Joel Smith’s 1967 Ford Mustang + 1978 XC hardtop

Joel Smith needed a family car to cruise while he finished his elite-level Mustang, so he built an XC hardtop at the same time

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

YOU know when your project car’s in the shed with its major organs scattered around the place and all you want to do is just take it for a spin? Joel Smith spent so many years in this very situation with his ’67 Mustang that he built an XC hardtop in just a few months to scratch the cruising itch.

This article was first published in the March 2020 issue of Street Machine

Joel’s no stranger to crafting cars; he even runs his own business, Joel’s Garage Gear, which sells hoists and workshop equipment. “When I was 20 I built an XF with a turbo 250 crossflow, and later I had a 60-series Land Cruiser with a 350 Chev in it,” he says.

Joel replaced the Mustang’s original front suspension with a fabricated coil-over front end, and decided to convert it to right-hand drive at the same time. After having issues with racks, headers and even the dash not fitting correctly, he settled on the final set-up of Flaming River adjustable column and rack, aftermarket dash frame and plastics, and the third version of the driver’s-side header

With those cars out of the picture, Joel stumbled across the ’Stang while trawling eBay for two-door Falcons. “It only had a few hours left, so I stupidly bought it sight-unseen and shipped it over from Adelaide,” he says. “The first time I drove it down our driveway the power steering shat itself. I turned it around and put it back in the shed, and didn’t drive it again for 12 years!”

Joel decided to retain the cart-spring rear end over fitting a four-link, but moved the springs to the inside of the chassis rails to make room for the 17×10 Billet Specialties rims and Kumho rubber. The diff is a fabricated 9in from Aikman Engineering, with floating hubs and a Detroit Truetrac centre. Joel plans to add Air Ride airbags for some height control, as driving the ’Stang over uneven surfaces is pretty nerve-wracking

In the time-honoured tradition of project cars the world over, once Joel started fixing things he found a lot more than he bargained for. Soon the ’67 was completely disassembled to reveal a shell with more holes than a colander. “I should have thrown it straight in the bin, but I didn’t want the money I already had in it to go to waste,” he says. “All the metal on the outside of the car got replaced – the only original panels are the roof and the tops of the quarters.”

Joel took care of all the engine bay fabrication himself, including the flat firewall, shock tower removal, custom four-into-ones and the panels covering the gap between the radiator support and the Scott Drake billet grille. The trick billet hinges are Ringbrothers items, while Race Coatings ceramic-coated the entire exhaust system

While he was repairing the floor, firewall and radiator support, Joel mini-tubbed the rear, relocated the leaf springs inboard of the rails, replaced the boot floor with flat sheet, added chassis connectors and swapped the entire front suspension for a weld-in coil-over package with rack-and-pinion steering.

While the off-the-shelf interior kit was designed to fit a ’67 Mustang coupe, Richard Schembri at Instyle Custom Trim had to modify and even remake some parts so they would fit correctly. Richard also built the custom centre console – which houses the B&M shifter and a pair of speakers – and the super-tidy custom boot installation. Engine vitals are monitored on Speedhut gauges, and the speedo operates on a GPS signal

“Everything I fabricated for the car got done three times,” Joel sighs. This wasn’t for want of skill, as Joel is pretty handy on the tools, but due to his desire for better results. For instance, Joel built extractors to suit a WRX steering rack, but he couldn’t fit the power steering lines without raising the engine. Then Flaming River began offering a right-hand-drive rack to suit the combination, but the input shaft interfered with the extractors and Joel was forced to make new ones. Even the bonnet was replaced three times before it satisfied both Joel and the engineer.

Under that bonnet sits far more engine than the Mustang left the factory with. The Dart-blocked Windsor weighs in at a hefty 447ci, with a pair of AFR 225cc heads topping the cylinders and a Holley HP 850 carb delivering go-juice through an Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap. A Comp cam shouts orders through Comp lifters and roller rockers, while down the bottom a Melling pump sucks lubricant out of a modified Canton sump. A manualised C10 from DTM Automatics and an Aikman Engineering fabricated nine-inch put the engine’s healthy 591hp and 598lb-ft to the pavement.

The XC’s body is all stock bar the blacked-out trim details. “The Falcon coupes look so tough that you don’t need to touch them,” says Joel. Behind the 17×5 Weld S71s on the front, there’s a pair of Stubtech 2in drop spindles supporting AU II twin-piston calipers for much-improved ride, handling and braking

Darren Thomson was called in to take care of the bodywork, and finally the car was whisked off to Premium Paint Works to have the gorgeous PPG orange candy paint slathered on. Unfortunately, while the panel and paint came out looking Mickey Mouse, reassembling the ’Stang wasn’t exactly a snack. “A lot of reproduction stuff just didn’t fit,” says Joel. “But I got it back together, engineered and registered just in time for MotorEx 2019.”

Let’s take a step back a few years and have a yack about the bright yellow XC coupe you’ve no doubt noticed on the pages before you. “My brother owned the coupe for 20 years,” says Joel. “I remember the day he brought it home; I was 16. It was originally a six, but he bought it with a 351 that he blew up at some point, and we swapped a 302 into it. He took it off the road in 2016 for a resto, but it ended up on a rotisserie in the corner of my shed for 18 months. When he moved even further away, I said: ‘It’s about time you sold me that car.’ The Mustang isn’t really a family car, so that’s what the coupe is for.”

While the Mustang’s engine bay has been carefully crafted for cleanliness, the XC’s is practically stock-standard – Joel didn’t even weld up any holes! The 383 Clevo is no slouch, with 540hp and 500lb-ft at the crank, but has seen its share of dramas: “I didn’t realise the cam was new when I bought the motor, so I destroyed it just before Christmas 2018,” says Joel. “I was refitting the motor on New Year’s Eve, but we made it to the ’Nats!”

Joel couldn’t bring himself to do a half-arsed job of the resto though, so Darren Thomson was again charged with cleaning up the coupe’s bodywork and drenching it in that bright DeBeer yellow. Joel’s mate Shannon offered him a 383ci Clevo that was gathering dust in his shed, and DTM supplied a manualised C4 to back it up. Inside, Joel couldn’t bear to keep the interior XC-spec brown, so Instyle Custom Trim replaced everything with far more suitable muscle-car black vinyl. After a mere 10 months of late nights, the XC was ready to hit the streets!

You can’t go wrong with classic black vinyl in a 70s muscle car, so Richard from Instyle Custom Trim was called on again to make it happen. The door trims are from Pro Stitch and the dash was refurbished by Plastic Repair Surgeons. There’s a RetroSound head unit in this car too, along with Rockford Fosgate speakers front and rear – this is the family car, after all!

Joel’s hard work has already earned him some accolades, with the Mustang awarded a place in the Top 60 at Summernats 33 and the XC taking home a Street finalist spot at Summernats 32 and Best XA-XC Hardtop at the Geelong All Ford Day in 2018. “Our newborn was only six weeks old when I took the Mustang to Summernats,” says Joel. “My wife Emina said: ‘Make sure you bring something home.’ So I took home the Top 60 trophy!”


Paint: PPG Candy Orange

Brand: Dart Windsor
Capacity: 447ci
Carb: Holley HP 850
Intake: Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap
Heads: AFR 225cc
Camshaft: Comp
Conrods: Lunati
Pistons: SRP forged
Crank: Scat
Fuel pump: Edelbrock mechanical
Exhaust: Custom 17/8in headers, twin 3in system
Ignition: MSD Pro Billet and 6AL
Sump: Canton
Cooling: Race Radiators custom, twin SPAL fans

Gearbox: Manualised Ford C10
Converter: Dominator 3500rpm stall
Diff: Sheet-metal 9in, 3.5:1 gears, Truetrac centre

Front suspension: Aldan American coil-overs
Rear suspension: Pedders shocks, reset leaf springs
Steering: Flaming River rack-and-pinion
Brakes: Wilwood (f & r)

Rims: Billet Specialties; 17×6 (f), 17×10 (r)
Rubber: Pirelli P Zero; 205/45 (f) 285/45 (r)


Paint: DeBeer Yellow

Brand: Cleveland
Capacity: 383ci
Induction: Holley Sniper XFlow EFI
Manifold: CHI 3V
Heads: CHI 3V
Camshaft: Crane
Springs: Comp
Rockers: Yella Terra Platinum
Pistons: Speed Pro
Conrods: Scat
Crank: Scat
Sump: ASR
Exhaust: Pacemaker extractors, twin 3in to 2.5in
Ignition: MSD
Cooling: Standard-size radiator, AU thermos

Gearbox: Ford C4, manualised
Converter: TCE 3700rpm
Diff: Ford 9in, 3.7:1 gears, Truetrac centre

Front suspension: Pedders springs and shocks
Rear suspension: Pedders shocks, reset leaf springs
Spindles: Stubtech
Brakes: AU Falcon (f), Wilwood (r)

Rims: Weld S71; 17×5 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson Sportsman SR; 26×6 (f), 28×12 (r)