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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A suspension upgrade was one thing, but a veteran 1986 LX sporting grey primer and a worn interior something else. A day after dropping off the car, Johnson got a phone call from Brooks while out with his family. John asked Morgan if he had plans to paint the car and redo the interior. The response was a yes. Then Brooks came back and said to Johnson that a new company he'd help start, G-Force Concepts, would like to use the '86 as a promotional tool and the car could made all pretty, outside and in for a price that was just a little above cost. The next day, Morgan agreed. The car was stripped down to a bare shell and work began in earnest. Corrosion was found around the rear floor pans, due to a leak in the quarter window. Some brackets were replaced and the exhaust was updated with a Magnaflow X-pipe and cat back system. John had originally suggested to use a 16-inch Pony wheel and tire package, but Morgan wanted to stick with 17-inch wheels. That meant a five-lug conversion, including new hubs, axles and ultimately SN95 front spindles to clear the front wheels, along with an upgrade to Powerslot 13-inch front disc brakes, plus braided lines. The Kenny Brown Super subs were left in place and Morgan chose K-B adjustable control arms and adjustable sway bar, along with the caster camber plates, while the Stage II suspension stuff went on. Ultimately, it ended up being a sort of Brooks Stage III-1/2 in lieu of the Kenny Brown pieces already in place and the few extras tacked on. Next up were the cosmetic chores.

Johnson originally wanted to repaint the car in its original shade of Dark Sage Green, but Brooks felt that a 1986 version of the Bullitt would be a neat idea. So that's what it became. "I added a Cervini's 2 1/2-inch cowl hood and the 1993 Cobra rear bumper, tailights and spoiler because I liked them," says Morgan "and John had a custom hood graphic made with 'Bullitt' lettering instead of the normal GT script found on these cars back in the day, plus Bullitt lettering was added to the trunk." With the 2001 Dark Highland Green metallic paint and the 17-inch 'Bullitt' wheels and tires, the car looked quite menacing to say the least. By late 2004, Johnson was back driving the '86 as much as he could, taking it to a few cruise-ins and also the Carlisle All-Ford Nats in 2005. Although the LX definitely shows well with a little polish and elbow grease, possibly Morgan's favorite thing about the car these days is its handling prowess on the track. "With all the chassis and suspension upgrades, this car has really surprised me with what it can do. I joined the Capital Area of the SVTOA and John advised me to attend the two-day On Track at Summit Point in West Virginia. One thing I can say about that is ... WOW!" So, now hooked on open tracking with some possible alterationsto the car down the road, plus the statement "I'll be keeping it for another 20," we wonder if chasing a black Dodge around San Francisco might be on the cards? Guess we'll have to find out, won't we?

Details
Morgan Johnson's 1986 Mustang LX

Engine
Ford Racing 1987-93 spec 5.0-liter V8 long block

Engine Modifications
Ford Racing E-camshaft with .498/.498" lift, 220° duration @ .050, 65 mm throttle-body, Cobra upper and lower intake assembly, 1-5/8" shorty headers; Ford 19 lb/hr injectors, BBK 110 lph fuel pump, Magnaflow 2.5" True X-pipe, 2.5" mufflers and tailpipes; 3-core replacement radiator, silicone hoses, Classic Tube stainless steel fuel lines

Engine Management
Factory 1993 Ford EEC-IV processor

Driveline
Tremec T-56 six-speed manual gearbox, courtesy of D&D Performance, Ford Racing King Cobra clutch, pressure plate, aluminum flywheel, 3.55:1 gears; Moser 31-spline five-lug axles, Auburn differential

Chassis
Kenny Brown Super subframe connectors, jacking rails, Matrix Braces, upper strut tower brace, lower 4-point brace, caster-camber plates, rear shock tower brace; Steeda adjustable front anti-roll bar

Brakes
Powerslot 13" front disc brakes, Stainless Steel brakes 10" rear disc conversion, braided brake lines

Suspension
Ford Racing front lower control arms, 1995 Mustang front spindles, Eibach struts and shocks, Kenny Brown lowering springs, offest steering rack bushings, adjustable upper and lower rear control arms, TracKit (consisting of Parnhard Rod and control arm relocation), rear Quad shock delete

Wheels/Tires
Ford 'Bullitt' 17 x 9" wheels Hankook P245/45-17 tires

Body
Cervini's 2-1/2" fiberglass cowl induction hood, decklid wing, Cobra rear bumper cover; 1993 Cobra tailights, repainted 2001 Dark Highland Green; custom lettering and graphics by G-Force Design Concepts

Interior
Grant GT steering wheel, billet door handle bezels, G-Force Design Concepts graphics, Ford Racing floormats, custom painted dash, Mustang GT seats, custom upholstered, Ford Motorsport 140 mph speedometer