Travis Thompson
May 1, 2006
This ultra-clean one-owner '82 GT has only 56,000 miles-but it's on its third engine. It's been driven hard at track days all across the country.

Horse Sense: These days, we're spoiled with five- and six-speed Mustangs, but the car that really kick-started the modern Mustang-performance movement was saddled with the Single-Rail Overdrive four-speed gearbox. You couldn't even get an automatic behind the 5.0.

When you've owned a car for 23 years, you're bound to have some stories to tell, and this one-owner '82 Mustang GT is no exception. After passing on the 255ci '81 Cobra, Bill Wagner picked up his GT from the dealership on February 15, 1982. With 390hp Cobras and-gulp-refined '05 Mustangs running around the streets today, it's hard to believe the '82 GT was a big step forward for Mustang performance. And Bill didn't let his four-eyed GT get outclassed by newer, faster Mustangs as the years went by-he volunteered to be the guinea pig as the fledgling Fox-body aftermarket cut its teeth.

The understated 347ci is built on an aluminum RDI/FRPP block and a set of TEA-ported Trick Flow Twisted Wedge aluminum heads. Bill swears all that blue was just a coincidence.

Bill ought to be the poster child for high-performance Mustang enthusiasts. Within the first year of purchasing his '82 GT, he added the all-black Recaro seats, headlight covers, cut coil springs, and a four-barrel intake and carb. He also tested a prototype set of underdrive pulleys for Kaufmann Products.

When Bill started autocrossing, things got serious. As his need for speed and reliability grew, Bill and his UPS driver got to know each other. That year, he added a 9-inch rearend (remember, the 8.8 hadn't come along yet), a T5 five-speed transmission, a chassis-stiffening kit, sway bars, and springs. Bill handled all the installation work himself. A set of ported 351 heads came back from the machine shop ready to go, just in time for his first open-track event at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. "Open-track was different from autocross, like going from training wheels on a bike directly to a motorcycle," Bill says. "The rush was indescribable and it took weeks for the grin to leave my face. I was totally hooked. New wheels, stickier tires, bigger brakes, and more power were needed."

The all-black interior is almost completely stock, save for the seats, CD player, steering wheel, and gauges.

Bill ran into the Baer Racing team at Road America, and asked Hal Baer about the parts Baer was using on its race car. Hal mentioned fitting larger Corvette brakes onto the Mustang. Bill's GT got a prototype-brake upgrade, along with Baer's new bumpsteer kit. The whole project was documented in some magazine published in New Jersey.

That wasn't the last high-performance-industry contact Bill made at an open-track event. He later met Kenny Brown at Brainerd International Speedway in Minnesota. After some discussion on how to improve the Mustang's handling, Bill made the drive to Kenny Brown's shop in Omaha to pick up one of the first Panhard bars designed for the Mustang. It made a huge handling improvement.

This open-track Mustang takes down Corvettes and Porsches on the straightaways and in the corners. With its full Griggs suspension and all-aluminum 347, it's as fast as it looks.

In the late '80s, Minnesota was beginning an emissions-testing program, and Bill knew his current setup would never pass the test. On the advice of some of his friends at Ford engineering, he decided to install one of the new Ford fuel-injection systems, complete with one of the first mass air conversion kits. Remember, this was 1988. Bill used a mixture of salvage yard and new Ford parts. "The parts guy thought I was totally nuts. He said it was impossible for a shade-tree mechanic to get a highly complex system like that working, and that it took a two-week training course for their mechanics to start. I told him I would have it on my car in two weeks. We made a $50 bet after he confirmed that it couldn't work. Two weeks to the day, with much pride and a big grin, I idled it in front of the shop garage with the guys in the shop slack-jawed in total disbelief. Needless to say, I collected the bet, and passed emissions the next year."

The only option this '82 GT didn't come with was the Recaro seats. Bill didn't like the checker pattern they came in anyway, so he just picked up some all-black ones later.

In a quest for more power, Bill installed a Vortech centrifugal supercharger and agreed to help beta-test the new aftercooler. Shortly thereafter, his engine let go on the way home from a few hot laps at Brainerd International Raceway. The harmonic balancer spun out of balance, causing the crank to break in three places. Even the distributor and transmission case were toast. Bill found a Cobra short-block, a Cobra intake, some new heads, and a cam. He also added the Saleen wing and ground effects, and his prized '81 Cobra hoodscoop. Later that year, the car was photographed for a magazine, but the article never made it to print because the editor didn't like the way black looked in pictures. [That sounds familiar.-Ed.]

The next serious upgrade for this '82 GT was a complete Griggs Racing coilover suspension. "This modification totally transformed the car. I could now run with the fastest cars on the track-including the Porsches and Vipers. Corvettes were even more fun. I had taken a transfer to Bowling Green, Kentucky [home of the Corvette], and caught many a Vette test car on the back roads. I bet seeing a Mustang fill their mirrors and stay with them was a real mind blower. Watching their eyes get big and their jaws drop as I passed them on the straights and left them in the corners is a lasting memory."