Matt Rawlins
June 1, 2000
Photos By: Rob Kinnan

Step By Step

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P95390_large 1988_Ford_Mustang_GT Rear_Driver_SideP95391_large 1988_Ford_Mustang_GT EngineP95392_large 1988_Ford_Mustang_GT Front_Passenger_SideP95393_large 1988_Ford_Mustang_GT InteriorP95394_large 1988_Ford_Mustang_GT Rear_View_InteriorP95395_large 1988_Ford_Mustang_GT Front_Passenger_Side

Don't tell Jeff Wright from Louisville, Kentucky, what it means to put in some hard work on his car. Listening to his story about his '88 GT should put a lot of other guys to shame, and frankly, we wouldn't be surprised if Jeff doesn't have his own shop and dyno facility before the year 2002. His commitment and dedication to his own project car is one that goes above and beyond what many would consider the norm. And by the looks of it, his desire, hard work, sweat, and angst are the keys that keep him going through the ups and downs of racing. It's determination like Jeff's that makes believers out of all of us.

It started about seven years ago when Jeff purchased his first Mustang, an '88 GT with 70,000 miles on it. Like the rest of us, he soon got hooked on the need for more speed and more steeds. Although he spent numerous hours in his garage wrenching and polishing different parts, he wouldn't trade that time for anything. "I'm extremely gratified with the results of all my personal time and experiences putting this project together," he says. That's not to say Jeff didn't come across any bumps or letdowns along the way, because he sure did.

After owning the '88 for a short time, Jeff decided he wanted to have the engine rebuilt with the stock specs in mind. He recalls having zero experience and almost no knowledge when it came to the mechanical side of things. That's when he picked up as many magazine articles and books as possible and began his long journey ahead. Starting out by installing simple bolt-ons like ignition, headers, H-pipe, and gears, Jeff's confidence and knowledge grew daily. After a few months he found himself ready to tackle the short-block rebuild, which included Keith Black pistons, Edelbrock heads, and a near-stock cam.

Not only did speed become an addiction," Jeff says, "but most of all was the desire to turn the wrenches myself and see this project take on a life of its own--with me at the helm."

Once the short-block was completed, Jeff tested the results on the track and was rewarded with a 7.76 eighth-mile time. With a mere 6,000 miles on the new engine, he found out the hard way what kind of letdowns are involved in racing. That's when his engine threw a rod. Although extremely disgusted, he psyched himself up for a comeback with the credo, "Never give up if it's worth it."

This proved to be a major turning point in Jeff's racing life. Instead of giving up and deciding to just replace the parts, he went the other direction and opted to really get serious with the engine. He had the motor rebuilt. While it was being completed he focused his own efforts toward the engine bay, making it look shiny and new. He polished everything under the hood, from the water pump to the A/C compressor. According to Jeff, "There's nothing like having a car that looks as good as it runs."

Once the entire assembly was fin-ished and dropped in the car with a set of Edelbrock heads, a Comp cam, and a GT-40 intake, Jeff began to race a full season starting with the Atlanta True Street in 1994. He drove the car nine hours to Atlanta with the slicks in the hatch, ran three 11.30 passes, posted an Eleventh-Place finish and drove home. To Jeff, that's what made it all worthwhile--being able to drive that far, make a few fast quarter-mile runs, and then head home with a grin as wide as his slicks.

By the following season Jeff had his Edelbrock heads ported by Bennett Racing, purchased a Hogan's sheetmetal intake, added a bigger cam, and decided to add some power with a 200 shot of juice. With no other mods to the engine the car went 11.02 at 124 on the bottle. During the second pass Jeff added a little initial timing, but the engine leaned out and the result was an exploded Hogan intake, which went right through the Harwood hood as well. "I felt like calling it quits right there, but the challenge of overcoming mechanical problems set the stage for where my car is now," he confesses.

Sometimes good things come from bad experiences, as is Jeff's case. The next two years he worked twice as hard to make his Mustang better than it was before. He dedicated himself once again to cleaning and polishing his entire engine bay while his new 306ci motor was being built at Total Engine Airflow in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Jeff asked them to install a set of Wiseco pistons, Eagle steel rods, Stage 1 Canfield heads, a Lunati roller cam, a Hogan intake, and the same 200 shot of nitrous.

The end result is the gorgeous Ultra-Violet Blue Mustang you see here with a motor from hell that, according to Anderson Ford Motorsport's dyno, has measured an awesome 343 rear-wheel horsepower. Not to mention another 200 horses with the juice turned on. To date, Jeff's best pass has been a 10.82 at 128 mph. Considering the roller-coaster ride of events he's been through, we're sure he's damn proud of it.

Of course, all the standard suspension parts--Energy Suspension bush-ings, Lakewood 90/10 struts, Southside Machine upper and lower control arms, right-side airbag, and subframe connectors--also helped Jeff attain his e.t. The '88 GT rides on a set of 275/50-15 Mickey Thompson street tires when cruising the city streets and slicks while at the track--both on Centerline Warrior wheels with skinnies up front.

A car this fast wouldn't be complete, nor legal, without the help of a six-point rollcage to make certain everything inside stays inside. Jeff's choice of a Tremec TKO five-speed was certainly a good one, as was the 4.30 gears fitted to the rearend complete with Strange's 33-spline axles and spool with C-clip eliminators. In order to keep 550 hp from blowing up his drivetrain, Jeff had a McLeod billet flywheel and clutch installed for good measure as well.

It's easy to tell yourself that when push comes to shove, you'll be ready to take on the challenges. It's another thing to actually do it and be a better person for it in the end. According to Jeff, that's exactly what he went through, and he couldn't have done it without the help of some important people like his girlfriend Misty, and his mom, who has also grown to love Mustang racing. How awesome is that? To actually have a mom who loves your car as much as you do and lets you work in her garage no questions asked? Looks like you hit the mom jackpot, Jeff. We suspect congrats are in order.

Horse Sense: While tuning and dynoing Jeff's '88 GT at Anderson Ford Motorsport in Clinton, Illinois, the car's slicks smoked up the room so much a change to regular street radials was in order, thus producing a total of 550 hp at the wheels on nitrous.