PunishStang: The Wild And Chopped LS-Swapped 1967 Mustang Built To Make Every Mile Matter

Author: Bradley Iger | Photographer: Luke Munnell | 07/12/2021 < Back to Motor Life Home

“When I got sick, I realized that there was a whole bunch of stuff I hadn’t done in my life,” says Matt Henry of Imperial Beach, California. “I’ve got this saying, 'Stay Stoked'. I’m just determined to do it, and I think that motivates a lot of other people. I call what I do ‘bucket list living,’ but I don’t actually have a bucket list. People keep bringing things to us, and I say yes to adventures.” After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Matt decided that he didn’t want to slow things down. Instead, he decided to make every day count by making his ambitions a reality, and his hot rodding exploits illustrate his resolve.

Originally indoctrinated into all things automotive through sport compacts like the Acura Integra and Toyota Celica GT, Matt was always obsessed with vintage cars, yet he never had an old-school project to call his own. But that changed in 2008, when the PunishStang, his 1967 Ford Mustang, entered his life.

Matt Henry Punishstang 1

“I was searching around and this popped up, and it was everything I wanted,” he explains. “Chopped and bobbed, and just kind of intense in all the right ways. But what I didn’t know was that you can do all that stuff to a car in a weekend – putting it back together is another story!”

The scope of the project soon became evident, though. Bought as a roller, Matt pushed the ’67 into its first car show. Over the next few years, he made gradual progress on the build, but his “eureka” moment didn’t come until 2015. “The car didn’t come with a windshield, and you can’t just chop dual-pane glass,” he points out. “So that ended up being a big barrier in the project. You can’t drive around without a windshield. But one day I watched the Vette Kart episode of Roadkill, and I saw that they just bought some Lexan and zip-tied it in there. I’d never even thought of that! So I went to Home Depot that day, bought some Lexan and some self-tapping screws, and all of a sudden I had a windshield.”

The goal at that point had been to make the PunishStang street legal so Matt could get it to the Zip-Tie Drags at Tucson Dragway, not only for the event itself, but to see if he could meet the challenge of road tripping his project car to another state and back. “It had this tired 289 small-block that came with it at that point, and the car was still pretty rough in general,” he recalls. “Of course, in true Roadkill fashion, within five miles of leaving we had to pull off into a DIY car wash stall to get out of a downpour so we could fix the suspension. We’d test-driven a few miles, but not with all of our gear in it. There were pieces of tire just shredding off, so I think we put in some makeshift bump stops, or something along those lines.”

After the roadside repairs, Matt and his crew headed back out and eventually made it to the Arizona drag strip. While he had originally intended to simply display the Mustang as part of the car show, on a lark he decided to run it down the quarter mile, too. “I’d never even been on a drag strip before,” he tells us. “They had a kid from the Make A Wish foundation there – they were doing a drawing to see which fans would drag race against the cars from the show – and he drew my name. I was so amped on that, and it kind of started the whole series of adventures I’ve been on ever since.”

Although he lost to Roadkill's 1974 "Draguar" XJ12, his attitude resonated with everyone involved. “Everyone knew the story and wanted me to win, but I ran like an 18.7 or something,” he says with a laugh. “But I was just so stoked. They interviewed me afterward, and I think David Freiburger said I was the happiest loser he’d ever met!”

Over the next few years, the Zip-Tie Drags became a priority for Matt and the PunishStang started to come into its own in a Roadkill kind of way, first getting a rattle-can paint job and an EFI conversion, then later scoring a five-speed manual transmission out of a Fox body Mustang before the idea to add a sizable dose of horsepower came up. “I was on a road trip back home with this school bus I’d bought in Texas, and we stopped in Phoenix to meet up with some of the Roadkill guys,” he says. “We’re having dinner and we’re talking about the transmission swap, and someone asked me how I felt about doing an LS swap, too. I told him that I like to party!”

The project quickly escalated from there as various members of the Roadkill community began to get involved, helping out with parts here and expertise there as the crew prepared to take on the project at the 2019 Zip-Tie Drags. “We drove it to the drag strip with the 289, and that night we had it out and we were just wrenching and wrenching until the lights went off. It became a big part of the show, really – the parking lot at the drag strip was just a spectacle.” By the next day the LS was in and running, and the owner of the Tucson Dragway kept the track open late so Matt could make a pass with his newly LS-powered machine. “It was an incredible feeling. I had literally driven it fifty feet before I did a massive one-tire burnout and lined up. At the time it had a super basic tune to get it running, and I think it did, like, a 17 second pass with the wheels spinning all the way down the track. I was just happy that I’d knocked more than a second off of my last pass!”

Now outfitted with AFR cylinder heads, a custom Crower valvetrain and camshaft, and an intake manifold from Red Dragon Performance, the LS currently puts down about 400 horsepower at the wheels. It’s also doing a more effective job of translating that grunt into forward motion thanks to a 4L60 automatic transmission, an Eaton TruTrac differential, and coil-over suspension from QA1. Meanwhile, DIY custom-fabricated parts can also be found throughout the car, like the dashboard he made out of a piece of a Razor scooter, and the suicide-style doors that necessitated a custom six-point roll cage from Cogswell Marine & Motorsports.

Matt Henry Punishstang 2

Since the Zip-Tie event in 2019, Matt has road tripped the PunishStang across the US for Power Tour, LS Fest, and the FM3 Road Trip event, the latter of which he describes as being like Drag Week for autocrossing. And he has a tradition: each person who helps him out along the way signs the driver’s side door card. Free space on that door is hard to find these days, but Matt has no intentions of hitting the brakes anytime soon.

“Inoperable meets unstoppable,” he says. “The car will break, but we always get back on the road. I think having these goals are important. It’s just so easy to get stalled out with any project or endeavor, and I’m hoping this will inspire other people to embrace the challenges they have in their own lives.”

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