Ford Motor Company engineer Ed Hinchcliff raced in the SCCA Trans-Am series as an independent from 1966 to 2003. A member of Ford Motor Company’s Special Vehicle Operations family (his other claim to fame was that he was one of the lead fabricators on the team that built LBJ’s presidential Lincoln), Hinchcliff was privy to much of the technology and developmental pieces that Ford and Kar-Kraft Inc. created for Ford’s factory-sponsored Trans-Am racing programs.
Although Hinchcliff is widely known for his Grabber Blue 1970 Boss 302 Trans-Am Mustang, that was not by any means his first Trans-Am race car. Pictured for your review is the former Hinchcliff/Ross 1968 Trans-Am Mustang coupe (raced by Hinchcliff as car No. 76), currently owned, restored, and vintage-raced by San Diego, California, speed equipment merchant J. Bittle from the JBA Speed Shop Inc. According to Bittle, this Mustang was an important breakout car in Hinchcliff’s storied career.
“Ed Hinchcliff was one of the longest active SCCA Pro drivers in the history of the class, retiring in 2003,” Bittle says. “I bought the ex–Ed Hinchcliff and Steve Ross Trans-Am Mustang in 1998, a good 30 years after the car’s debut at the July 3, 1968, Paul Revere 250 NASCAR Grand American at Daytona Beach, where the coupe finished in eighth place. Hinchcliff would race his 1968 Mustang for two years, experiencing reasonable success in Grand American, NASCAR GT, and SCCA Trans-Am races [a total of 10] prior to selling the car to Ross, who raced the coupe through 1970 and took it to the 1970 SCCA National Run-Offs at Daytona Beach.
“After the 1970 season was over, the H&R Mustang went to Mexico and was raced in the Pan American Road Races by the Shelby De Mexico S.A. race team driver Freddy Tame,” Bittle continues. “After languishing for a number of years, the car was brought back to the States by Rick Nagel and Mark Gillette with intentions of founding a Shelby American Automobile Museum. When that project didn’t pan out, the car was sold to Craig Conley and Chris Liebenberg, and I bought it from them.”
Up to 1967, Ford had the upper hand in Trans-Am racing with its 289. But GM’s entry into the class, with the 302-powered Camaros, meant that Ford needed more power. At that point the Boss 302 engine was little more than a set of engineering blueprints. Ford borrowed a page from its NASCAR engine program and developed a new four-bolt-main, 302W block (C8FE-6016-B) with “tunnel port” cylinder heads (C8FE-6090-A). The term refers to the 3.8-inch, round-shaped intake ports, which took the path of least resistance straight to the combustion chambers, with the pushrod tubes running through the ports. Talk about a heavy breather!
Valve size would also increase. The intake valves went to 2.12 inches in diameter compared to the 289’s 1.77 inches, and the exhaust valves would increase to 1.54 inches in diameter compared to the 289’s 1.44. These heads used a set of shaft-mounted nodular-iron rocker arms lubricated via specially revised (from the standard Ford 302W) oil passages.
Fuel delivery was handled by two Holley 540-cfm four-barrel carburetors mounted in tandem, while a Ford transistorized ignition took care of the spark. That was essentially the top end of the 302W Tunnel Port Ford engine.
The short-block included a set of 12.5:1-compression forged-aluminum domed pistons pressed on to H-beam connecting rods at one end and a forged-steel 302 crankshaft at the other. A special 8-quart, high-volume, wet-sump oil pan with NASCAR oil pickup handled lubrication. The race version of the 302 Tunnel Port (there was also a street version for homologation purposes) featured a solid-lifter cam. Estimated power on the 302W Tunnel Port was 420 hp at 8,500 rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. Backing this up was a Hurst-assisted close-ratio Ford Top Loader four-speed transmission sending power through a 3.91- to 4.57-geared (depending on track) Detroit Locker rearend with 31-spline axles.
Historically, Ford’s 302W Tunnel Port engine was less than successful. Jerry Titus, defending his 1967 SCCA Trans-Am title, wheeled the Shelby Racing Company 1968 Tunnel Port Mustang (car number 1) into the winner’s circle for the 0-2 class at the 1968 24 Hours of Daytona, while the rest of the season was pretty much Penske/Donohue/Sunoco all the way to the championship. However, we would like to think that much of the engine technology was jointly shared between the Ford factory team and Hinchcliff.
The Hinchcliff/Ross Mustang also bears the distinction of having been used as a camera car, with Hinchcliff driving, in the 1969 movie Ford Flat Out. It still has the holes in its roof where the motion picture cameras were mounted to the top front hoop of the rollcage.
All told, it took the JBA team four years to restore the coupe. The restoration was completed just in time for the car to be shown at the Ford 100 invitational meet at Dearborn, where original owner/builder/driver Hinchcliff posed with the car. Bittle has been vintage-racing the Mustang ever since at select HMSA, SVRA, and SAAC events.
You may note that the Mustang today features standard sheetmetal while vintage photos show flared fenders. Says Bittle, “During the early days of Trans-Am, as cars aged they were updated, sometimes significantly. In its second year of competition, Ed added larger flares and oversized wheels and tires per rule revisions. Historic Trans-Am Racing requires we prepare the cars to reflect their first year in competition, so the original smaller, yet slightly flared, OE-appearing fenders are in use.”
At a Glance
1968 Mustang Trans-Am Coupe
Owned by: J. and Vickie Bittle, San Diego, CA
Restored by: JBA Speed Shop, San Diego, CA
Engine: 302ci/475hp Tunnel Port V-8
Transmission: Close-ratio Ford Top Loader 4-speed manual
Rearend: Ford 9-inch with 31-spline axles, Detroit Locker, and track-dependent gearing
Interior: Shelby R-model race seats, Auto Power safety equipment, Stewart-Warner gauges, Jones mechanical tachometer
Wheels: 15×8 American Racing magnesium 6-spoke Daisy
Tires: 6.00×15-inch front, 7.00×15-inch rear Goodyear Sports Car Specials
Curb Weight: 2,820 lbs
Performance: 12.67 at 115.1 quarter-mile, 1.019g skid pad, 168 mph top speed