World renowned custom car builder Ringbrothers bring graphic artist Michael Schmalz Jr.’s 1965 dream Mustang to life.
Ringbrothers has built a career on taking classic American cars and turning them into pieces of rolling art. Mike and Jim Ring’s unique blend of technological twists and futuristic finishes sets them apart from the legions of automotive builders and customizers, which made them the ideal candidates to bring Michael Schmalz Jr.’s dream to reality.
Michael Schmalz is a designer by trade – he works in graphic design, architecture, etc. and runs his own design studio in Dubuque, Iowa. Michael had been saving for the better part of a decade before he was ready to seriously look for a car builder. He had been interested in Mike and Jim Ring’s work for some time and because their shop in Spring Green, Wisconsin is only about 60 miles from his home, he decided to drop by one day to see their operation. After describing his ideas, one of his biggest questions for the Rings involved the length of their waitlist to get a car built. He was told that it would be nine to 12 months before they could start his project, but they were enthusiastic about his ideas.
That conversation with Mike and Jim took place on a Thursday afternoon and shortly after leaving the shop, Michael got a call from the Rings telling him that if he could have his rolling chassis to the shop by the following Monday, they could start the project immediately. Naturally, this put Mr. Schmalz in a panic as he had anticipated having several more months to prepare, but he agreed and had the shell towed to Spring Green. The first big hurdle once the car arrived at the Ringbrothers shop was making sure that the car was worth building up. The Rings won’t work on a vehicle that doesn’t retain its matching VIN numbers in all the various tag locations. Michael didn’t know this and had never thought to look so with bated breath, he watched Mike and Jim start disassembly to verify that the car was as it should be.
Luckily, all three VIN locations matched and work could begin. Michael supplied the Rings with high quality renderings that he created himself and together they worked out specifications for the powertrain and suspension.
“This car isn’t going to just be some show queen; it’s going to be driven often and hard,” Schmalz said. “My father has a Shelby Cobra and we’ll definitely be attending some track days together. Having something that handles as good as it looks is absolutely critical to me.”
The build for SPLITR took place at the same time as the development for the Ringbrothers’ other big Mustang project, an all-carbon widebody 1965 Mustang that became known as Espionage. In fact, Mike and Jim were so impressed with Michael’s work on his own renderings they asked him to design the final paint scheme for Espionage.
Though SPLITR is based on a 1965 Mustang, a significant portion of the body has been replaced with carbon fiber panels and it is estimated that between 50 and 60 percent of the body is actually carbon fiber. Jim and Mike Ring handcrafted the molds for some of the carbon fiber elements including the doors, roof panel, hood, and deck lid, making it simple for them to be able to replicate the ’65-’66 Mustang carbon fiber parts for future builds or customer orders.
One of the most notable pieces of the SPLITR design is the double floorpan that rolls cleanly under the car at the rocker panels and provides a race car-esque flat bottom, cleaning up the airflow under the car and helping the car stick to the road at speed.
The smooth underbody continues to the rear where Mike and Jim modified much of the sheet metal to get rid of that classic “sagging diaper” look so prevalent in muscle and pony cars of that era. To do this they wrapped the rear valence down and under which dramatically alters the visual impact of the familiar, classic rear end. Out front there is a custom front fascia and lower lip that add to the aggressive look of the vehicle and helps to smooth airflow further while also providing for the huge amount of cooling that a car like SPLITR needs.
In addition to all the aerodynamic modifications, SPLITR’s name refers to the “split” BASF Glasurit waterborne paint scheme. The exterior paint design was also part of Michael’s concept and makes the car stand apart in a sea of ordinary red Mustangs.
Under SPLITR’s hood lies a Wegner Motorsports-built naturally aspirated 427 cubic inch Ford Racing engine. While the Rings worked with Michael to spec out a powertrain that would make his goal of around 500 horsepower and run on 93 octane pump gas, this particular 427 will make a little over the specified 500 horsepower while providing plenty of torque. Royal Purple fluids maintain a smooth running system and help keep the engine running at peak performance. Power from the engine is routed through a Tremec T56 six-speed transmission from Bowler, which goes through a custom driveshaft and into a Ford nine inch rear end from Detroit Speed.
Fuel is delivered via an Aeromotive fuel cell and pump to a Holley Atomic EFI fuel injection system and sitting atop the engine is a custom designed airbox that not only looks unique, but delivers all of the cold, dense air that the big Ford engine can swallow. Exhaust is handled through custom headers from the Ringbrothers with one and a half inch primaries that go into a custom exhaust system with Flowmaster Super 44 Mufflers. On an engine of this size cooling is a big priority and SPLITR’s cooling system is composed of a custom AFCO radiator and SPAL fans.
“We could have gone with another big crazy engine in this thing, but Michael wanted something that was more drivable on the street,” Jim Ring, co-owner of Ringbrothers said. “With all the handling improvements, weight reductions and other modifications we kind of found that 500 horsepower was really the sweet spot for this car. It’s plenty of power to get around town and have fun on a race track, but not so much that you’re lighting the tires up in fourth.”
With 500 horsepower on tap, repeatedly hauling SPLITR down from triple digit speeds becomes a real concern. To that end, the Ringbrothers contacted Baer for a set of its huge 6S calipers and 14 inch rotors. SPLITR is riding on a set of forged Ringbrothers Recoil wheels from HRE Performance Wheels that are wrapped in sticky Nitto Invo rubber sized 265/35/18 ZR up front and 325/30/19 ZR in the rear.
The minimalistic interior was designed with both comfort and performance in mind. Driver and passenger ride in style in leather Recaro seats, while a Vintage Air system keeps the cabin a comfortable temperature in any weather condition. The weave pattern used on the interior is not carpet, but is actually an unconventional use of seat material from a Nissan. To accent the inside, SPLITR is adorned with Ringbrothers billet parts including pedal covers, shifter, brake handle cover, window cranks and door handles.
“Working on Michael’s dream car was a great experience for my brother and me,” said Jim Ring. “It’s definitely a different way of working for us, but his vision was so in line with ours that it just made sense. The whole thing came out just great and we couldn’t be happier.”
One of the things that makes the Ford Mustang so great is its ability to serve as a blank canvas for those people brave and creative enough to undertake the kind of project that Michael Schmalz Jr. and the Ringbrothers did. It’s an iconic shape, but it’s one that lends itself well to being subtly changed and molded and it’s also a wonderful platform on which to build a serious driver’s car.