It’s late afternoon on a Thursday and I’m in Hayward, California – a working class city on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. I’m strapped into a bucket seat on the passenger side of Mike Maier’s 1966 Ford Mustang as we rumble down the street, casually passing liquor stores and elementary schools.
Other than wide tires and a dropped stance, this Mustang doesn’t look much different from the countless other Mustang coupes out there, but from the moment you hear this car approaching you know there’s something very different about it.
Mike’s Mustang isn’t just loud – it’s got an exhaust note that race fans would recognize from the pits at Bristol or Talladega. It’s also got the distinct whine of a gearbox that was built to endure double-file restarts at Darlington or the esses at Sonoma. But we aren’t waiting for the flagman to drop the green, we are cruising the rough streets of the East Bay.
It feels like Mike is doing everything can to keep the car as under the radar as possible, but it’s not easy to do when you’ve got a 750 horsepower NASCAR V8 under your right foot.
Eventually, we arrive at a freeway onramp and Mike navigates the Mustang onto Interstate 580 and finally lays into the accelerator. This is when things get crazy. I’m slammed back in my seat as the car rips onto 580 then comes the distinct sensation of the rear end swaying back and forth as the Mustang’s 315-width tires struggle for traction at highway speeds.
We are no longer attempting to join the flow traffic. Instead, the afternoon commuters are disappearing in our rear view mirror. I’ve experienced some fast cars in my time, but the force with which this Mustang accelerates is downright scary.
Not wanting to have the entire California Highway Patrol looking for a blue Mustang, Mike quickly slows the car down to cruising speed, and over the whine of the gearbox I hear him say, “That was half throttle”. Holy hell.
Now usually I’d be a little apprehensive about being a passenger in such a ridiculous machine with someone I’d just met, but Mike Maier is a guy that knows how to wheel a car. He’s been racing Mustangs for his whole life and has several SCCA national champion trophies to show for it.
But for as good as he is behind the wheel, he’s not just a driver. When he’s not racing on weekends he can be found in his workshop geeking out over suspension geometry as he designs and builds suspension and chassis parts for like-minded Mustang owners. The guy is a true mechanical wizard.Peer Pressure
Mike first acquired the Mustang back in 2002, and at the time the car was a ‘bucket’ as he describes it. It was a factory six cylinder car with a tired 289 under the hood, stock suspension and drum brakes all around. A couple years later Mike was planning his wedding, and he thought it would be cool to fix up the car up to commemorate his marriage.
With the help of some buddies, Mike built the ’66 into a nice little street car. After enjoying the car for a few years, Mike’s friend and fellow Bay Area racer Brian Hobaugh (owner of the red Corvette we featured earlier this week) was pressuring him to take the ‘Stang out to the local GoodGuys autocross events.
Eventually Mike obliged and after nearly winning his first event with the mildly-modified Mustang, he was hooked. He found himself scheming over everything he could do to make the car faster through the cones. Many events and many wins later, the car has become the wild machine you see here.
After our run down the freeway, we rolled through some of the twisty roads in the hills around Lake Chabot and it’s here I can feel Mike’s suspension expertise coming to life. He’s not pushing the car anywhere near as hard as he does on the track, but even at cruising speed you can feel the chassis tightening up and the tires digging in, clearly asking for more.
It might be the ridiculous NASCAR V8 that breaks the necks and ears of bystanders and makes passengers hang on for dear life, but Mike’s true passion isn’t acceleration – it’s cornering. Over the years he’s used the ’66 as a both a testbed and demonstration vehicle for his parts, and it’s a rolling testament to high-level suspension engineering.
All of Mike’s know-how has been thrown at this car’s chassis. Up front it’s running a trick long double A-arm setup, and if you are familiar with factory Mustang suspension you can see how different everything looks under the hood.
Out back the car is still equipped with a live axle, but it’s got a fully redesigned torque arm and panhard rod setup with a pushrod to rocker arm coil spring setup in the trunk. You might remember the similiar setup that Vaughn Gittin Jr. used when he built his RTR-X Mustang a while back. In fact, Vaughn and Mike were on the phone often during the build process, scheming up the RTR-X’s suspension design. There also high end JRI racing shocks all around.The Heart Of A NASCAR
The motor comes directly from the Roush Yates NASCAR Nationwide Series program and makes 750hp at the kind of RPMs that Honda S2000 owners dream of. There’s also 585ft/lbs of torque for good measure.
Mike has actually gone back and forth between the NASCAR motor and a much milder 302 setup. On one hand he loves the outrageous power of the race motor, but he also likes packing the family and going on a road trip to Tahoe with the street-spec engine.
The transmission is a C&R Racing CR1V2 four-speed designed for lightning fast shifts, but once Mike puts it into fourth gear the Mustang is actually a fairly decent cruiser. Or at least as decent as you can expect with a NASCAR powertrain. C&R also provided the race-spec third member which houses lightweight Motive gears.
While the exterior doesn’t look too different from a standard issue ’66 Mustang there are a few changes. The front fenders are from Maier Racing and are over two inches wider than stock, and Mike also hand-pounded the steel rear fenders for more tire clearance. The scooped Maier Racing hood is styled after the one found on the ’67 Shelby GT350 and Brian Hobaugh did the paint and bodywork at his shop in Fremont.
Speaking of local Bay Area companies, the wheels come from a San Leandro-based outfit called Team Three and they measure 18×11-inch on all four corners with 315/30R18 Falken Azenis RT615Ks all around.
When it comes to autocross racing, braking is one of the most important attributes of a car, so Mike upgraded the Stang’s antiquated drum setup with a Wilwood disc package featuring six-piston calipers at the front and four-piston calipers at the rear.
Just peeking in the cockpit, you certainly wouldn’t guess that this car is packing NASCAR power. There’s a modest roll bar setup and racing harnesses, but everything else is old school – right down to the bucket seats and wood-rimmed steering wheel.
That’s what I love about Mike’s philosophy with this car. It’s absolutely one of the fastest, best-handling and most well-engineered early Mustangs out there, but it doesn’t bang you over the head with it.
Instead, Mike has kept the car modest and functional, letting the results on the track speak for themselves. Just recently Mike decided to leave the family business at Maier Racing to start building his own line of suspension parts, and after experiencing this car on the road I’ve got no doubts in his success.
In this day and age where hype and image counts for everything, it’s impossible not to respect Mike for doing things the old school way. Designing, building and racing your own stuff – it’s the life of a Speedhunter through and through.
Story Produced by Elizabeth White