February 28, 2007

At some time or another, every kid has been caught staring into space. Sometimes the dream is about laying into the gas of a hot musclecar, thrashing through the gears in exhilaration and passing by the scene of the crime the next day to admire to damage left on the fresh blacktop surface. There is no worry about how much was wasted on those expensive performance tires. More times than not, if it was a Mustang in the dream, the kid would not only own one in the future, but have one for the rest of his days.

George Lambert falls into that category. His Mustang is an '80, which he purchased in 1982 when it had only 25,000 miles on it. It was a turbocharged four-cylinder and the hottest thing on the market at the time. Soon he became tired of getting stomped by the new 5.0, and George added his own optional 302 with a mild camshaft. Unfortunately, the car spent minimal time on the streets for the next five years, as it broke a long list of parts, including several SROD four-speeds and early model T-5 transmissions.

After five years of silently plotting and planning a complete overhaul of his Pony project, George effected a complete facelift, including a dual four-barrel, high-compression 289, a C-4 transmission with a loose converter, a beefed-up 9-inch rearend, twin 125hp nitrous plates, and a rollbar. It turned out to be a successful go-fast recipe resulting in mid 10-second timeslips to feed his need for speed, something the car had not yet pacified. Unfortunately, his wife, Tara, brought to his attention that cruising in their precious Pony had become less than enjoyable.

The Lamberts enjoyed 15 years of fun hot-rodding in the old 'Stang, and they both agreed to get it back to a more streetable demeanor. George and Tara sold all the go-fast parts and sent it away for a frame-up paint resto. A friend from Bill Mathews Auto Body of Springfield, Illinois, worked on the car in his free time, spending nearly two years perfecting the complete body resto and current BASF Extreme Series' Purple Haze color-changing paint job.

Even though it had a show-car quality paint job, the latest stock '89 engine and drivetrain didn't offer much zip, and the car was garaged for nearly three years. George and Tara found their newly purchased Hayabusa could more than appease the need for speed until longtime friend Clint Faugust, from Scott's Auto Parts in Virginia, llinois, called and said, "George, did I get a deal for you!" The two had tossed around the idea of reviving the Mustang by converting it into a Terminator Fox on several occasions. Clint found a wrecked '04 Cobra with only 14,000 original miles on it, so George sold the pocket rocket and the saga continued-or just began, as neither of them realized the magnitude of the project they were about to embark on.

The first dilemma of the project was the engine electronics. The more phone calls George made, the more it became apparent that nobody wanted to write a program to bypass the Cobra's factory passive anti-theft system, a necessity if they were to mate the state-of-the-art Cobra electronics with the prehistoric '80 ignition-key system. This is when they got the idea to make a complete swap: every engine, drivetrain, interior, and electronic piece, potentially alleviating this and many issues surfacing along the way.

It became apparent that the easiest way to make the swap was to leave everything mounted on the '04 Cobra panels and hand-fit the firewall, transmission tunnel, and parts of the floorpan, minimizing the alterations. Clint, with the help of his son Aaron, swapped the firewall with the heating and air conditioning, pedal supports, and steering column intact. The same would hold true for the shifter and seat-mounting points, especially since the '80 model body was only set up for lapbelts.

After retrofitting the new Cobra interior and dash wiring, it was evident there was no place for the ECU and power distribution modules in the usual passenger-side kick panel, so all 106 wires had to be lengthened by nearly 18 feet to reach behind the rear seat. George began the painstaking task when he noticed many of the wires, mostly for the crankshaft sensor, had a special aluminum-type shielding. One phone call to Hometown Garage in Pleasant Plaines, Illinois, and Jim Saathoff soothed George's fears, assuring he could see George through the overwhelming task.

Next, Bill Collins from Bill's Mustang Restorations in Rochester, Illinois, took the lead aligning the Cobra radiator supports, engine mounts, K-member and spindles, transmission, and IRS rear suspension. This included utilizing all of the Cobra fuel lines and brake lines. An '80 Mustang with a massive, high-tech, four-corner disc brake system with an operational ABS is impressive. After mounting the engine in its new home, the Cobra fuel tank and filler tube was fitted to ensure the factory dual fuel-pump setup was available for the supercharged Four-Valve engine's voracious appetite for fuel.