Huw Evans
August 13, 2010
Contributers: Brad Bowling, Huw Evans Photos By: Brad Bowling

Richard Wilson's 1983 Mustang GT
It's perhaps a bit sobering to realize, especially for us that can remember, that 1983 was quite a while ago. It was the era of synth-pop, TAB soda, Breakdancing and a lot of cars that struggled to get up to speed thanks to a combination of two-barrel carburetors and a whole host of still crude emissions control devices, mandated by our friend the Environmental Protection Agency. It was amid mile long lineups at the movie theater to see Return of the Jedi, that Richard Wilson's 1983 Mustang GT first hit the streets. And despite the issues facing many automakers peddling cars in North America, it can honestly be said that in '83 Ford was onto something. That year's Thunderbird was a knockout success, the mid-size LTD also proved a hot seller and the Mustang was regaining its stride. Engineers decided to bolt on a less restrictive (and lighter) aluminum intake and a Holley 4180 four-barrel carburetor to the 'reborn 302.' They also thought it would be a good idea to play with plumbing at the other end as well, so larger diameter exhaust passages, single cat Y-pipe and muffler with dual tips were installed. That meant the 5.0 liter V8 now made 175 horsepower and 240 lb-ft of torque. Not a huge amount now, but impressive then, especially for a car that could run 0-60 in under 7.3 seconds and cost less than 10 big ones. Other improvements included binning the nasty,two-piece rear main rope seal for a single piece neoprene item, while at the same time, the gearbox in GT models was upgraded from the Single Rail Over Drive four-speed manual to Borg-Warner's stouter five-speed unit (interestingly enough the SROD could still be had as a credit option after the T-5 was introduced in December, but really, who'd have bothered by that stage?)

The 1983 GT looked different as well, thanks to a redesigned grille, rearward facing hoodscoop and center blackout section. Wheels and tires were enlarged (both standard and Metric TRX), plus bigger front and rear sway bars helped the car roll less in the turns. Ford ultimately cranked out 27,649 GTs for '83, including 1,001 convertibles (among the first factory blessed Mustang ragtops in a decade) and 604 GT Turbo four-cylinders. So, if you figure in 27,000 odd cheap, fast cars and 24 years, the survival rate probably doesn't look to good does it? So, that's why, when we see a car like Wilson's we bag it for a mag feature as soon as possible.

Probably one thing we should mention is that Richard, wasn't actually looking for one of these cars when plans were underway to build a toy a few years ago. "I have a 1969 Mach 1 428 CJ car that I bought brand new and one day, this guy gave me a '69 351 Windsor motor. It was lying around in the shop, but I wanted to put it in something." Initially, Wilson's intent had been to find a 1965-66 Mustang and use that as the basis for a street machine. But one day at work, things changed. "There was this other guy I was working with. His nephew had this '83 Mustang GT and was looking sell it. The car had been through three owners and 185,000 miles, but when I picked it up, it wasn't that bad. It had been bumped in the right front fender so I fixed that, replaced the front clip and the interior and that was that." Naturally Wilson's intent was to transplant the 351 Windsor he already had, into the little Fox.

However, building the car turned out to be quite the learning experience. "I did enjoy putting it together, but there were a lot of things I know now that I didn't when I started. The motor itself was kinda interesting. When it was first built, the pistons were machined and were too thin - you could cut them with a knife. I ended up having to fork out for eight new TRW pistons and have the whole rotating assembly balanced - it ended up costing me another $1,000 once the labor was in, but I figured it was worth it." Another learning curve concerned the transmission. "I originally built the car with the intention of using a T-5. My wife helped me install it, but my son, who's had several Mustangs (currently an '85 GT), said that the tranny wouldn't last and I needed something stronger - especially with a 351 making over 350 horsepower." So Richard ponyed up for a Tremec 3550 and no, his wife didn't help installing that one. Little by little, the car started coming together. "We ended up changing a lot of stuff on the car," mentions Wilson, "to the point that I think the only original pieces left on it now are the inside door panels. I swapped the rear end for an 8.8 with 3.73 gears and had some trouble getting the right clutch to work - I ended up with a Hays 11-incher - most of the clutches I tried were too strong, plus it took some time to get a starter to clear the flywheel but I found a disc from Long that worked." As for other alterations. "Because I had a 351 and went with a Victor Junior intake I had to get a cowl hood to clear it - I also ran into a couple of other issues for the body. I really wanted to replace the rear bumper cover because it was sagging in the middle. The only problem, was that I couldn't get one. I tried the usual route - dealers, they said they could get one but nothing materialized - in fact, what I did end up with was a second front clip, so the painter and I decided to work with the original rear bumper cover. Mark's Paint and Body Shop, sprayed on the dark red metallic, but when it comes to cars of this age (especially Fords), putting all the little trim bits back in place can prove a challenge. Wilson continues the story. "The car still had all the moldings on it, but they don't make these any more. I couldn't find used ones, so I took the originals, heated up the metal strips on the back side, carefully peeled them off and then used double sided tape to attach the moldings to the body - they're still on there today."

Richard upgraded the suspension with BBK springs and Monroe adjustable shocks and outfitted the car with 16 inch ROHs and BFG 225/60-16 and 245/50-16 radials - not too long ago, these were almost mandatory on any street Fox-Rod that wasn't set up for drag duty and streets ahead of the old TRX combo. And while it may have taken him some time to put it all together, Wilson was ultimately rewarded with a sharp looking, nice driving machine. "I like the way it drives," says Richard. Compared to my Mach 1, the car handles real good. It's got power steering, which my Mach doesn't and with the suspension changes I can take it out and stick it through the corners a lot better. I swapped the brakes for '87 and up front spindles and rotors so it stops better now and I like the way the power comes on with the 351. The cam's got a bit of overlap, but once I put on the Mallory distributor and got the carb issues sorted out, I've found that it's real useable. She dyno'ed at 354 rwhp and the delivery is smooth, all the way through."

So although it's done, with space in the garage rapidly approaching capacity, it looks like the '83 might be Wilson's last project for a while. "With my son's '85 GT, my '69 and now this one - you could say our shop is full of Mustangs. My son and I like going to the local cruise nights in and around Lynchburg and Roanoke on the weekends." No doubt both cars draw quite a crowd when they do. But when we asked Richard if he's ever shown the '83 GT or not, his reply went like this - "nah, never really thought it was good enough." I think some of us might beg to differ.

Specifications
Richard Wilson's 1983 Mustang GT

Engine
Ford 351 Windsor Iron Block V8

Engine Modifications
TRW forged, flat top pistons, .030" oversize; Eagle forged steel connecting rods; Comp Cams camshaft .560" lift, valve springs; Crane roller rocker arms; Trick Flow 2.02" intake valves, 1.60" exhaust valves, Twisted Wedge aluminum cylinder heads; Fel-Pro head gaskets; Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold, 130 lph fuel pump; Holley 750 cfm carburetor; Summit Racing fuel pressure regulator; BBK headers & exhaust; MAC mufflers; MSD 6AL ignition controller, ignition coil; Mallory Unilite distributor; Taylor 409 10mm ignition wires; Moroso 7-qt oil pan; ARP cylinder head studs; FRPP aluminum radiator, valve covers, breather cap

Driveline
Tremec 3550 manual transmission; Hays steel flywheel, 11" clutch disk; Long 11" clutch pressure plate; Steeda Tri-Ax shifter; FRPP aluminum driveshaft; Auburn differential

Interior / Exterior
Richard Wilson's 1983 Mustang GT

Exterior
Dark red paint by Mark's Body Shop, Lynchburg, VA

Interior
Flow Fit seats; Grant leather wrapped steering wheel; Auto Meter Sport Comp monster tach, shift light, oil pressure, water temperature, voltage gauges; Alpine TDM-7544 head unit; Hurst pistol grip shift knob

Chassis
Ford 1986+ OEM front brakes; Optima Red top battery

Suspension
BBK lower control arms, lowering springs; Monroe shock absorbers and struts

Wheels And Tires
ROH 16" aluminum rims; BF Goodrich Comp T/A 225/60-16 front tires, 245/50-16 rear

Numbers
354 RWHP, 342 RWTQ