The adventure of Uncle Mike’s 1979 Ford Mustang

J.A.
By J.A. Ackley
Jun 6, 2024 | Ford, Ford Mustang, Fox-Body Mustang | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography by Kei Media

A lasting impression. That’s what Brian Drumm’s 1979 Ford Mustang seems to do so well. Whether it’s on twentysomethings, French soldiers, or perhaps even you, there’s something about this Fox-body Mustang that you got to love.

When Brian’s Uncle Mike first bought the Pace Car edition in 1979, it traveled with him while in the U.S. Air Force. He drove it across 13 states and then crossed the Atlantic, where it traveled through eight European countries. While stationed in Germany, Uncle Mike took the Mustang on the Autobahn, getting it up to about 124 mph, he says. With the car, Uncle Mike also gave his European counterparts a taste of the good ole U.S. of A.

I had a friend in the Armée de terre who was a Gazelle pilot,” Uncle Mike recalls. “He landed at my airfield in Heidelberg one day with a couple of French soldiers and I picked them up in the pace car. They enjoyed the V8 sound [and] then being pushed into their seats when I pushed hard on the loud pedal. Aunt Kathy fixed them hamburgers and, you guessed it, french fries. They enjoyed the little bit of Americana we shared that day.”

The Other Mustang

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In his younger years, Brian spent time with his grandfather in Texas, where he would give Brian plane rides. However, it wasn’t the plane that caught Brian’s fancy–it was his grandfather’s 1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1.

“He’d put a booster seat in it, and he’d let my brother and I drive it around the airport–we were like 10,” remembers Brian. “I tried buying the Mach 1 off my grandfather, but he’d never let it go. He ended up trading it to his daughter for a set of cruise tickets. I started talking to her about buying it. Then, some guy who she refused to sell it to showed up in a work truck drunk one day and rammed the heck out of it. It was totaled. That really sucked–it would have been cool to have something like that, that’s been in the family.”

Disappointed, Brian moved on. Years passed and then he remembered another vehicle in that same hangar as his grandfather’s Mach 1.

“In the corner was this pace car,” Brian recalls. “I never paid much attention to it because it was covered in boxes and whatnot.”

Uncle Mike had stored it there after he got deployed once again to Europe in 1996. Remembering that car, Brian’s father emailed his brother, Uncle Mike, about it. The car still existed and they settled on the terms of sale: $300 in gas money and Uncle Mike would trailer the car from Texas to Virginia. Uncle Mike’s son was stationed near Brian, so it worked out. The car also came with other goodies.

“I have the original window sticker, two binders full of receipts, so the whole car is fully documented,” says Brian. “It still had the original ADAC stickers from Germany, which is like their AAA.”

Bring the Mustang Back

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The Ford Mustang had sat for about a decade or so.

“It needed a lot,” Brian says. “All the brakes were seized. The engine was locked up. I was just learning how to work on cars. I pulled the motor and did a fresh rebuild on that block with your basic Sealed Power kit from Summit Racing. Then, I put a set of Trick Flow 170 heads on it. Just brand-new OEM parts. I was like, how cheaply can I get this thing back on the road just to drive it and enjoy it?”

Keep in mind, Brian never did anything more than basic car maintenance before.

“I learned a lot with this,” Brian says. “YouTube wasn’t a big thing back then. So, 5.0 Mustang, Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords, Hot Rod [magazines]–that was my schooling. I knew I was going to break some things along the way, but the only way to learn is to get into and do it.”

With it back running, Brian then wanted more performance. He swapped in a D.S.S. Racing 331 engine. But, within a couple of years getting it back on the road, life came knocking. He and his wife were looking to buy their first house. They needed cash.

“We took all the performance stuff off the car,” says Brian. “We sold everything out of the car to come up with a downpayment for the house–it came to $7000 or $8000. Then, it sat on jack stands at friends’ houses or it would stay in the driveway covered.”

The Second Coming

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After sitting once again for more than a decade, Brian’s wife, Brandie, made a suggestion.

“We were going back and forth about needing a daily driver,” Brian says. “I hate having a car payment. What was cheap, good on gas and I enjoy? She had the idea that putting the car back together was going to cost as much, if not less, than buying a used car that you don’t know the history of. She was like, ‘Put an Excel sheet together, let me know how much, and I did that.’ She was like, ‘This makes sense. Go ahead and put the car together.’”

Brian then went shopping. A “basic” Ford 331 short block. T-5 transmission. An 8.8 rear end. Cobra brakes. Add in a few odds and ends, too. Brian put it all together and he had a new daily driver. Along the way, he kept upgrading things here and there until the engine blew after Foxtoberfest at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Then, came the build you see here.

What the Car is Today

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Kannapolis Engine Service in North Carolina built the current engine that uses a Dart 363 as its foundation. Brian estimates that it puts out 600 to 650 horsepower as of now.

“I’ve always wanted to say I own a 1000-horsepower car, even though it’s completely unrealistic to drive it on the streets,” says Brian. “We’re going to upgrade from the 650 Super Sniper to the 1250, and the fuel system. Then the car will hit four digits on the dyno, and I’ll have them tune it down to 700 to 750 horsepower for the street.”

Regardless of all the changes he’s made to the car, though, one thing remains the same.

“I’ve never painted it,” says Brian. “It still has the original paint. Every nook and cranny and scratch tells a story.”

Let’s put an asterisk to that statement: All original paint … except for the left-front fender. Brian has some explaining to do.

“When I got the car, I thought I would try my hand at bodywork,” Brian says. “So, I stripped and sanded the entire fender down and primered it gray. I was like, ‘Hey, this is cool, I’m going to do the rest of the car.’ Then I had the idea that I probably should leave that to the professionals. I drove around with a gray fender for about two years. I went to Mid Atlantic Four Eyes and SVOs [event] and the gentleman hosting the club happened to be parting out a ’79 Pace Car. One of the fenders and a detail kit were all that was left. So, for a steal of $75, I got a freshly painted Indy 500 driver’s side fender.”

When Uncle Mike stopped by and saw Brian’s poorly painted fender on the wall of his garage, Uncle Mike had a confession. There was one thing he didn’t tell Brian about in regards to the Mustang’s journeys.

“He said, ‘Don’t feel too bad. It was not the original fender on the car,’” says Brian. “Apparently, he got into a little fender bender, and replaced the fender the first or second year he had the car. I was so worried about replacing an OEM piece of the car. I didn’t know until months ago.”

All* original paint. Plenty of power. Reliable enough to be a daily. Plenty of fun.

No wonder why this car still continues to make an impression many decades after Uncle Mike gave a few Frenchmen a taste of one of America’s most iconic muscle cars.

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Comments
Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
6/6/24 1:00 p.m.

A rad car with an even radder story.

I hope I get to see this in person some day.

DavyZ
DavyZ Reader
6/6/24 1:45 p.m.

This is a cool build and I like the most current version of the car.  What's not to like about a turbocharged V8?  Great story :)

06HHR (Forum Supporter)
06HHR (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/6/24 1:56 p.m.

I'm not a Ford fanboi, but i've got a soft spot for early Fox chassis cars..  Those Mustangs were so wrong and so right all at once. 

ddavidv
ddavidv UltimaDork
6/7/24 7:10 a.m.

I  had a 1981 4cyl 4 speed. It wasn't a great car. This guy has removed all the malaise and made it something great.

bfrazer76
bfrazer76 New Reader
6/7/24 4:32 p.m.

Super cool read - Love seeing stories of cars in the family that stick around.  Excellent work my friend.

Myself, soft spot for fox bodies here.  I had a 1993 Fox body 2.3L in college (my folks won't let me get a 5.0; insurance reasons lol). 

Had big dreams of dropping a 5.0 in it before I got hit in the right rear qtr panel making a left turn in college.  Maybe one day.. 

 

GTwannaB
GTwannaB GRM+ Memberand Dork
6/7/24 8:44 p.m.
bfrazer76 said:


Had big dreams of dropping a 5.0 in it before I got hit in the right rear qtr panel making a left turn in college.  Maybe one day.. 

 

If your parents let you get the V8 you would have gotten through the intersection without damage. 
 

I had a similar vintage 2.3 5spd Fairmont, not a quick machine. 

madmrak351
madmrak351 HalfDork
6/15/24 8:32 a.m.

Very cool story. Wish I had a few of my dad's vehicles I let get away.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
6/15/24 10:35 a.m.

I have to admit that when I saw the title I first thought of Uncle Rico's van from Napoleon Dynamite.  cheeky

Tom1200
Tom1200 PowerDork
6/15/24 1:11 p.m.

As a recent convert to the Foxbody Mustang I love this story.

The cars are crude by are just such a slice of Americana that you can't help but love them.

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