Epifanio, who usually goes by Epi, is a husband, and a dad, and a car guy, and a Mustang guru. Seven years ago, after owning several Fox bodies, he bought this beautiful 1967 Mustang coupe. The Mustang is still a work in progress, but Epi loves the way it looks and drives. “It’s not perfect,” he told me, “but this is the one I hope to keep for a while.”
“If you’d seen it from when I first bought it,” Epi said, “it’s a night and day difference and I haven’t even painted the car. The paint that’s on there is from a few years ago. The rest of the car, mechanically speaking, that’s all me.”
And the Mustang is in good hands with Epi, who works as a freelance mechanic. He turns wrenches at a couple of shops in Illinois, but mostly at DynotuneMP, which is owned by NMRA champion Mike Post, who is a close friend of Epi’s. And Epi runs Alcarods Hot Rod Service. In short, he knows his way around cars – especially Fords.
Like a lot of hot rodders, Epi’s love for cars, and Fords, started early. “I grew up around Fords,” Epi said. “The first car I fell in love with was my parent’s car, a 1978 Thunderbird Diamond Jubilee. I was 7 or 8 years old at the time. I thought it was just a cool looking car.”
Then in 1988 one of his neighbors bought a new Mustang GT – white with a red stripe and red interior. Epi told me, “I remember seeing that car for the first time and thinking ‘that thing looks so cool!’ That’s where my Mustang passion started.”
In 2006, Epi joined the Chicagoland Mustang Club – even though he didn’t own a Mustang. He was driving an ’87 Ford LTD, which he owned through high school and up until 2012. Epi also had a 1986 Thunderbird and a 1986 F-150 at that time. Those are the cars that really grew his interest in hot rodding. “They were all project cars to me,” Epi said.
The F-150 was given to him by a neighbor after Epi graduated from Lincoln Tech. It was carbureted but Epi decided it needed to be fuel injected. So he went to the junkyard and bought everything he needed to build and install fuel injection, including the computer and wiring harness. Then he made his own fuel delivery system and got it up and running.
“That’s how I started off,” Epi said. “Looking back it’s pretty amazing what I did back then, not knowing much. It was junkyard parts that I threw together and it ran. Back then Illinois used to have emissions testing for anything 1977 or newer. I was surprised the truck passed with the FI system, and it passed easily. Once I did that, I really got the fight for wanting to modify stuff and work on cars more.”
At that time Epi didn’t know many people who were as into cars as he was. His dad loved cars. “He loved anything that was cool looking,” Epi said, “but he didn’t own anything cool looking.”
And his dad worked on cars, in part because he didn’t like paying someone to do work that he was capable of doing. And as his dad was learning things, Epi was alongside him, learning as well.B
“My dad will tell you the story about how both of our family cars were broken,” Epi told me. “We had one with a bad water pump and the other with a bad starter. We lived just outside of Chicago and it was like 10 degrees below zero. We’re underneath the car changing the starter because that was the easiest thing to do, and I’m holding a flashlight for him and handing him tools. That’s where I started learning that stuff.”
Epi found the Chicagoland Mustang Club when he saw a YouTube video of them competing against the Chicago SRT Club. “I had my LTD,” he said, “and I figured it’s a four door Mustang. It had a 5 liter V8. That car was pretty cool. I did a lot of work to that car and hopped it up. Eventually I did body work and repainted it. I learned how to do that myself. It looked exactly like the Men In Black LTD when I got done with it.”
And the LTD got its own 15 minutes of fame. In 2007 someone approached Epi about using the car in the TV show “Justice Delayed”. In the show, a delivery driver drove an LTD and the show used Epi’s car in filming.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Epi got his first Mustang, a 1986 convertible. “It was my biggest project to date,” he said. “That car was really cool. It was a ground up restoration. I sold it in 2014 to buy my house.”
He also had an ’86 Mercury Capri (also a Fox body with the big bubble rear window and flared fenders) that he’d built. He felt he was at a crossroads with it. When one of his buddies wanted to buy it (who still has it to this day), Epi sold it to him.
“I had no cars,” he said. “I want to do something different, something older.” Epi made a list of the cars he’d like to get. The list included ‘67-’68 Mercury Cougars, the 1972 Torino, and the ‘67 – ‘68 Mustang coupe. “I specifically sought the coupe,” he said. “I actually prefer the coupe over the fastback in those years.”
Epi found his Mustang from a family that was selling the car that their son had. The son had unfortunately passed away and a third party was selling it. The pictures below show the car when he first owned it.
“I didn’t even test drive the car,” he said. “I saw it. It ran. It looked good. I signed the papers and paid the cash. I got it on the road, and I could not believe how terrible it drove. Let’s just say I got scared. It was bad.”
What was bad about the Mustang was its four wheel manual drum brakes. Epi said it wasn’t so much that they didn’t stop well, it was just that the car wanted to make a left turn as soon as he touched the brakes.
It’s no surprise that the first thing that had to be updated was the drum brakes.
His Mustang was originally a T-code car which meant it was an inline six car that someone swapped in a 289 into. As such, it has a small 7 1/4 ” rear end with four lug hubs. Epi knew he was going to do a 5 lug conversion and upgrade the rear end eventually, but for the time being he addressed the poor braking by installing disc brakes on the front wheels.
Then Epi found one more problem with the ‘Stang. Although the engine swap was done with a Ford remanufactured 289 (a good thing), it was poorly installed (a bad thing).
“I was driving it one day,” Epi told me, “and all of sudden I lost oil pressure and the motor locked up. Turns out the oil pan was hitting the front sway bar. It eventually rubbed through, and the oil fell out of it.” Epi had to tow the Mustang home.
Epi decided to start from scratch. He pulled the motor and trans out of the Mustang. He then sourced one of the last generation of 302s that came in the 1996 – 2001 Ford Explorers. These are some pretty strong engines – Epi said Car Craft had done some articles about them – that are known for having great cylinder heads, but not a good cam. Epi had used them in the past and he knew that they’d be good for 300+ horsepower with a better cam and valve springs. Although they’re more expensive now, at that time it was a $300 engine out of the junkyard.
The short block is factory stock, but Epi has added a Trick Flow Specialties Stage 1 cam and upgraded valve springs. He pulled the EFI system that came in the Explorers and replaced it with a 650 cfm Holley four barrel. The heads and intake manifold were port matched to improve flow. A set of Hooker long tube headers, custom dual exhausts with a 2 1/2″ H pipe, and Black Widow Venom 250 mufflers take care of the exhaust.
After he sealed the engine up, Epi put a front sump oil pan on it (no more sway bar rubbing). Then he dressed up the 302 to look like a 1967 small block, with valve covers and a Summitt air cleaner that are in the style of 1967 GT500s.
Epi’s got that Holley tuned really well – the small block idles at 550 rpm – but he does plan to go back to an EFI system, probably the Holley Terminator X EFI multiport with a GT40 tube intake. Epi’s installed several EFI systems and he likes the capabilities of the Terminator X. And if all that isn’t enough, he also plans to add a Vortech supercharger as part of the engine upgrade. He’s thinking the combination will result in about 450 – 500 horsepower at the rear wheels. Nice.
The Mustang had a C-4 automatic transmission, which Epi replaced with a Ford AOD. He did consider putting in a T-5, but stuck with an automatic so that his wife can drive it if she wants to.
The next phase of upgrades for the Mustang was one year later. Epi got an 8.8″ rear out of a friend’s 1968 Mustang. The rear end was originally from a Fox body, but the friend had converted it to leaf springs for his Mustang, so it just bolted on to Epi’s ‘67. The rear end swap also provided 5 lug hubs and disc brakes for the rear. Epi added larger front disc as well, moving up to 11” rotors. His past experience with later model Mustangs helped when he went from manual to power brakes. He installed a master cylinder and booster from a 1994 Mustang.
With the 4.10 gears in the new rear end, and a healthy small block in a 2800 pound car, Epi reports it is “really, really quick off the line.” His boss at the shop he was working at at that time had a 1967 Galaxie with a blown 302 that put out about 450 horsepower. He and Epi went to a deserted industrial area to see which car could accelerate faster. “Off the line I left him in the dust,” Epi said. “I can’t believe how quick it took off.”
The final piece of the second phase of upgrades was to add power steering. Wider wheels with five lug conversion made it a lot harder to use the manual steering. Epi was considering using a Borgeson power steering kit, but someone told him about an electric power steering conversion you can do with junkyard parts. Thinking back to his junkyard EFI installation on that F-150, Epi thought he’d give it a try.
The conversion used the electric power steering built into the steering column on Saturn 2005-2007 Vues. Epi found one for $60 from the junkyard. His Mustang had a steering gearbox with a one piece shaft that was part of the gearbox, so he had to replace it with a removable gearbox, which he bought. He also had to buy a controller, to set how much sensitivity he wanted from the power assist.
“Some U-joints, adapters, and a bunch of welding,” Epi said, “and a few months later I put electric steering on for less than $300. The cheapest kit was $600 so I did it for half the price. It works really well.”
At that point, Epi drove it for a few years, working on things here and there as needed. He battled a cooling issue for several months, and learned the hard way that it’s best to not use the city water in your radiator. It was corroding the inside of his engine block. Epi had to replace the radiator and flush the cooling system “a million times” but since then it’s been fine.
In 2020, he started the third phase of hot rodding for the Mustang, which involved the suspension. And as if hot rodding a classic car doesn’t already present a slew of challenges, in the middle of the suspension work, Epi had kidney stones and was in and out of the hospital several times. It set him back about six months.
Epi had a definite idea of the ride height he wanted his pony car to have. He achieved it by upgrading the stock suspension with 4 1/2 leaf springs with a 1″ lowering block in the rear and Scott Drake 1″ lowering coils, with 1/2 coil cut off, up front. Koni struts in the front and KYBs in the back finish it off. “This is exactly the stance I wanted,” he said. “I had to play with the suspension for quite a while.”
One other suspension mod Epi made was the Shelby-Arning drop. I had not heard of it, but Epi explained it’s popular on early model Mustangs. It involves changing the pivot point of the upper control arms, which changes the camber curve. “Ford did it on the Shelby GT 350s and 500s,” Epi told me. “I couldn’t believe how much better it drives. It makes a night and day difference in the way it handles. I was extremely happy with that mod.”
The history of the Shelby-Arning drop is very interesting. Check out this excerpt from an article by David Suesz and Jeff Burgy:
Ford tasked Klaus Arning, who designed the suspension in the GT40, to design an IRS [independent rear suspension] option for the new Mustang. The front suspension on the standard Mustang was developed from the Falcon/Fairlane design, and was not compatible with the IRS, but this was remedied by relocating the attaching point of the pivot shafts of upper control arms 1” lower. The IRS-equipped prototypes handled well, but cost-accounting determined the option would be too expensive for the market, and the IRS was canceled. However, it was also discovered that a big part of the handling improvement was due not to the IRS, but to the 1” alteration of the front suspension.
I wonder how close we were to having independent rear suspensions on early Mustangs. Damn you cost-accounting!
As many beautifully detailed modifications are on the Mustang, the #1 question Epi gets about the car is the size of the wheels and tires. That’s probably because they fit the car perfectly.
He’s using polished American Racing Torq Thrust II wheels, 17 x 7 in the front and 17 x 9 with 275/40 tires out back. He actually bought a set of the 9” wheels for his Capri, but they were too large for that car. The wheel offset was designed for a Fox body, and his friend got the rear end off a Fox body. The fit was perfect.
The last two things Epi still wants to do to the Mustang are the interior and paint.
He’s refurbished the dash panels and gauges and added LED bulbs in the dash. A previous owner had already replaced the dash pad, and Epi reports that the rest of the interior is original and is in pretty good shape. One exception is the headliner which started falling down a little while back. Epi stitched it up temporarily, but saw that as a sign he needed to completely redo the interior.
The rear seat is original but he’s reconditioned it in a very unusual way. Epi found a website that had a reconditioning process that consisted of degreasing the original vinyl and then using hand lotion to revive it. Epi decided to give it a try. He got some Purple Power degreaser and some hand lotion. “It looked like brand new vinyl,” he reported. “I used the hand lotion 3 or 4 times and it’s like it’s brand new.”
He bought new foam and covers for the front buckets and had to replace the broken passenger side seat bracket. One custom touch he added was to put three rivets on the seat backs. He wanted to make it look just a little different than a pure stock restoration. The three rivets match the three section taillights Mustangs are famous for.
Actually, Epi’s idea was to add five rivets. His wife Malinda told him he should only do three. “My wife has always been a big help when it comes to my Mustang,” Epi told me.
And the theme of having things in three is continued with the three buttons he’s added in the middle of the dash. One is for the LED speedometer, one is going to be for the trunk release, and the third is for the line lock.
Wait a minute. A line lock? Is the Mustang going to hit the drag strip?
“It has not been at the drag strip,” Epi said. “Yet.” And it’s not that the Alcaraz family are strangers to the drag strip. Epi and Malinda took her Ford Taurus SHO twin turbo AWD sedan to the strip one day and laid down a rather tidy 13.7 quarter-mile time.
The Mustang’s body is all steel, and mostly original. The car had been in an accident at some point. The repairs that were done back then included pounding out the inner fenders and putting on a 1968 passenger side front fender. Epi knows it’s a ‘68 fender because it has a space for the side marker light that was required that year, but someone blocked it off. The floor pans have also been replaced, which is not uncommon for early Mustangs. But Epi the rest of the body is in pretty good shape.
The last thing that will be done to the Mustang will be to repaint it. The paint that’s on there is from before Epi owned it. He says they didn’t do a particularly good job with it, but he’s got a guy that does detailing who revived the paint about as well as it can be. Now, after the detailing, Epi says “it looks like a really nice paint job, but in reality it’s not. It’s an 8 out of 10 in person.”
There’s one aspect of repainting the Mustang that Epi is not looking forward to: “I’m going to be afraid of driving it,” he told me. “That’s what happened with my ‘86 convertible. I had put so much work into it, I was afraid to drive it. Right now, if I get a little scratch, it’s not a big deal.”
He’s certainly not afraid of driving it now. The Ford is on the road often. Epi takes it to the shop, uses it to run errands, and hits the local car shows. And it’s great advertising for Epi’s business, Alcarods Hot Rod Service. “I specialize in general hot rod repair,” he told me. “Tune ups, basic needs, bolt on stuff, repairs. I can travel to their house or they can take their car to my house.”
But maybe the best benefit of the Mustang is how much Epi’s family enjoys it.
“Both of my kids are obsessed,” he said. Epi’s oldest son used to love going in the car and pretending he was driving. Now he’s started to turn some wrenches with Epi. His youngest son is four and loves to ride in the car. For right now he’s still in the toy phase of enjoying cars and trains.
And Malinda really enjoys the ‘67 as well. In fact, she has told Epi she wants her own Fox body Mustang. Epi hopes Malinda’s hot rod will be the first father / son project for his family.
A few decades ago, Epi’s father got his son started on a love for working on cars. Now it seems like Epi is doing the same for his family. That has been, and continues to be, the best part about hot rodding.
Photos courtesy of Epi Alcaraz, Jr.
Click here to see more photos of Epi’s Mustang
You can follow Epi and his Mustang on his Instagram account @alcarods