September 1, 2007

This isn't your typical Mustang feature car story. Morgan Johnson remembers the day the very first Ford Pony came out, back in April 1964. But he was not caught up in Mustang mania. That's not to say he hasn't owned some interesting cars, including a '56 T-bird, a 1968 AMX, plus a 1958 Mercedes 190 with a 289 and T-10 four speed. It wasn't until the mid 1980s however, that he took the Pony plunge. "I'd bought this Pontiac Sunbird Turbo convertible new in '84 - big mistake. It didn't take long to start coming apart, so I looked around for something else.

I'd kept my eye on the progress being made by Ford with the then-current third-generation Mustang. When they announced port fuel injection, I jumped and bought myself a 1986 LX hatchback 5.0/five-speed which I drove in stock form for a decade and racked up 180,000 miles." Ford was plugging its Quality is Job 1 slogan by the time the last of the four-eyes came out and in Morgan's eyes it proved truthful enough. "In that first decade of ownership, nothing went wrong with the car - I was delighted with it." However, after 10 years on the road the car needed a bit of TLC. "The front end started rattling and the original factory clutch was on its way out." It was make or break time, but to sell or not to sell? That was the question. In the end, Johnson decided to hold onto this one.

But that meant planning for some upgrades here, there and just about everywhere. "I started reading up on these cars and realized that chassis integrity was an important issue. I added Kenny Brown Super subframe connectors, jacking rails and upper and lower strut braces. However, installing the Super subs revealed some rot in the driver's side floor, which led to a crack on the transmission tunnel and that was still with the original engine still in place. I also tried some other mods, some with more success than others. I installed springs, shocks and control arms that just didn't work together and some 17-inch wheels that ended up chewing through the fender splash guards, but I really liked the Stainless Steel Brakes rear disc conversion - it made a noticeable difference. By 2000, the once-strong 302 was showing signs of wear, namely oil consumption and leaks, so Johnson felt it was time to invest in more work, but he wanted the LX to remain his daily driver. "After reading some articles, it occurred to me that if I was going to build the engine I should start on the moderate side, smaller valves, less aggressive cam. Then I discovered the late John Lingenfelter and he was able to shed some light on why this would be the best route to go. His argument was that you improve the performance of the engine in the rpm range where it spends the most time - he was also specific for a street car which spends most of its time between 2500 and 4500, that cam duration should not be more than 220 degrees at .050-inch lift." Morgan decided that maybe a stock replacement long block assembly from Ford Racing should be on the cards. "It actually turned out to be a 1987-93 spec long block with an E-303 cam installed. It had more lift than the stocker but arrived at 220 degrees duration at 0.050 - bingo! I added a Cobra intake, 65 mm throttle body, a 3-piece underdrive pulley set, Ford Racing 1-5/8-inch shorty headers, MAC H-pipe and Flowmaster 2-1/2-inch cat-back exhaust." At this juncture, Morgan felt it was enough and turned his attention elsewhere. Being a daily driver, the years of road use had taken its toll, so Johnson added new doors, quarter panels and installed 1991 style front fenders with the larger openings. "I wanted to install 17-inch rims, especially in lieu of what happened the first time I tried larger wheels and tires - they destroyed the original fender extensions." Also, at this point, his replacement clutch, installed four years prior, let go and with the original T-5 gearbox still in the car, Johnson figured that the tranny was living on borrowed time. "I'd been babying it since the new engine went in, fearing the tranny wouldn't last much longer, so I took the plunge and ordered up a T-56 from D&D Performance, along with their installation kit, plus a Ford Racing aluminum driveshaft and Steeda Tri-Ax shifter." Not too long after that, a trip to the All-Ford Nationals would change Morgan's life forever. "I'd enjoyed going to this event in the past - it's amazing what you can find here (new 1986 Mustang clutch pedals etc), but this time [2004] I was on a mission to get some suspension upgrades for the car. The pieces I'd originally put on weren't holding up well and I felt it was time for something better. I visited some of the bigger players, but they didn't have anything for me. The guys at Roush said I should talk to the guy over there." The guy over there being none other than John Brooks. "I remember it was Sunday, it was raining and John probably wanted to go home, but he spent an hour talking to me about suspension. We settled on the Brooks Street Competition Stage II and a week later I dropped the car off at his shop in Chambersburg, PA."

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