May 1, 2007

For some, hunting is a way of life. Getting up at the crack of dawn, stealthily traveling through the wilder-ness, and tracking an eight-point buck has an allure all its own. Add in the thrill of the chase, the splendor of victory when the shot hits its mark after being carefully lined up, and anyone can see that hunting can be a heady experience.

For Richard Markland, dealing with hunters is a regular occurrence. As a wildlife technician, his job description is one that requires him to protect and develop the environment. When Richard is done seeing the forest for the trees, he goes on a hunt of his own. The target-those who line up against his '87 Mustang LX at the track. His rifle and the result-a nitrous-snorting bullet that hits its mark with authority and ease.

Richard's Fox-body has a history behind it that is familiar to most. After picking up the nimble LX from a friend's sister, the Pony started out as a .22 caliber slug. By the time he was done, that little .22 was turned into a .30-06.

"The car started out as a typical 15-second street ride and progressed to a high-12-second ride by using a 175hp dry shot of nitrous," Richard says of the car's humble beginnings. After the 10-point rollcage, Kirkey seats, and subframe connectors were bolted in, the stock 302 saw a new pair of heads, a new intake, and a host of other go-fast goodies appear. The second phase of Richard's Mustang saw it travel well into the 11-second zone before two burnt pistons forced him to make a choice-refurbish the rifle or step up its firepower. Enter more cubic inches and juice.

Richard called Fatboy Fabrications in Elizabethtown, Tennessee, for help in building his new bullet. Dale Minton at Fatboy took on the task and started with a solid piece of metal-a Dart Iron Eagle block. After decking and line-boring the block, Dale filled the bottom end with an Eagle 4340 crank, SCAT connecting rods, and Probe pistons. The stroke of the crank measures 4.00 inches, and the bore of the cylinders stretches the dial-bore gauge to 4.030 inches. Do the math and you'll see the cubic-inch figure tips the scales in favor of the 408 mark. The entire rotating assembly was balanced, and before Dale buttoned up the short-block with a Moroso pan (complete with a windage tray), a Melling high-volume oil pump was installed to ensure high-rpm lubrication. A Camshaft Innovations solid-roller bumpstick was shoved in next, after which the AFR 225 aluminum cylinder heads, showcasing stainless steel 2.08-inch intake and 1.60-inch exhaust valves, were torqued down. Actuating the valves is a Jesel shaft-mount rocker system with a 1.7 ratio.

Topping the lifter valley of the supersized Ford is an Edelbrock Super Victor intake mani-fold. An 80mm PMAS mass air meter and an Accufab 90mm throttle body make sure enough atmosphere enters the cylinders to mix with the fuel supplied by the Aeromotive A100 pump and Holley 50-pound injectors. A custom tune for the A9L computer is courtesy of Anderson PMS, and the ignition system is mostly MSD, from the Digital 6 box to the Blaster 3 coil and distributor. The plug wires hail from the Ford Racing Performance shop, while NGK plugs light the fire in the combustion chamber. Adding more power on top of the stroker Ford is a single-stage Nitrous Oxide Systems' wet kit injecting a 275hp shot of laughing gas.

Handling the power and torque of the 408 slug is a two-speed automatic of GM origin (they're good for some things, we guess). Sandwiched inside the JW bellhousing is a SCAT flexplate and a 9.5-inch Pro Edge converter that stalls at 5,000 rpm. Cooling the trans fluid is a Flex-a-lite cooler, and improving the slushbox's shift qualities is a TCI shift kit. A Hurst shifter consistently makes the gear change, and on the shifter knob is a button that activates the transbrake for wheels-up launches. An aluminum driveshaft links the tranny to the 8.8-inch rear that now spins Moser axles and 4.10 gears.

The problem of getting the Stang to leave hard without spinning the tires is solved with upgraded front and rear suspension components. PA Racing tubular upper and lower control arms, Strange shocks, and Afco springs transfer the weight off the front end, while South Side Machine rear lower control arms, boxed stock upper control arms, and Lakewood shocks take that weight and put it to the rear tires. Speaking of the rolling stock, the rear shoes are super-gummy 28x12.5x15 Mickey Thompson ET Streets wrapped around the Weld 15x8 Draglite wheels. Draglites, size 15x3.5, find themselves under the front fenders and surrounded by the oh-so-cool skinnies. Backing the wheels is the stock disc/drum combination the mighty Ford came with out of the factory.

Before putting the shell in the chamber and pulling the trigger, Richard shined up the bullet with a Cervini's 4-inch cowl hood and a new paint job. The flanks of the Stang were shot with four coats of PPG Mineral Grey paint of '02 Mustang origin. Inside the Fox-body, the 10-point rollcage and Kirkey seats remained, though a host of gauges from Auto Meter were put in so Richard could keep tabs on the powerplant out front.

After running into some misfires in getting the car down the track after it was finished, Richard has since ironed out the wrinkles, such as a broken head, a burned mass air meter, and other mishaps. "Now that all of the bugs are gone, the car is running well in the 9.2-second range about every pass," he says. "I love the fact that the car has a lowered stance and great street manners. The best thing, though, is that with lower air temperatures, the car should dip into the 8-second zone."

Either way, one thing is for sure. If you don't get out of Richard's crosshairs, you'll end up mounted in his trophy case. This Mustang always hits its mark.