-built, numbers-matching, K-code car in January.

Car Enthusiasts

Paying homage to the original pony car Add to ...

It has been 45 years since Ford's first Mustangs rolled off the assembly line and accelerated drag-strip-straight into the hearts of North American car enthusiasts.

We'll pay homage to the original "pony car" by taking a look at one of the originals, a 1965 that started life as a scrappy street fighter, but has spent most of its life as a weekend race track warrior.

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If you're looking at that date, doing some subtracting and figuring that the Mustang's 45th anniversary is coming up a year short, welcome to an enduring debate that relates to the car's provenance.

The Mustang was originally conceived by Ford Division honcho and industry legend Lee Iacocca in 1961. He wanted to build a sporty, inexpensive, lightweight, two-door, four-seater that would appeal to the emerging youth movement of the time. A prototype was readied by 1962 and the production car followed, based in large part on Falcon components, in the spring of 1964.

A heavy-duty prelaunch promotional campaign resulted in an enthusiastic response that saw 22,000 sold on April 17, the day it went on sale. By year's end, 263,434 had been delivered, and some nine million have been built since then.

What's still being argued over are the early-build examples. All Mustangs built in 1964 were officially 1965 models, but those assembled between April and August are deemed different enough to be considered distinct models - at least in the eyes of keen Mustang enthusiasts.

"People like to say there is no such thing as a 1964-1/2 Mustang, and in theory they are correct," says Charles Turner, head judge of the Mustang Club of America. "But there is a wide range of little differences between cars built before and after August that make them very unique. The MCA accepts the 1964-1/2 as a model year because we view it as a different car."

Changes mainly involved the electrical system and the V-8 option, with early cars getting the 260-cubic-inch engine and later ones the 289-cubic-incher.

The 1965 Mustang seen here in its rather sinister black paint picked up an interrupted racing career again this year in the hands of Bancroft, Ont.-based Brian Thomas. I came across him at a Shannonville Motorsport Park test and tune day, his first outing in the recently acquired racer.

Thomas purchased the Mustang, an original California-built, numbers-matching, K-code car in January after scouting it out on Boxing Day with partner Maureen Marctney. Now that's enthusiasm.

He says it has been on the track since 1972, originally running on the U.S. West Coast in the hands of a couple of owners before coming to British Columbia and then moving on to Edmonton, where an aborted attempt was made to return it to civilian life. It arrived in Ontario last year and was used as a track day car.

Thomas describes it as "Shelby-ized" with all the "wonderful bits" that racer Carroll Shelby (of Cobra and Mustang fame) developed for the cars to make them go fast. It now has a full cage instead of its simple roll bar, its 289-cubic-inch (4.7-litre) engine has been taken out to 302 cubic inches, fitted with a big carb "that uses much too much 110-octane gas," stainless headers, three inch exhausts and the original top-loader four-speed gearbox and differential. Suspension and brakes have also been up-rated to suit racing usage.

Thomas was still getting used to the car's steer-with-the-throttle handling at Shannonville, but managed a third-place finish in a recent outing at the Mosport vintage festival.

He says he enjoys every minute behind the wheel of his new ride, which joins a pair of other interesting racers in his stable.

Thomas, now 60, grew up in Toronto, but moved to Bancroft a few years ago to enjoy a semi-retirement that still seems to keep him busier than many - "I now only work 40 hours a week" - but still leaves him more time to enjoy his toys.

A self-described "motorhead" who has wanted to drive anything he saw with wheels and an engine as long as he can remember, he actually started on two wheels, rather than four, with a 1966 305 Yamaha.

It was followed by a 1967 Triumph Bonneville, the first of a long succession of these hot Triumphs. The number eventually reached 13 before he got fed up with fixing them and recently switched to a Harley-Davidson. Going fast was a rapidly acquired taste he puts down to a youthful over-abundance of "testosterone, or something."

During his later high school years he worked as a part-time motorcycle mechanic at Brown's Sport and Cycle on Yonge Street in Toronto. And later, he became a structural steel draughtsman. But he soon realized sales were his forte and began selling steel and pipe. In 1989, he started his own Whitby, Ont.-based business, Delta Piping Products Canada Inc.

His first taste of competition was in a Ford Cortina GT, purchased new in 1969, and he soon "pounded the wheels square, destroyed the car" while competing in rallies.

In 1971, he decided to go road racing instead with a Lotus 7 America powered by a 948-cc Sprite engine. But after three seasons of "racing on a shoestring," he sold the car and brought to an end that chapter in his life.

His interest in racing was rekindled when he "made the colossal mistake" of attending the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada's racing festival in 2003. "The junk was back in my veins again," he laughs.

In 2004, he acquired a 1972 Mallock Mk IIB, a purpose-built racer produced in England and powered by a 1.6-litre, 173-hp Ford cross-flow four. He ran some Solo 1 events "to get back in the groove" and began racing again in 2005.

Last year, he added a potent 1986 Tiga SC86 mid-engined sports racer equipped with a 2.0-litre, 150-hp Ford Pinto engine.

Despite having the lowest power of all his cars, he says the Tiga is nevertheless the fastest. "Downforce is an amazing thing," he says of the high-tech aerodynamics that glue the car to the track.

But the rather primitive and now quite elderly Mustang's thundering V-8 and tossable handling obviously still exert considerable charm, too.

"I tell people, 'Everybody needs a 45-year-old race car,'" says Thomas.

globeauto@globeandmail.com

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