Michael Johnson
Associate Editor, 5.0 Mustangs & Super Fords
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.