The story of Kelly Hattori’s beautiful 1966 Mustang Fastback, the car she calls Calamity Jane, isn’t really about the 289 that Kelly rebuilt or the suspension upgrades she’s made. The story of Calamity Jane is really about, well… the stories.
There’s the one about how Kelly drove from Colorado to California so she could use the ocean to diagnose a weak engine. And then drove to North Carolina to fix it. How the Mustang’s exhaust system may also serve as a safety feature. How that burn mark showed up on the back of the fold-down rear seat. And Kelly’s friend Charlie – who, by the way, is no body man – features prominently in many of the stories.
There are more stories, accumulated from over 60,000 miles of adventures driving and camping around North America, but let’s start with the one about how Kelly became a hot rodder. I’ve never heard anything like it before.
“I’m not from a car family,” Kelly said. “No one in my family knows about cars. No one in my family has ever hot rodded. This started when I got through my freshman year of college. I was 18. I was bored. I decided I wanted a hobby.”
Kelly didn’t want just any hobby. She wanted to learn to work with her hands and build things. She wanted to learn something useful. So, she told me, “I thought it would be cool to learn how to work on cars.”
Newer cars, with all their computer complexity, seemed like they’d be more difficult to her, so Kelly decided to go for classic cars. “They’re simpler,” she said. “And if I’m going to go for classic cars, I might as well go for the best looking car I’ve ever seen in my life. I came up with the early 60s Mustang fastbacks and I decided that’s what I needed.”
Kelly looked on Craig’s List for a few months. She saw some Mustangs, but none of them were quite right. Then, while she was in school at UNC Wilmington, she saw one that was just 15 minutes from her parent’s house. It appeared to be in good shape and was under-priced. She went home that weekend to see it in person. “I saw that car and I was gone,” Kelly said. “I would not take another car in my life. I had to have that car.”
Kelly’s parents may not have been hot rodders, but they’ve played a huge role in Kelly becoming one. And it started with that Mustang. Kelly had to head back to school after seeing the Mustang. Without telling her, her parents made an offer on the car. Kelly, who majored in Marine Biology and Geology, had gotten a full scholarship, thus saving her parents a lot of money in their college fund. They said that if Kelly would pay for half the car, they’d use the college fund to pay for the other half. “That,” Kelly said, “is how you get your hands on a Mustang fastback when you’re 19.”
So Kelly jumped straight into the deep end of the hot rodding pool. And to be honest, she didn’t know how to swim. “I learned how to change a tire on that car. I also learned how to drive a stick shift on that car. I really went into it knowing nothing. It was a culmination of hair-brained ideas and I just kept getting lucky.”
I asked Kelly what her first steps were. Again, her parents were a significant influence.
“One of the deals I had with my parents was that I had to put in several safety features: power disc brakes, seats with locking backs and head rests, and three-point seat belts. Those were the first three projects I had with the car. It turns out that when you have a very novice mechanic, who has never worked on cars before, you probably shouldn’t start with brakes.”
But Kelly did. She got the brakes, seats, and seat belts installed and everything seemed to be going just fine. It was a few years, and many miles later, when there was an issue. As a newbie mechanic, Kelly was not aware of torque specs for bolts when she installed the brakes.
Several years later, while she was on a road trip in Yellowstone National Park, she heard a loud noise every time she applied the brakes. Turns out the caliper bolts had backed themselves out and were hanging half out of the calipers. By this time, Kelly knew about properly torquing bolts, and she tightened them up properly. “It’s all good now,” she said calmly.
Kelly obtained Calamity Jane in 2010, and the Mustang was in pretty good shape. (The pictures below show Kelly the day she obtained Jane, and the two of them 10 years later.) There were a few rust spots, but it ran and drove just fine. The 289 had been rebuilt by the previous owner and had just 28,000 miles on it. As far as Kelly could tell, there was really nothing wrong with it.
“I had intended on just puttering around with it for a few months, learning some stuff, and then probably selling it,” Kelly told me. “What happened instead is that I became completely obsessed with this car. I drove 120 miles home every weekend to work on it. I’d never had a fast car, and as soon as I had my hands on one, things escalated. I researched modifications that people made to make their cars drive better.”
In addition to the brakes, seats, and seat belts, some of Kelly’s early upgrades included installing a Unisteer rack and pinion for quicker steering, and adding air conditioning for those North Carolina summers. Jane, as she has a habit of doing, forced Kelly into one more early upgrade.
“The thermostat got stuck closed, the radiator blew up and puked coolant all over,” Kelly recalled. “I drove it home fairly enraged with no coolant in it. I fixed the cooling system: new thermostat, bigger radiator, bigger fan and shroud. Even now, living in Texas, that car never runs hot.”
And that’s about where Charlie entered the picture.
Kelly met Charlie when she bought some Mustang parts from him. She noticed he had a paint booth. Kelly asked him if he would paint her car. Charlie said no. So Kelly went around looking at some other paint shops but she didn’t like any of them, especially the place that gave her a quote for $25,000.
“I was relaying all of this to Charlie and stressing about it,” Kelly said. “I was kind of doing this intentionally. Eventually I got stressed enough that he finally said ‘Just give me the car and I’ll paint it for you.’”
Kelly just wanted just a driver quality paint job. Charlie only does show quality paint jobs. The agreement they came to is that he’d give her a show quality paint job for a driver quality paint job cost. That was the summer of 2012, and Charlie finished the work in just two months.
And then, the most heartbreaking story of Kelly’s and Jane’s time together occured.
In late April, 2013, Kelly declared that the Mustang’s rebuild was complete and she officially put Jane on the road. She drove the car to Wilmington for finals week of her senior year.
“I drove the car for three days,” Kelly said, “and a guy rear ended me doing 40 mph more than I was doing. It totaled the car. I spent 3 years building the car and I got three days driving out of it.”
Fortunately Kelly was not hurt, thanks in no small part to the seats and seat belts her parents had her install. But she was devastated. And she was afraid to call Charlie to tell him. But her mom called Charlie and plans were made to restore Calamity Jane a second time. “Jane took care of me,” Kelly said, “so it was my turn to take care of Jane.”
As a unibody car, Mustangs can be susceptible to roof and floor damage in the kind of accident Jane was in. Fortunately, during his previous work on the Ford, Charlie had installed a set of subframe connectors that he welded along their entire length. They added enough rigidity to prevent any roof or floor damage.
But there was lots of other damage. The trunk of the car was pushed in 18 inches. Almost every piece of sheet metal was damaged to some degree. Charlie cut the entire back half of the car off. He then found another Mustang that had been wrecked in the front and cut off the back and welded it into Jane. Charlie owns a 1966 Mustang Shelby and had built himself a jig to match it. He used that jig to make sure Jane was completely straight. It was a remarkable repair.
Kelly posted updates on the accident and the subsequent work by Charlie on the Vintage Mustang Forum. (Click here to read those threads.)
As you might guess, the comments started coming quickly.
“People said ‘You cannot fix this car, this car is totaled,’” Kelly recalled. “I thought ‘Screw you guys, I’m fixing it anyway.’ As I was posting pictures about how Charlie was fixing the car, people were freaking out. One person said ‘This guy’s no body man.’”
And that’s become a standing joke between Kelly and Charlie. If Kelly ever gets skeptical about something Charlie is telling her, he’ll say, “Well I’m no body man.”
But when the work from the accident was finished every person on that Forum had shut up about what could and could not be done. Charlie finished painting Jane again in December, 2013, gave the keys back to Kelly and said, “Don’t screw it up this time.”
Kelly put the Mustang back on the road again almost a year to the day of the wreck. Jane was ready to go at about 1 AM on April 16, 2014 – which was the 50th anniversary of the Mustang. Kelly drove her Mustang to the huge anniversary event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and celebrated by doing a lap around the track.
Charlie’s support throughout the Calamity Jane project has been invaluable to Kelly. “He’s a hot rodder extraordinaire,” she said. “He’s a master body man, and he can make anything run. I trust him to build anything and to show me how to build anything. When you’re learning this hobby, you need someone to help you with some things.”
Kelly and Charlie have developed a wonderful relationship, which might be summed up by the conversation they had in Charlie’s shop one day. He was welding studs on the underside of the floor pans for Kelly to use to secure fuel lines. Black fluid started falling through one of the holes in the floor.
K: What’s that?
C: I don’t know. Maybe it’s liquified undercoating.
K: Yeah maybe.
K: I feel like the car’s on fire.
C: The car’s not on fire.
K: I feel like it is.
They lowered the car and saw flames reflected in the rear window.
C: Put it out.
C: I don’t know, just put it out.
The carpet, which had been pulled away from the floor, had been josled on the lift and fell back down and caught fire. Kelly just blew it out like a birthday candle. She said the back of the fold down rear seats were “a little bit crispy”.
The two of them would team up again for a big project in 2016. Kelly was living in Colorado at the time. She thought the motor felt weak, but she was living at 8400 feet elevation, so she figured every engine probably felt weak, because there’s no air at that elevation. “My strategy,” Kelly said, “which was just me being silly, was that if I drive to California and I’m standing at exactly at sea level and the motor’s still weak, then there’s a problem with it.”
That’s an unconventional diagnostic tool, but one that probably has some technical merit. So Kelly drove Jane to California, went to the ocean, and the motor was still weak. She drove back to Colorado.
Since she was getting ready to move to Texas, Kelly figured she’d drive to North Carolina to assess what was wrong, fix it in about a week, and then drive to Texas. “Logic was something that does not apply to most aspects of my life,” she explained.
Kelly drove to NC because she figured she could use some of Charlie’s expertise on fixing what was wrong. Calamity Jane made it all the way to NC, and then spun a cam bearing just as Kelly pulled into Charlie’s driveway.
A complete engine rebuild was in order. After taking the engine apart, Kelly saw that it had not been put together very well by the previous owner. In retrospect, she was surprised it lasted as long as it did.
With Charlie’s help, she did a complete rebuild on the 289. The block did not have to be rebored (it was already 0.040” over), although the sleeve in one cylinder had come loose and had to be addressed. Kelly installed Speed Pro pistons with slightly higher compression ratio than stock.
The stock heads had to be completely reworked. “The valve seats had gotten buggered up and that ruined the valve train geometry which ruined the guides which ruined the valves,” Kelly explained. She replaced the 3/4 race cam that was in Jane with one that had the same specs because, she said, “I liked the old cam.”
An Offenhauser intake has a Holley Terminator EFI system on top. When Jane had a carburetor, there were some issues with vapor lock and with the engine running well at high altitudes. The Holley EFI took care of both of those issues. “Once you set it,” she told me, “you can forget it.”
A set of Tri-Y headers feed straight dual exhaust with a set of DynoMax Super Turbo mufflers. You can hear Jane’s great exhaust sound on some of the videos Kelly’s posted on Instagram. It’s a bit of a unique sound that Kelly thinks is due to the fact that one of the mufflers has a giant dent in it from one time when she jumped a curb.
The entire exhaust is still basically the one that was cobbled together by the previous owner. The driver’s side exhaust system hangs a little lower than the passenger side and has the habit of causing problems.
“This always happens to me as I’m going across west Texas on my way home,” Kelly said. “A couple of weeks ago, I managed to break an exhaust hanger and pulled my muffler off on a pile of roadkill. Fortunately the roadkill did not stick to the muffler. I pulled off to the side of the road, put the muffler back on and jury rigged the exhaust mounts so the muffler wouldn’t fall off.”
When I asked Kelly if an exhaust system upgrade was on her to-do list, she expressed concern over what might happen if she ran over roadkill when the system was secure underneath the car. That’s the theory behind the idea that a breakaway exhaust system might be a good safety feature for Jane.
The small block was built to make some horsepower, but with an eye towards dependability as well. “I always like to go faster,” Kelly said, “but at the same time I have to deal with reliability and gas mileage. I take this car on really long road trips. I get 20 mpg and have a really reliable motor.”
The stock Ford Toploader four-speed drives a 1956 Ford 9” rear end with 3.25 gears on an open differential. Kelly’s upgraded all four brakes to discs – stock Kelsey-Hayes brakes in front, and Wilwoods in the rear. The suspension upgrades include Eaton GT leaf springs, GT coil springs up front, and Opentracker upper control arms and roller perches and adjustable shock mounts. Kelly said the ride height is a little lower than a stock Mustang GT, but that’s mostly due to the fact that Jane is usually carrying 400 pounds of Kelly’s camping gear as shown in the picture above.
Calamity Jane’s interior is mostly stock, but with a few customizations. The front seats that were added at the beginning are from a 1993 Mustang, recovered with 1966-styled upholstery. Kelly’s added custom-faced Speedhut gauges – which she designed based on the 1969 Mustang gauges – in a new six gauge cluster in the dash. There’s a Grant Signature mahogany steering wheel and a Hurst shifter that Kelly rebuilt last year. A Retrosound radio pumps out tunes – when you can hear them over the sound of the engine. The carpet, of course, has been replaced.
One of Kelly’s favorite parts of the interior is the custom center console she and her dad built. That’s her dad in the picture below. He’s a woodworker and built the frame, getting it to work around the emergency brake handle Kelly has mounted on the trans tunnel. Kelly had the console upholstered in vinyl that matches the seats, with a very 1960s look.
Driving Calamity Jane has always been Kelly’s primary goal, and that was even more true after the accident in Wilmington. “Once I got the car back,” Kelly said, “all I wanted to do was drive it.”
When Charlie was finished with Jane the second time, Kelly said he encouraged her to “do something awesome with it. He expected me to rebuild the motor or something like that, but what I ended up doing was take the car on my first road trip. To celebrate that the car was still there, I took a 7 week, 10,000 mile trip around the United States.”
Prior to that trip, Kelly had put about 300 miles total on the car, so Jane was a very untested automobile. But the trip went flawlessly. Well… almost.
“This is a rule for this car,” Kelly told me. “The first day of any road trip, and it holds true to this day, something is going to go wrong. On that trip it was that the fuel pump died. I replaced it with a spare one I bought from some hot rodder in some random town in Kentucky for $50 and a handshake. But for the next 54 days the car ran flawlessly.”
And Jane still does. “She’s perfect on the road,” Kelly said. “Always. Weather, heat, any elevation – it doesn’t matter. She just runs and runs and the longer I drive her the better she runs.”
With those low rear end gears I figured Kelly cruised down the highway at a pretty leisurely RPM. I was wrong. “The speed limit in West Texas is very high,” Kelly told me. “Usually my cruising speed is somewhere between 80 and 90 mph, which puts me at about 3500 to 3700 rpm.” But Jane happily goes that speed for 9+ hours at a time.
Kelly and Jane haven’t let up since, taking a long road trip every year. “I try to get away for as many weeks as I can,” she said. “It’s a good way to recalibrate your life. Everything goes from complicated – to driving, setting up your campsite, and going hiking to see something cool.” (If you’d like to keep up with Kelly’s camping adventures with Jane, check out her blog at A Map and a Mustang.)
Since Jane’s been back on the road in 2014, Kelly’s put over 60,000 miles on her in road trips alone. And that’s the message she wants to send to other hot rodders: “They should drive their classic cars. They deserve to be driven and there’s nothing else like it in the world.”
One more story: I asked Kelly why she named her Mustang Calamity Jane. Here’s what she said:
“For a long time (well, even still now) we had quite a… difficult relationship. That car will beat on you and pick at you until you are feeling completely downtrodden and think you are just about ready to give up and quit, and then suddenly everything will become easy and friendly. Until the next project, that is. So, naming her after a wild woman of the West who was well-known for being a hard, unforgiving woman with kind of morally gray Robinhood-esque tendencies just made sense. She is always a challenge, but if you’ve got the tenacity to hang on, you will always end up on a wonderful, wild adventure.”
After 11 years, Kelly and Jane are still hanging on to each other.
Photos courtesy of Kelly Hattori
Click here to see more photos of Calamity Jane
You can follow Kelly and Jane on Instagram via @CalamityJaneMustang