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“It actually goes back to the late '80s, when Jim was working as a crane operator in Chicago,” Mike Ring says in regard to the origin of the shop he and his brother operate. “He got tired of working construction, so he decided to restore a ’69 Camaro Pace Car in our mom’s basement.”
Fast forward a few decades and Ringbrothers is now one of the most respected names in the restomod scene. Over the years the Spring Green, Wisconsin-based outfit evolved from its humble beginnings in collision repair into a custom restoration shop with its own distinctive take on icons from the muscle car era. Along with their meticulous attention to detail, the brothers developed a unique build style which pays homage to the aesthetic strengths of the original car while subtly altering it in a number of different ways to improve upon the overall package. It’s an approach that has helped Mike and Jim Ring earn dozens of industry awards – a tradition which started when they brought their first big project, a ’67 Mustang called Reactor, to the SEMA show back in 2006.
“At a certain point I think we got tired of being told what was wrong with our restorations by concours judges,” Jim says with a laugh. “That’s when we decided to start building cars based on what we like instead. We try to push the envelope – when a car is done, it still has to look like what it is, but we want to update and correct things that we think might have been wrong with it. The idea is to keep the car’s roots, but make it better.”
Jim says the UNKL name was inspired by the owner of the Mustang. “His dad wasn’t a car guy – it was his uncle that really got him into cars. He wanted the name to reference him in some way, so I said, ‘Let’s just call it uncle!’”
Case in point is this 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 the pair have dubbed UNKL. Although it’s an undoubtedly a head turner even from a glance, it’s the stuff you start to notice upon closer inspection that make it such a truly striking machine. “A friend of ours came to us and really wanted to do a ’69 Mustang that looked and felt like a vintage road race car,” Mike explains. “Something that could also hold its own in events at Road America and other fast racetracks.”
The intent to pay homage to the SCCA Trans Am racecars of the late 1960s informed much of the team’s approach to the build. “That theme runs throughout the car,” Mike tells us. “From the flat dash to the way the gauges look, we wanted it to feel like an updated version of a vintage race car when you sat in it.”
“Yeah – a race car with air conditioning and a kickass stereo!” Jim adds.
Of course the road racing theme isn’t exclusive to the Mustang’s cockpit. Underpinning the pony are key chassis upgrades from Detroit Speed that include their rack-and-pinion steering system, Aluma-Frame front suspension and sway bar, and Quadra-Link rear suspension. RideTech shocks help to keep body motion in check, while Baer disc brakes with six-piston calipers are outfitted at all four corners to provide the stopping power.
The Mustang’s body has been widened by two inches in total, which allows it to accommodate these big modern wheels and tires without resorting to fender flares. The HREs measure 19x11 inches up front and are wrapped in 295mm-wide Michelin summer tires, while the larger 20x12.5-inch rear wheels are paired with 345mm-wide rubber.
And stopping power seems particularly important once you’ve had a look at what resides under the hood. Motivation is provided by a Jon Kaase built Boss 429 big block Ford that’s been punched out to 520 cubic inches. The mill dishes out roughly 700 horsepower to the rear wheels through a Bowler-modified Tremec six-speed manual gearbox and sings through a custom Flowmaster exhaust. “The exhaust was designed to fit into the bottom of that body – this car has an upper and a lower floor pan, and the rockers were extended to cover up the pinch welds on the bottom,” Jim notes. “It’s basically tucked into the body of the car – we built the exhaust first and then the floors around it, so it looks totally flat underneath like a typical race car. And we used Super 44 mufflers – we tend to use Super 44s on builds like these because there’s just something really special about how those mufflers sound with a big block.”
The powerplant is a 700hp, 520ci Boss 429 big block built by Jon Kaase Racing Engines. A custom stainless steel Flowmaster system discretely routes the exhaust gases under the body.
With big, naturally aspirated power on tap and a capable chassis underneath, the Ring brothers knew the Mustang would need a lot of grip to match. But in order to get staggered HRE RS1 Series RS100 wheels and wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4S performance rubber to fit, the Mustang’s body needed some attention as well. “It’s pretty subtle, but we widened the car,” Mike points out. “Up front it starts out stock where the doors meet the fenders, then it tapers outward an inch where the center of the wheels are, and then it tapers back into the headlight buckets. And for the quarters we widened them all the way back – you’ll notice that the end caps are an inch wider than stock on each side to accommodate that. It’s kind of done in a sneaky way – you might not pick up on the differences immediately, but you can tell that something is different about it.”
Dressed in BASF-sourced Big Boss Blue paint and adorned with motorsport cues like the yellow fog lights and the aggressive front splitter, UNKL hits all the right notes for a track-tuned machine while throwing in a few twists of its own. It’s a combination that also resonated with folks at the 2019 SEMA show, where it won the Ford Design Award and received no shortage of attention while it was hanging out at the Holley Performance booth. “We finished it about two hours before the show,” Jim admits. “But that’s usually the case with these builds – the Valkyrja Camaro was completed within an hour of this one, and then they were both loaded on the trailer and we headed straight to Vegas.”
To give the Mustang more of a vintage road racer vibe, they ditched the factory instrument panel in favor of a flat, motorsports-inspired dash with gauges from Classic Instruments. The custom upholstery was provided by Upholstery Unlimited.
The brothers Ring have big plans for this year’s SEMA show as well. “We’re hoping to get three cars done in time for this year’s show,” Mike says. “One is a ’48 Chevy pickup that looks like it ran into a Formula One car, another is a ’72 K5 Blazer with a 1200 horsepower LS in it, and we’re also working on a Coyote-swapped 64½ Mustang convertible. The owner wanted that one to look stock, but it’s not – we even redesigned the horse. It might look stock to some people, the people that really know these cars will be able to tell. It’s all in the details.”