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Brian Wolfe 1986 Ford Mustang GT - Revolution
Brian Wolfe pushed the boundaries of 5.0 performance and laid the groundwork for today's modern era of Mustang performance.
The 5.0 engine can arguably be called the most popular and easily modified fuel-injected engine of this performance era.
The proliferation of the 5.0 craze continues to flourish today, 21 years after fuel injection was added to the Mustang. Success and popularity of the Mustang helped launch our industry into a new golden era of performance.
If it wasn't for the go-fast junkies pushing the envelope of the Mustang in the late '80s/early '90s, we probably wouldn't be sitting here today with a 300hp base-model GT and a booming aftermarket. This magazine, and many others, grew and prospered thanks to the 5.0 craze. During this time, one of the men who stood at the dawn of 5.0L performance craze was Brian Wolfe, a Ford engineer who was privileged to have picked through the specialty-parts bin at big Blue and make history.
A Ford engineer by trade and drag-racing enthusiast by choice, Wolfe was instrumental in bringing many Ford Racing performance parts to the market. He had grown up a hot rodder-his dad and brother are responsible for his automotive passion. His '86 Mustang GT was purchased off the showroom floor, and it didn't take long for him to modify it. "I had raced my first car, a 428CJ Fairlane," Wolfe says, "but once I ran 12.40s at will with my Mustang, I shoved my FE in the corner and focused on my small-block."
Being a Ford engineer has its advan-tages, and Wolfe's business and personal friendships led him into the history books of high-performance Mustangs. His desire to run quicker brought him to the Ford Motorsport (now Ford Racing Performance Parts) division. His car would become a test mule for products such as the GT-40 intake and GT-40 cylinder heads. "The GT-40 heads and intake were designed for production Mustangs," Wolfe says, "but the program was scrapped when Ford started to design the mod motors [though the GT-40 parts did make it onto the '93 Cobra-Ed]. My friends in Ford Motorsport asked if I wanted to try out the heads and intake. If they worked well, Ford Motorsport was going to add them to the catalog." His naturally aspirated '86 GT flew to a best of 11.66 at 115 mph-the quickest and fastest pass for a 5.0L Mustang at the time. It escalated from there.
In 1989, Wolfe's popularity with the ever-growing 5.0 crowd of Mustang enthusiasts was set in stone as he was featured in the now-defunct Super Ford magazine as owner of one of the three quickest Fox-body Mustangs. It was Wolfe, Stormin' Norman Gray, and Tom Hartell who were really pushing the 5.0 performance. Wolfe's car was naturally aspirated and ran high-11s, while Stormin' Norman used juice to also run high-11s, and Hartell had a Paxton supercharger in his Stang and ran low-12s. That story sparked an arms race amongst Mustang racers. Super Ford threw a 5.0 Shootout the following year to see who had the quickest Mustang in the land.
During that time, Stormin' Norman was credited with pushing the envelope further than anyone else. He had the Roush Racing crew (led by the late Steve Grebeck) build his car to run low-10s. Wolfe continued to rely on naturally aspirated combinations despite others running quicker than him on the bottle. "I have always been more of a naturally aspirated kind of guy," Wolfe says. A new engine combination was built using Allen Root (aka J302 aluminum) heads. It was enough to push Wolfe into the 10s, still without a power adder. In fact, he had the first 5.0 Mustang to run 11s, 10s, and 9s in naturally aspirated trim.
Not only was Wolfe a natural kind of guy, but he's also a fuel-injection enthusiast, and we aren't surprised given his engineering background. While many people with a fast Mustang turned to carbureted induction systems, Wolfe continued to push the Ford EEC IV computer system. He switched to a mass airflow sensor setup and began testing with computer add-ons offered through Ford Motorsport and built by GSR Electronics.
First was the Extender-a simple plug-in, hand-held tuner that allowed the user to increase the factory rpm rev limiter and adjust the air/fuel ratio. It paved the way for GSR's next computer, the EPEC, or Extreme Performance Engine Controller. EPEC is a system that piggybacks onto the factory EEC IV box and gives the user complete control, much like a stand-alone fuel injection system. Both items have since been discontinued, but Wolfe's Mustang was the first to test both products.
As the Mustang shootout scene became quicker and faster, so did Wolfe. His car received a Super Stock-style rear suspension setup with a four-link, tubs, and 31x13-inch tires. A stroked 302-style engine was stuffed under the cowl hood as well. A 331ci engine with NASCAR take-off C302B heads pushed Wolfe into the 9-second zone. He would eventually add Yates heads and build a custom intake manifold with twin 90mm throttle bodies. The car ran 9.69 on motor alone, and the intense Pro 5.0 competition at the time forced him to add nitrous. A two-stage Compucar nitrous system was wired into place, and eventually Wolfe ran 8.35 at 165 mph.
Progression is the name of the game in Pro 5.0, and the scene was rapidly changing. "Eventually I couldn't keep up," Wolfe says. "The cars were becoming real race cars, and the turbos were pushing them faster." Life had also taken a toll on his Pro 5.0 racing days, and personal and career changes forced him to park the car in 1999. The legendary '86 Mustang GT sat until last year when he got the bug to put it back together. "I had come back to Michigan from Germany [he had moved there for a new position at Ford] and built a house," he says. "Once that was done, I started to piece the car back together. I had stuff stored in a few different places."
Today, Pro 5.0 is a six-second class, and Wolfe's car certainly isn't fit for that action. Nevertheless, he wanted to rebuild it and have fun with his friends. He also planned on attending the Stormin' Norman Reunion race. A new engine combination was spec'd out, and he grabbed one of the early production pieces of the Ford Racing Boss 302-block. The bores were punched out to 4.125 inches, and a 3.500-inch stroke crank was dropped into place. Final displacement sits at a robust 374 cubes. The induction system was then transferred from his 331ci engine, including the Yates heads (updated by Jerry Arnold) and a wild custom intake with dual throttle bodies. This time he left the nitrous disconnected and con-centrated on naturally filling the cylinders with air.
The first reunion race was rained out, and Wolfe showed up to the second one, held at Atco Raceway in June 2007. This is where we caught up with the father of the 5.0L movement. His best time on the new combination has been a 9.19 at 151 mph, naturally aspirated, in 2007. Wolfe is no longer chasing Pro 5.0 glory, but his competition nature still lurks inside. He's looking at possibly turning his '96 Cobra into a heads-up race car. "I like NMRA Hot Street, but they don't allow Yates heads," he says. While he's considering building a new car, one thing is for sure; he isn't abandoning the car that started it all. "My goal is to run in the 8s on motor alone," he says. He also noted that the real fun in drag racing was "just being at the track with your buddies. I've met a lot of great people, and being with your friends is what it's all about. You revert back to being a teenager when you're at the track. Just racing and not worrying about anything else." You also need an understanding wife like Nancy Wolfe.
Wolfe sums it up by saying, "I always thought I was born 10 years too late for the musclecar craze, but I was born at just the right time, as I'm lucky to have been in the middle of all the Mustang stuff."
The one that started it all-Brian Wolfe's '86 Mustang GT, which he used to push the boundaries of our beloved 5.0L. This car is one of the original Mustang Shootout entries that laid the groundwork for the modern era of Mustang performance.
The car's best time to date has been an 8.35 at 165 mph with a 331ci engine on nitrous. These days the car runs 9.19 in naturally aspirated trim with a 374ci mill. Wolfe plans on running in the 8s with some more tweaking.
Visually, the 302-based engine is the same as it was when Wolfe was slaying the competition in Pro 5.0 in the early '90s. The intake was custom built by Watson Engineering and features twin 90mm throttle bodies. The engine is 374 ci and has a healthy Crane camshaft (0.749/0.749 inch lift), Yates heads, and 14:1 compression. A Compucar two-stage nitrous system is on the car but is no longer in use.
In the early '90s, the evolution of Pro 5.0 forced Wolfe to add a Super Stock-style rear suspension setup. Noted Super Stock chassis builder Mike Pustelny was tapped for the modifications. A four-link, 9-inch rear and 31x13-inch meats sit under a set of big tubs and narrowed framerails.
This dual throttle-body setup was a radical departure from anything people had seen in the early '90s. That type of ingenuity and outside-the-box thinking was how Wolfe approached going fast. It didn't matter if he was a 12-second player or an 8-second superstar, trying something new has always been his forte.
This is old school. While today's Pro 5.0 entries are stuffed with rollbar tubing, carbon-fiber interior panels, and aftercoolers, the cars of yesteryear had a 12-point rollbar, a stock dashboard, carpet, and lightweight seats.