Michael Johnson
Associate Editor, 5.0 Mustangs & Super Fords
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.

Paul's next goal was 14.0s, but his Internet Mustang club buddies told him that was impossible with stock E7TE heads because of the weight of his car. Paul was out to prove them wrong. He added all the bolt-ons that would work well with aftermarket heads to make for an easy power transition once the heads were added. Scouring the classified sections found on many Mustang-based Web sites, Paul came across an Edelbrock Performer intake, already painted yellow. Since it was close to Christmas, Paul kept dropping hints to his parents and then girlfriend/now wife, Molly. "My parents finally gave in and told me to e-mail the guy and tell him I would take it," Paul says. "Within a few hours a reply came back, simply saying, 'Sorry, sold it.' I was so upset that I missed out on the intake that seemed perfect for my car."

On Christmas Eve, Molly was at Paul's. As she unloaded presents from her car, there was one big package she wouldn't let Paul touch. As it turns out, Molly was the buyer of the intake. "That was one of the best presents I have ever received," Paul says. "I proceeded to add the intake, a 65mm throttle body, and unequal-length headers to the car." A trip to Englishtown with his 3,800-pound car (with Paul in it) resulted in 14.5s at 97 mph.

It wasn't the 13s he had hoped for, but the mph showed the power was there. Practicing his launches, Paul was able to get the car down to 14.3s on street tires. He added Nitto 555R drag radials out back, along with a homemade ram-air system. In that trim, he proved the naysayers wrong by running a 13.83 at 98.5 mph.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Paul set out for the low 13s. "I wanted a strong, naturally aspirated combo that would be streetable enough to be daily driven," he says. He purchased a pair of Airflow Research 165 heads and began researching camshaft selections. "I started asking around about a cam to match my AFR/Edelbrock combo, and the name Ed Curtis from Flowtech Induction kept coming up." Paul called Ed for a camshaft recommendation and was told his goals would easily be attain-able with one of Ed's cams. To go along with the AFR heads and the Flowtech camshaft, Paul added FRPP 1.6 roller rockers, 24-lb/hr injectors, a 190-lph fuel pump, 4.10 gears, and a Pro-M 75mm Bullet mass air meter. Paul's first trip to the track resulted in a 13.6 at 103 mph. "I didn't know how to feel about those times," he says. "So, the next week I went back and this time I added some fuel pressure and upped the shift point." Paul once again reached his goals of low 13s with a 13.2 at 105 mph.

With these modifications, however, came the dreaded '94-'95 idle surge-and-die syndrome. "As soon as the car would heat up, the idle would surge and ultimately die," Paul says. To get the car under control and be master of his own tuning domain, he purchased an EEC Tuner. After learning how to use it to tune the car, Paul surpassed his own goals with a 12.96 at 106 mph. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "My 'vert did it." Ed, along with Paul's www.stangnet.com buddies, gave the car the nickname "Bar Setter" because it ran faster each trip to the track.

With tuning and the engine maxed out, Paul turned his attention to traction and component reliability. He added Mickey Thompson ET Streets, Strange 31-spline axles, an Eaton differential, and a TTC-Tremec TKO transmission. In the fall of 2003, Paul attended the SuperStallions of the Net (www.superstallions.com) Fall Nats at Cecil County Raceway in Maryland. "I ripped out the passenger seat, bolted on my ET Streets, and installed a short belt," he says. True to form, the car liked the new equipment and ran a new best of 12.31 at 111 mph. "I was in total disbelief that the car was capable of those times."

Naturally, Paul's current goal is to run in the 11s, and he knows the easiest way to do that is to take weight out of the car by adding Bogart skinnies up front, a lightweight battery, and a tubular K-member and front control arms. "I think that when and if I hit the 11s in my car, I will be done racing it," Paul says. We're sure by the time you read this, the 'vert will have said "A Riva Derci" to the 12-second zone.

5.0 TECH SPECS
ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN
Block Stock '95 5.0
Displacement 302 ci
Rotating Assembly Stock
Camshaft Flowtech Induction custom grind
Heads AFR 165 (box-stock),
60cc combustion chamber, FRPP 1.6 pedestal-mount roller rockers
Intake Edelbrock Performer
(removed casting flash), Morpheus intake tube
Throttle Body FRPP 65 mm
Mass Air Meter Pro-{{{M}}} 75mm Bullet
Injectors FRPP 24 lb/hr
Fuel Pump Weldon 190-lph
in-tank, stock lines and rails, Kirban fuel-pressure regulator
Exhaust FRPP 15¼8-in short-tube headers,
Bassani off-road X-pipe, DynoMax Ultra-Flo welded mufflers, stock tailpipes
Power Adder Not needed
Transmission TTC-Tremec TKO,
Pro-Motion clutch, Steeda Tri-Ax shifter
Rearend 8.8, Eaton differential,
Superior 31-spline axles, and FRPP 4.10 gears
ELECTRONICS
Engine Management Stock Computer w/EEC Tuner
Ignition Stock, FRPP plug wires
Gauges Auto Meter
CHASSIS AND SUSPENSION
Front Suspension
K-Member Stock
Control Arms Stock
Springs Stock
Struts Stock
Brakes Stock, '99-up PBR calipers (polished)
Wheels Bogart RR10 17x9
Tires Nitto 555 245/45
Rear Suspension
Springs Stock
Shocks Stock
Control arms Stock uppers, Global West lower control arms
Brakes Stock
Wheels Bogart RR10 17x10.5
Tires Nitto 555R drag radials 315/35
Cage Hooker four-point
Chassis Stiffening Global West subframe connectors