Spare Parts For Your Mustang?
How About A NEW Mustang!?

AAFO.COM - Update 08-04-00

By: Wayne Sagar

If your car needs a part, what can you do? Easy... run to one of the thousands of auto parts stores across the country and make your selection from the millions of parts readily available for nearly every automobile ever made.

If your classic Warbird needs a part... your options are far more limited. In fact, some of the more hard to find components are on the "unobtainium" list... there simply are no workable parts left.

What this shortage has done to Warbird flying is make it increasingly more expensive; as the parts get even harder to find, in some cases, it simply rules out flying at all.

When we first heard of a company gearing up to make new Mustang parts just before Sun-n-Fun this year, it simply sounded too good to be true; we tracked down the man at the helm of the company to get to the bottom of the story.

Andy Neale, President and CFO of "Millenium Classics," was a bit guarded when we spoke to him a few months ago. Things were still in the planning stages and the first test parts had just begun rolling off the line at the Millenium Classics Romanian manufacturing facility.

Neale did not want to jump the gun by speculating what the company might ultimately be able to produce.

Since that time, more research and consultation with the Romanian engineers in charge of reproducing the parts, has opened up the doors of possibility... and opened them very wide.

When Neale first told us of the potential capabilities of their Romanian facilities, as far as accurately reproducing some of the harder to find parts for Mustangs, we brought up the specter of creating a P-51 from the ground up. He told us that "theoretically" this was, indeed, possible but their effort at that time was focused on getting the parts they were initially involved with ready, tested and on the market.

With a few months under their belts and more than a few first run parts in the bins, Millenium Classics has announced their intention to reproduce the entire P-51 airframe and many of the engine parts, with the ultimate goal of reproducing the entire engine as well.

Neale told us today: "We’ve just completed negotiations with the factory, in Romania, to produce complete airplanes. It’s likely the first airplanes will be flying with overhauled, original Merlin’s, since the engine development time is going to take longer than the airframe development."

AAFO.COM had also discussed the potential of building a reproduction Rolls Royce Merlin engine with Neale, when we asked this question again today, "Absolutely, absolutely" was his answer.

This raises the possibility of recreating a classic engine.. an engine at the pinnacle of piston aircraft engine design and making it even better.

Using today’s metallurgical science and the associated improvements in alloys, could we see a Merlin "hybrid" even better than the best of the engines currently in use?

"Absolutely," said Neale, "the technology is there and we have a team of engineers working on it now." Neale also indicated that engineering for the top end of the engine had shown it to be within their capabilities, company engineers are currently crunching the numbers for the bottom half.

We asked Neale if this process could filter down to the racing Merlin that has evolved by modification from the original designs...his response: "The racing [engine] will be a little further down the line but we are going to produce top end kits for people to convert their engines from the standard head to the 620 Transport Heads"

We also asked Neale if he could take a shot at an estimated cost for a new Transport Head "top end kit," versus a rebuilt existent assembly: "That kit will run somewhere from $35,000 to $40,000 I would guess."

How does this compare with what is available now?

According to Neale, "There’s virtually no hardware left for Transport Head assemblies. People are reusing stuff, there’s not really any good heads and liners left; so we’ll be producing a complete kit. Pistons, liners, cam racks, cams, everything anyone would want to convert their standard Packard 1650 -7 engine to the Rolls Royce Transport Heads."

Neale told us that these converted engines would, indeed, still be -7’s but when they are geared up and begin producing complete engine packages: "As brand new engines, we’d build the -9"

Beyond the standard engine production, will this company offer "one-off" production runs of custom engine work... even to the extent of changing the nose case prop reduction gearing, long a dream of those who race the Mustang?

"Anything the customer wants" was Neale’s reply.

Being a bit of a "closet engineer" I was interested in just how you go about reproducing a Mustang. I know it can be done from drawings, we’ve seen this process first hand...

...but what about making an absolutely accurate parts inventory, from which new airplanes could be built and parts supplied to existing airplanes as well?

According to Neale, there was only one way to do this... Millenium Classics disassembled an entire Mustang and is using the actual parts from this airplane as models for the new airplane parts.

"We had 95% of the drawings and the 5% we did not have was not enough for the factory [to work with] What we wanted to do was not only make new airplanes but make sure the parts would retrofit with original Mustangs. They [the engineers] could guarantee to make a Mustang but without having parts to measure, they could not guarantee that the parts would fit on the originals; and we really want for people to be able to keep their original airplanes flying.

These [parts] are absolute reproductions, unless there is anything better that we can do. [from the original]. For instance, the pressings for the heat shield for the exhaust fairings are actually thicker than the originals because they were prone to crack. The exhaust stacks, the bases are actually machined and then double welded because they were liable to crack. The engineers did the calculations and found that if you machine them rather than forge them, they will be stronger and you can double weld them. There are little improvements the engineers have done the calculations on that will apply to almost every part."

This work being done by Neale and Millenium Classics to reproduce and improve on the basic P-51 Mustang is not being done in a vacuum...there are many people in the Warbird industry who have spent entire lifetimes working with these machines. Andy Neale knows this and they are working with some of the most well known names in the business to ensure that all the best improvements and ideas are incorporated into the changes...

"We’re working very closely with Rick Shanholtzer and his company, Frontier Aviation of McKinney, Texas. We’re also working with Nelson Ezell, Ezell Aviation of Breckenridge, Texas and also Les Crowder. Rick is working with as a technical consultant on the engine, Les and Nelson are working with us on the airframe."

With parts being made and nearly ready for shipment, we should start seeing Millenium Classic components on airplanes soon. Neale told us that Frank Borman’s airplane will be receiving a set of the new exhaust stacks and shrouds..

Neale added that another part would soon be available: original Harrison radiator reproductions, built to exact original specifications will be offered. These radiators will also be available, built specifically in a racing version.

There will be extensive field testing of all parts before general marketing begins...expect to see a few examples of Millenium Classic parts on display in the pits at Reno this year.

If this company is successful and achieve their goals, it could change the face of Warbird flying, adding years to the life expectancy of these rare flying classics. Unlimited Air Racing, as it currently exists, would also gain a new lease on life!

Many Air Racing and Warbird theorists put a closure factor in any speculation about the future of racing the classics. Parts availability, or better put – lack of availability – being one of the key points of their musings. We know, from our original conversation with Andy Neale, that they are not limiting their vision to the Mustang; other hard to find components for radial engine classics are part of this company’s overall goal as well...

All of this is good news for those bending wrenches to keep these beautiful examples of our aviation heritage flying.

We’ll be keeping an eye on progress at this new company and hopefully, we’ll meet with Andy at Reno, get some pictures of the parts available by then and any more details that develop as this company moves ahead.

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