Michael Johnson Associate Editor
July 24, 2001

Like the rest of us, Matt Malinich, of Pasadena, Maryland, had always dreamed of owning a Mustang. "I remember getting Mustang magazines when I was 10 years old," he says. He also watched TV shows on Mustangs and collected anything to do with our favorite ponycar. To further drive his love for Mustangs, Matt's uncle owned a red '66 coupe with white stripes and assorted Shelby components. In Matt's first street-racing action, he hopped on his bicycle and raced his uncle's Mustang. For the race, Matt's uncle gave him house lengths and the move, but "somehow that car always won." Alas, Mustangs come and go, and his uncle sold the car. "I was devastated," Matt says.

He had to endure a few other close calls on his way to Mustang ownership, which included his uncle picking up a Calypso '92 LX hatch, his mom almost buying an identical LX before finding out a Mustang wasn't front-wheel drive, and an attempted purchase of a '77 Mustang Cobra II. Matt's dad recommended he get a newer car, so when he turned 16, he bought the front-wheel-drive car his mom drove off the lot-a '92 Ford Probe GT Turbo.

Matt modified the Probe a little, but he still yearned for V-8 Mustang power and torque. He testdrove several Mustangs, but all of them were out of his price range until he came across an '87 GT T-top. The GT was a non-A/C car, and it wasn't in the greatest shape, but Matt and his dad bought it anyway. Matt drove the car for about six months before he slid on loose gravel, kissing a guardrail in the process.

Matt had the car fixed, and he began working at Arbutus Auto Painting and Body Works in 2000. He wanted to fix up the GT, but his body-shop buddies, including Rob Pierpont, informed him the GT wasn't really in great shape. A neighbor of Rob's had a good candidate for sale, and it just happened to be Calypso, the same color as his uncle's and the color his mother almost purchased. "I had to have this car," Matt says. His dad helped him buy the car, which boasted a full exhaust, a cold-air kit, a 190-lph fuel pump, 3.73 gears, and Nitto 555R Extreme drag radials.

It didn't take long to relive those days on his bicycle, but this time it was Matt behind the wheel at the track. His first time at the track, he ran 13.90s. He also hit the car shows; his first was in Ocean City, Maryland. With the aforementioned modifications and a polished belt tensioner, the hatch won a Top 25 trophy from more than 300 cars. "I liked having a car in the show and people looking at my car like I remember doing as a kid at shows with my dad," Matt says.

With the show bug firmly planted, he began polishing more items on the car and keeping it clean, even though it had become a daily driver because the Probe's transmission gave out. During a family turmoil, Matt gave the Mustang to his dad and fixed the Probe. The Probe lasted another month, and Matt was able to get back behind the wheel of the Mustang. But again, he tasted a guardrail at 60 mph on the way to another show [These Maryland guys drive worse than I do.-Johnson]

Matt's latest guardrail dance did $5,000 worth of damage to the hatch, which basically took out the entire passenger side. "When I got the car back I couldn't believe how it looked," he says. The car was wet-sanded and treated to several coats of clearcoat to make it pop. "The car was beautiful," he adds. Evidently, he wasn't alone in his thinking because he began winning on the car-show scene.

After a while, however, Matt got the itch to modify the car for better performance with an FRPP King Cobra clutch, lowering springs, new ignition components, and a short belt for the dragstrip. A return trip to the track rewarded him with consistent 13.60s and a best 13.57/101-mph pass. Then, he raced a friend in an LT1 Camaro. Matt won that race, but when the Camaro owner added a cam and other bolt-ons, he couldn't stand pat on what he had. To even the racing field, Matt took the car to Flowers Automotive for a pair of Trick Flow Twisted Wedge heads, an FRPP E303 cam (that's since been changed out for a Trick Flow Stage 1 cam), a Cobra intake, 24-lb/hr injectors, a 70mm throttle body, and a Cobra 70mm mass air meter.

Maybe that was too much power because the first night out with the new combo, Matt broke Third gear in the stock T5. Flowers installed a four-cylinder T5, which Matt thought would be a temporary fix, but the transmission lasted more than a year running 12.80s on street tires. He says he couldn't power-shift the transmission, but its gearing allowed the hatch to reach 150 mph, which was probably not the best idea considering Matt's past experience with guardrails. And, he says he lost header bolts every time he ran the car that fast.

With a job change to Pie's ACE body shop as a painter's helper, Matt concentrated on the engine compartment, painting the engine bay, alternator bracket and A/C brackets, valve covers, and the Cobra intake. "I added some chrome and polished some more things, including the A/C compressor, which took eight hours to get to a mirror finish," Matt says. He also painted the side mirrors, window moldings, and a Cervini's Auto Designs Cobra R hood.

At a World of Wheels show in Baltimore, Matt came in Second to an LS1 WS6 Trans-Am. To keep that from happening again, he added '03 Cobra wheels in chrome, more chrome under the hood, including a Kenny Brown Performance strut-tower brace, and BBK Gripp caster/ camber plates. He painted a fire extinguisher and nitrous bottle to match the car's exterior, but added flames to give them more pop. When he returned to the World of Wheels show in 2005, the additional work and components paid off when he went home with the First Place trophy.

Matt is far from done, however. Dreams he hopes to turn into realities are the additions of a 331 stroker engine with AFR heads and a ProCharger. "My goal is to have a 10-second street-able car with A/C for the hot summer days and heat for the cold winter nights here in Maryland," Matt says.

That's a lofty dream for sure, but like his past dreams, this reality is in sight.