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.

Thump Stang
"I got hooked up with a buddy who owns a stereo shop," mentions Ralph, and he turned me on to Crossfire Audio. I figured if I was going to do a killer show car, a cool sound system had to be part of the package." In fact the Crossfire Audio system took on a life of its own and led to this car gaining the nickname Thump Stang. "It's got VR1000D amps and VR404 400 watt speakers, along with two BMF121 subs," says Tapia. There's also an SVR audio battery, so when Ralph cranks the tunes, the ground shakes as if a whole stampede of stegosauri are passing nearby. Throw in the custom console, trunk enclosure, along with the leather/ostrich upholstery and it's easy to see why people go nuts over this thing at shows. But it didn't happen over night. "It was a lot of work to get the interior the way we wanted it. The original plan with the interior and sound system was to get it all done in two months, but that turned into eight, because we had different ideas about mounting things and of course there were space limitations." In the end, a compromise was reached on the cabin - but you'd hardly know it from peering inside.

And if you thought the trick stuff stopped at the interior and paint, you're way off base. The doors are another eye grabber, but as Tapia relates, went on pretty easily. "My buddy Edmund Diaz hooked me up with this kit. He did it in his spare time and I was very happy with the results. The doors can open vertically or in normal fashion. The workmanship is good - it's a very thoroughly engineered kit. With the doors up, to me, it looks like this car's about ready to fly."

Although the Cobra handled decently in factory form, Ralph felt it could still use a little improvement. Racecraft front and rear suspension, including springs, Bilstein front struts and rear shocks, BBK rear control arms and a full Baer Eradispeed brake kit with 13-inch front and 12-inch rear rotors went on. Although primarily a show and cruising car, Tapia also decided to have some chassis stiffening performed and the '95 sports a four-point chromemoly roll cage as well as a Racecraft strut tower brace up front. With a set of BF Goodrich KDWs mounted on the 19-inch rims, with a 265 footprint up front and a 295 patch on the rear, this car is poised for corner carving, not that Ralph is likely to spend much time flogging it around the road course - would you with a car that looked as good as this? One of the criticisms leveled at the early SN95 when it was new, revolved around muscle and hustle, or rather the lack of it. The Cobra churned out 240 horsepower to the crank for '95, but it wasn't really enough for Ralph, not with all the other stuff he'd already planned for this beastie. The bottom end of the 302 was left largely untouched, but the crank received a balance and polishing job. Speed Pro flat-top pistons and pins, along with a set of ported and polished AFR 185cc aluminum heads, along with Crane Cams 1.7 rockers and a Comp Xtreme grind bumped things up a few notches. The fuel system was also massaged, with Accel 30 lb injectors, 255 lph in-tank Holley pump, and Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, but not for a supercharger. Yes, this Pony has made 465 horses on the rolling road, but it gets the extra surge via laughing gas.

Well Worth It
What's not to like about a Nitrous Oxide System's 200 hp big-shot plate setup, with twin 10 lb bottles? But the thing Ralph likes most about the setup, power gains not withstanding, is the purge. See those two mounts for the windshield wipers? Well they're not what they appear to be. Okay, so the covers for the arms each look like the front of a gatling gun, but the lids actually pop up and Tapia uses them as the outlet for purging the system. "It's my favorite party trick. I love this car - I love driving it, but when you purge the Nitrous system at a show and whole bunch of people jump back six feet, now that I get a kick out of." His family does too.

"You know, for several years, the car pretty much came first and I have to really thank my family for allowing me to build it. They've been so supportive - my wife Melba, my son Ryan and also my daughter Shelby. Ryan's got the truck bug pretty bad and Shelby, well she's into cars and Mustangs. I joke that I have my own Shelby and she's truly one of a kind. It's great because my family have been with me to shows with this car. Before I never really won anything - now, since this car was completed, I've won seven Best of Show awards. This one time, they announced the award and Shelby was so excited, she ran over and got the trophy for me." Tapia is also quick to point out that it was a whole slew of friends that also helped him get where he is today. "Roy Eckhart, Orlando, Aaron and Andy Garza, EJ Gonzalez, Mike Caballero, Roy Blaker, George Reed and Kyle Yousef - I couldn't have done it without these guys, they're awesome." And on a final note, Ralph will leave you with a little story. "We were down in San Antonio for a car show. There was a young family and they asked if their son could sit in the car. They were building a new house and wanted to put a picture of Thump Stang on his bedroom wall. Now to me and my family, that was pretty cool - that we could make somebody happy like that." As they say, heart 'n' soul runs deep in Texas.

Specifications
Ralph Tapia's 1995 SVT Cobra

Engine
Ford 5.0-liter V8

Engine Modifications
Balanced and polished crankshaft by ACE Machine Shop, Speed Pro flat-top pistons, piston pins; Comp Cams Xtreme Engineering XE274R-12 camshaft with 274/282° duration and .555/.565" lift, roller valve lifters; Crane 1.7:1 aluminum roller rockers, Fel-Pro gaskets, ARP bolts, AFR 185cc aluminum heads, port matched and polished by Roy's Performance Motors, Accufab 75mm throttle body, BBK cold air intake, K&N air filter, Accel 30-lb fuel injectors, Holley 255 lph in-tank fuel pump, Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, fuel filter; Ford Racing 1-5/8" exhaust headers, Bassani 2-1/2" X-pipe, Borla/Saleen 2-1/2" mufflers and tailpipes, NOS 02116 200 hp big shot plate nitrous oxide system with two 10 lb bottles, activated by full-throttle micro switch, MSD Billet Pro 5.0 distributor, 6AL ignition control box, 9mm ignition wires; NGK iridium spark plugs, Optima battery, Canton T-style 7-quart oil pan, Fluidyne aluminum radiator, BBK silicone/chrome hoses and plumbing

Engine Management
Ford Cobra EEC-IV with Hypertech custom tune

Driveline
CenterForce Dual-Friction 10.5" clutch, Pro 5.0 shifter, Ford Racing aluminum driveshaft, SVO differential cover, 3.73:1 final drive

Chassis
Croix Race Cars four-point chromemoly roll cage, Racecraft strut tower brace

Numbers
575 RWHP

Exterior
ABC Exclusive Cobra R front bumper, Boss style rear wing; Saleen side extensions, vertical door conversion by Edmund Diaz of Autoworks Unlimited, House of Kolor Sunset Pearl by Performance Paint and Body, custom graphics and airbrushing by Ralph Tapia and John Saenz

Interior
Factory seats reupholstered with ostrich and leather, custom center console, door panels, sub woofer box and trunk enclosure, custom orange carbon fiber interior kit, interior trim by Mike's Custom Werks and Kustom Craft Upholstery, ostrich shifter boot, Auto Meter Ultra light 5" tachometer, 2-1/16" oil temperature, water temperature and oil pressure gauges; Varad Hyper LED kit, Eclipse AV 3424 head unit with monitor and DVD; 2 x VR1000D Crossfire 1000 Amps, VR404 400 watt speakers, 2 x BMF 1214 subs, SVR Audio Battery, monster cables x 6 150 watt speakers; Farad capacitors

Suspension
Racecraft front and rear suspension components, Bilstein N2 front struts and rear shocks, Racecraft/Eibach Pro springs front and rear, BBK rear upper and lower control arms, Baer Eradispeed 13" front and 12" rear disc brakes

Wheels And Tires
Stern ST2 19 x 8.5" wheels (front), 19 x 10" (rear); BFGoodrich KDW tires; 265/30-19 (front); 295/35-19 (rear)

Acknowledgements
Thanks to my son Ryan, daughter Shelby, wife Melba; Ron Eckhardt; Orlando, Aaron and Andy Garza; EJ Gonzalez; Mike Caballero; Roy Blaker; George Reed; Kyle Yousef; Competition Sounds; Crossfire Audio; Roy's Performance Motors; Autoworks Unlimited