Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsFeatured Vehicles
Tennessee Thunder - 1993 Ford Thunderbird
We're not talking moonshine here, but rather good ol' fashioned, four-barrel, barn-burnin' horsepower.
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Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords has the benefit of the broadest reader demographic in the Ford-magazine industry, and our subject here lives at one end of the bell curve.
In fact, at 62 years of age, Bruce Richards falls in the 55-64 age bracket that constitutes about 10 percent of our readership. What does his age have to do with the price of rice in China, one might ask? Well, nothing-but Bruce repre-sents a portion of our readership that falls back on what they've learned over the past 40 or so years: their knowledge of how to tune a thing called the carburetor.
With the fuel-injected 5-liter Mustang lighting the fuse on the late-model Mustang hobby's explosive nature, it's easy to get lost in the EFI technology that continues to make life better for enthusiasts. Carburetors, however, remain great at making brute horsepower, and Bruce, of Clarksville, Tennessee, came to a crossroads when modifying his '93 Thunderbird.
He could learn all of the new tricks of the fuel-injected trade or he could go with what he's invested decades of his life learning: how to make a carburetor produce prodigious amounts of power. It also helped that Bruce's brother-in-law is Marvin Benoit, who happens to own Quick Fuel Technology Inc., a company that specializes in carbureted applications.
Coming home from the war in Vietnam, Bruce did what many GIs returning to the States did-go out and buy a new car. "I got back from Vietnam and bought a '67 Mustang GT brand new, and didn't have it for three months before I bought a 427ci Tunnel Port motor for it," says Bruce. He ran A/Super Stock with the car at the strip, but when his military service took him over to Germany, the quarter-mile horse proved to be a bit untrained for Autobahn abuse.
Once back stateside, family life took precedence, and a stint with Top Fuel drag bikes in the '80s kept Bruce away from performance cars. Eventually his love of living would convince him to step off the motorcycles for good, but his love of drag racing never diminished, and he was reacquainted with it a few years after purchasing the Thunderbird you see here.
When most hear the name "Thunderbird," the terms agile and high performance don't spring to mind, but Bruce has turned his T-bird into quite the performer at the track. Bought new as a "sporty" daily driver back in 1992, the Thunderbird's 5-liter engine was a step up in performance compared with his previous four-door people-mover and would later prove to be a great foundation for a fast car.
While the "Thunder" in the 'Bird had consisted of a K&N filter, a removed air silencer, and DynoMax Turbo mufflers until this point, Bruce didn't even bother modifying the engine. Instead, he hit up the Ford Racing catalog for a 351 block and stuffed it with a DSS forged rotating assembly.
The stroker crankshaft pumped up the displacement to 393 cubes, and the Ford Racing Z303 aluminum heads, which were barely out of the molds at the time, combined with the forged pistons to produce a pump-gas-friendly compression ratio of 10:1. Moving the air and fuel through the engine is the job of a Comp Cams XFI stroker bumpstick. The 284HR-14 cam sports a 248/258 split duration at 0.050, and a valve lift of 0.608 inch.
Bruce's brother-in-law, Marvin, set him up with a 750-cfm four-barrel carburetor, along with a trick return-style fuel system that uses a 140-gph electric fuel pump. Edelbrock's Victor Jr. intake manifold got the nod for induction duties.
With the raised deck height of the 351 block and the Victor manifold pushing the carburetor farther up in the air, a cowl-induction hood was needed to free up some room under the hood, but it wasn't enough. Not satisfied with using a 2-inch-tall air filter to feed the hungry 393, Bruce added a Cougar hoodscoop to the bonnet, which more than doubled the space.
The exhaust system had issues as well. Considering the late-model Thunderbird was never equipped with a 351, and modifying them in such a manner isn't the most current trend, headers were almost impossible to find. So Bruce tweaked a set of BBK 351 Mustang headers that run to a custom 2.5-inch H-pipe and out through a pair of DynoMax Bullet mufflers.
The headers necessitated a change in the steering-column geometry, which Bruce was able to handle through some aftermarket parts. Another fitment issue was the Canton 7-quart oil pan Bruce intended to use. It interfered with the K-member so he notched the K-frame and boxed it in.
Bruce's old-school ways pushed him toward a C4 automatic transmission, but, coupled with the 4.30 gears housed in the IRS out back, it didn't make for a streetable combination so he called Lentech for one of its Strip Terminator AOD units. A TCS 3,500-rpm torque converter transfers engine output through an aluminum driveshaft from Precision Shaft Technologies of Clearwater, Florida, and finally to the factory IRS that's been beefed up for strip duty.
As Bruce noted, the Thunderbird's IRS was similar to the '99 Cobra's in that it used 28-spline halfshafts, whereas the '01-'04 Cobras received 31-spline units. He called Raxles of Gainesville, Florida, which specializes in performance half-shafts for imports. It fabricated a heavy-duty set of 28-spline units for the T-bird, then Bruce added a Billetflow differential brace.
The aforementioned 4.30:1 ring-and-pinion work with a Detroit Locker differential, and the factory rear spring and shocks were traded for Cobra shocks and Eibach springs that are complemented by a pair of airbags. At the front you'll find a custom set of QA1 coilover shocks with a 90/10 ratio.
The 17x9-inch Cobra R wheels that feature the Thunderbird's 4.25-inch bolt pattern do nothing to make this 'Bird look lightweight, but their design does add to the subterfuge going on here. You see, Bruce's Thunderbird weighs a mere 3,250 pounds-some 660 pounds lighter than when it rolled off the assembly line.
One look under the hood shows that all of the emissions equipment has been ditched, as well as the air-conditioning components and various wiring harnesses that were present for the fuel-injection system. The front sway bar, miscellan-eous bumper pieces, and carpet padding were all removed, as were the underdash HVAC compo-nents and the rather large stock fuel tank. A pair of Jaz poly seats dropped another 48 pounds per chair, but Bruce isn't done yet. "I need to reduce the weight more for the upcoming rollcage," he says. A manual steering rack is coming, as are lightweight drag wheels and tires.
Other future modifications call for a new torque converter, stiffer subframe connectors, and a centrifugal supercharger. "I'd like to use a reverse-mount ProCharger with about 7-8 pounds of boost, and I'll probably have to switch carburetors," he says.
As of this writing, Bruce's Thunderbird has run a best elapsed time of 7.30 seconds at 93 mph in the eighth using 275/40-17 BFG drag radials, which have generated a best 60-foot time of 1.70 seconds. For you quarter-mile guys, that's in the 11.10-11.30 range.
Bruce is quick to thank his wife, Mary, for her support in his speed endeavor, and his friends and family members who have helped along the way. When he isn't cruising with his buds in the Stampede USA Mustang Club (he's the only non-Mustang member), look for Bruce this summer at the track, but don't think his T-bird is easy prey. Its thunderous exhaust should be warning enough-if you hear a little whistle, just turn away.