If you're old enough to have forgotten some of your youth, try thinking back to high school. It was a time of basic thrills. Rivalry football games flooded the stands with patriotic fans, homecoming and your first kiss, after-school freshman bullying, puberty's endless supply of acne, and most importantly—getting your license.
Yes, looking back, high school was a trip, and getting that cheap, thin piece of plastic held a great sense of value. It meant freedom, the ability to get away, and your first opportunity to go anywhere you wanted to (if you had a car of course). Memories were created and goals were set. For Wes Duenkel, those memories and goals (one in particular) didn't start until after high school, and failure was not an option.
"When I graduated high school, I wanted to buy a car. I wanted something that was a V-8 and rear-wheel drive—I didn't really care what it was," Wes explained. "I looked at Monte Carlos, Camaros, and Mustangs. I was limited to a small budget, and when I found an '85 Mustang, it was the cheapest V-8 I could find. I didn't have many options available to me at the time, so the '85 just made sense. I paid $2,600 for it back in 1996."
It was in the fall of 1996 when Wes would visit the famous Road America road course, a four-mile circuit course located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, as a spectator. Having grown up only a few miles away, this was the first time Wes had ever stepped foot on Road America soil. From that point on, he was hooked. The idea quickly grew that the '85 was meant to be here. One year later, Wes was back attending his first open-track event with the Northwoods Shelby Club.
According to Wes, when attending his first track event, the factory 10.5-inch drum brakes on his '85 just couldn't keep up. After the first lap of every session, his brakes were cooked. From that point on, he was on a mission.
In 2003, after graduating college and moving to Nashville, good friend Billy Hardin dropped off an '83 Mustang body at Wes' front door. Wes' '85 had seen its last day, and he was looking for a clean body to transfer the drivetrain into. With the '83 body, the transplant could begin.
"Back in college, I was limited in my mechanical knowledge and financial resources," Wes told us. "I just learned by trial and error over time. When I needed something, I would use whatever I could find around the house. For this build, I did all the work under a car port and in a one-car garage."
Underneath the fiberglass cowl hood is a '93 Cobra 302 short-block, matched with Holley aluminum cylinder heads and 650-cfm carburetor, a Lunati hydraulic-roller camshaft, and Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake. A five-speed T5 transmission with a 2.95 First Gear is used for shifting, while a FRPP aluminum driveshaft connects to an SN-95 rearend fitted with a 3.27 gear set. A Kirks Racing Products rollcage has also been installed.
Suspension has been greatly enhanced thanks to an allure of SN-95 Maximum Motorsports (MM) components. "I put a lot of work into the front of the car—specifically the front fenders," Wes explained. "Common on Fox Mustang track cars is the MM forward offset SN-95 setup, which moves the front wheels 11⁄2-inches forward and 2-inches wider on the front track. I wanted to create a bolt-in solution to make the fenders sit flush. Using fender sections from my '85 and '83 Mustangs, I relocated the fender openings 13⁄4-inch forward and then had them welded together and painted smooth."
Other modifications include a through-the-car exhaust system exiting through the side of the coupe, Cobra 10th anniversary brakes, Baer 13-inch front and rear rotors, 17-inch Gunmetal Cobra R wheels, and carbon fiber dashboard panels.
"Over the years I've made modest changes," Wes said. "You could look at the '83 as an opportunity for me. It was a car I always wanted to build, but could never do so because of money. In 2003, when I got the car from my buddy, I knew that was my chance. This car was my crash course in racecar preparation. I learned how to tune a carburetor, port cylinder heads, and weld a rollcage."
Jay McFarland, a former co-worker at the time when Wes worked at Holley, painted the interior and did most of the exterior bodywork. Capley Paint and Body is responsible for the two-tone Gunmetal Gray and silver paint. "I don't have patience for body work or sanding," Wes told us. "When I did all the body work for the fenders, spending all that time on it was very difficult. Learning to be patient was very hard. It took me six years to piece together all the exterior and interior parts, but in the end it was worth it."
Today, Wes still has not re-visited Road America. He is now a full-time automotive freelance photographer. When attending race events, he's no longer behind the wheel, rather a photo lens. He has, however, attended one event—the Goodguys Nashville autocross at the Tennessee Titans Stadium. He could only describe it as "a blast."
"I had a plan from the beginning," Wes explained. "I knew what I wanted and how I was going to get there. I wanted a mild engine combo that was easy to work with and simple, and one I could road race. I think I've got that now."
Wes tells us his goal is still to go back to Road America and other racetracks around the country. We certainly hope you succeed!
I wanted a mild engine combo that was easy to work with and simple, and one I could road race.