August 1, 2008

Rewind the videotape to May 24, 1962. You find yourself on the outskirts of Cape Canaveral, where a couple of miles away, you see a rocket perched on a launch pad through your binoculars. After a long wait, the countdown ticks: 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The rocket engines light, a roar shatters the Florida morning, and the rocket, with a space capsule on top, shoots towards space. It was a mere 46 years ago that Scott Carpenter, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, slid into his custom-made spacesuit, strapped into the Aurora 7 capsule, and hurtled into outer space, becoming the second man to orbit the Earth.

While his first name may be different, Steve Carpenter has a rocket of his own, though his is on four wheels. As general manager of Galpin Auto Sports, Steve knew that anything he did vehicular-wise would be put under a microscope by those in the industry. With a passion surrounding Mustangs in general, and the vintage Boss cars in particular, he set out to create a car that would serve to enlighten and inspire.

Steve bought his '06 Mustang GT brand-new and soon began its transformation from bottle rocket to moon ship. "I took the stock Mustang and wanted to make an old-school 302 street and road race car out of it," he says. "I tried to make it as original to the '69 and '70 Boss 302 cars as possible."

With Galpin doing most of the work, Steve oversaw everything. Knowing that a powerful rocket would be needed to get the heavier S197 on its journey, Steve enlisted the help of Jim D'Amore and the crew at JDM Engineering in Freehold, New Jersey. The engine was pulled, and the wheels started turning. The stroke was enhanced with a JDM eight-bolt 3.75-inch stroker crank that, when combined with the standard bore-size Manley pistons pinned to a set of Manley rods, brings the cubic-inch figure up to 302. The squeeze number comes in at 10.5:1, which is perfect for the naturally aspirated combo that Steve had in mind.

After the short-block was sealed up with a Canton 8-quart road-race oil pan, a set of CNC-ported Three-Valve heads was laid down topside. Fitted with stainless steel valves, the heads were finalized when a set of Stage 3 cams from Comp were installed, followed by the stock intake manifold and throttle body. Freeing up some residual horsepower are Steeda underdrive pulleys, while a JDM cold-air intake frees up the inlet track for the incoming air charge. Lighting things off is a set of Granatelli coil packs, which receive the signal from the stock computer that was reflashed with a custom JDM tune. Shuffling out the hydrocarbons is a set of Bassani long-tube headers that link up with a pair of Bassani high-flow cats, mufflers, and a 3-inch exhaust system. All told, the engine thumped out 420 rwhp on nuts alone.

Next, Steve had the driveline shored up to handle all of the abuse he planned to throw at it, starting with the replacement of the stock clutch and flywheel with an RPS aluminum flywheel and carbon-fiber 10.5-inch clutch contained in a billet-aluminum housing. The gears on the stock five-speed are rowed via a Hurst shifter, while a one-piece JDM aluminum driveshaft links the engine/trans combo to the 8.8-inch rear that's filled with an Eaton posi and a set of 4.10 cogs.

The Stang's capsule bleeds functionality and killer good looks. A Hurst shifter replaces the factory gear selector, while a rollcage (painted to match the car of course) made its way into the vehicle's cabin along with a set of Auto Meter gauges in the Steeda pillar mount. Steering inputs are made via the custom-created Momo steering wheel.

Wanting a car that would not only rocket forward, but be able to turn on a dime and stop on a nickel, Steve rehashed the underpinnings and binders. For starters, the frame was stitch-welded and Steeda triangle braces were added. The suspension was overhauled, starting with the front, where a Steeda sway bar, BMR polyurethane bushings, Tokico D-spec shocks, and an adjustable K-member can be found. At the tail end of the spaceship, Ford Racing Performance Parts billet control arms, a Saleen Watt's link rear suspension kit, and billet end links for the accompanying sway bar are seen. Steeda competition springs are found all the way around. As for the braking portion of the preflight checklist, the stock front and rear rotors were swapped out for a set of Baer 14-inch pieces. The stock calipers remain in the rear, though four-piston Baer items clamp down up front. Utilizing all of the Mustang's power and suspension capabilities is the rolling stock, which showcases Boss Eagle alloy rims sized 20x9 on all four corners. The rims were powdercoated the two-tone scheme to match the car before being dressed with the Nitto Invo 275/40/20 hoops and bolted on.

With the rocket-power handled, Steve needed an appropriately matched missile to house the powerplant. After placing a phone call to M&M Auto Arts, the Pony was rolled into the shop, where the M&M crew yanked off the stock lid, front bumper, and grille. The pieces were replaced with a Classic Design Concepts Shaker hood and custom front valance complete with a carbon-fiber wind splitter. Since the idea all along was to go for the Boss 302 look, the hood was blacked out in flat-black paint, which contrasts the factory Torch Red hue perfectly. Once the Boss 302 stripes were laid on and the rear spoiler was painted flat black, the look was complete. Add the blacked-out taillight panel, rear and quarter-window louvers, and this rocket is ready to launch.

Minus the stroker crank, Comp Stage 3 cams, and CNC-ported Three-Valve heads, the 302ci motor that resides between the shock towers of Steve's Mustang is nothing special--as if 420 rwhp is something to laugh at.

The final countdown came with building the capsule, which in this case meant upgrading the interior. The front chairs were ditched in favor of a set of color-matching Cobra custom leather buckets. Color-matching inserts went in the rear seats, followed by the installation of the red-hued rollcage courtesy of Auto Power. A Steeda gauge pillar stocked with Auto Meter gauges was installed next. Finishing off the look was the addition of the Momo handmade steering wheel that was custom-built for the car.

"The Mustang you see here is the result of all the work that Galpin does not only at our shop, but with the Mustang vendors that help and develop new products for these cars," Steve says. "We wanted to build a car that you could drive everyday, wouldn't overheat, but that would go fast in a straight line and around corners.

"It's an incredible driving Mustang. The car was set up for road racing and aggressive street driving. It's like having your own Ferrari, Porsche, or BMW, but in a Mustang body, and that was the goal we wanted to achieve. We wanted to build the ultimate Mustang and, of course, bring back the old-school Boss look."

While Scott Carpenter's Aurora 7 Mercury capsule was destined for outer space and a place in the history books, Steve Carpenter's Mustang has a destiny and place of its own, that being a four-wheel incarnation of heat with a bit of old-school flavor. It's one hot car that certainly causes the mercury to rise.