Scott Abele
January 22, 2006
Photos By: John Roper
It's not black! I was quickly corrected when I asked Bryan about his "black hatch." Beneath the "Chromodescent" flames screams DuPont's Black Cherry and Red Pearl. Having characteristics similar to Ford's Mystichrome, the colors roll with the car, changing from a vibrant red to a deep bronze, then culminating in a rich, glossy black.

Horse Sense: Bryan changes his lifestyle more than most Americans change their underwear. While making his big move to the Blue Oval, changing career paths, and moving about the country, his second wife played an integral role in pushing Bryan to obtain his goals. Diane worked beside Bryan in his efforts to turn his daily driver into a show-stopping street monster. She was raised a car nut, restoring a Karmann-Ghia with her father before turning 16. She even agreed to let Bryan build a new shop (including a lift) in the backyard. But Bryan didn't realize his better half dreamed up another restoration project. So the '89 and its future turbocharged 351W may end up on the back burner for a while.

It only took 10 years, 211,000 miles, and a blown head gasket to get Vega Bryan Mertz to bleed Ford Blue. A horsepower junkie at heart, he traded in his '88 Escort GT for this fresh-off-the-lot '89 GT. The Mustang served its purpose, traveling from coast to coast, following Bryan's career in the Navy. Through its daily driven life, the Pony witnessed countless Bow Ties going through the motions.

"I had always raced Chevys, including three V-8 Vegas, a back-halved '55 Bel-Air, and an '84 S-10 with a 500hp, 383 small-block in it. I never dreamed of going fast with my Mustang." When the Mustang's 302 finally gave out in 1999, Bryan went looking for a stock replacement engine. "I quickly realized the stock 5.0 motors were pretty expensive. I had decided I could build more horsepower with the same amount of money."

The block was sent to Precision Machine where it was punched 0.030-over with Eagle rods and TRW forged pistons; then it was crowned with a budget-conscious set of cast-iron Windsor Jr. heads. The 11.0:1 compression screamed out 12.7s at 107 mph. The days of "Vega Bryan" were all but a distant memory by then, albeit the "scary" S-10.

The Mustang was now quicker than the S-10, but not faster. The truck was trapping in the mid-120s with horrible wheelspin. The tub job and spooled 9-inch out back couldn't keep the truck planted. It had the power, but without traction the truck was more scary than fun. With Bryan's wrench-turning skills now fully dedicated to the Mustang, the future of the S-10 was uncertain. While the Chevy lay in wait, the Windsor heads were removed from the GT and sold. A set of milled Victor Jr. heads took the Mustang's compression up another 0.2 huffs. Paired with a Trick Flow Stage III cam and Victor Jr. intake manifold, Bryan's 'Stang was still good for 12.7s-this time on wimpy street tires.

"I wanted to see what it would take to do mid-11s with a naturally aspirated 306." So the S-10 was officially put aside. Bryan retired the hatchback's factory differential before it too unloaded, and the proper sub-12-second pieces were bolted up. The Powertrax locker, Moser 31-spline axles, and FRPP 4.30s now spin behind a Tremec 3550 and custom clutch. Typically an out-of-the-box clutch would do, but for his 5,800-rpm launches, Bryan contacted local Waco Clutch and Brake. Waco, more widely known in the LS1 community, fabricated the Mustang clutch that has withstood well over 200 passes. Many of those were made on Mickey Thompson slicks.

But what good is all this power without looking good? Sure, Bryan was used to piloting for "the dark side," but this is Mustang country. Arrangements were made with ABC Paint's Cory Wilton to revive the '89 body with an Age Classic 4-inch cowl hood, a Saleen tail, and DuPont's Black Cherry paint. At the cost of his S-10, Bryan ponied up for the hatchback to catch its rolling flame paint job. "The entire car actually looks like it changes colors." Using DuPont's Black Cherry with 750 grams of Red Pearl thrown in the mix, color was laid down. The Bright Red color scheme that was still evident in the cabin was replaced with a flip-flop red-to-black base, then accented with "chromodescent" flames.

The rolling business card helped land Bryan a position with Latemodel Restoration Supply after he retired from the Navy in 2003. "I was in heaven with all these Mustang parts available and getting paid to talk to Mustang owners all day. If I've learned one thing about the Mustang community, it's that it loves experience and demands firsthand knowledge when buying parts." Bryan couldn't keep his hands away from Latemodel's shelves, indulging in a catalog's worth of chrome and billet interior accents.

It took him two years to build the 340hp combo from what was once his daily driver. With tuning, the naturally aspirated 306 is expected to go 11.5s. Of course, for a speed junkie like Bryan, one goal is never enough. A '74 351W is in the works along with a T-76 turbocharger that should make Vega Bryan's Bow Tie memories go up like tire smoke. Sounds like Vega Bryan figured out that hoofbeats are louder than heartbeats.