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.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Jim installed a Kenny Brown street cage, strut tower brace, and lower brace to keep his and the 'Rat's airframe intact during any extreme acrobatics. Corbeau belts, Classic Soft Trim leather seats, and Auto Meter instrumentation keep this pilot secure, comfortable, and informed.

Aerodynamically, Jim installed a Cobra front grille insert, front fender extensions, and side skirts from Cervini's. Jim swapped out the rear cheese-grater taillights for cleaner LX assemblies, but retained the stock rear wing and bumper cover. Beneath the latter pokes a tow hitch, which Jim chose to keep in place because "it's a good skid plate!"

What's next for the 'Rat? "The guy who tuned the chip mentioned there is definitely more power in the engine if I went with a larger throttle body and injectors. I'm waiting on those until I choose which way I want to go with the induction-a Vortech supercharger or a Weber-style eight-pack. Either way, it's gotta fit under the shaker!"

Either aspiration would definitely add jet-like thrust to the 'Rat . . . but we're sure Jim can handle it.

The Details
Jim Buehler's '88 Mustang GT

Engine

  • Ford Racing crate engine
  • FRPP 347 stroker kit
  • FRPP GT40X Turbo Swirl aluminum cylinder heads
  • Extrude Honed stock intake
  • FRPP E303 camshaft
  • FRPP 65mm throttle body
  • ProFlow mass air meter
  • FRPP 24 lb/hr injectors
  • KIRBAN billet adjustable fuel pressure regulator
  • Walbro 255-lph fuel pump
  • FRPP 9mm ignition wires
  • MSD Pro-Billet distributor
  • Fluidyne aluminum radiator
  • Be Cool dual 11" electric cooling fans
  • 338 rwhp @ 5,500 rpm
  • 327 rwtq @ 2,500 rpm

Transmission

  • Tremec TKO
  • Steeda Tri-Ax shifter
  • Steeda adjustable quadrant, cable and firewall adjuster
  • FRPP King Cobra clutch

Rearend

  • FRPP aluminum driveshaft
  • Auburn Pro Series differential
  • FRPP 3.27 gears
  • Moser five-lug axles

Exhaust

  • FRPP 1 5/8" shorty headers
  • BBK H-pipe with catalytic converters
  • Spin Tech side-exit after-cat exhaust with hollow mufflers

Suspension

  • Front: Air Ride Technologies CoolRide, Tokico Illumina adjustable front struts, Steeda caster/camber plates, Steeda bumpsteer kit, Kenny Brown strut tower brace, Kenny Brown four-point K-member brace, Maximum Motorsports subframe connectors
  • Rear: Air Ride adjustable rear shocks; Saleen rear lower control arms
  • Kenny Brown six-point street cage

Brakes

  • Front: FRPP M-2300-K brake kit 13-inch disc, PBR two-piston calipers
  • Rear: FRPP M-23-K brake kit 11.65-inch disc, Ford single-piston calipers

Wheels

  • Front: FRPP Bullitt, 17x8
  • Rear: FRPP Bullitt, 17x8

Tires

  • Front: Falken GR Beta FK-451, P245/45ZR17
  • Rear: Falken GR Beta FK-451, P245/45ZR17

Interior

  • Classic Soft Trim leather seats
  • Corbeau three-point harness belts
  • Auto Meter carbon-fiber gauges (speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, voltage, water temp, fuel level, fuel pressure, A/F ratio, air [suspension] pressure)
  • Alpine AM/FM/XM/CD

Exterior

  • Cervini's Cobra grille insert
  • Cervini's Cobra front fender extensions
  • Cervini's Cobra side skirts
  • Banshee Performance Ram Jet shaker kit
  • Smoked headlights
  • Black Beauty foglights