Huw Evans
July 1, 2008
Photos By: James Pickett

Several months back, we did a special feature entitled "Gear Head Girls." We put the word out to see if we could get any submissions from ladies who own and drive '79-present Mustangs. We received quite a few submissions, and as a result, a number of finalists were picked and we placed their stories and images of their cars in the magazine (Sept. '07).

There was one particular story, however, that knocked us out. One girl, at the age of 25, had built the Mustang she'd always wanted, largely by herself but with a bit of help from her dad; her boyfriend, Jay; and her friend Joe Bellandi. She drove it approximately 2,000 miles from her home in New Hampshire to Mustang Alley and the Woodward Dream Cruise, in Ferndale, Michigan (two years in a row). Talk about being a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast. Even though her story was amazing and got our vote as the winner of our "Gear Head Girls" story, we figured that wasn't enough, so here is Nicole Belanger's '93 Mustang in all its glory.

Four Cylinders, Five Speeds
Nicole's introduction to the Mustang world began several years ago when she was just 16 years old and living in sunny Florida. She fell in love with the '87-'93 Mustang GTs (sounds a bit like the author), but of course, having just got a driver's license at the time, the idea of piloting a V-8-powered road rocket was beyond her means and likely to give any parent or insurance agent a serious fit. However, Nicole was determined to get a Ford Pony, and she did just that, taking possession of an '89 five-speed, four-cylinder LX hatchback. Her plan was to ultimately convert it into a V-8 GT replica, so she began by installing the GT-specific rocker-panel extensions and added an underbody neon "glow" kit. "Hey, I was just a teenager at the time," she says.

Nicole's next plan was to install the GT front and rear bumper assemblies, but before she could get to that, she had to move to New Hampshire and leave her beloved Pony behind. "Even though I had to get rid of that [first] Mustang, I promised myself that I'd do a V-8 conversion into a Fox-body four-cylinder one day," she says, and she kept that promise. A number of months later, she located yet another four-cylinder LX hatch, this time a '93 model with an A4LD four-speed automatic. "My dad had built an 8-second drag car, and even though he was a Chevy guy, I figured if I decided to do my own project, I'd have some help. I just had to work out exactly what route I wanted to take."

Nicole's first task in her quest to make the ultimate Mustang was to get the car looking like the GT she'd always wanted. "I found a full OEM Ford '87-'93 Mustang GT ground-effects kit--the bumper covers, rocker panel, and side extensions," she says. "These were used parts, and I purchased them without the steel mounting brackets. My dad was a real help in that he made custom aluminum channels so we could install the body pieces onto the LX using the original GT factory mounting screws." Nicole says that the used ground effects went on "almost perfectly," though the driver-side rocker panel extension is slightly warped where it attaches to the front fender. "The previous owner kept the parts in a shed before I got them, and I think the cold and the heat caused the warping," she says. With the body mods completed in November 2003, it was time to move on to the next stage.

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"Knowing that I wanted to put a 5.0 engine in the car, I thought it was a good idea to improve the handling first," Nicole says. And she didn't skimp, getting her hands on top-notch Maximum Motorsports control arms and a strut tower brace, Eibach Pro kit springs (front and back), and a set of KYB adjustable front struts and rear shocks. With the suspension taken care of, it was now time to get to the big stuff--turning the mild four-banger into a wild 5.0L car.

"I have to admit," Nicole says, "that before I started, I was afraid the job might be too big to handle. I realized ahead of time that the cost of swapping in a complete 5.0 drivetrain would be costly, not only in parts, but also in labor if I failed trying to do it myself." But she bit her tongue and got to work. The first thing, of course, was getting all the necessary parts to do the conversion. An '87 302 H.O. engine was found in decent shape with just 87,000 miles on the clock. A '93 GT automatic parts car with a blown engine was dragged home to donate the rest of its driveline, including the AOD trans, the EEC IV computer, the wiring harness, and the complete fuel system.

The parts car was stripped in Nicole's father's unheated garage, and once out of the way, the four-cylinder machine was dragged in, ready for the transformation to begin. Of course, as with any project that deals with cars between 15 and 20 years old, there were a few issues. "Because the '87 engine hadn't run in quite a while, Jason and I decided it would be a good idea to install a new water pump, but trying to get the old one off proved a little bit tricky," Nicole says. The bolts were so old and seized that they steadfastly refused to budge, and when Jason tried, "all we ended up with were sheared-off bolts that were now loose inside the timing cover. We thought that was it, the V-8 was done. Luckily, Nicole's dad came to the rescue and the engine didn't have to be junked after all.