Taking A 1965 Mustang From The Barn To The Drag Strip!


Barn cars are an adventure; they can be both exciting and frustrating at the exact same moment, but the overall feeling is nothing short of exhilarating. When my ’65 Fastback found me, it was nothing short of love at first sight — despite the layers of dust, dirt and cobwebs. I was the typical Orange County, California, brat; and, thanks to my mother, I was fortunate enough to get a brand new ’96 Mustang when I turned 16.

photo (1)

Sitting in the pits at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during a NMCA West event.

Of course the ’96 was gutless thanks to the automatic transmission and an anemic, Two-Valve 4.6-liter engine. It also broke every time you looked at it. Of course the broken parts had nothing to with trips to Pomona for the Street Legals or alleged street racing. Needless to say, that car did not meet my street/strip demands well, if at all.

For over two years between the recalls, like the oh so fun plastic intake manifold explosions and random things breaking, the car spent more time at the dealership than it did in my possession.

Unfortunately, the earliest pictures of the '65 were lost. These pictures document about two months worth of work on the car back in the summer of 1999.

Back to the Future

A few days later, my dad pulled me aside and told me about a superintendent he knew that had a classic Mustang in his barn. — Lauren Camille

At this point my father suggested that I get a separate car just to race instead of what I had been attempting to do with my ’96 GT. After this discussion, I thought about buying a Fox Mustang; but I wanted to avoid issues with trying to get a car to pass smog, and decided that a classic car would be the ideal choice.

So, I spent hours scouring the Recycler Classifieds for the right car, but I always missed the really good deals. Growing disappointed with the search for a classic Mustang, I started looking at Foxes again. A few days later, my dad pulled me aside and told me about a superintendent he knew that had a classic Mustang in his barn.

Originally, I was told that the car was a ’68 Fastback, and that Larry would take $3,000 for the car – but it needed a lot of work. Being 19-years-old and not knowing how much work it would take to transform a “barn car” into a drag car — let alone a reliable mode of transportation — was something I had not fully thought through.


Thousands of dollars later, the old Remington XT120’s and Super 70’s were replaced with Mickey Thompson tires.

Enjoy the Experience

Barn cars are a great adventure, but they can be overwhelming for those without the mechanical skills necessary for a complete rebuild or the funds to pay for someone with those skills. Ever so often the media covers the story of an ultra-rare car that is found in a barn, garage, or other outbuilding; but the majority of the time, barn cars are not Shelbys or Yenkos.

Most of the time, barn finds are just your average classic muscle car that survived destruction or a trip to scrapyard. They were purchased as projects that were never completed, passed down by family members, or were just parked when they were no longer cost effective to repair. These are the everyday stories of barn cars that are often untold.

Just because someone finds a C-Code fastback in a barn does not mean there is not a story behind the project; it is just not as flashy as Shelby GT500. These cars need to be found and returned to the road or racetrack. Their journeys should not be trivialized because they do have a premium pedigree, they should be treasured and shared. Dragging a classic Mustang from a barn is just the beginning of the journey. There are plenty of friends that one will meet along the way that will influence the project and our lives.

Cherish those experiences, both positive and negative, because they will help to write the story of each car that is rescued from a barn.

I was beyond excited to drive out to Norco that weekend in June of 1999 so that I could hopefully make a deal on the Mustang. Norco is a small city in Southern California that refers to itself as “Horsetown USA,” and where there are lots large enough for people to keep horses and the requisite barns. In areas like this, there are likely to be a few hidden gems in some of those barns or outbuildings.

Once we arrived at Larry’s house, he showed us his Willys and a ’63 split-window Corvette (that he was debating on restoring or selling). Of course the $9,000 price tag on the Corvette was out of my price range, but the Mustang was within reach.

Finally, Larry walked my Dad and I out to the barn, where the Mustang was buried under several layers of dust, tarps and miscellaneous crap. Larry moved some of the clutter away from the car and I was finally able to get a good look at what I was told was a 1968 Mustang; within a few seconds I realized this was not a ’68, but a 1965 Fastback. Upon realizing that this ’65 Fastback could be mine for $3,000 I told Larry I wanted it and my Dad looked a little freaked out as the words came out of my mouth.

We agreed to the price and decided that we would rent a trailer and pickup my “new” car the following weekend.

Documenting the progress of the evolution from barn car to sportsman race car. Many of the parts were purchased from friends who were moving up in classes, Summit, swap meets, junkyards, and the Recycler. For example, the rear disc brakes and the 9-inch from a Lincoln Versailles were scrounged from a junkyard in Riverside, California. The front disc brakes were purchased from guy who was always selling Granda front disc brake conversions for early Mustangs in the Recycler Classifieds.

Embarking On The Project

That next weekend was when I managed to catch a glimpse of what the future held in terms of dealing with my new project; but being young and not really having a clue, I was still on cloud nine. Firstly, my Dad drove us down to U.S. Rentals to pick up the car trailer, only to be told that he needed to have a tow hitch installed because they would not allow him to tow with the bumper of his ’92 F250. At first I felt like the world was going to end, but we called a friend of my Dad, who had a brand-new Dodge pickup that had an acceptable tow hitch. My Dad’s friend lived in a city near Norco, so it was not out of his way to help us out.

This was just the beginning of the “barn car” retrieval process. One thing that is certain about buying one of these projects is to expect the unexpected, but having additional help is always a bonus. After picking up the trailer, we arrived at Larry’s house to extract the Fastback from the barn.

No project is ever finished, but perhaps adding some carpet might not hurt. Fortunately, sparse interior is sufficient for this car.

Of course the tires were flat and that was to be expected, but miraculously they were able to hold air. As I recall, the tires that were on the ’65 at that time were manufactured before I was born or shortly after (Super 70s in the front and Remington XT120s in the rear). With air in the tires, it was now time to push the car out of the barn – that seems easy enough, right?

Not so fast, we were dealt another “barn car” trick thanks to driver’s side front drum being frozen solid.

At this point, Larry busts out a nice cutting torch and big hammer and proceeds to unfreeze the drum. However, this created yet another problem when it came time to unload the ’65 at parent’s house, due to the lack of brakes and fairly steep downhill driveway.

ready for primer

Getting ready to apply a new coat of primer for the season.

When it came time to load the dusty, dirty, black widow ridden Fastback on to the trailer, we were very fortunate to have the second truck handy. Using the ’92 F-250 and some chain, we were able to pull it on to the trailer and get it ready to take the beast home. Along with the car, the second truck became a necessity in terms of getting the rest of the car home and all of the additional Mustang parts.

Somehow, the ’65 came with two extra sets of doors, neither of which belonged to or would fit the ’65. Upon getting the beast to my parents’ suburban Orange County home, their neighbors were truly horrified by the crusty, old car being eased off the trailer with a chain attached to the F-250. In the end, my dad’s ’92 pickup still has a bent rear bumper from easing the Fastback off the trailer and down the steep driveway, but I have a lifetime of great memories.

The nitrous system was attacked by gremlins at a NMCA West event in Pomona, but any day racing beats a day of work.

After spending a week fighting with a can of rust spray, my dad and I were finally able to extract all eight spark plugs. My dad carefully added a little oil to each of the cylinders; and with a fresh set of plugs (probably the first the car had in approximately 20 years) and a little carb cleaner, the engine fired up for the first time in almost two decades.

To make this car move under its own power would require a new gas tank, a new radiator, another two-barrel carb and, oh yeah, brakes. I was not ready to do the disc-brake swap at this point, but I knew drum brakes were in my 19-year-old budget.

Once those parts were installed, the ’65 was driven down to the insurance office, where the unsuspecting insurance agent was forced to take pictures of my crusty, baling-wire-ridden, half-red-primer and half-faded-red-paint Fastback. However, the agent was much nicer than my parents’ neighbors, who suggested that I keep the garage door closed while I worked on, what was referred to as, a piece of crap. In fact, she suggested that I bring it back as I made progress to update the pictures of the car for the file.


After the timing system was damaged at Pomona, NMCA West racers were forced to race eighth mile instead of quarter mile.

I drove the car sporadically, due to overheating issues and a perpetually leaky power steering system – thus the gallons of water and jugs of power steering fluid in the trunk. Fortunately, the interior was in great shape – it just needed to be cleaned, and the black widow spiders chased out from inside. Eventually the Fastback was able to make the commute from my parents’ house to Cal State Fullerton, where I was pursuing my degree in journalism.

My parents were awesome and bought a ’99 35th Anniversary Edition GT convertible for me to drive while I was working on what would eventually become a race car. I still have the GT and the ’65 to this day, and I think it would be hard to part with either of them.

Hitting The Strip

While at a street-legal race at Pomona, I met a nice guy who shared my love of performance and Mustangs. Eventually, we ended up becoming a couple who shared a love for Mustangs and racing. At this point, I was still planning the build for the car, and with the help of the now-ex-boyfriend turned ex-fiancé, I was able to put together my first engine.

Although the relationship did not stand the test of time, the Fastback and the knowledge I gained certainly has. However, the project got put on the back burner numerous times and the parts were raided from my car for use on his ’66 Coupe. Eventually, we broke up and the ’65 was shipped off to a storage unit.


On the way to Las Vegas, I stopped at the Del Taco in Barstow, California. As I was getting ready to leave after checking the hubs on the trailer when a guy handed me a business card to give to my boyfriend or husband just in case he needed any transmission work. After a brief discussion, he learned that the ’65 was my car, but I would keep the card just in case I ever needed transmission work. As it turned out, I ended up pitting next to them and have been friends with that group of racers ever since.

Nearly a year after the Fastback had been shipped off to a storage unit, a friend and fellow racer was in the process of moving up a class, so he was selling off his 347 minus the heads, intake and accessories. I ended up selling my ’89 LX to a friend for $1,500 in order to buy the 347. In case anyone is wondering, I am aware that I did — and possibly still do — have a bit of Mustang-hoarding problem.

Eventually, the ’65 went to a shop that belonged to a friend of my Dad’s where the work would be completed. I never got to hear my rebuilt 289 with Edelbrock Performer heads and intake run, but hearing that 347 fire-up certainly made up for it. Performance Associates in San Dimas handled all of the final details and tuning; this included a trip to the Irwindale drag strip during a private track rental to get a feel for the car.

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After the nitrous system failed in Pomona, I gave up on fixing on the problem and enjoyed the car without headaches caused by those pesky gremlins.

If someone were to ask me if I would take on another car that needed everything refreshed or redone, I would begin to question my own sanity if I were to say “yes.” It was an experience; I pulled my first engine/transmission, scraped tons of undercoating and finally got to experience the miracle of a 347 stroker and nitrous.

In reality, I would do it again; but only with another ’61-’64 Lincoln Continental this time around (perhaps with a 557 and a blower). Sure, it was a series of expensive experiences, but if I have learned one thing from the entire process, it’s that the ’65 will remain constant in my life.

About the author

Lauren Camille

Lauren is a graduate of California State University Fullerton, and has experience working for several enthusiast publications. She enjoys drag racing, classic Fords, and vintage Lincolns. She currently races a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback, and has a soft spot for 1960’s Lincolns. Currently, her collection includes: ’04 Cobra Convertible, ’65 Mustang Fastback, ’04 F350 6.0 diesel, ’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a ’87 Jeep Wrangler. She provides insightful content as a freelance writer for Power Automedia.
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