Michael Johnson
Technical Editor
November 1, 2003

Horse Sense: Sal has a real job, not like us here at 5.0&SF. At A&G Marble and Granite, Sal is a granite and marble installer, specializing in countertops, sinks, and the like. "Sometimes I feel like an old man when I wake up in the morning," he says after a previous day's hard work.

Long before the Super Duty 455s of the '73-'74 Pontiac Trans Ams and Formulas appeared (the widely accepted last of the real musclecars), and a couple years before the '64 GTO (the widely accepted original musclecar), the '62 Pontiac Catalina was the hot rod to have.

Some might call Sal Arena's '93 Mustang a coupe, some might call it a sedan. But if you're from Sal's neck of the woods, it's a notchback, or notch for short. You'll see plenty of notches at the track, but not many are as clean or as fast as Sal's. Wearing Sikken's blue paint, the '93 capitalizes on its good looks with a 6-inch cowl hood, a Mid-South Racecars Eliminator Pro rear wing, and timeless Weld Draglite big 'n' littles.

Available with a Super Duty 421ci engine, the Catalina was one mean mug, offering more than 405 conservatively rated horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque. The 3,500-pound Catalina ran high 13s in bone-stock trim, which was really quick in the early '60s. For 1963, Pontiac drilled holes in the Catalina's frame (so the name "Swiss Cheese frame") to lighten up the car, and performance further improved. Trust us, if we were around back then, we would've been breakin' down the door to get our hands on one of these cars. [Uh, really, Johnson likes Mustangs, though he seems to have a soft spot for the nonfunctional variety.-Ed.]

Yes, you are still reading 5.0&SF, so don't flip out. But some people don't understand the importance of yesteryear's musclecars. If it weren't for Pontiac's Super Duty 421 Catalina, for instance, you wouldn't be reading this feature on Sal Arena's wicked '93 notch.

Allow us to explain. Sal's dad owned one of these dinosaurs way back in the day, along with a few big-block Mopars (we'll save the elephants for a future musclecar Melvin meeting) that impacted little Sal to the point where the Sunoco 260 fuel still runs through his veins. But when he became of driving age in 1990, musclecar prices were through the roof. So just as his dad had done, he had to find his own modern-day musclecar, which, of course, turned out to be a 5.0 Mustang.

Among those Sal would like to thank for getting him to this point are his dad; his wife, Joanne; his kids, Sal, Calo, and Angela; his employer, A&G Marble and Granite for the days off to race; Ed Smith; Michael Washington; Merkel Racing Engines; Manny Sirris at Super Street Performance; Marc Paladino at Unorthodox Chassis Fabrication; Dynamic Transmissions; TCT; and the NMRA for a place to race.

Something the Super Duty didn't have that Sal's new Mustang did was a six-year/60,000-mile warranty. But by 1991, a 12:1 357 was already between the framerails (we don't think the warranty applied after that). Being from Deer Park, New York, Sal's '90 saw its fair share of street action, and that's where he met Ed Smith and Michael Washington, two guys who shared Sal's zest for speed. During the next several years, the notch spent more time on the street than on the track, with a variety of engines and combinations. With a son on the way in late 1996, Sal sold the car as a roller after he hung the rods out the side of the block.

Sal then ran a '79 Pace Car with another 357 he'd built and a Hanlon Pro-Shifted Tremec. "I made my first heads-up pass with the NMRA at the '99 Maple Grove race running Hot Street," he says. "The entire field was in the 10s-except for Sam LaManna who ran high 9s."

Sal purchased his current ride, the '93 notch featured here, in March 2001 as a basket case, since the former owner had lost interest in the car. The engine was broken and the tranny was out of the car, but once Sal put the car together, its first pass was a 9.90 with a C4 in it. While competing in Hot Street, he got down to 9.50s. "But when Kurt Neighbor started running 9.30s like he was changing underwear," Sal says, "I decided I had a better chance at winning Open Comp." He did finish runner-up at the '01 Fords at Englishtown event in Hot Street.

The interior of the notch is all business, with Kirkey race seats, Auto Meter gauges, a Hurst Line-Loc, and a Quarter Stick shifter. A custom 10-point cage keeps Sal safe, while a pine-tree air freshener adds that special touch not found in other race cars.

Toward the end of that year, Sal took a liking to the Drag Radial class and decided to go in that direction for 2002, using a 402/C4 combination with a boost of nitrous via an NOS two-stage plate system. "We went to three NMRA races and broke at all three," he says. To say 2002 was a learning experience for him would be putting it mildly. He broke pistons, transmissions, and other components, but he still managed to finish in the ninth spot overall.

For 2003, Sal decided to take advantage of the rules by backing down to a smaller engine with a 360 and adding a Dynamic Powerglide, a TCT converter, and an NOS Pro Shot Fogger. At the '03 Bradenton NMRA opener, he qualified third with a 9.13 at 156 mph with a less-than-stellar 1.59 60-foot time. As does everyone else in Drag Radial, Sal has a ton of respect for Chris Little, but he still wants to beat him in the worst way.

Just before this story went to press, Sal ran a best of 8.87 at 156 mph with a 1.40 60-foot time. With his 60-foot troubles behind him, Sal hopes Chris will be back there as well.

Now do you see the importance of Dad's musclecar?

To take advantage of the NMRA's Drag Radial rules, Sal's '03 combination centers around a 351-based Merkel Racing Engines-built 360. The 14:1 short-block plays host to Frankie Ford-ported Trick Flow Street Heat heads, a "big" Comp Cams grind, an Edelbrock Super Victor intake, and a Da Vinci HP1000 carburetor. The motivational force comes from an NOS Pro Shot Fogger capable of adding 500 hp to the mix. Backing up the Windsor is a Dynamic Powerglide with a TCT stall converter, which sends power through an Inland Driveline driveshaft back to a Moser-outfitted 8.8 rear.

5.0 Tech Specs
Ford Racing Performance PartsMSD 7AL3, MSD Blaster coil,
S351Moroso plug wires, Autolite plugs
4.125Auto Meter
Cubic InchesFront Suspension
Rotating AssemblyQA1
Sonny Bryant crankshaft, Oliver Springs
billet rods, Ross custom pistons,AFCO
Childs & Albert ringsControl Arms
HeadsD&D Motorsports
Trick Flow Street Heat heads,K-member
2.125/1.60 valves, Harland SharpD&D Motorsports
Comp CamsWheels
IntakeWeld Draglites
Edelbrock Super VictorRear Suspension
CarburetorTraction Devices
Da Vinci HP1000Wolfe Race Craft double-
Power Adderadjustable control arms, Wolfe
NOS Pro Shot Foggerantiroll bar
Fuel SystemShocks
Product Engineering pump andStrange adjustable
regulator, Russell fuel linesSprings
Kooks stepped long-tubeBrakes
headers, DynoMax Bullet mufflersStock
Dynamic Powerglide, TCT stallWeld Draglites
converter, Hurst Quarter StickTires
shifter, Inland Driveline driveshaftBFGoodrich Drag Radial
8.8, Moser spool and axles, 3.73Chassis Stiffening
gears10-point cage, Kenny Brown
 subframe connectors