The FREE Complete Bay Area Auto Enthusiast Guide

By KENNETH HALL – Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
When the Ford Mustang was introduced to the market in April 1964, few could have anticipated that the new model would become an American automobile icon. During the early 1960s, and beyond, the automobile industry seemed to be guided by the idea that bigger is better, and the short and light Mustang certainly ran contrary to that concept. However, the public responded by purchasing the new “pony car” almost as fast as Ford could produce them.
John Benitoa, of Lutz, a self-described older car enthusiast, recently purchased one of the early Mustangs, referred to as a 1964½ because it was produced before the traditional fall introduction of new models. Technically, it is a 1965 Mustang.
Benitoa had a 2001 Supercharged Corvette, but there was no place to put a car seat for his 5-year-old daughter, Tessa, so he went on a quest for a 1965 to 1968 Mustang he could trade his Corvette for. “I wanted something that could handle the road like a newer car, but in an older body,” he explains.
He found it, earlier this year, in a 1964½ Mustang that a North Carolina dentist hardly drove and was looking to part with. The car looked like an immaculately restored vehicle, but the dentist father, who built it, had spared no expense in building something fast and agile.
“The father told me that he had watched a Mustang build on the HorsePower TV show and he built his Mustang to include everything the TV show Mustang had,” Benitoa says. “He put almost $70,000 into building the car for his son. It looks stock, but underneath, it was built like an autocross rally car.”
His Mustang left the factory with a 289 cubic-inch engine, but the builder spent nearly $8,000 to upgrade the 329 into a 347 roller rocker stroker motor that Benitoa says produces 467 horsepower. Paired with a brand new T5 five-speed transmission, the power train produces more torque than the original Mustang setup could handle.
“The car has a brand new Currie 9-inch rear end and front and rear sway bars,” Benitoa says.
“A lot of people would have replaced the front end with one from a Mustang II, but this car has a PCI Racing front end with tubular A-arms and fully adjustable coil over suspension. It has Wildwood disc brakes on all four wheels and a dual-master cylinder braking system by CNC Brakes. Also, it has a Griffin aluminum radiator for more efficient engine cooling. Also, the car has a new PCI steering system.”
The Mustang has a “pony” interior with new seats that feature the embossed horses galloping across the seat backs, a retro modern sound system, power windows and a double-insulated floor. Benitoa recently installed a vintage air-conditioning system and seat belts to accommodate the car seat for his daughter. Despite the upgrades, the interior retains a stock appearance, with padded dash and original gauges.
Originally yellow, the car was given an eye-catching burnt orange paint job with a new grille and new chrome bumpers. Its stock appearance betrays no clue of the power of the car until its running and power of the stroker engine blasts through the three-inch Flowmaster exhaust system.
Benitoa says the car is breathtakingly-fast, lots of fun to drive and is very nimble, thanks to the sway bars and upgraded suspension.
“It drives like it is on rails,” Benitoa says. “It is probably the fastest car I have ever owned, and I have never had a car that handles the road as well as this one does. Instead of driving me around, which is what a lot of newer cars feel like, with the Mustang, I feel like I am part of the car, and I am driving it.”

Do you have a classic or rare American car you would like to see featured in Motoring Tampa Bay? If so, send details and contact information to or