Michael Johnson
Technical Editor
August 1, 2003
Photos By: Steve Turner

Horse Sense: Kurt's Mustang has won several car-show awards, including Third Place at the '02 Carlisle All-Ford Nationals in the '79-'89 modified class, a Best in Show at the Al Packer All-Ford show, and Best Paint at the 13th Annual All-Ford & Mustang show at the Big M in September 2002. We're sure those won't be the last awards the car wins.

The majority of automotive infatuations set their hooks early in life. For yours truly, cars were a part of everyday life, and you read the result of that upbringing in every article. Articles in Hot Rod, Car Craft, and countless other musclecar magazines took the place of The Cat in the Hat, Curious George, and such. Instead of Green Eggs and Ham it was "400 Hp on Pump Gas" or "'79 Turbo Trans Am Test." We don't know if feature car owner Kurt Yankolonis grew up on the same steady diet of automotive ramblings, but the car you see here is the result of love at first 'Stang.

"I first fell in love with Mustangs when my parents bought my brother a white '87 four-cylinder automatic LX hatchback for his 16th birthday," says the Sparks, Maryland, resident. Kurt was just 11 at the time, and the fact that the car had just four cylinders under the hood didn't matter to him.

After driving the '87 for about three years, Kurt's brother moved on to an '89 LX five-speed, which meant the '87 had to go somewhere. Kurt's parents planned on selling the four-cylinder hatch at the '00 Carlisle Ford Nationals, but on the way there Kurt's brother had a minor fender bender in the car (could Kurt's brother have been part of a conspiracy?). "It was disappointing to bring [the car] back home," Kurt says, "but it turned out to be my good fortune." He was 15 by then and obsessed with having his own Mustang. He'd already been begging his parents for one, and after looking at the minimal body damage to the '87, he wanted to try and fix it himself.

"It was at that point my parents offered me the car to work on," Kurt says. "Of course, it was a four-cylinder automatic and I wanted a 5.0 Cobra."

But aside from the body damage, the '87 was in excellent shape with no rust. "I thought that maybe I could transform it into the car of my dreams," Kurt says. So in June 2000 the dismantling began. "It was a little frightening at first," he says. "I had no idea if I was capable of doing it, but once I started, I was driven." Obviously, the first item to go was the four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, which were sold to someone rebuilding a four-cylinder car. Then Kurt relieved the car of all four-cylinder-specific components, including most of the wiring, tubing, and miscellaneous hoses. With the engine compartment now void, Kurt borrowed a pressure washer and cleaned the engine bay of all the oil the four-cylinder had spewed upon it. The 7.5-inch rear was discarded to make way for a 9-inch, and the interior was gutted. The car then lived on jackstands while Kurt gathered parts.

The interior doesn't look like the car originally had a four-popper in it. Kurt added a dash of MAC white-face gauges with a smattering of Auto Meter items. He also dropped in a pair of '01 GT power leather seats to kick up the comfort level a couple notches. Since the original interior was red, the dash is from a V-8 car that had been rolled. Kurt also added the corresponding center console, door panels, and rear seats. He repainted the dash and center console with Ford paint to bring them up to standards. The fresh carpet came from Auto Custom Carpets. Kurt's mom even got in on the action by refinishing the door panels and the headliner.

The engine compartment was repainted and then waxed to keep the dust away. Kurt ordered a Ground Pounder tubular K-member to replace the stamped-steel factory unit. He located the 9-inch rearend components on the Internet and summoned Auto Weld in Pennsylvania to build a custom 9-inch housing. He then ordered all-new suspension components along with a complete set of Baer brakes. "Hey," Kurt says, "since my dad was helping with some of the financial backing on this project, why not?" While the suspension was being ironed out, Kurt went back to the Internet and found a perfect gray interior out of a wrecked car. When his brother was searching the Web for wheels, Kurt happened to locate a set of AFS Wheels chrome Cobra R wheels wrapped in Parnelli Jones rubber. "I watched the bidding and waited until one minute was left on the auction," he says, "and then I made the winning bid."

Once he had the rolling stock, Kurt bolted them up to the rear, but the front was still in pieces. He stripped, sandblasted, and painted the spindles, and he installed new Energy Suspension bushings. After installing the front end, the car sat on its new wheels for the first time.

There aren't many cars that can compete with a properly accessorized Fox Mustang. Kurt outfitted his former four-cylinder car with a Cervini's Auto Design Stalker front bumper cover, a Cobra ground effects kit, and a Stormin' Norman hood. Kurt came across the Spitfire Orange color while attending a car show. The car was stripped of any removable body panels and bathed in several coats of the orange stuff, along with liberal coats of clear to arrive at the desired mirror-like finish. Kurt helped with the reinstallation of various components. The exterior is finished off with a set of chrome Cobra R wheels from AFS Wheels (bought off eBay) and wrapped in Parnelli Jones rubber. The day Kurt picked up the car was a sunny day, in more ways than one. "When I drove the car out of the shop and into the sunlight, it just glistened," he says. "I'll never forget the feeling of looking at it and thinking back to where I had started two years earlier."

Using a new wiring harness, Kurt wired up the engine compartment and then added a new brake booster, master cylinder, and brake lines. "I also found a pair of new '01 GT leather seats off the Web," Kurt says. "They went in with ease, and I added the wiring for the driver's seat for six-way power and lumbar control." He finished the interior by adding Auto Meter gauges.

By late fall of 2000 Kurt was in need of an engine. This need for speed led him to Muscle Motors Performance [(818) 888-7778], which would build Kurt's engine using a stock bottom end with SRP pistons, a Ford Racing Performance Parts X303 cam, FRPP GT40X heads, and a Cobra intake. "While the engine was being built, I searched the Internet for a transmission," Kurt says. "I lucked out and found a used (900 miles) Tremec TKO, a bellhousing, and a Centerforce clutch for a reasonable price." Amazingly, Kurt couldn't wait for his dad to get home, so he installed the engine and tranny combo by himself. "It only took me about an hour," Kurt says, "but it was a bit tricky, with the long-tube headers hanging up on the K-member." He also hooked up the accessories and the cold-air intake.

It was at this time that Kurt added the Cervini's Stalker front bumper cover, the Cobra ground effects, and the Stormin' Norman hood. With all the fluids in their respective components, it was time to put the fire in the hole and start the car. "I called my brother and his friends and told them it was time to start it," he says. "They all came-bunches of them." He pulled the distributor and cycled the oil pump with an electric drill to get oil pressure. However, as is somewhat common, when Kurt pulled out the drill the oil-pump driveshaft came out as well and fell down in the oil pan. Kurt and his dad got under the car and fished around to find the driveshaft and reinstall it. "When I reinstalled the distributor," Kurt says, "it wouldn't seat properly. It turned out I had put the oil-pump driveshaft back in upside down." So back under the car he and his dad went. At this point Kurt realized the fuel pump wasn't cycling. By that time his brother and his friends were long gone. Kurt would have to wait for another day to start his car.

For the next week Kurt tried to track down his fuel-pump troubles, which ended up being mismatched wiring harnesses. With that problem solved, Kurt was once again ready to light the fire. "I was so nervous," he says, "my foot was shaking while depressing the clutch pedal." However, everything came on as scheduled and the car fired right up. "What a sweet sound," Kurt recalls. After setting the timing and fuel pressure, he set out on the maiden voyage. "It felt great to finally have it on road," he says.

There was one problem, however, and it was a biggie. The car was still white with the Cervini's components in black. Kurt met a gentleman at a car show who had a truck painted in Spitfire Orange. The man worked at a body shop and told Kurt he would paint the car, but it would have to wait until after the winter. Kurt kept in touch with him, and the body shop owner eventually painted the car Spitfire Orange, with several coats of clear thrown in to give it the right luster. Kurt picked up the car the last week of January 2001.

Kurt couldn't resist the urge to take the car to Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun, Maryland, to see the results of his hard work. He ran a best of 13.1 at 107 mph with slicks, but on his fourth run the front U-joint gave out and cracked the aluminum bellhousing. "Luckily, the driveshaft loop caught the shaft and the car was towed home," Kurt says. "At that time my financial backing [Kurt's dad] said no more drag racing until I could pay for the costs myself." Kurt replaced the driveshaft with a steel unit and added a McLeod scattershield for good measure.

"This has been the most educational and satisfying two years of my life, and I have the car of my dreams," Kurt says. "I will most likely have the car for the rest of my life." Oh yeah, Kurt's head over heels.

For motivation, Kurt contacted Muscle Motors Performance, which built a 5.0 using a stock bottom end with SRP pistons, a Ford Racing Performance Parts X303 cam, FRPP GT40X aluminum heads, FRPP 1.6 roller rockers, and a Cobra intake. Behind the small-block Kurt added a Tremec TKO with a Centerforce clutch, a B&M Ripper shifter, and a McLeod scattershield. Exhaust components consist of BBK long-tube headers with a matching BBK high-flow H-pipe and a MAC after-cat.

A MAC cold-air kit utilizes a K&N filter and a Pro-M 75mm mass air meter to connect outside air with a MAC 70mm throttle body. Out back resides an Auto Weld 9-inch housing filled with a Currie third member, an Auburn differential, Dutchman 31-spline axles, and 3.50 gears.

Block Stock
Bore 4.000
Stroke Stock
Displacement 302 ci
Crank Stock
Rods Stock
Pistons SRP
Cam FRPP X303
Heads FRPP GT40X
Valves 1.94/1.54
Intake FRPP Cobra
Throttle Body MAC 70mm
Mass Air Pro-M 75mm
Injectors FRPP 24-lb/hr
Fuel Pump FRPP 190-lph
Headers BBK long-tubes
Exhaust BBK H-pipe,MAC Flowpath mufflers and tailpipes
Transmission Tremec TKO,Centerforce Dual Friction clutch, B&M Ripper shifter
Rearend Auto Weld 9-in housing, Dutchman 31-spline axles, Auburn Pro differential, 3.50 gears
Engine Management '93 EEC IV
Ignition MSD 6AL, MSD Blaster coil,FRPP 9mm plug wires, Autolite plugs
Gauges Auto Meter
K-Member Ground Pounder tubular
Control arms Stock
Springs/Struts Eibach/Koni Yellow adjustable
Brakes Baer
Wheels AFS Cobra R 17x9
Tires Parnelli Jones 255/40-17
Springs/Shocks Eibach/Koni Yellow adjustable
Control Arms Ground Pounder Weight Jacker lower control arms,stock uppers
Brakes Baer
Wheels AFS Cobra R 17x9
Tires Parnelli Jones 255/40-17
Chassis Stiffening BBK subframe connectors