Rob Kinnan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
September 8, 2016

Actor Sung Kang is rooting for “The Underdog” and is partnering with Shell, featuring Pennzoil, and SEMA for a winning edge. Kang, along with a team of aspiring young automotive technicians from Alhambra High School in Alhambra, CA, will work together to transform a 1972 Ford Maverick with a 2.3L Ecoboost engine to debut at the 2016 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, NV. We recently made a trip to the SEMA Garage where the car is being built to talk to Sung and SEMA’s Mike Spagnola about the project.

“If I were a car, I would be the Maverick,” said Kang, who first drove a Maverick in Fast & Furious Five in Brazil. “The Maverick has always been underappreciated, overlooked and undervalued, that’s why I call it ‘The Underdog.’ But those who love her are loyal forever. This and the chance to make a difference for these students is something I can stand behind.”

The vehicle represents what Kang describes as the ultimate “Underdog.” The build will be recorded and shared in an online video series filled with raw, behind-the-scenes footage, intimate conversations and real-time progress every step of the way, made possible by SEMA and Shell, featuring Pennzoil.

The Maverick was purchased locally then completely stripped at SEMA Garage, where SEMA’s digitizing Faro arm was used to digitally scan the entire car. That makes design and fabrication of things like motor mounts easier, since it can be done on the computer in a CAD program.
Of particular interest to the author (who is about to install a 2.3L Ecoboost into our 1974 Mustang II project) is the engine choice. Kang chose the turbo-four partly to appeal to the younger “tuner” generation. So far, the main issue is the engine’s height, which required a fabricated from subframe, which Anthony Jones Engineering helped out with.

“Kang’s ”Project Underdog” is, at its heart, designed to promote youth outreach and inspire the next generation to become future enthusiasts and pursue automotive careers,” said Spagnola, SEMA VP of OEM and Product Development Programs. “Our SEMA programs are simply the right fit for this team project that will prove the underdog can win big and benefit our community.”

Kang will oversee the project while students work hand-in-hand with industry veterans to restore and completely rebuild the vehicle. The completed vehicle will then be auctioned off to raise money for the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which provides financial support to students pursuing careers in the automotive industry.

Kang, who played Han in the “Fast and the Furious” movie series, captivated fans throughout the world last year when he documented and shared a similar vehicle build, the FuguZ 240Z, through videos in social media.

Since the 2.3L Ecoboost is just now shipping as a crate motor, there are still questions about clutch and bellhousing compatibility, but SEMA and Kang are figuring all that out as we write this.

Taking place at the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, CA, the build will be shown in videos posted on YouTube (in collaboration with GarageMonkey on their channel) and on Kang’s Facebook page. Viewers will see the project’s progression, the students’ development,t and perhaps struggles and mishaps along the way.

“The car community has always saved a seat for me at the table and I’ve made a lot of friends who are legends in their own right,” Kang continued. Among those friends is award-winning builder Steve Strope, who will lead “Project Underdog” and serve as a mentor to the three Alhambra High School students who have been specially selected from the Southern California area for the project.

The final build, which is supported by Shell, featuring Pennzoil, and Ford Motor Company, Samsung, NITTO, GReddy, Rocket Bunny and Facebook, will debut at the 2016 trade-only SEMA Show on Nov. 1-4 in Las Vegas, NV. To keep up to date on Project Underdog, visit Sung Kang's Facebook page:

This was The Underdog on Saturday August 27, 2016, roughly two months away from the SEMA Show. They have a lot of work to do yet!