Car nut and former NT Chief Minister Marshall Perron will be bringing his stunning Mustang convertible to Red CentreNATS this September

Photographers: Peter Bateman

Former Northern Territory Chief Minister Marshall Perron has been a car guy his whole life and will be bringing his stunning Mustang convertible to Red CentreNATS in Alice Springs, 2-4 September. Let’s check out the original Street Machine feature story on the car, from our December 2005 mag.

POLLIES usually duck for cover at the mention of modified cars. But not Marshall Perron. He must have been the only Australian politician who never hid his passion for street machines.

Marshall’s passion for cars — hot rods in particular — started well before he got involved in Northern Territory politics. “My stepfather and older brother were both mechanics, so it was only natural that I spent much of my youth tinkering with cars in workshops.” he said. “I didn’t become a politician until I was 30.”

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -side -angleThe ’66 Mustang shown here is by no means Marshall’s first custom project. He started with a ’31 Willys roadster, followed by a ’46 Ford convertible, a ’55 Thunderbird and a sectioned ’46 Ford Tudor. His daily ride is a ’56 F100 pick-up.

“I’ve always been interested in older cars,” he said. “They have character and individuality, not like the current models. You can’t pick one from another. The only new car I’ve ever owned was a 1962 S Series Valiant, but I sold that after less than a year to buy the T’bird!”

A fixture on the NT political scene for much of the latter part of the 20th century, Marshall was Chief Minister from 1988-1995. He was a great friend to our hobby generally and fought a personal crusade against Canberra’s efforts to force old cars off Australian roads by tightening registration rules.

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -frontNow retired from politics for a decade, and living on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Marshall is free to indulge himself in his favourite hobby. Our politicians cop a lot of flak, and a lot of it’s well deserved, but Marshall Perron gets a pat on the back from us for his efforts — single-handed, more often than not — on behalf of Aussie car lovers. Which brings us to his Mustang.

“I wanted everything done to the car to look like it came from the factory that way.” There’s pride in Marshall Perron’s voice. Fair enough, considering the countless hours and small fortune he invested bringing this 1966 Mustang convertible back to life.

The all-time classic ponycar was Marshall’s second preference, if you’ll excuse the political metaphor. He wanted a ’57 Thunderbird, but after a worldwide web search he canned the idea. The only restorable examples he could find were in the States. That was the good news; the bad news was one was going to set him back around $US40,000. Plus a few more thou to ship it to Darwin.

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -front -angleOn the other hand, a ’66 Mustang in reasonable nick — incomplete, but rust-free — could be had for about a quarter of the T’bird price. Not cheap, but affordable

Acting on a recommendation from son Bryce, Marshall transferred the Aussie equivalent of $US10,000 to The Mustang Ranch in Fresno, California. Roly Leahy Custom Imports in Brissy did the delivery, while Marshall crossed his fingers that he hadn’t done his dough on a pile of junk. To his relief, what rolled out of the container was pretty much as described on TMR’s website.

Now the real work started. This was really three jobs in one: replace what was missing, fix what was ordinary; and customise it. As if that wasn’t a tall enough order, Marshall moved house from Darwin to Brisbane before the project was finished!

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -door -trimSo many bits and pieces had to be replaced that a donor car was needed; something within cooee of the Mustang’s size and performance. Again Marshall trawled the Internet for a solution, finally turning up a pranged AU III Falcon XR8 at a Melbourne auction centre. The Falcon had been sideswiped with only minor front and rear damage, so it still had most of what he wanted.

The XR8’s Tickford-tuned 220kW 5-litre EFI Windsor and T50 manual ’box were first to go into the Mustang. But the complexity of the task soon became obvious. The EFI wiring loom was like spaghetti, and the sensors had to be located properly so that the computer wouldn’t spit the dummy. “It was a huge job getting it all to work properly, but I had a lot of help from the Tickford guys — they were great,” Marshall said.

He fashioned the air intake from stainless steel, using a fabricator mate’s roller and folder. “The intake shape isn’t as critical with injection as it is with a carby, and I wanted a symmetrical one like on the old Chevvies,” he said. “But Ford never made an intake in that shape, so I did it myself. Like most custom-made parts, the intake took lots of time and many prototypes to get right.”

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -rearTo accommodate the air intake, the ‘export market’ strut brace (not needed for the easy-driving Yanks!) had to be split in two. Marshall flipped it upside-down and box-welded it for extra strength.

The ceramic-coated mandrel-bent headers feed into twin two-inch stainless steel pipes. Marshall likes the stainless stuff for two reasons: “It doesn’t rust, and it polishes like chrome,” he said.

A lot of the Falcon’s under-bonnet ancillaries, such as the cooling systems for the engine, transmission and power steering, found their way into the Mustang’s engine bay. Not the steering rack, though. It was too wide, so Marshall bought and installed one from Ford conversion specialist RRS in Brookvale, on Sydney’s northern beaches.

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -engine -bayInstead of mutilating the LHD firewall, which had “bumps and holes in all the wrong places”, Marshall cut it out and put in a new one made from ribbed 1mm steel, which was much stronger than the original.

The Mustang was born with a leaf-sprung live back axle — proof that Ford didn’t give two hoots about handling! Before Marshall bought the Falcon he’d already decided to put independent suspension under the arse end. He’d done the conversion before, on his ’46 Tudor. “That car handled and rode so well that I wanted the same for the Mustang. Anyway, the AU’s IRS was too wide.”

The 2.88:1 final drive was way too tall, though. Fine with six litres of V12 under your right slipper, but Marshall wanted to give the Windsor a bit of help. So he whacked in a 3.54 gearset from the sixpack Jag.

If you’re thinking those coils-overs in the photo don’t look standard, you’re spot-on. They’re adjustable Aldans from Rod City Repros in Ferntree Gully, in the shadow of Melbourne’s DandenongRanges. The front end has an RRS kit of Ebach coils and adjustable Koni shocks. A one-inch diameter front swaybar sits in place of Ford’s pissy stock one.

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -suspensionThe Budnik rims are a bit out of the ordinary. Modern with a retro touch is the effect Marshall was looking for, and he found it. But why are the Falkens a solitary size wider at the rear? “The backs are always bigger on a ’rod because they do the driving!” Marshall explained.

The back end is hidden by a massive custom fuel tank. What’s it hold? “I can’t tell you exactly — I just made it to fill the space!” was Marshall’s honest reply. The tank has the Falcon feeder pump inside, rather than en route to the high-pressure injection pump. Again, the harder but better overall option.

Marshall flipped the Mustang over, using an external steel cage, to fit the IRS. That gave him the opportunity to stitch-weld the seams, making the shell heaps more rigid than Ford’s el rougho spot-welds could hope to achieve.

The Shelby-style bonnet and boot lid are from the US, where these items are available off-the-rack. Fair enough, considering this Mustang goes as hard — if not harder — than a real ’66 Shelby.

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -interior -2As a hot rod traditionalist, Marshall de-badged the whole car. Even the trademark galloper on the grille is gone. The only Mustang identification is on the fuel cap, and even that’s almost lost in a full-width red LED array across the back panel. “I just love LEDs,” Marshall said. “I used eight Hella truck stop-lights in the panel, and four more in the tail-light cluster. When I hit the brakes the effect is spectacular, especially at night!”

The power door mirrors are from a Laser. “They were the right style for the car, and better proportioned than the Falcon’s big ones,” Marshall said. The flush doorhandles pop open with a touch, and are — you guessed it — stainless steel. What you can’t seeis the opening mechanism that Marshall said took ages to think up and make.

House of Kolor Candy Apple Red is a classic tint, but it takes a master sprayer to make it look as stunning as this. Take a bow, Michael Suman!

Marshall -Perron -Pro -Touring -Mustang -interiorThe standard Falcon dash needed to lose six inches of width. That meant slicing it down the middle, sectioning, and having it plastic-welded up again. The seats are out of a Nissan 300ZX, 8-way power adjustable for the driver and 4-way for the passenger. Local trimmer Wayne Birkin did a beautiful job stitching the black/coffee upholstery. Don’t bother calling Wayne to do your car, though — he’s just headed Stateside to ply his trade over there.

Sound is by Pioneer ITS MP3 with a 1000w amp driving four five-inch splits and a boot-mounted 10in Kicker sub.

It’s one sweet ’Stang alright. Apart from the skills of those involved in its rebirth, a major factor was no deadline. No rush to finish it in time for a car show or race meeting. “I built it for regular driving, not to compete,” Marshall said. “I might offer it for display, but that’s as far as it goes.”

Yes, Minister!

Photographers: Peter Bateman