Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
September 5, 2007
Long gone is the stock 2.3L engine, now replaced by a tall-deck circle track-spec four-pot that takes cubic displacement from 140 ci to 179 ci.

The World Ford Challenge is one of the biggest races of the year, and with its bountiful competition, there's always something exciting going on, especially in the heads-up ranks. In 2006, the MM&FF staff found itself anticipating the next pass from Open Comp competitor and St. Louis, Missouri, resident, Jon Huber, whose turbocharged Mustang had a propensity for extravagant wheelstands whenever it left the starting line.

Wheelstands from Mustangs are nothing new, but they are quite the feat when you have only 179 ci of muscle under the hood. As it turns out, Jon told us that he has documentation stating that his '79 Mustang was the first Pony to roll off the assembly line equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant.

The letter W in the Mustang's vehicle identification number specified the 2.3L, 132hp turbocharged engine that used a carburetor for fuel metering. Keep in mind that the optional 5.0L V-8 only made 140 hp at the time. Unfortunately, the turbo motor was shelved due to reliability problems after 1980, but it made a comeback in 1983, with electronic fuel injection solving the previous issues.

Jon's uncle, Tom Huber, was a Ford engineer and originally purchased the car in October 1978, and Jon's father bought it from him in May 1979. After a while, the Mustang became just an extra car that the Huber family didn't need, and when Jon's father, Jon A. Huber, decided to sell it, Jon convinced him to hold on to it until he was old enough to drive. Thus, a family heirloom was born. In 1990, trust was put into Jon's newly minted driver's license, and the keys of the turbocharged Pony were put into his hands.

During the time that Jon's father owned the car, he turned up the boost a bit and swapped out the factory four-speed manual transmission for a five-speed unit. Since Dad liked to race on the weekends, it was only a matter of time before his son would venture into the dragstrip arena.

"I began drag racing it immediately at I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Missouri," Jon says. "It went 9.90 in the eighth-mile, and I thought that was fast." While Jon was rowing the gears at the strip on the weekends, the Mustang served as his daily transportation, taking him to and from high school and everywhere else that teen-agers go.

Jon modified the Mustang with later-model 10-hole 15x7-inch wheels and a custom stereo system. A conversion to a fuel-injected Thunderbird Turbo Coupe engine woke up the Pony. The quarter-horse now clicked off quarter-mile times in the 15.30 range. Not exactly mind-numbing performance, but quite a ways from where the little turbo-4 powerplant began. Jon modified a set of Southside Machine lift bars to help plant the turbocharger's torque, and coupled with a pair of UPR upper control arms and Lakewood 50/50 shocks, suspend an 8.8 axle that has been fitted with a Strange spool and 3.73 gears.

After a while, the four-cylinder was starting to feel the effects of added boost, so the motor was torn down and given a 0.060-inch overbore, a ported cylinder head, and a stock T3/T4 SVO turbo. V-8 performance was now had with only four cylinders, as the Mustang charged to a best elapsed time of 11.20 seconds. Racing the Pony was becoming serious, so after Paul's Autoworks in Barnhart, Missouri, repainted the car's flanks in its factory gray hue, it was taken off the road.

Looking for something a little more durable, Jon and his dad picked up a tall-deck, cast-iron four-cylinder block. This piece was sold by Ford Racing Performance Parts for circle-track applications, and featured thicker main web-bing as well as a 3/4-inch taller deck height for increased stroke length. The stroke now checks in at 3.915 inches and the bore is 3.780, which offers up 179 ci. An SVO cylinder head was employed and stuffed with 1.89-inch intake valves and 1.59 exhaust valves.

For what the Hubers were using the car for, the factory EEC IV computer wasn't cutting it, so they installed a Holley Commander 950 speed-density engine-management setup. Also getting traded in were the stock front brakes, which were replaced with lightweight Aerospace Components pieces, and the stamped K-member was tossed in favor of a D&D tubular K-member and A-arms, along with coilover shocks.

Efficient turbocharging at the dragstrip and manual transmissions don't really make for a good combination, as the engine tends to lose the exhaust load during the gear changes, which results in a drop in boost. So the T5 manual was exchanged for a Huber Performance-built C4 automatic, with a stunningly high 7,000-stall speed from its TCI torque converter.

These mods took the turbo stallion deep into the 9-second range, with a best elapsed time of 9.62 seconds at 138 mph. In 2003, Jon swapped out the SVO cylinder head for an ARCA piece, which features raised intake and exhaust ports. It also utilizes a square exhaust port design and 2.02-inch intake and 1.69 exhaust valves. Over the next couple of years, a custom air-to-water intercooler was constructed to chill the intake-charge temperatures, a custom intake manifold was welded up, and a Big Stuff 3 engine-management system was wired in.

The Interior consists of upholstered Jaz race seats, a 10-point rollcage from Andy McCoy Race Cars, and a few Auto Meter gauges. It has proven comfortable enough for a 1,600-mile cruise during Drag Week, and with the addition of some Mickey Thompson drag radial tires, it makes for a nice street cruiser, too.

The ARCA cylinder head is a pricey piece, but in the Ford four-cylinder world, there aren't many choices when you want to make big power. The head, along with the other mods, dropped the Mustang into the 9.20 range, and a rear gear ratio change from 3.73 to 3.55 dropped it further, resulting in a 9.004 at 149.58 mph. Given the hatchback's 2,998-pound curb weight (with driver), the little 179ci powerhouse pumps out around 798 hp at the flywheel.

"We had John Meaney provide a tune in the Big Stuff when we bought it, and we never touched it after that," Jon says. That will all change for 2007, as he has signed with Spectre Performance, which will provide him with its EMS Pro EFI tuning system, along with a tuner that will travel to each race he goes to.

Another recent change is the turbo Mustang's return to the public highways and byways. "We took it on the Hot Rod Drag Week and drove it 1,600 miles with the C4 and 3.55 gears," Jon says. "We didn't do much highway driving, but the car still got 17 mpg with 160-lb-hr injectors. I got a set of M/T Drag Radials for it, and it's a ton of fun to drive on the street now."

In October 2006, Jon's last track outing with the car, which saw the Mustang run 9.00 seconds, resulted in a broken wristpin on the very next run. "Rumor has it that Indy Cylinder Heads is working on a new cast-iron block that will solve some of the current block issues, and I've got my name on one," Jon says. "The tall decks are nearly impossible to find and are pretty expen-sive." Expensive indeed, as Jon told us the last one he bought cost around $4,000, just for the block. Pushing the limit of the 2.3 mill has been a great learning experience for Jon and his father. "We've been messing with it since 1990," Jon says, "and every year it gets faster and we learn a ton of information."

As much help as his father has provided over the years, Jon also wants to thank Zinger Race Fuels, the crew at Precision Turbo and Engine, Randy Gillis at JE Pistons, the St. Louis wrecking crew, Mike Amerito, and the fans and drag race announcers who talk up the car and generate interest in its performance. "I especially want to thank my wife, Lisa, for giving me the opportunity to do this, and my dad for his knowledge, hard work, dedication, love, and support." Sounds like there's far more to the furious four than one might think.