August 1, 2007

If someone says the word Texas, what kind of images and descriptions pop into your head? Subtle, low key, small in stature perhaps? Probably the opposite, right? The Lone Star State and its inhabitants have their own way of doing things and down there, things are often, bigger, brighter, warmer and simpler. Somebody once likened the US to parts of the human body - California was its face, New York its brain, but Texas, Texas was its heart.

And in the realm of the Mustang hobby this statement is right on the money. Some of the cars we come across in TX, have been put together with more heart and soul than some night club singers have in their entire repertoire, machines like this orange scorcher, that calls Corpus Christi home.

It started off life as a Crystal White 1995 SVT Cobra, the last of the 5-liters with all the GT-40 goodies, T-5 gearbox and handling suspension. Fast forward 12 years and that once-white steed is now a dazzling shade of orange - wowing show goers and car enthusiasts across Southern Texas and beyond. With more tricks up its sleeve than David Copperfield, this Pony has become an integral part of the family and Ralph Tapia, whose name is on the title, wouldn't have it any other way.

Ralph got his first glimpse of Blue Oval glory back in his high school years. His first ride was a lot cooler than most, being a 1963-1/2 Ford Falcon Sprint, replete with 260 V8 and four-speed. His second was a 1965 Mustang, a solid runner with working air that sported a four-barrel 289, which he picked it up for just $50! However, as is often the case, priorities change and for Ralph, playing with cars took a back seat for a while as he focused on other things, like raising a family.

A Different Route
By the time Y2K rolled around, he finally had some time and wherewithal to indulge in the hobby once again. "I got back into it with some more classic Mustangs. I had a '68 fastback which I built into a Shelby clone. I also had a 1970 Mustang - a real 428 CJ car that I restored and that was followed by a '70 Boss 302." But it was while working on the Boss that Tapia decided his next project would take a slightly different approach. "In 2000 I came across a 1995 Cobra. I got the chance to drive and I thought, man this is a neat little car. It was smooth riding and a lot more comfortable than the old muscle cars, but still had plenty of power. Plus, a lot of people were modifying these cars, so that got me thinking."

Not one to follow the herd, Tapia started figuring out a plan with the SN95. "My first plan was to turn it into a Roush clone. So that's what I did. But the car was refrigerator white - it didn't stand out and I eventually got bored with it." That's when Ralph conjured up plan number two. "Second time around I wanted to do something a lot wilder - I figured my first stop would be body and paint. I wanted to change the body a little bit, so I went with an ABC Exclusive 2000 Cobra R style front bumper. I combined it with Saleen side extensions and an ABC rear spoiler. I also decided to paint it Orange, since there weren't that many Orange Mustang show cars around at that time." In actual fact, the color is something called Sunset Pearl - a House of Kolor job and Arturo Garcia and Edmund Diaz of Performance Paint and Body, in Corpus Christi were tasked with applying it on the Snake's curvaceous flanks. Perhaps surprisingly, the stock hood and rear Cobra bumper remain, but when you look at the car, everything integrates rather well, especially when viewed in motion. The custom graphics and air brushing came courtesy of Ralph himself and John Saenz. A set of Saleen wheels went on the Mustang but then Ralph had to take some time out for other things. "It sat for about two years, but when I finally got around to doing some more work on it I figured it was time to go all-out." And that was essentially what happened.