Eric English
June 1, 2009

Horse Sense: Instead of using SN-95 axles with his 11.65-inch Cobra rear discs, Michael opted for a set of North Racecars caliper brackets ( which allow using stock-length Fox axles, in this case, 31-spline Mosers. Fox-spec axles are 0.75-inch shorter than their SN-95 brethren, providing a slightly narrower track that can mean the difference between annoying tire interference with the fender, and smooth sailing. Be aware that SN-95 rotors have a different hub diameter than Fox drums, so order your axles with this in mind. Both North Racecars and Moser have these hybrid units readily available.

Among the Mustangs we see in our travels from East to West, ones like Michael McKinnon's help maintain the excitement of our hobby as much as any. You'd think it pretty easy to become jaded by King of the Street competitors, 6-second Pro 5.0s, 700-horse GT500s, and so much more, and yet a well-executed bolt-on car emphasizes that our world doesn't need to revolve around cubic dollars or gargantuan horsepower. We like Michael's ride as well as any we're apt to see, as the attention to detail and elemental performance pieces are reminders of what make Mustangs so great to begin with.

To the point, this '91 began life as a lowly four-cylinder LX--likely all of about $10,000 brand new. With few exceptions, Mustangs have always been about overachieving--taking cars of humble origins and transforming them into giant-killers. It's been this way from day one, when Mustangs based on Ford's Falcon beat out far more expensive competitors in a variety of racing venues. You could say it's in the DNA, as the theme continues to this day in the S197 chassis. Consider that Mustangs have always been built within the budget constraints dictated by their cheapest entry level model and must overcome this challenge to perform beyond the ordinary. That's no slam to the nameplate, but rather a simple grasp of reality.

To be clear, today's six-cylinder Mustangs with sub-$20,000 MSRPs prohibit the kind of exotic designs or materials used in the likes of Corvettes or BMWs--neither of which offer a base model anywhere near a Ponycar price point. While Mustang performance variants such as Cobras and Shelbys perform at levels far beyond their V-6 sibs, they too are hindered by the model's basic economical design. Herein lies the perennial challenge to legions of Mustang fans everywhere--how to make an affordable car outrun those with an economic headstart?

Time-honored techniques for building hard-charging Mustangs have always included a good measure of hard work and ingenuity, and the case here is little different. Some financial resources are helpful as well, as an effort like Michael's isn't exactly a budget deal. Nevertheless, the economics are considerably different than walking into the local car dealer and shelling out for the latest and greatest. In this case, Michael's contribution has surely been countless hours of manual labor, while the ingenuity is provided by a vast aftermarket that has R&D'd the popular bolt-ons we know and love.

His sweat equity began when he acquired this worn '91 four-banger in 2005. Michael stripped the car to its shell and, with brother Bryan, began the straightening and massaging that would set the stage for the stunner it is today. Once the body was finally ready for paint, Michael chose to go with a Lexus-sourced Matador Red, using three-stage PPG Global materials. Yes, it helps that both McKinnons are experienced in the paint and body business, yet the many hours of work are just that--hard work.

The cowl hood and Saleen-style body pieces are all from Cervini's, providing just the right amount of eye candy to the otherwise rather plain LX hatchback. For motivation, Michael had Brad's Custom Auto in Seattle, Washington, build him a stout 331-inch, naturally aspirated engine based around a D.S.S. Level 2 block and 3.25-inch stroke rotating assembly. Street-friendly Edelbrock Performer heads team with a FRPP F303 cam for good top-end power, assisted by a Cobra intake, a BBK 65mm throttle body, and BBK short-tube headers.