Wes Duenkel
March 1, 2009

As a Naval aviator, steering with precision and stopping on a dime were part of Jim Buehler's daily grind. After a day of flying Naval strike aircraft, he'd grab gears in his '88 Mustang. Not a bad gig, but after flying 20 years for Uncle Sam, Jim felt it was time to retire and swap his flight gear for a driving helmet.

Rewind to Halloween night, 1988. Jim owned an '80 Capri RS that was clobbered by an oncoming car that drifted into his lane. Eighteen days later, Jim had the keys to a new GT. Driving it was a great distraction from the stresses of Naval flight training, but he quickly discovered that the GT needed help to keep up with his flying buddies. "One of my first 'Right Seaters' (Naval Flight Officers) owned a Buick Regal turbo T-type, and we were always trying to top each other with new mods." The officer nicknamed the car "Muskrat," later shortened to just 'Rat.

Jim maintained his 'Rat in aircraft-quality fashion: As the fuselage accumulated miles, he simply replaced components as they wore out. However, after 13 years and over 200,000 miles, the 'Rat's appearance started to resemble its nickname. That's when Jim planned a makeover, and in 2001 settled on a theme. "I always felt that I missed out on the Mustang's first generation, so I chose that as my underlying inspiration. After thorough research, I found the Banshee Performance Ram Jet "shaker" kit, and it became the centerpiece around which I built the car. Over the next nine months, my living room became a warehouse and slowly filled with all kinds of goodies. I started the transformation in February 2002 and was back to driving it seven months later."

Jim ordered an aluminum-headed crate motor from Ford Racing instead of rebuilding the 'Rat's tired powerplant. To make his 'Rat more muscular than the average rodent, Jim replaced the crate engine's guts with those measuring 347 ci via a stroker kit. However, Jim did retain the crate motor's E303 cam and "turbo swirl" aluminum heads.

Because the "shaker" kit was designed for a stock intake, his upper and lower manifolds were shipped to Extrude Hone for their "Level II" treatment. Jim combined the enlarged manifold with a 65mm throttle body and ProFlow MAF to keep his 347 well-fed. Jim chose a Fuel Safe Systems fuel cell and Walbro 255 lph pump to fill a set of 24 lb/hr injectors.

On the exhaust end, Jim used a set of Ford Racing shorty headers to mate with a BBK H-pipe equipped with high-flow converters. Jim phoned the guys at SpinTech and ordered one of their converter-back systems, with a little twist: "I asked them to leave the mufflers hollow." In addition to obliging Jim's request, they also modified the side pipes to clear his Maximum Motorsports subframe connectors. Jim is pleased with the result, as the exhaust system "barks" at the throttle without making a "bang" over every bump.

Jim's '88 Mustang GT also has more in common with a Naval strike aircraft than just the pilot: they both ride on air. He controls the altitude of his GT with an Air Ride Technologies CoolRide system. Tokico Illumina front struts and Air Ride adjustable rear shocks do the damping, and Saleen lower control arms do the locating.

When Jim is at the controls, his left foot works Steeda hardware to actuate a Ford Racing King Cobra clutch ahead of a Tremec TKO transmission. A Steeda Tri-Ax shifter does the stirring, and a Ford Racing aluminum driveshaft does the whirring while an Auburn Pro differential, 3.27 gears, and Moser five-lug axles round out the rear. Since Jim was used to the high negative g's encountered during his aircraft carrier landings, he installed a Ford Racing M-2300-K brake package to make sure the 'Rat stops similarly. The five-lugs of each disc hold Ford Bullitt rims befitting the retro theme.

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