Saving Drag Racing History – The Super Mustang
When the Ford Mustang first hit the streets in 1964, few people realized what a performance icon it would soon become. But the idea of putting a V8 engine in a small coupe did much to revolutionize the racing world as it did change the consumer market for muscle cars.
The fully-restored original Super Mustang, the world’s first “Fastest Mustang”
But there are people whose foresight seems to border on clairvoyance. Ron Pellegrini, a young firebrand from Illinois, wanted to make a name for himself in the drag racing world. But to do so often requires a factory-backed sponsorship, as building a drag car can get very expensive very quickly. Ron already had some experience driving fast cars, including a 4-engine dragster called the “Showboat”. He also drove a 427-powered Thunderbolt, one of the rarest factory race cars in existence. Towards the end of the 1964 racing season, he took that 427 engine and dropped it into a ’65 Mustang coupe and called it the “Quarter Horse”. Quarter Horse could knock down that ¼ mile in 10.9 seconds at 130 mph…in 1964! That was some serious speed back then.
The restored Super Mustang, the first fiberglass body funny car
Ron was convinced that Ford would back him and his experimental car and started booking events for the 1965 season. Then word came down from Ford that no, they wouldn’t sponsor him for the factory experimental class, A/FX. Undeterred, Ron decided to make his own experimental car.
Enter the Super Mustang. Ron went all out, even founding a fiberglass company called Fiberglass LTD., and its first task was building a fiberglass shell for a 1965 Mustang.
The Super Mustang next to an original-body 1965 coupe
But Ron needed a chassis for this fiberglass body, and found it by buying a used Chrysler roadster chassis, complete with a supercharged and fuel injected 392 Hemi engine. But the chassis was just 97” long, while the fiberglass Mustang body was 106”. So Ron and company did what was only natural; chop 16” out of the roof and center of the Mustang. The wheel wells didn’t line up either though, so the front well had to be moved up 7” and the rear wheel wells moved up 12”. Ron had unwittingly built the first fiberglass Mustang funny car. It would be another year before the factory backed Mustang funny cars of Holman and Moody hit the drag strip.
Ron and his team accomplished all of this in just three weeks to meet their first committed race at the US 30 Drag Strip in Gary, Indiana. On its first trip to the track, the Super Mustang ran an 8.82 at 173 mph and was quickly donned the “World’s Fastest Mustang”. There hadn’t even been time to attach the sponsors’ names to the car’s fiberglass body!
So, how does a rare, historical car like this end up rotting away in a Florida junkyard? After the 1965 , Ron sold the car to some guys out of Chicago, Illinois. This is where the history of the car gets hazy, though Bob Schramm, the current owner and the savior of the Super Mustang, thinks he has filled in most of the blanks.
This is what Bob towed home from Tampa, not knowing its historical significance
“These boys raced that car up and down the coast,” he says. “They’d beat just about everybody in one particular area until no one else would race them, and then they’d move on. They did this from Chicago down to Tampa, where they were caught and arrested by the local authorities. With no money for bail, their mothers called one of their local friends, who made a deal with the boys; I’ll post your bail if you give me your car. The boys agreed, and the car was backed into a corner of a junkyard, where it sat from 1972 until 1987.
The Super Mustang was featured in many publications from the time, including Super Stock magazine, which took these black and white photos
Bob first came across the car in 1985, as a sometimes-resident of Florida. The way the engine sat, and that the fiberglass body was a coupe, not a fastback like the Holman and Moody cars, made the car stick in the back of his mind like a kernel of corn stuck in ones teeth. But the owner would not sell the car, despite Bob’s repeated pleas. Then in 1987, the owner changed her mind, so Bob went down there with his friend Dave Beyer. But the car was now missing many major components, like the 392 engine and the Olds rearend. Discouraged, Bob left without the car and may never have gone back for it had his friend Dave not convinced him to buy it.
“I went back, bought the car, and spent the next few years trying to figure out what the hell it was,” Bob says. It wasn’t until he showed a picture of the car to “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who remembered the car, that Bob was finally able to speak with the original builder, Ron Pellegrini. The two talked for a long time, and Bob could begin a faithful restoration of an American classic. Easier said than done.
The frame was all but disintegrated, and a new one would have to be built from scratch
The original chassis and tube work underneath the fiberglass body had completely rusted away and had to be replicated. This task was left up to Bill Holtz of Holtz Fabrication. He rebuilt a new chassis down to the last nut and bolt using chrome-moly tubing. A ’57 Olds rear end was tracked down, narrowed, and installed, and the old La Salle transmission was discarded in favor of a 2-speed “Glide”. The La Salle tranny allowed the Mustang to only go forward; there was no reverse gear. The 2-speed would make it much easier to load and unload the car for auto shows. Then a 392 engine, topped with a GMC style 6-71 supercharger was installed with Hilborn injection, though the car now runs on alcohol rather than nitro as it did in the ‘60s.
The original fiberglass body was saved by Bob’s son, Scott, through tireless massaging of the original body
With the chassis in place, the fiberglass body was next task to be undertaken. Bob and his son, Scott, went to the task of restoring the original fiberglass body, which at this point was the only original piece of the car left. The fiberglass was so thin in places that one could see through the body, but Scott was able to slowly massage the body back to life. It was then painted the original Wimbledon White with Guardsmen Blue stripes. Bob even put the name, “funniest car” (as it was called by magazines in 1965), and the original sponsor decals back on the body.
The new chassis sans the fiberglass body weighs just 1,900 pounds. The fiberglass body adds only 200 pounds for a total weight of 2,100 pounds
It took three years, and a lot of dedication, to bring this piece of American racing history back to life. Bob and all the others who took the time and effort to restore this piece are owed a great deal of thanks for preserving what is in all likelihood the first true fiberglass funny car. And it just goes to show that any muscle car is worth saving. You never know what you might have, after all.