Better than ever: 1969 Ford Mustang

Posted in Cars

From the 1980s through to the mid 1990s, New Zealand had its very own version of Bathurst. It was a 500km endurance race around the streets of Wellington, and it attracted some of the top touring-car teams from around the world. Among the world-class teams that took part in the initial race in 1985 were a Commodore for Peter Brock, a V8 Rover Vitesse for Tom Walkinshaw, and a turbocharged Volvo 240T for Robbie Francevic. But on pole position was a New Zealand–built-and-owned XE Falcon with a 351 V8, being guest driven by Dick Johnson, along with car owner Bruce Anderson, and sponsored by the Anderson & O’Leary–owned Pinepac timber merchants in Whenuapai. 

The big Pinepac Falcon blitzed some of the best touring-car teams in the world for nine glorious laps, pulling out a commanding 4.5-second lead in the first two laps alone, before the bumpy Wellington streets took their toll on the standard rear end that the car had been forced to run under Group A rules. As Johnson shot through the esses on to the Jervois Quay straight on the ninth lap, he heard a clunk in the rear, at which point an axle bearing began coming out, kicking off a rear brake caliper. At the end of the straight, the brake pedal went straight to the floor, and Johnson nursed the big Ford back to the pits. Francevic (teamed with Belgian driver Michel Delcourt) won the race in the Volvo, which was owned by Mark Petch, co-creator of the current-day V8SuperTourers. 

The Falcon was replaced in Group A racing later that year by a Fox-body Mustang — similar to the car Dick Johnson was racing in Australia at the time — which Bruce and his brother Wayne raced at Bathurst in 1985, before expanding to a two-car team, when they built a second Pinepac Mustang. They returned to Bathurst once more in 1986 (see ‘Abe’s Babe’ on page 103).

Competing in Group A in the mid 80s was the pinnacle of Bruce’s racing career thus far, but the expense was horrendous. With most Ford teams switching to the new Sierra Cosworth in 1987, and requiring an even bigger budget to remain competitive, the Andersons sold the two Mustangs and stepped away from racing. However, during their time running the Group A cars, they’d set up an impressive in-house workshop at Pinepac that included an engine dyno that now sat idle. 

This was when Ken ‘Hoppy’ Hopper came into the picture. Hopper set up business in the Pinepac racing workshop, building his twin-engined sling-shot dragster ‘The Freight Train’, then a circuit-racing big block ’68 Camaro for Wayne, who decided he wanted to get back into racing, but on more of a grins-per-buck budget than Group A allowed: classic racing. Seeing his younger bro’ out enjoying himself in the Camaro, Bruce decided he, too, would give classic racing a try, and had Hoppy build him a ’69 Mustang fastback. 

Bruce had first got the racing bug when he was 10 years old, charging around the family farm in a motorized go-kart. “Dad then offered up an old Ford V8 van,” he explains, “on the proviso that I rebuilt a flathead V8 motor for it.” From there he graduated to his grandmother’s Morris 1100, entering the ‘land crab’ in various trials, sprints, and hill climbs. A Mk4 Zephyr followed, then an XW Falcon and an XY GT-HO Phase III, in which he competed in production-car racing in the early ’70s, before stepping away from the sport. In the early 1980s he returned, buying a 302ci XD Fairmont (complete with automatic three-speed trans) from Nick Begovic. Incidentally, Begovic actually had Dick Johnson across to drive this car, too! At the time, production-car racing required cars to be New Zealand assembled, and the only locally assembled V8 Ford back then was the Fairmont Ghia. Following the Fairmont was the XE Group A racer, the two Group A Mustangs, and then Bruce retired once more. 

So a lot of race cars had come and gone, but the ’69 Mustang would be a keeper. After it arrived from the US as a road car in 1991 from the US. Hoppy spent several months converting it into a race car. It made its racing debut at the 1992 Wings and Wheels at Whenuapai. This was a big event at the time, combining an air show and classic-car racing. The Mustang ran a 351 Cleveland, with cast-iron heads, which made around 580hp, backed by a Toploader four-speed and nine-inch diff with Detroit Locker. 

Bruce Anderson and his 1969 Ford Mustang

Although Bruce initially raced the car himself, eventually his son Andrew began competing with it, as it was developed further for Super GT racing. The father and son team also combined to share the car in endurance races. By the late 1990s, with the Cleveland blocks becoming hard to source, Bruce switched to running an alloy Windsor Ford Motorsport block, though retaining the cast-iron heads. In Andrew’s hands, and in this guise, the Mustang achieved a 60.6-second lap around Pukekohe — a staggeringly quick time, even now. 

In addition to Whenuapai, Bruce raced the Mustang at other events and tracks that have now been consigned to the history books, including the Wellington street race, the Hamilton street race (both the more recent V8 Supercar circuit and the classic street circuit that was used briefly in the 1990s), and the old Bay Park track that was closed in 1996. In fact, Bruce raced the Mustang at the final Bay Park event. 

With Andrew moving on to racing NZV8 Touring Cars, and more recently V8SuperTourers, and with Bruce having other commitments, the Mustang was parked up for several years. It was pulled from its hibernation in 2009, given a refresh, and returned to active duty for the Central Muscle Cars series. Initially Bruce ran the same engine combination as the Mustang had last raced with, which produced an impressive 730hp. More recently, that combo was replaced with a monster 362ci Ford Nascar motor. This new Roush Fenway Racing unit, built by Doug Yates, produces (wait for it) 863hp! 

Obviously, the rest of the driveline has been upgraded over the years as the horsepower has increased, and now includes a Jerico four-speed gearbox and Ford nine-inch diff with alloy centre. Koni adjustable shocks do the suspending, with coilovers at the front and leaf springs at the rear. AP (front) and Wilwood (rear) brakes are assigned the task of pulling up all that power when Bruce hits the picks at the end of Pukekohe’s back straight. 

These days, the car is maintained by Wayne’s business, AV8 Motorsport, which spends most of its days running V8SuperTourers, and the car rides on 17x10-inch and 17x11-inch Simmons wheels. The deep front spoiler may look familiar to NZV8 readers, as the mould has been used on several other ’69 Mustang race cars over the years, including those of Ian Williamson (featured in NZV8 Issue No. 1) and Mark Ross (NZV8 Issue No. 27), but it was originally created for Bruce’s car, and it was on this car that it first appeared. The Mustang is painted a custom yellow mix, similar to Ford’s School Bus Yellow, that first appeared on the Pinepac XE Group A car back in the 1980s. It also appeared on the two Mustang Group A cars, Hoppy’s twin-engined dragster, and Wayne’s ’68 Camaro.

Since the Mustang returned to the track in 2009, Bruce has twice taken it to Australia to race at Muscle Car Masters. For Bruce, a highlight there was being reunited with one of the old Pinepac Group A Mustangs, both of which are now based in Australia. Genuine Group A race cars are hugely desirable in Australia, so it was a significant moment for Bruce, lining up, side-by-side, two Mustangs that have played important roles at different times, and with different objectives, in his racing career. 

Bruce has been racing almost all his life, and is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, with over 860hp under his right boot in a car he knows and loves, he’s only getting faster!