Michael Johnson Associate Editor
December 1, 2004

It's no secret that Mustang convertibles aren't the fastest cars out there, especially when stock. The problem lies with the convertibles' added weight compared to their fixed-roof brethren. Because everyone knows about the weight factor, they automatically assume every convertible is slow (no matter that one of the fastest cars in late-model Mustang history was Racin' Jason Betwarda's drop-top). While Paul Riva's '95 GT convertible doesn't run sevens, it's a lot faster than you might think.

Paul, from the bustling metropolis of Altoona, Pennsylvania, has loved Mustangs ever since he can remember. "When I turned 16, I was lucky enough to have parents who would buy me a car," he says. Though he was all over a 5.0, sound thinking from his parents meant Paul would start off with a '91 four-cylinder Mustang LX. "It was slow, but I loved that car," he says. Showing signs of what was to come, he modified the car with Pony wheels, a K&N filter, a performance exhaust, and a custom stereo. "It served me well for about four years, but my need for speed had set in, and the little four-cylinder wasn't cutting it."

While in college, Paul worked and saved money so he could progress up the speed ladder. By 1997 he had saved enough to begin looking for a '94-'95 GT coupe. While he really wanted a convertible, he didn't think they'd be in his price range. After receiving a call from a local dealership saying it had just received a '94 Teal GT coupe, Paul and his parents went to take a closer look. "We arrived, only to find a beat-up car that I couldn't even drive because it was in the shop being repaired," he says. Not wanting to waste a trip, Paul knew of a Chrome Yellow convertible at a dealership not far from the first. "We walked onto the dealer's lot at 8 p.m. and walked out at 11:30 p.m. with the keys to the convertible in hand."

Even though the car was equipped with an AODE, it was still a big step up in performance. Within a couple months, however, Paul grew tired of the automatic and began pricing AODE-to-T5 conversions. In December 1997, Paul's dad found another Chrome Yellow convertible identical to Paul's but with a five-speed and a Mach 460 stereo. On December 23, Paul traded his AODE convertible for the five-speed model. Although virtually identical, the five-speed model's performance was head and shoulders above that of his previous drop-top. Paul was happy with the car's performance, so the mods began, with the addition of chrome wheels, a body kit, and some interior sprucing.

Once the warranty was up, Paul took the car to the track to get a baseline before adding performance goodies. In stock form-minus the silencer that he removed less than a block away from the dealership after buying the car-the convertible rang up a 15.2 at 90 mph. "The next day I had 3.73 gears installed," Paul says. The following week he was back at the track, only to have the factory clutch go south on him and the car run 15.4s at 89 mph. Working at a feverish pace, the following weekend he picked up a Ford Racing Performance Parts heavy-duty clutch, a Pro-5.0 shifter, a Bassani X-pipe, and Flowmaster two-chamber mufflers. Back at the track, he was disappointed to run a best of 15.02 at 91 mph. "I started to wonder if the ability to drop the top was worth being so slow," Paul says. Being determined, he advanced the timing to 14 degrees and went back to the track, where he was rewarded with three consecutive 14.96s at 91 mph. "I was finally in the 14s, but I definitely wasn't happy," he says.