Sharad Raldiris
December 1, 2008
Our test subject is this '89 Mustang 5.0 LX. We found it hiding out near Cincinnati, Ohio, and purchased it from the original owner with only 42,000 miles on the odometer.

Horse Sense:
Twenty years ago, aftermarket heads, cams, and intakes weren't simply a phone call or a mouse click away. Racers such as Bob Cosby, Tony Defeo, Neil Van Oppre, and several others had to get it done with the factory engine. Their efforts laid the foundation for the 5.0 craze that carries on to this day.

"Honey, I promise-I'm done buying and selling Mustangs. I'm gonna keep this one forever!" I'm not sure what possessed me to make that promise. However, I steadfastly maintain my innocence in breaking it.

Several months later on a cold Decem-ber day, a rowdy Second-gear power slide into a highway divider left my '00 GT twisted up. So there I was, looking for a replacement. I suppose it was a blessing in disguise: The car looked great, but I had always preferred the older pushrod cars.

Armed with insurance money from the accident, a large tax return, and a rock-solid excuse for my wife, I began searching for a new Mustang. The number of options was overwhelming. I love the S197s, but I just don't need that kind of monthly payment. I think the New Edge Mustangs may be the best-looking generation, but I couldn't justify spending so much money on a car that would still leave me craving an engine swap. The truth is, I never really got over the Fox-body Mustangs. Maybe it's because I was raised on them. Maybe it's because the Fox was the king of the stoplight drags in the early '90s when I was in high school. Either way, I knew I wanted an '89-'93 Mustang, but it had to be clean.

You rarely ever see a 5.0 with an engine compartment this original. It still has the rubber boot on the distributor.

I probably looked at over 200 Mustangs online or in person in the weeks following my accident. Ultimately, I settled on this '89 5.0 LX. It was a one-owner, 42,000-mile car that had been garage-kept almost all of its life. It was mostly stock with a few tasteful modifications. I felt it was the perfect foundation for a Fox rod project, so I snatched it up without even negotiating on the price. The previous owner (whom I owe a debt of gratitude to for his meticulous preservation of the car) actually got choked up as he signed over the title. I can't say I blame him-it marked the end of an era for him, but I had big plans for the car, so I rushed it home and dove right in.

The car was beautiful, alright, but boy was it slow. It had been so long since I'd driven a stock 5.0, I guess I underestimated what the years of technology had done for our beloved ponycars. My deceased Mustang (you know, the one with the engine I didn't like?) would undoubtedly have run circles around my new car, which was unacceptable. I spent weeks contemplating what I wanted out of the car as a long-term goal and what it would take to achieve that goal. It needed to be fast, but completely functional as a daily driver. This was no garage queen. The goal was lofty, but as they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. I spoke with Editor Turner about the project and we laughed about how much fun it would be to "molest a stocker" like this one.

Step one was to put the car in the 12s without digging into the stock motor. Weight-loss and traction were the order of the day. I'm no Mustang Melvin, but even I cringed as the air conditioner, power steering, and smog pump were removed. We replaced the weighty factory alternator bracket with a simpler and lighter mount from March Performance. Then we removed the front sway bar and the charcoal canister, along with a few other brackets and covers. We replaced the belt-driven radiator fan with an S-blade electric fan from Summit Racing. The last underhood modification was to remove the battery and relocate it to the trunk using an aluminum battery box from Taylor.

On the inside, we replaced the cumbersome factory armrest with an armrest-delete panel from Latemodel Restoration Supply. Next, the factory radio and amplifier were replaced with a JVC CD/DVD player from Xtreme Audio. Underneath, the car already had a BBK off-road H-pipe, so we replaced the factory after-cat with 2 1/2-inch MAC Pro-Dumps. Of course, big-time weight reduction and traction came in the form of a swap to Weld Draglites with BFGoodrich 275/50-15 drag radials, also from Summit Racing, with the hope that the tires and previously installed 3.73 gear would launch hard enough to run in the 12s.

We went with a Summit Racing S-blade electric fan kit, which came in at under $100.

At the track, things didn't go exactly as planned. The first pass was a 4,000-rpm launch with massive tire spin: 13.29 at 103.2. The second and third passes had different launch techniques with the same result: 13.29 and 13.31 with a best 60-foot time of 1.89.

The handling felt a bit sloppy, and we knew something was wrong. We took the car home and put it on jackstands to search for the problem. Sure enough, the driver-side lower control arm had half of the front bushing literally hanging out of the torque box, which explained the popping and skittishness we experienced on the launch.

A quick phone call to our friend Jeremy Martorella at UPR Products remedied the problem. We replaced the existing weight-jacker lowers with UPR Pro Series lower control arms. There are several different variations available, and we chose to run the Pro Series lowers with spherical bearings and factory sway-bar mounts. While we were at it, we chose to install UPR's Pro Series double-adjustable upper control arms as well. The arms bolted in without any hassle and radically altered the handling. The car transferred weight much more smoothly on the street, but the real test took place on the dragstrip.

Since test 'n' tune at our home track was still a few days away, we sought insurance for our quest to reach the 12-second zone with MAC's Air Chamber mass air system. It's a relatively new setup, basically a cold-air kit with an integrated mass airflow sensor. The filter is a washable conical design with a plastic bell inside to direct the air smoothly into the meter. The aluminum tube that runs to the throttle body doubles as a 76mm housing for the mass air sensor. We removed the electronics from the factory sensor and installed them into the new housing.

The fan was installed inside the factory fan shroud, which directs the air.

It only took 15 minutes to get the air chamber up and running. The result was a good news/bad news situation. The butt-dyno reported a noticeable increase in power, but it came at a price. There was so much more airflow with the new system that it could really use a fresh tune. Even using the factory 19-lb/hr sampling element, the new meter caused some cold-start issues, but there'll be no computer tuning until we install the Series IV PMS upgrade from Anderson Ford Motorsport.

Were the changes enough to enter the coveted 12-second stock-motor zone? It took eight passes to find out.

The first pass was a 4,000-rpm clutch dump that resulted in massive tire spin in First and Second gears and another 13.3X. Over the next two passes, we discovered that the BFG Drag Radials like to be smoldering on the launch. Initially, we couldn't launch at anything over 3,500 rpm without spinning. White-smoking the tires outside the water box made a noticeable improvement. Our second best 60-foot of the night was a 1.76, popping the clutch at 3,500 rpm (13.02 at 103.92). On that pass, the car shook the tires.

We thought about it for a minute and decided that whatever else happened, we weren't going to destroy my daily driver just to pick up another 0.03 second. We decided to slip the clutch, but not a huge clutch slip like the street bikes do. We basically just let out the clutch like you would during normal street-driving when you're not on the throttle; slow and smooth. All of a sudden, the car was living in bog city: 3,500-rpm bog; 4,000-rpm bog; 4,500-rpm bog; 5,000-rpm bog (13.01 at 103.46, another 1.76 but this time with a smooth launch). By that point, complete strangers were approaching us in the staging lanes, encouraging us to get the last 0.02 we needed to make the project a success. I told Editor Turner we'd get a 12-second timeslip without digging into the motor, but time was running out and the pressure was on.

Inside, we replaced the factory armrest with this delete kit from Latemodel Restoration Supply.

For the last pass, we set the tires to 12 psi on the left and 11 psi on the right because the car was body rolling with no antiroll bar. I white-smoked the tires to get them good and hot and tried to leave at 5,000 rpm, but I got a little anxious (no two-step) and actually launched at 5,200 rpm. The car dead-hooked to a new best: a 1.69 60-foot time. It pulled hard while I power-shifted as if my life depended on it. The timing board lit up with a 12.91 at 103.70-success.

We're not the first group to put a stock-motored 5.0 Mustang in the 12s and we won't be the last, but that's not the point of this exercise. The project serves as a reminder of what the 5.0 craze is all about. These cars have so much potential. They're fairly quick in stock form and they respond well to minor modifications. This excellent bang-for-the-buck factor is what fuels the Fox rod movement. People like us, who can't afford a new Mustang, can still go out there, pick up a clean Fox for next to nothing, fix it up however we want, then go out and have a blast with it. The possibilities are almost endless.

We don't know what the future holds for this particular car, but I hope it involves boost, 'cause "10-second stocker" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?