Story: Jonathan Millstein
Photography: Andrew Link
A 1966 Ford Mustang painted bright Guards Red rips around an open track on a sunny California day, and the only sounds heard are the growl a 5.0L Coyote motor swapped from a 2012 Mustang and the screeching of tires. For many companies, this would be a marketing team’s pitch for a TV spot, but for Wilwood, it’s another weekend at one of the many autocross events attended in their in-house-built ’66 Mustang.
“We initially bought that car as a six-cylinder just for getting data acquisition from a bone-stock vehicle with drum brakes,” says Mike Hamrick, a sales and tech executive for Wilwood. For upwards of nine months, that was the life of the now cherry ’66: a series of swapping out brakes and test-drives. And then for three long months it sat dormant at Wilwood, awaiting its revival, until one fateful Monday morning.
Having spent the weekend with a co-worker doing a run of the coast in their personal cars, Mike was approached by Wilwood owner Bill Wood: “Hey, I heard it was a really good weekend… You want to build [the ’66 Mustang]?” he asked, according to Mike. To Mike the build was obvious from a marketing standpoint, but to Bill it was a car first. “He looked at it more like, ‘We have the resources, let’s build a car.’ I looked at it and said, ‘The 50th anniversary of the Mustang is next year, this is a no-brainer,’” says Mike.
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With Wilwood backing the build, the “resources” at their disposal were as near to endless as one can get. “One of the things about the car was there was never a budget,” says Mike, adding, “Bill doesn’t work off budgets. He works off of ‘Okay, what do you guys wanna build?’” That mentality helped to propel the build far beyond the basic, adding some flares, patching rust and new paint, which they’d originally considered. “It kind of snowballed into a much bigger build than we initially planned for, but at the end of the day, we’re pretty stoked with it,” says Mike.
Having received countless accolades on the Mustang in its current state, Wilwood plans to take it a step further to court a somewhat new market for the brand. “Ultimately, we’re gonna put two calibers on the back and a handbrake in it, so we can take it to a drifting event,” says Mike. This presence at drifting events would allow for greater reach into a market that requires a different style of marketing than Wilwood’s traditional demographic. “These import people aren’t like Chevy and Ford guys,” Mike says. “The import guys are like, ‘Dude, Vaughn Gittin drives a Mustang, but he’s awesome and he has Wilwood brakes; I gotta have Wilwood brakes.’”
Working as a team, Wilwood created a marketing machine that not only brings their product to life, but showcases something the entire company contributed to and can be proud of.