Johnny Hunkins Editor-in-Chief
December 30, 2003

Mustangs and their owners are often drawn together for the simple reason that a Blue Oval ponycar is one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to satisfy a performance itch. But sometimes the Mustang's greatest allure--its price--can be its downfall. A shortcut here, a cost-saving measure there on the part of the factory can leave a performance nut with a speed jones the size of a second mortgage. Before long, you're on a first-name basis with the UPS driver and the Mac Tool guy. But there's a distinct difference between a pile of mail-order parts and a factory-built race car, not the least of which is price. Factory efforts like the Cobra Rs of the past and the current '03 Cobra have always been tweaked to perfection, ready to race right out of the box. Having experienced, first-hand, the heartbreak of building and tuning from scratch a supercharged 10-second 5.0 Mustang, this author can appreciate Steeda's new Q400. The concept is simple: You turn the key, and haul ass.

Wrapping your mind around an idea this simple is a whole lot easier than making it happen--technologically speaking. The elegance and transparency of the very idea evaporates when considerations such as engine management, packaging, federal regulations, fuel system upgrades, and cost are brought into the picture. Taking an ordinary '03 Mustang GT with a two-valve SOHC motor and bestowing 400 emission-legal rear-wheel horsepower on it without the benefit of an intercooler or a four-valve cylinder head is a tough chore, but after seeing and driving the Q400, we can say that Steeda has risen nicely to the challenge.

The asking price for the base Q400 is $10,595 over the cost of a new GT (customers can also opt to provide their own '99-and-up GTs for conversion). This gets you a Vortech SQ-trim supercharger, Steeda dual fuel pumps, ECU programming, an 80mm mass air meter, 2 1/2-inch cat-back exhaust, sport springs, I.D. graphics, and badging, a 13-inch Cobra brake upgrade, and a functional rear race wing. The price also includes, most importantly, installation and tuning. If you order your base GT judiciously, it's possible to have this Cobra killer for under $33,000. (Before we go on, we must state that $33K does not buy the Q400 Deluxe you see here, which is closer to $45,000. Base Q400s come with stock GT wheels, hood, interior, and suspension with the exception of Steeda springs and Cobra brakes.)

G'head, do the math in your head; we'll wait while you thumb through the myriad ads in this magazine and add up the pile of parts needed to duplicate the Q400. Those more experienced in our audience will easily recognize that even after cooking the books the Q400 just can't be duplicated at home after all the incidentals are included. The reason for this is largely the result of the SEMA Ford Technology Initiative.

Unlike its cross-town rivals at General Motors, Ford has seen the future, and that future has its customers and aftermarket suppliers as integral partners. Select aftermarket manufacturers such as Steeda have been screened and chosen to take part in a technology transfer program that, for lack of a better analogy, is akin to the federal government opening up Fort Knox and Area 51 for an open house. Ford has not only provided Steeda with access to ECU encryption but has eagerly shared, in Steeda's case, the cost associated with dyno tuning and calibrating both Vortech and Paxton Novi supercharger engine systems. Simply put, the Steeda supercharger calibration is dead-nuts on.

And what does Ford get out of it? That's the beauty of technology transfer; it goes both ways. Even a company as large as Ford has limited R&D funds. What companies like Steeda offer is input garnered from years of building and racing production-based Ford vehicles. The technology transfer program, by definition, leverages limited resources while highlighting Ford's involvement in grassroots motorsports. The payoff is not only better production cars and trucks but cost-effective PR.

As we discovered in lap after lap at Moroso Motorsports Park's high-speed road course, the Steeda Q400 Deluxe was able to handle whatever abuse we could heap on it. The optional Paxton Novi supercharger in our Q400 Deluxe test car maintained its composure without any sign of detonation under continuous full-throttle road race conditions--in South Florida, in August, on pump gas, with the air conditioning cranked. Dare we deem the Q400's 400hp supercharged engine unbreakable? We're sure some intrepid enthusiast can figure out a way to blow one up (a few laps with a loaded jet ski hauler attached perhaps?) but we sure couldn't.

Our limited time at Moroso in the Q400 was spent exclusively on the road course--drag testing had been cut short by a change in weather for the worse. (Look for a comprehensive drag test in an upcoming issue of MM&FF. Unverified testing by Steeda, using Nitto drag radials, has reportedly pushed the Q400 Deluxe to a best e.t. of 12.41/114.) Two days of grinding by ham-fisted journalists had rendered an upper rear control arm bushing ineffective, so high-speed handling was not up to the usual Steeda standard. Its impressive powertrain notwithstanding, we're unable, at this time, to report qualitatively on the Q400's handling. We were, however, quite impressed with the Q400's race-bred companion, the Q400-R. The Q400-R is a race version of the Q400 homologated for the Grand Am Grand Sport I class, a crucible for the development of production cars costing, in some cases, twice as much as the Q400-R.

The Q400-R is a potent race car. A spartan sheetmetal interior with racing seats, a full rollcage, 25-gallon fuel cell, and absolutely no creature comforts is no place for the timid car show buff, but it is ideal for Grand Am racers John Shreiner and Jeff Lapcevich. At 2,850 pounds, the Shreiner Racing team will pit the supercharged Q400-R head-to-head against race-prepped Corvette Z06s and Porsche GT3 Cup cars. Endurance racing is arguably the most grueling form of motorsport on the planet, and in this author's meager 15 laps behind the wheel, it was readily apparent that the Q400-R is a machine to be reckoned with.

On paper at least, the Q400-R is quite similar to its street-going counterpart. And while it's fair to say that the "R" has been liberally sprinkled with every race component in the Steeda arsenal, all of these items, including the five-link rear suspension and 14-inch Brembos, are available on the Q400 a la carte. In an effort to pare weight, the GT's iron block has been replaced with an aluminum Cobra block; all creature comforts like A/C, heater, stereo and interior have been yanked, and lightweight Forgeline wheels have been employed. Big power, big brakes, big gooey Hoosier DOT race tires, and a 1,000-pound diet have combined to make the Q400-R the ultimate club racer for those who can cough up the $58,000 entry price (car included). Still, compared to a GT3 Porsche, it's a fire sale price if you're the type of racer who plays for keeps.

On our test day, we were also lucky to have as our guide World Challenge driver and Panoz Racing School senior instructor Charles Espenlaub. You've seen Charles bang fenders with the best of 'em on the Speed Channel behind the wheel of his touring class Mazda Protoge, but today he was kicking the tires most seriously on the Q400-R. Could Espenlaub be the first of many pro drivers to move into the Steeda camp? We'll see next year, but for now we were happy to receive the humbling experience of riding shotgun. Until you ride with a pro like Charles, you will never quite appreciate the unrelenting stress dealt to Steeda's street-going hardware. These parts are on the edge for a reason: In order to stay ahead of the competition, Steeda wants to find the weak areas during testing before the parts reach your doorstep.

To whit, the Q400's aforementioned control-arm bushing, which disintegrated upon our test drive, has already been analyzed by the supplier and new, stronger units have already been specified. That's the kind of on-track R&D you wouldn't expect from some fly-by-night manufacturer whose sole investment may, in fact, be just a pile of pipe in the backyard, a portable welder, a home powdercoating kit and a UPS account. Speaking of no-holds-barred R&D, we did also sample vertiginous quantities of deceleration generated by optional 14-inch Brembo brakes. These repeatedly slowed the fully-optioned Q400 in lusty waves of negative g-force without the slightest hint of fade--an absolute wet dream for track junkies like us.

Besides the entry-level "sleeper" Q400 (whose primary upgrades are a Vortech supercharger, its attendant programming and fuel system, the Cobra 13-inch brakes, rear wing, springs, an exhaust system, and graphics), there are two other option groups, the "Standard" Q400, and the "Deluxe" Q400. The Standard Q400 costs $15,595 on top of a base Mustang GT and includes all the items in the Base Q400 plus a Tri-Ax short-throw shifter, 18x9 Ultra-Lite wheels wrapped in Nitto Extreme 555 rubber (size 285/35ZR18), Steeda Sidewinder graphics package, a Steeda white-face gauge panel kit, a Cobra-style "Q" cowl hood, a Steeda Aero wing and Cobra-style splitter. These additional items are ostensibly a $5,000 premium over the base Q400.

The Deluxe package ups the ante, adding above and beyond the Standard package with an upgrade to the Novi blower and Bullitt intake manifold (bumping rear-wheel power up to 425 hp), a 70mm throttle body, Tokico Illumina struts and shocks, a strut tower brace, a G-trac brace, caster/camber plates, aluminum upper and lower rear control arms, an adjustable rear swaybar, a tubular front swaybar, 14-inch Brembo front brakes, an aluminum driveshaft, satin (instead of chrome) Ultra-Lite wheels, BFGoodrich KD tires (instead of Nittos), billet pedal covers, white-face fuel pressure and boost gauges, a Steeda shift knob, and Steeda custom floor mats. Phew! Checking "Deluxe" on the order blank adds a hefty $29,995 to your base Mustang GT, placing it firmly in Corvette territory price-wise.

Our biggest beef with the Q400 was not in its handling (which we are confident will be up to snuff once the control arm bushings are upgraded with harder durometer urethane) but in the driver's seat. Specifically, we simply don't see the Q400 being a serious car for the road course without a serious set of seats and harnesses. A serious race car builder like Steeda really ought to know better than to equip a $45,000 club racer with ordinary Mustang seats, especially when its press debut is scheduled at a high-speed road course. By comparison, the '03 Cobra seats are light years ahead in their lateral support.

Moreover, our Deluxe tester for some reason was devoid of the promised billet aluminum pedal covers (see next paragraph). This author has not seen or used Steeda's pedal covers, but generally speaking, wider pedal covers do wonders for enabling heel-toe downshifting, particularly in late-model Mustangs, which have notoriously poor pedal placement (the 2001 Bullitt model excepted). Thus, this author's time behind the Q400 was largely spent holding on to the steering wheel for dear life while hopelessly contorting for the throttle pedal with a grossly inadequate 10 1/2 size shoe.

In reality, Steeda customers are free to order their Q400 in any configuration they want, picking and choosing, deleting or adding items from across the Steeda range. Our advice for the weekend road racer would be to forego the zoomy, chromey stuff ("Q" cowl hood, sill plates, floor mats, billet thingies, white faces, etc.) and invest in the pedal covers, some serious club racing seats, and some honest to goodness harnesses. Being a race car builder, Steeda can supply you with these items on a special order basis, so this shouldn't be a problem. Not to belabor the point about seats, but Steeda has indicated that it is working on a more firmly bolstered seat that will be in our next test vehicle. We'll let you know how this compares with the superb '03 Cobra seats once we've had a chance to go around a few twisties.

In the final analysis, the Q400 is a superbly turned out tuner car with a few, easily correctable vices. Your own tastes will dictate your selection of options, but suffice it to say there's something there for everybody, from the road racer to the drag racer and weekend cruiser. And while it remains to be seen how the Q400 will stack up against the '03 Cobra in terms of collectibility, we're positive it will remain the rarer of the two. As far as value goes, we cannot stress how crucial--and thus how valuable--it is for a supercharged tuner car to have a great tune-up. The Q400 does, and can therefore be relied upon to deliver years of carefree use, even under racing conditions. When compared to the cost of a new 390hp Cobra, we think the 400 rear-wheel horsepower Q400 acquits itself with honor. Don't believe us? Just turn on the TV set and watch Steeda and company take on the competition.

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Steeda rates all its engine packages as rear-wheel horsepower, which in the case of our Q400 Deluxe tester was 425. The entry-level Q400 and Standard Q400 have a 400hp rating, as measured at the rear wheels. The Deluxe model, shown, features the optional Bullitt Mustang intake manifold and 70mm throttle body, which is credited with the 25hp power increase.
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The Paxton Novi supercharger, in our tester, is an upgrade from the standard blower, a Vortech SQ compressor. The SQ unit is somewhat quieter, but we don't think folks will mind the Novi's bitchin' sound.
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The Q400 Deluxe model we sampled had pretty much all the cosmetic upgrades Steeda offers (billet knobs, white face gauges, aluminum sill plates, Tri-Ax shifter, and billet shifter knob). The billet pedal covers were also supposed to be on this trim package but were not ready in time for our test.
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Our time behind the wheel was hindered by a damaged rear control arm, but that didn't stop us from sampling the Q400's ferocious power curve or its vertigo--inducing Brembo brakes. The balance provided by the Q400's ample BFG tire package and 14-inch brakes nicely offset the prodigious boost generated by the Novi blower--a well-rounded combination by even the most critical standards.
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The BFGoodrich tires and Brembo 14-inch brakes are the top combo in the Q400 regime. In the past, we've found slotted rotors to be better than drilled rotors (high heat can cause radial cracking), but the slotted rotors just don't have the same visual pizzazz. The Q400's standard 13-inch Cobra pieces are more than adequate for the street but may be lacking on the track considering the straightaway speeds made possible by the Q400's engine.
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The Steeda Aero wing isn't just for looks.
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The Cobra-style splitter does the same for the front tires.
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The downforce is necessary at high speed to counteract the aero lift and generate ample traction to the rear tires.
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STEEDA 2002 Q400 OPTION LIST
Induction
Steeda Vortech/Novi supercharger
Q-package
$6,595
70mm throttle body $295
Steeda aluminum ultra cool radiator $545
Steeda underdrive pulleys $325
Exhaust
Steeda stainless 2 1/2-inch cat-back $845
Steeda high-flow X-pipe $594
Chassis & Suspension
Steeda sport springs $545
Tokico Illumina struts/shocks $850
Steeda alloy strut tower brace $310
Steeda alloy g-trac brace $99.95
Steeda alloy tubular framerail brace kit $310
Steeda camber/caster plates $399.95
Aluminum lower rear control arms $399.95
Heavy-duty upper rear control arms $235
Heavy-duty Steeda rear sway bar $189
Steeda adjustable rear sway bar $245
Steeda tubular front sway bar $255
Steeda off-set A-arm bushings $395
Steeda bump-steer kit $295
Brakes
14-inch Brembo brake upgrade $3,695
Steeda 13-inch Cobra rear brake
upgrade
$1,195
Driveline
3.55 or 3.73 ring-and-pinion $545
Steeda speedometer recalibration $200
Auburn Pro differential $750
Steeda 31-spline high-performance
axles
$575
Steeda Tri-Ax billet short-throw shifter $275
Steeda aluminum driveshaft $230
Optional Wheels
18x9 Steeda chrome Ultra-Lite wheels $2,100
BFGoodrich 265/35ZR18 tires $1,260
Steeda Styling & I.D. Groups
Steeda Sidewinder graphics package $310
Steeda carbon fiber dash kit $295
Steeda billet aluminum pedal covers $149
Steeda billet aluminum door lock
buttons
$42
Steeda billet aluminum window
switches
$135
Steeda aluminum door sills $125
Steeda billet aluminum A/C knobs $95
Steeda custom floor mats $89
Steeda Aerodynamics
Steeda Cobra "Q Car" style hood $950
Steeda Rear aero wing $699
Steeda Cobra R style splitter $795