Chris Ashton is an artist and a craftsman operating out of his home garage in Orange County, California. For Chris, the builder of Ruffian, our hero car for this feature, nothing is without a purpose. That might be a provocative idea for Ford fans, whose beloved house of Blue Oval never misses an opportunity to adorn a vehicle with a piece of non-functional aero. But, we won’t be too hard on a company that’s given us some of the most masculine visages of classic and modern muscle. After all, without the base 1970 Mustang Fastback, Chris would have never had a design to build upon in the first place.
When Chris first got his hands on the Mustang, it had good bones, but ever the analytical mind, Chris sought to take an ailing horse that wasn’t far from put out to pasture and turn it into the thoroughbred race winner it was destined to be. But in what direction does one lead a horse to drink? Well, if racetracks are what the hooves crave, then racetracks are what they’ll be shod for.
Taking obvious design cues from Trans Am-era racecars of yesteryear, Chris began conceptualizing the idea of a low-slung, extremely wide, and imposing silhouette for his would-be steed. Now, low and wide is a good start, but moderation is for the weak and timid. With a name like Ruffian, you have to expect a car that’s as brash as the name implies. So, it came as no surprise when we sat down with Chris, the list of Ruffian’s modifications is as long as the back straight at Road Atlanta.
We asked Chris to go over the finer points that make up such an exceptional build, and he started by breaking down the impetus for the Ruffian. “At the end of the day, I wanted to build a Trans-Am car for the street. I started with this 1970 Mustang that wasn’t a Mach 1 or anything rare or historic. In the ’69-’70, they were racing the Mustang against Corvettes and Camaros. I’ve gone to Laguna Seca, The Long Beach Grand Prix, and I watched those guys run the historic class. I thought, ‘I want one of those that I can drive to work!'”
So, with dreams of rowing gears like the great Parnelli Jones, Chris got to work crafting one of the most unique and ferocious Mustangs on the road today – all in his home garage. He broke down the build for us and we’ll do the same for you below.
We’ll start at the hooves and work our way up the flanks…
Wheels & Tires:
Since Chris does a lot of autocrossing, Ruffian sports some super-wide Toyo R888R tires wrapped around custom two-piece forged Signature brand wheels. They are 18×11 in front and 19×12.5 in the rear.
Chris explained that over his 25-years autocrossing he’s learned that, “it’s all about lateral grip – you don’t need a lot of power – you need a lot of grip.” Because of that adage, the Toyo’s he’s selected are 315mm for the front and 345mm out back.
While Chris is happy with his choice of wheel and tire, because they fit with no issues due to the 3-inch fender flares, he did explain that “they are so big they make the brakes look small.”
We’re guessing that’s a bit of hyperbole because the Ruffian’s brakes consist of Wilwood calipers and rotors – 14-inch up front and 15-inch in the rear.
Suspension & Brakes:
The Ruffian flexes suspension akin to what you would find in a modern hypercar rather than a vintage Trans-Am racecar. Chris explained the technology like this, “The nice thing about the DSC Sport suspension is that they have a sensor for the steering and the brake and throttle pedals, so the system knows if you’re on the gas or on the brakes or if you’re turning. So, whenever I turn left, the right shocks get stiff or if I brake, the front shocks get stiff. They’re constantly adjusting, and they’ll do it like 60-times in a second. If I’m going from a dead stop, the suspension knows what speed I’m going and adjusts accordingly.”
“For this car, I wanted to go widebody with it. I wanted to fit as much tire under there as I could – which meant fender flares. I’ve never made a fender flare, and I wanted it to be steel. I’ve seen it on T.V. and seen it on YouTube – it doesn’t look that difficult, so maybe I’ll give that a shot.”
Unfortunately for Chris, that wasn’t exactly the case. He wasn’t pleased with the first iteration of the flares he made, but he wisely chose to start with the front fenders instead of the rear. The ’70 Mustang is a unibody car, so if things went awry on the rear, it would not be an easy fix – if possible at all.
Once he found the right recipe though, Chris had it dialed. He reportedly got the flares done with only 10-hours into each corner.
But, the wide-body isn’t the only modification the Ruffian sports. Chris went to the trouble of grafting on ’69 rear fender scoops as well as creating some louvers on the front fenders to match. Fortunately for the Ruffian’s performance, all of them are fully functional. The thing that stands out about the fender scoops and lovers is their angular shape. Chris explained that he didn’t particularly like the round shape of the originals, so he re-worked them to match other body lines and design cues on the fastback.
Of course, there are countless other exterior modifications like the rear window braces that harken back to the glory days of Trans-Am racing. The front scoops flanking either side of the ’70 Mustang’s headlights have also been made functional.
But, the interesting thing about the Ruffian isn’t that it looks like every other Trans-Am replica car out there, it’s that it looks like a replica that ran into a modern Pro Touring car from a top name builder. Chris not only took design cues from his favorite era of racing, like the pea-green paint, but he also added modern elements of performance into the mix.
Just check out the aggressive, vertically-mounted rear spoiler that looks like something taken from a modern Corvette wicker-bill design…Wait, that’s because it was.
While the interior is rather sparse in terms of amenities, Chris explained why the car still has A/C and heat. “In the summer it gets hot in Southern California and the car doesn’t have any insulation or anything, and I want to be able to pile on the miles and enjoy it.”
So, while the spartan interior sports trick racecar bits like internally routed fuel lines inside of a metal conduit and exposed wiring, it is still comfortable to drive, especially with the trick suspension it rides on. The dash remains stock, and a transmission tunnel mounted control box operates the fire suppression system, among other functions the car maintains.
A full cage surrounds two Cobra racing seats Chris sourced from Summit Racing, and the door bars swing out to make ingress and egress as smooth as possible as Chris does drive this car quite a bit.
Even though the steering wheel is mounted via a quick-detach mechanism, it is still as old school as it gets with wood trim surrounding the main hoop. Although, Chris does have a smaller wheel he uses for the racetrack and autocross events.
Ford faithful look away now…you’ve been warned.
That’s right. The Ruffian is LS-powered. LS427 to be exact. The Aluminum-blocked 7.0Liter makes 625 horsepower and around 560 ft-lbs of torque. The exterior scoops Chris crafted to be functional that we mentioned earlier duct directly to the carburetor that sits atop the behemoth of an LS. Wait…not only did he drop an LS in this thing, he went carbureted too? Oh yeah, baby!
If your feelings are hurt by this “abomination” of domestic manufacturer cross-breeding, Chris did offer some insight as to why he made the choice to go with a GM platform instead of something from Ford.
“The reason behind the motor was because I didn’t want to cut out the shock towers. If you go modern Ford Coyote, you’re going to have cut out the shock towers, put a different K-member, and do a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Again, I wanted it to kind of appear old-school, even if I was using modern tech. So, I wanted to keep the shock towers – shock towers were in all the race cars I love.”
Moving on to the transmission, Chris made the obvious choice to go with a T-56 Magnum transmission which affords him the luxury of a 6th gear – something he most certainly needs considering the 9-inch rear end houses some stout 4.11 gears. Those gears do aid him on the autocross course, but they don’t exactly hinder him on the highway once he’s in overdrive.
So, there you have it folks, The Ruffian Mustang. This was a labor of love for Chris Ashton, and he spent three-years building it. Chris did tell us that he’s bought many cars, and he enjoys all kinds of cars, but this simply wasn’t something he could go to a dealership or any online auction to buy – so, he built it himself. Check him out on Instagram @macmaninfi, he’s already working on his next project – a wicked Coyote-powered GT40!