Michael Johnson Associate Editor
July 1, 2003
Photos By: Steve Turner

Horse Sense: The only work that was farmed out on Ken's Mustang was the building of the short-block by CRC Automotive Racing Engines and the tinting of the car's windows by Mike Simpson at Good Vibes. The rest of the work was performed in Ken's garage with help from his dad, Rick, and his lifelong friend Scott Marvin. Even the car's paint was applied in the garage.

Mugsy Bogues, Jerry Rice, Michael Jordan, Jason Sehorn, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-the list of sports figures and teams that have been told they're too short, too slow, or they can't win the big game goes on and on. At 5'3" Mugsy Bogues was supposedly too short for the NBA, but he defied the naysayers by starting for the Charlotte Hornets for several seasons. Jerry Rice was said to be slow, but countless Super Bowl appearances, Pro Bowl invitations, and an impending NFL Hall of Fame induction beg to differ. Michael Jordan was told he didn't have a jump shot after his first couple years in the NBA.

After practicing long and hard on developing a jump shot, he repopularized shooting a short jumper instead of trying to dunk on everyone in sight. Jason Sehorn supposedly didn't fit the mold of an NFL defensive back, but he proved he could hold his own, at least before injuries slowed him down. And although it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Philadelphia Eagles would be playing in Super Bowl XXXVII, the Tampa Bay Bucs took the Eagles around back of Veterans Stadium for a good old-fashioned butt-kickin'. (Of course, the Bucs put it on Editor Turner's Raiders the next week in San Diego to silence the doubters.)

You don't hear of many people using a '79 as the basis for a nice street ride, but Ken used his mechanical prowess to produce a car that's right at home on these pages. Of course, most of the distinctive '79 body components have been canned, replaced by '86 GT pieces, including the front bumper cover, the fender extensions, and the rear wing. Custom touches include molded-in Saleen side spats, removed belt moldings, Mustang SVO sail panels, and a Matrix Motorsports headlight conversion. Covering the body is a two-stage PPG Dodge Neon Emerald Green pearl coat. Eighteen-inch Freedom Design 2005 wheels (a discontinued design) reside at every corner and are wrapped by Bridgestone Potenza S02 Pole Position treads. Peeking through the wheels reveals a set of Baer brakes.

These examples prove that sometimes the best motivation comes from someone saying you can't realize your personal goals. That same motivational force was aimed squarely at Ken Thornton of Xenia, Ohio, the owner of the Mustang featured here. Sure, Ken had his supporters, but the doubters provided the fuel to get his Mustang where it is today.

Once Ken compared prices between building a 302-based stroker and a 351 Windsor-based stroker, he decided it made better financial sense to go with a Windsor. CRC Automotive Racing Engines in Carlisle, Ohio, built the short-block and ported the Trick Flow Twisted Wedge heads. Ken finished off the top end of the engine with a Saleen-prepped Cobra intake and an Accufab 70mm throttle body. He backed up the Windsor with a T56 he bought at a huge Columbus, Ohio, swap meet. Clutch components are from Ram, and Ken manipulates the gear using a Pro-5.0 base with a Steeda Tri-Ax handle and a Momo knob. A Dynotech Metal Matrix driveshaft leads back to an 8.8 rearend with a rebuilt Traction-Lok, 3.55 gears, and Ranger axles. Ken plans on outfitting the 8.8 rear-end with a Torsen differential, Moser axles, 9-inch housing ends, and a Panhard bar.

Ken's dad, Rick, initially bought the '79 hatch for $400 to turn it into a drag car. In the late '80s, Ken became the titleholder of the car after he wrecked his Vette (no, not a Corvette-a Chevette). Ken drove the four-cylinder, four-speed hatch with custom primer spots, factory steel wheels, and cut springs for about a year, but he had a picture in his mind of what he wanted the car to be.

In 1990, the car debuted in its first iteration with '86 body components, a fairly big stereo, and 16-inch Riken wheels wrapped in Falken treads. However, the '79 was still saddled with the four-cylinder even though Ken had outfitted it with a Ford Racing Performance Parts camshaft and a Flowmaster muffler. The body provided a canvas for Dodge Conquest blue.

The list of interior upgrades and stereo equipment is a long one. Leading off is the stereo system with an Eclipse 5506 head unit, a Phoenix Gold EQ230 equalizer, an Audio Control Epicenter, Phoenix Gold amps (capable of producing approximately 1,600 continuous watts), Eclipse 8815 aluminum-cone 15-inch subwoofers, JBL 2118 studio-grade midbass drivers, and REI Audio wave guides (high-frequency speakers). Ken made the stereo enclosures by sandwiching a layer of polyurethane foam between layers of fiberglass. "This allows the piece to be as strong as an equally thick piece of fiberglass," Ken says, "but at a third of the weight."

The idiot lights and turn signals within the gauge panel use fiber-optic lighting. Lights in the interior door release handles indicate whether the doors are locked (lights off) or unlocked (lights on). Ken made custom armrests and installed Ford Focus door switches, with the back two switches controlling subwoofer level controls, stereo accent lighting, motorized window covering processor rack, and subwoofer level display. It's safe to say we haven't seen many Mustangs with this level of interior customization-at least not those that also had the total package surrounding it.