E. John Thawley III
March 16, 2006
Photos By: Tom Wilson

Horse Sense

In the steel, Joe's car exudes an overpowering sense of newness, as ifit just rolled off the showroom floor and through a detail shop. That'sno accident, as the painstakingly straightened and painted bodywork istrimmed with nothing but new lights, rubber trim, and emblemsthroughout. The custom touches meld in as if Ford had put them there.

Joe sequestered his Mustang in an upstairs room for most of its six-and-a-half-year build. He showedit to us for the first time almost three years ago in a project car'stypical disembodied state, and even then it was a presence we knew wehad to share.

Joe Gosinski flits around his shop in nervous bursts. When the cellphone rings, he unloads into it in rapid fire and keeps right onwrenching because two things at once are almost enough. There's so muchto do, and nothing ever fits or runs right the first time.

Full glitter polishing and a grand plus in custom Auto Specialtiespulleys highlight Joe's 347 show-and-go motor. The deleted distributorhugely streamlines the engine; Joe hopes a company such as PainlessWiring might tool up a retrofit coil-on-plug wiring harness to followhis custom application. The fuel rails are Vortech. Originally, thecar's secondary color was red; after Joe opted for yellow as thesecondary color, he left a few original red items as accents.

Practical enough to survive running his own shop, yet gifted with anivory-tower vision of automotive excellence, Joe's medium frame andsnappy energy belie his 38 years. A tinkerer and youthful disassemblerof anything that ticked, Joe was a natural for cars, and after an Ohiochildhood and military stint he settled in Southern California andstarted his Mustang journey as a technician at Saleen Autosport in 1989.Those familiar with Saleen will take one look at the shimmering blackhatchback in the photos and smile knowingly when we say Joe's first jobwas applying the gray and yellow stripes on those rare SSCs. And neverone to hide an influence or take an undo credit, Joe is quick toacknowledge those early Saleens left a lasting impression. As he put it,"I really liked the SSC, even if it was only 270 hp; it was just reallyclean."

In fact, like several other heavy hitters in the Mustang world, Joe owesmore than just a start in the Pony hobby to Steve Saleen. Joe wasinvolved in many aspects of building Saleens--from Mustang bodywork todeveloping 302 and 351 engines, working on the XP8 Explorer, andbuilding all the SA10 anniversary cars--and was there long enough tohear of the S7.

Leaving Saleen in 2000, Joe opened his own shop, Chicane Sport Tuning,in nearby Torrance, California. He had built Mustangs for a handful ofcustomers after hours in a home garage, but after 11 years of Saleenassembly line wages while picking up talents such as Auto CAD in hisspare time, he opted to make a fulltime go of it. And with his extensiveSaleen background and his burning attention to detail, upgradingMustangs--especially Saleen Mustangs--was a natural. Starting with wordof mouth and help from Joe's who's who list of SoCal Mustang-scenefriends, Chicane Sport Tuning became the one-stop Saleen finishingschool for anyone south of San Francisco. It quickly had a reputationfor sharp presentation with the trendy late-model street set andhot-rodded early cars, too.

The black hatch seen here came to Joe in 1998 as a side job before heleft Saleen. In those days it was an '87 GT automatic, silver over bluewith manual windows and mirrors. The owner wanted a Vortech-assisted 306Joe had developed at Saleen's.

One of the few non-stock body parts is the '93 Cobra wing. Even the hoodis stock, although supported by Redline Tuning gas struts. And shouldyou glance at the red front sway bar, it too is stock, but has beenpowdercoated. One thing you won't see is exposed tailpipes--Joe can'tstand them.

"So we started," Joe explains, "and he spent money hand over fist."While the engine was out, he wanted a transmission. And a tricked-uprear axle. Then custom appearance and handling items. "And after a yearhe came to me and said, 'Man, you know, I can't go any further. I'mgoing bankrupt, I've been taking money out of my retirement account andspending money from credit cards that I shouldn't have; I just can't goon--but I owe you for the labor and parts, so let me give you thecar...' So I took it and I started my own path on it. I got rid of the306, [added] the six-speed, did the brakes several times, and now, 61/2years later, there it is!"

We don't have the space to recount all the iterations the car wentthrough in Joe's back room. But from the beginning, he simply wanted acar for himself--a nice driver that would do well in some car shows, runhard, but above all, simply please Joe's tastes as he piled up therun-around miles. But as he went on, his restless ambition to make anice car conspired with the ever-evolving Mustang market. Joe's exposureto such talents as Chip Foose of Overhaulin' fame ensured his Foxescalated from then state-of-the-art bolt-ons to its current status as aleader in custom-built handiwork.

Upon the car's debut at the 2005 Saleen Open House car show (whereelse?), even casual observers stopped to admire the hatchback'scome-hither gleam. They knew the paint looked good, but couldn't haveknown Joe spent 12 large and had the car painted three times by threedifferent shops before the black pigment took on that 3-D, pool-likedepth over straight body panels. Credit Al Martinez for the final work.

The signature element of Joe's 5.0 is its elegantly sculpted Ferrari 360Modena wheels. They span a relatively narrow 18x7 inches in front and amore useful 18x10 in back because the mid-engine Italian speedsterdoesn't need as much front grip as a Mustang. Incredibly, given thesmall Ferrari wheel-stud diameter, accidentally close metric boltpattern, and fortuitous offsets, Joe was able to make the wheels fitwith nothing more than a slightly offset rebore of the bolt holes. Hehas a set of Cobra R wheels and gumballs for track day, but has yet tofit them. Can you imagine whipping a car this gorgeous at the roadracing course?

Likewise, the all-polished engine is an obvious attraction, but it takesa second to realize that, while it's clearly a 5.0 H.O., something is upwith this one. The missing distributor and coil-on-plug ignition, alongwith the seamlessly faired oil fill riser, are typically what get theviewers to come to a dead stop and start soaking up the details.

Enginewise, those details are a 347 long-block built by Dan Nowak. It'sall forged inside, with a mild cam, and Joe claims nothingearth-shattering about the studded and girdled internals. The Trick Flowheads are fed by an S-Trim Vortech V-1 blowing 10 pounds of boost. Atpress time the combination had been dyno tuned for driveability, but notmax power. All-out thrust never was the point, anyway. Joe's had legionsof mega-powered, way-tuned-up S-351 Saleens under his throttle foot andknew he didn't need the insane power, single-digit fuel mileage,cantankerous driveability, and short engine life of such cars. He'sexpecting high-400 hp at the tires, and that's plenty. So far, tuning bySteve Ridout at Powertrain Dynamics has shown 288 rwhp and 412 lb-ft oftorque at 3,600 rpm, and the highest engine speed was reached whiledialing in the engine management using just 8 pounds of boost.

The coil-on-plug ignition was Joe's idea to clean up the enginecompartment and add interest, but he says it never would have happenedwithout Dave Midinski and Michael Cullen, both fellow Saleen ex-pats.Dave is the gifted general electronics guru who was the hands-on talent,while Michael's long Ford service background provided the importantspecialized knowledge of Ford ignitions. The COP ignition is builtmainly from modular-engine bits, but clearly required some one-offfabrication.

You can also appreciate Dave's skills in getting the '99 EEC V processorto work with a return-style fuel system in Joe's car.

Mechanical complexity is found in the all-custom cog-belt blower driveJoe developed with generous help from Auto Specialties. Why a cog? Justfor its visual and aural delights. Surprisingly, the real issue wasfinding a belt short enough for the simple system; it was finallylocated at the New England Belt Company. No intercooler is used, as Joebelieves the cost and complexity aren't worth it for a 10-pound streetsystem, and it would be another major bit of plumbing for him to dressand package.

Plumbing that did get the treatment was the blower inlet tubing. It wasbuilt by Shane Boulay, a fabricator also associated with the Overhaulin'TV show, using three 90-degree bends of 31/2-inch stainless steel tubingthat were cut and welded using no filler rod. It also accepts Joe'scarefully hand-fabbed bypass air system, which is purposefully aimed toflow into the supercharger.

As for the oil-fill riser, it is one of many touches custom-machined byRoy Price, "an awesome, awesome guy." The filler neck is milled frombillet and faired into an otherwise stock valve cover. There are maybesix others in the world. Other Price points are a billet-aluminum alarmhorn (not yet on the car), billet wheel chocks for car-show duty, boltcaps on the front of the engine and steering rack, and the core-plugcover on the leading edge of the '93 Cobra intake manifold.