Considering its age, the old catalog is in pretty good shape. The colorful cover is scuffed up and many of the pages are marred by greasy fingerprints, but otherwise the nearly 45 year-old publication has held up well over the decades. The exceptional condition is likely an indication of how much I cherished this copy of Ford’s Muscle Parts catalog, an 80-page wish-list of everything that could transform my little Mustang from a 2-barrel weakling to a “Dominator,” as Ford called its top level of “staged” performance.
For one dollar, the Muscle Parts catalog opened up a whole new world for me, not only suggesting staged performance modifications for my 302-powered fastback but also educating me with a section up front called the “Nitty Gritty” of performance. There, I learned the basics about bore and stroke, compression, and fuel/air ratios, gobbling up the information while I should have been studying for the next day’s Economics 1 class.
Admittedly, I was the skinny 18 year-old kid who pestered the guys behind the counter at the local Ford dealer’s parts department. While they were busy looking up part numbers for a 1967 Galaxie crash repair, I was standing by patiently to request a price quote for the Stage 1 Impressor Kit – a high-rise aluminum intake with a 600 cfm Holley carb and open-element air cleaner. I needed to know how many Saturdays I would have to work to raise the cash.
Which explains why old catalog is marked with pricing notes. After eventually saving enough to order the Stage 1 induction system and purchase a rusty pair of used Hedman headers, I was ready to replace the factory camshaft. For Stage 2 of the Impressor Kit, Ford recommended a hotter hydraulic cam. My scribblings on page 25 indicate that part number C90Z-6250-C would set me back a whopping $27.35, but by the time I added new tappets ($3.10), valve springs ($1.75), valve stem seals (14 cents), and the required Boss 302 balance damper ($22.75), I was looking at an investment approaching $70 to gain 40 horsepower. I don’t recall how many working Saturdays it required, but I somehow saved the money and ordered the cam. A buddy helped me with the installation, my first experience in tearing down an engine.
Looking back today, I can see that Ford’s Muscle Parts program was actually an ingenious marketing program. I was the stereotypical customer – a young guy with a base-model Mustang and a desire to transform it into something closer to a Boss 302. If you look at the production figures, which we can do thanks to Kevin Marti’s Mustang… By the Numbers book, it’s interesting to note that Ford built less than 35,000 Boss and Cobra Jet Mustangs during the 1969 and 1970 model years. On the other hand, there were nearly 300,000 sold with ho-hum 302, 351, and 390 passenger-car engines. And if you count the earlier 289 Mustangs, which could benefit from the same Muscle Parts modifications, the Ford corporate bean-counters were no doubt salivating over more than half a million potential customers – not counting those with Fairlanes, Cyclones, and other Ford products with base engines.
My dad never understood why I spent so much time and money on a car that wasn’t broken. I was constantly under the Mustang or its hood, replacing perfectly good parts with higher performance pieces. I was especially adept at swapping mufflers, initially hacksawing off the factory’s single exhaust system to replace it with Thrush sidepipes, then bolting on a succession of glasspacks and “Purple Hornies” header mufflers in the quest for the baddest exhaust sound. My dad just scratched his head and complained about the noise.
Technologically, we’ve come a long way since carburetors, dual-point distributors, and glasspack mufflers. But the urge to “improve” our cars still survives, as evidenced by the proliferation of aftermarket parts for today’s cars. They may not be broken, but we still have the need to “fix” them.
But I could sure use an updated Muscle Parts catalog to educate me about overhead cams and computerized fuel-injection.