Sampling 5 unique Ford-powered specials

Photography by J.G. Pasterjak

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

It’s easy to get complacent and start viewing cars as complete entities–finished machines with fully formed personalities. These days, though, that’s understandable. Cars leave the factory ready to become our second homes. They’re quiet, comfortable and roomy. We hop in every day and drive, chat, listen to audio, and watch the world go by, forgetting that we’re sitting on a complex combination of thousands of discrete parts, all assembled with a common goal.

Thankfully, throughout the history of the automobile, visionaries have been able to peer through the completed work to see the untapped potential of the components. The first engine swap probably took place shortly after the second engine was developed. We’ve all been trained to some extent to find the potential in the pieces. Collector and specialty car dealer Craig Brody has a unique position that gives him perspective on the potential of some components–in this case, various flavors of Ford power. 

Brody owns five particular examples of Ford-powered fun that prove there’s more than one way (and likely well more than five) to enjoy your time behind the wheel.

For the most part, these cars have little to do with each other aside from their blue-oval drivelines. We’ve got everything represented, from the caveman flathead to modern roller-cam 5.0s. But the common thread here really isn’t the power source, or even the mission of these four-wheeled fun machines, but rather the grin that each one reliably puts on your face.

1993 Saleen S/C Speedster


To call Steve Saleen–and the company that bore his name–a “tuner” is to grossly undersell the proposition. While Saleen did tune and modify some of Ford’s finest, Saleen was a full-fledged OEM. In fact, his was the last small American company to be awarded OEM status.

As such, his Mustang creations weren’t simply tuned–they were far more well rounded. Craig Brody’s 1993 Saleen Spyder is one of only three supercharged Spyders ever built with the S/C package, one of only 30 convertibles produced by Saleen that year, and one of only 102 total cars the factory cranked out on the final year before the SN95 chassis made its debut. 

Because Saleens were all special orders, actual specs and trim levels varied slightly throughout the model runs. But when the Brody family ordered this Saleen new in 1993, it was the most expensive factory Mustang ever produced. The price was more than $48,000.

Like all Saleens, this one features the manufacturer’s Racecraft upgraded suspension, chassis stiffening, upgraded four-wheel disc brakes, a 3.55:1 rear end, five-lug wheels, and a host of smaller tweaks. These changes turned a car known for being somewhat rough around the edges into a true driver’s machine. Period magazines actually compared Saleen Mustangs to the BMW 6 Series.

The ultimate future of all Saleen Mustangs hinges on how the company goes down in history, but Craig Brody isn’t shy about his belief that his rare Saleen pony car could become “the next Shelby Cobra.”

1952 Lazzarino Sports Prototype


While Steve Saleen was a small-volume manufacturer by any traditional standards, he was a mega-producer compared to Bautista Lazzarino. Lazzarino was an Italian-born and educated metalworker who eventually settled in Argentina. When one of his creations became essentially an early “Popemobile” during the 1934 Eucharistic Congress, he gained a bit of fame and settled into a nice living rebodying cars for wealthy Argentine clients.

Lazzarino even went as far as building some of his own ground-up creations–the Lazzarino Sports Prototypes. All were essentially one-offs with various powertrains, including Argentine Chrysler straight-sixes. But when the chairman of Ford Argentina commissioned car No. 4, that simply wouldn’t do. A warmed-over flathead was installed, and the chairman likely enjoyed many years of hearing its sweet, saxophone-like growl while competing in Argentine autosport events.

Although the initial look is impressive enough–the Italian influence is evident in every curve, arch and crease–things get even more interesting when you look under the skin.

A steel tubular space frame sits at the heart of the creation, but it doesn’t support any wimpy fiberglass or aluminum panels. Instead, the Lazzarino’s skin is made from hand-hammered and -rolled steel, just like Mom used to make. 

Nearly everything else on the car is handmade as well: leather straps, hand-lettered gauges, brackets made by hammer and dolly instead of giant, impersonal stampings. It all comes together to produce an unmistakable form, and anything that may otherwise be perceived as a flaw comes through as instant character. The result is a blend of Italian sensuousness and Argentine passion that comes off as high art.

1993 Autokraft MkIV Lightweight


First things first: The Autokraft MkIV is not a Cobra. We know this because lawyers told us, and they’re super smart. Yes, it was built by Autocraft, the people who built the original AC Ace from which the Cobra was created. It’s made from hand-formed aluminum and has a snappy Ford small-block in place of the lump of British pig iron originally installed under the hood, just like a Cobra. But it wasn’t built by Carroll Shelby or his agent. Therefore, it is no Cobra. A rose by any other name, though...

Beginning in 1982, AC Cars began a series of “continuation” cars in partnership with Ford. These were built from original plans and tooling–the company basically picked up where Ford left off. A few improvements were made, like to the fitment of the independent rear suspension. They also altered the manufacturing process based on lessons learned in the decades since the cars were first made.

The result was arguably a better car. Fit and finish had improved, and the late-model 5.0-liter powerplants were more drivable than their ’60s counterparts and as powerful as ever. Brody’s example is a 1993 Lightweight spec version, which means it tipped the scales at a scant 2400 pounds, give or take. Originally equipped with a 370-horsepower, 5.0-liter engine, the powerplant now sports a supercharger and some 420 ponies driving through a Tremec five-speed.

Of course, the Connolly leather and Wilton wool still adorn the interior, and the British Racing Green paint looks perfectly at home on this Anglo-American hybrid. While there’s still a bit of stigma attached to these cars in the U.S.–not being “real” Cobras and all–there’s less of an attitude in the U.K. There, these cars are viewed for what they really are: true continuations of one of the most legendary sports cars of all time.

1967 Sunbeam Tiger MkII


Carroll Shelby’s catchall approach to problem solving seemed to be simply installing a Ford V8 where it was never designed to go and calling it a day. We can hardly fault his logic. But while the world swooned over his Cobra, they were somewhat less enthusiastic about the Sunbeam Alpine with a Ford V8 called the Tiger. Maybe it was because the early Tigers in 1964 were only available with a Ford 260 V8, while Cobras were getting ready for everything up to big-block power under the hood.

Nearly 6500 260-powered Tigers were built through 1966, until Ford finally decided to up the ante. For 1967–which was also the Tiger’s last year of production–Ford introduced the slightly updated MkII version, which came equipped with Ford’s 289 V8 under the slight hood. Sadly for the Tiger, however, this model came out as Chrysler was taking control of the Rootes Group, Sunbeam’s parent company in the U.K. The conflict of interest killed the Tiger just as things were getting interesting.

Craig Brody’s MkII was the 10th of 536 cars produced in 1967. It was restored to perfect condition in 1990. Before that, it spent more than a decade in completely original condition sealed in a plastic bubble. In other words, it was probably the best platform you could ever start with for a high-quality restoration. Today it drives around looking just as it did when it came off the showroom floor in 1967, with the exception of a set of more modern wheels and tires (Brody keeps the original wheels and tires in storage for shows). It’s just as satisfying to drive as it was back in 1967, right around the time its kind went extinct.

1974 De Tomaso Pantera GTS


The De Tomaso Pantera hit the U.S. in 1971, perhaps just a bit ahead of its time. Available right off the showroom floor at Lincoln Mercury dealerships, the Italian-built Pantera’s debut year was fraught with quality-control flaws and difficult marketing. Never mind that it was a cutting-edge design for the time. One of the earliest sports cars to employ a monocoque, unibody construction, the early Pantera nonetheless languished in showrooms and was hobbled with questions of quality. Elvis Presley famously shot his Pantera when it once failed to start. 

Improvements came quickly, though, and quality control increased. By 1975–when Ford stopped officially importing it–the Pantera was a top-shelf supercar. Sadly, one of the things that some say keeps it from true world-class status is also one of the things that makes it wonderful: the Ford 351 engine parked behind the driver, nestled between the two huge rear wheel arches. That blue-collar powerplant may not have the pedigree of an overhead-cam Italian mill, but open the throttle anywhere north of idle, and the sound–and thrust–it provides is unimpeachable.

Craig Brody’s 1974 GTS model (there was also an L model with a few more luxury-minded accouterments) is a true survivor, untouched aside from a few scratch repairs and normal maintenance. A few spiderwebs are starting to appear through some of the original paint, but the interior looks like a press photo from 1974. Brody reports that the driving experience is thoroughly modern as well.

Vision out back is somewhat restricted by the inherent shape, but thanks to rack-and-pinion steering and a rear weight bias, steering takes only a modest hand. There are even power windows and air conditioning for those steamier days.

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More like this
vermontdane New Reader
6/20/18 8:25 p.m.

5 Unique Ford-Powered Cars

I will add one more manufacturer still using Ford engines.  Caterham Super Sevens.

Your site would not let me input a "topic name"

3/26/20 11:29 a.m.

In reply to vermontdane :

Don't forget TVR.  They used the 1600 Kent engine, 3 liter V-6, 289, and 2.9 L Cologne engines.

MogR None
3/26/20 12:49 p.m.

Morgan has been using Ford engines for many many years, last being the Morgan V6 Roadsters.  Alas, they have gone upscale now and have switched to BMW stuff.  

sir_mike New Reader
3/26/20 5:25 p.m.

Some Marcos used Ford power,usually the 1500 and 1600 Kent mtr.Alos used the V4 and V6.I like my Ford Cortina GT's...sorry..had to

3/28/20 9:01 a.m.

Need to add the wonderful Saab Sonett!

tolyarutunoff New Reader
3/14/22 2:37 p.m.

he needs aqvale mangusta too!

Nickdoc New Reader
7/16/22 2:53 p.m.

In reply to dkraycik2 :

Yeah, the TVR Griffith 200 and 400 should be centre stage here

tolyarutunoff New Reader
7/16/22 3:22 p.m.

In reply to vermontdane :

and don't forget the turn-of-the-century qvale mangustas, originally called the bigua.  wonderful underappreciated cars; i'm on my second!

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
7/21/22 1:57 p.m.

Good points. Thanks for the input.

carloshermida New Reader
5/25/23 11:48 a.m.

Please do not ignore the Panoz Esperante

(Both Classic and Grassroots )


Probably the best Ford Powered sports car ever  ( Besides the Shelbys and GT 40')

Carlos Hermida

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