Brad Bowling
September 1, 2006

MCA National Meet
Johnson City, TN
May 26 - 28, 2006

There are several MCA National meets around the country each show season.

When Ford Motor Company introduced the low-performance Mustang II in August of 1973, many of us closed the door on the Mustang story and considered the 1965-73 models to be the only history worth preserving. Three years to the month after the II debuted, a hardcore group of fans launched the national Mustang Club of America with a show in Stone Mountain, GA. The (MCA) organization's stated goal was to preserve and enjoy the first-generation Pony car, while quietly ignoring any vehicles Ford might choose to label "Mustang" in the future.

Max Epps attended that inaugural MCA event, where he was inspired to start the first chartered regional MCA branch in his hometown of Kingsport, Tenn. As the legend goes, it was on a cold, rainy November night that same Bicentennial year when Max and nine others met in the Anderson Ford dealership to write the bylaws for the First Tennessee Regional Group. (FTRG) incorporated in '77, with Max elected its first president.

Since its formation 30 years ago, FTRG has been busier than a Republican fundraiser at a Texas barbecue. At the second MCA Grand National in '77 - again in Stone Mountain - FTRG won Regional Group of the Year honors. FTRG hosted its first MCA National event in 1978, its first Grand National in '81 (bringing in a then-record 226 show cars, still impressive today) and other Grand National shows in '84, '91, '94 and '97.

For those of you who don't speak MCA as a second language, we should explain that there are several National events around the country each show season, but only one Grand National. Mixed in with its history of big events are dozens of smaller shows, cruise-ins and charity rides. And we can't forget about the thousands of trophies accumulated over three decades by FTRG members as they attended judged car shows all over America.

When my caravan of Mustangs from Charlotte, North Carolina, pulled into the campus of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City the afternoon of May 26 for the "Mustangs Meet in the Mountains" 30th Anniversary show, we were greeted by MCA's and FTRG's famously effi cient staff.

I was driving a beautiful 2005 Satin Silver Mustang GT coupe, courtesy of Carolina Regional Mustang Club president Greg Sullins, who had pulled his '66 and '73 coupes in one gigantic enclosed trailer. FTRG member and 20-year MCA veteran Steve Smith ran through a list of questions about the car: was the owner an MCA member (yes), did I know his membership number (no), how many miles on the odometer (20,000 and change), did we have a fire extinguisher onboard (probably)? Steve was taking me through the classification process, which is the first step for anyone entering an MCA National or Grand National event.

"Classification is how we help owners determine the best category for their car," Steve told me. "This especially helps first-time participants, but it keeps regular show people from entering a class 'beneath' them and taking trophies they might not deserve."

The process only takes five minutes, and everyone has to do it unless they pay an annual fee to secure classification status ahead of time.

Steve was the first of many people I would meet during the three-day show whose Mustang interests covered both old and new models.

"I had a trailer problem and could only bring one car to the show: my '93 5.0-liter LX convertible. It's triple black, and I just bought it last month. My '65 K-code convertible had to stay home."

Green classification sheet in hand, I coasted down the hill to the registration tent and met Margaret Davis, an FTRG member. Greg's '05 GT was not one of the 268 pre- registered cars, so he filled out the paperwork and paid the $40 show fee while I talked to Margaret.

"We should have about 40 drive-ups this weekend," she estimated, "so figure on more than 300 cars."

Although she has owned and showed a variety of early Mustangs in her 26 years with MCA, her current ride is a stock '93 red convertible GT that has earned enough points to achieve Retired status. I was glad to find more people who appreciated both old and new Ponys, but my goal for the weekend was to talk to as many folks as possible about their modified late models.

I found my first gathering of such cars and their owners when I parked Greg's GT in the "LMA" (late model A, or "Elly May") section, which included all 2005 and '06 Mustangs. Because they are essentially new cars at this point, the Elly Mays are not assessed by judges; instead, they are reviewed by other show participants for a Popular Choice trophy, whether modified or stock.

After parking in an assigned spot marked LMA-288, I checked out some of the competition. Ed Cozak of Bedford, VA, had a nice '05 coupe in silver with a Mach 1/Boss-style swatch of black covering most of the hood.

"It's easy to overdo these things," Ed told me about the car whose license plates declare 'BIGCHIL.' "I've made a few mods for my personal taste: K&N cold air intake, SCT programming, Tri-Ax shifter and a pair of Borla axle-back pipes. My first Mustang was a '65. I regretted getting rid of it, and it took 40 years to get another one. This one's not going anywhere!"

Ed's was a story I would hear throughout the weekend: he fell in love with the first Mustang, didn't buy another one until now. Betsy Hargis, for example, of Terre Haute, IN, had a Mustang at the tender age of 16, but did not step up to the pony plate again until she saw the '05. The Hargises have applied a chin spoiler, CDC dash package, accent decals, sequential turn signals and a trick trunk mat to their new car.

I heard a similar tale from Carroll and Karen Sutton, who drove their red '05 convertible GT - nicknamed 'E TICKET' - from Springfield, IL. "We bought a '65 convertible on July 4, 2000," Carroll told me. "It got a first place at the 2004 Grand National, but when we saw the '05 prototype in Dearborn I told Karen we had to have one. We've made a few changes to it, but the hardest part was tracking down a tan convertible top boot to match the tan interior. For some reason, Ford thinks the boot should be black on this car, which doesn't match anything. We saw a car with a tan boot at SEMA and had to do some research to find the company that made it."

Once I tore myself free from the Elly Mays, I found that late model modifieds appeared to be taking over MCA, a club founded on the preservation and painstaking restoration of '60s Mustangs.

Some cars were heavily modified, such as the '01 coupe Ray Taylor was helping his daughter detail. The Stoneville, NC, Pony had been tricked out with scissor-style doors, BFGoodrich Scorcher tires with yellow bands in the tread, a balanced and blueprinted V-6, S-trim Vortech, lightweight Kmember, custom interior and trunk panels, laser-engraved hood and multi-colored gauges. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention it's the exact color of a tennis ball - Leah's favorite sport.

Another head-turning Mustang was Jim Buehler's gray '88 GT, whose chassis was sitting flush with the pavement when I nearly tripped over it. Jim is the original owner of the hatchback, which Air Ride Technologies in Jasper, Ind., fitted with airbags and a compressor for a tuner-style altitude change.

"Six years ago I got tired of the stock look," Jim said. "I started stockpiling parts for the transformation in my living room. The engine is a Ford Racing 347, the tranny is a Tremec TKO and it's got an Auburn rear axle. I had a six-point cage installed, along with a fuel cell, side pipes, subframe connectors, a ram air hood and leather over the original seats."

Weekend Wheels
Never before in automotive history has the aftermarket been so prepared for the release of a popular car. Thanks to Ford Motor Co.'s cooperation and encouragement, countless accessories and upgrades were available for the '05 Mustang before it actually hit showrooms.

Greg Sullins loaned me his modified Satin Silver '05 coupe for the trip to Johnson City, which made the 180 miles through North Carolina and Tennesse mountains that much more pleasant. To the already loaded GT premium package Greg added 18x9-inch chromed bullitt wheels, 285/35Zr18 Toyo tires, a boy racer rear wing, some stylish dual exhaust outlets, louvers for the side windows, tinting, traditional lemans racing stripes and matching GT-300 side stripes.

The 4.6-liter V-8 now puts out 350 horsepower by way of a Diablosport predator tunable performance programmer, C&l performance mass air flow intake unit and Magnaflow exhaust. The engine runs best on 93 octane fuel, and looks great with its catalog of dress-up accessories from MAC and Upr. Eibach springs created the car's fighting stance.

With so much strong competition among the late Models, Greg was not surprised to see the 2005-06 popular Choice trophy go to someone else, but his '73 coupe with 981 original miles won its third gold award in the Unrestored class and his '66 coupe received enough points to enter the newfor-' 06 Conservator class - MCA's highest achievement for a show car.

Speaking of Fox-bodies, two hatchbacks caught my attention. Jody Akers' '93 was painted a spectacular Candyapple Red and had been updated with a 306-inch supercharged engine, Cervini's Cobra R hood, Cobra R chrome wheels and clear taillights. On the other side of the lot, Travis Ford's black '90 GT with flames made the ground shake as it parked, its 408 cubic inches, Canfield heads and C4 transmission making it a threat on the street or strip.

Rusty and Ann Welch, of Churchville, VA, showed a very unusual modified Fox, although you might not know it at first glance. The couple bought their first and only Mustang - a white four-cylinder convertible - new in 1987, drove it for a decade until the powertrain expired around 130,000 miles and parked it for five years. The droptop went from lawn ornament to show car after Rusty bought a 225-horsepower crate motor from Ford, installed 3.08:1 gears in back and popped on some later 16-inch Mustang wheels. "I didn't want to turn it into a hot rod," Rusty told me. "We just hated to see such a good car deteriorate after we had enjoyed it in its first life."

The family aspect of the Mustang show circuit was in evidence everywhere. Jon and Lisa Moles drove their pair of red Ponys from Roanoke - his an '88 hatchback whose 'NOSTPNY' license plate gives away the GT's addiction to juice, hers a '97 Cobra with sidepipes, lowered suspension and warning 'HER SNAK' on the front and rear Virginia tags.

Jim Broome and his daughter Jennifer modified a '93 coupe that gives new meaning to the term "attention to detail." Jim told me that every panel was replaced with new factory pieces during the build, and that he expects around 525 horsepower once his Vortech-fed V-8 is dialed in. Look for Jim and Jennifer's red notchback in a future issue of Modified Mustangs.

In the same way that some pet owners start to look like their dogs, Mustangers often build their cars to reflect their personalities. Kitten Rudman, from Pigeon Forge, TN, displayed her white-on-whiteon- white '98 convertible that had a definite feline look to it. Imagine the most content Persian cat sitting in the sun wearing a Cheshire grin and you have a good idea of purrin' Kitten's demeanor. This kitty can scratch, though. In addition to white Cobra wheels, billet grille, custom spoilers and hard tonneau, Kitten's convertible has a supercharger and 3.73:1 gears. (I suspect it would be wearing white tires if someone made a set.)

As is always the case, four-eyed Foxes were in short supply, although stockers from '79-'86 outnumbered modifieds at the Johnson City show. Eric Hughett drove from Seymour, TN, in his very clean silver '85 GT hatchback that featured a 302 with Trick Flow heads, 750cfm carburetor, nine-inch rear, four-wheel disc/five-lug conversion, four-point rollbar and Weld Prostar wheels.

With so much awesome iron around, I wondered what criteria a judge could use to fairly evaluate cars in the modified class.

"Everything about judging the modified class starts with workmanship, condition and cleanliness," Susie Siefert told me. If that name sounds familiar, you probably read the article I wrote about her in the June issue: "Five-Oh Susie." The limo driver with the raspy voice and awesome '92 convertible recently became the first woman to be named head judge of MCA's modified class. "Points accumulate from there, based on how difficult they are to perform - three for simple mods, five for minor work and eight for each example of major modifications."

I asked her if uniqueness was a factor in assigning points. For example, what if you have three nearly identical fourth-generation coupes with scissor-style doors, but the fourth Mustang has been tastefully converted into a sporty two-door station wagon?

"A judge must be consistent from car to car and not allow a personal bias to change his evaluation. A red car doesn't get more points than a black car, and whether or not a judge likes the two-door station wagon idea better than scissor doors should have no bearing on the final score because both mods receive eight points toward the total score. All things being equal between the cars, that wagon owner might have a better shot at a trophy if he entered a Popular Choice class. That's where a unique idea is most likely to win out."

The show weekend started out with scattered storms and lightning on Friday, but we enjoyed a hot, rain-free Saturday and Sunday. By the time the awards presentation began on Sunday, many of us had lobsterlike glows despite the abundance of shade trees on the college campus.

FTRG has changed a lot in 30 years, as has the rest of the hobby, but Memorial Day weekend proved that one thing remains the same in East Tennessee: with the level of work and care this club puts into its events. Max Epps must be proud.