Frank H. Cicerale
October 1, 2008
Photos By: Shaun Strayer
Wheels up and charging hard. Running only 26 psi of boost (41 is possible), the Stang has cranked out a best lap of 7.81 seconds at 182 mph.A

According to Wikipedia, a pony car "is a class of automobile launched and inspired by the Ford Mus-tang in 1964. It describes an affordable, compact, and highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image."

You could say Mark Luton's '05 Mustang GT is a pony car. It's compact, highly styled, and has a "sporty" image. Oh yeah, and it packs more than 2,000 hp.

As president of Modular Mustang Racing (MMR), Mark makes his living creating high-horsepower Mustangs. When it came time to reveal what MMR had for the new S197, he set out to show the world not only what he could do, but also how he could redefine the arena at the same time. "The car was purchased brand-new in 2005, and it was the first Mustang GT to come to our local dealership," Mark says. "After receiving the call that she came in, we picked her up and started modding her. All of MMR's '05-'08 parts were developed using this car."

While the company's turbocharged '00 Mustang still served track duty, Mark and the boys at MMR spent their days at the shop transforming a run-of-the-mill Mustang GT into one badass race car. Starting under the hood of the retro-Stang, the transformation began from the inside out.

The stock Three-Valve 4.6L powerplant was hoisted out of the engine bay. Waiting in the wings was one of MMR's Monster Mod 5.4L engines. "We went with the Four-Valve because we felt the Three-Valve market was still developing," Mark says. "Now, we have some pretty ridiculous Three-Valve stuff in the works, so much so that we may go back to a Three-Valve soon."

There's no longer a 4.6 Three-Valve in here. The 300hp bullet has been replaced with a thundering 5.4L Four-Valve monster. Thanks to the twin 74mm turbos, when spooled up to 41 psi, this behemoth cranked out over 2,000 hp at the rear wheels.

With the cylinder case sporting a 3.555-inch bore and a 4.165-inch stroke, the cubic-inch figure tipped the scales at the 330 mark. Before any assembly took place, the iron block was torque-plate honed. Mark lowered a cryo-treated crank in the main web, and then slung in a set of Manley-built I-beam rods, followed by a matching set of Manley slugs. Sealing up the short-block is an MMR racing oil pump and a custom-built 7-quart oil pan.

Next on the agenda was the completion of the engine, which meant Mark had to flip the short-block mod motor over and finish the whole deal. A pair of Ford GT Four-Valve aluminum heads was slapped on, but not before they were worked over more than Joan Rivers' face. The heads were heavily welded by Fab-Tech to align the ports with the planned carbureted intake manifold, and then treated to a Stage 3 port job. The intake valves are 2mm oversize stainless steel jobs, while the exhaust valves are of the same composition, yet 1 mm oversized. Once the heads were on, a quad set of MMR Stage 4 custom-grind turbo roller cams milled by Comp Cams was laid down on the cylinder heads. "I would love to give you the specs, but sorry, they aren't to be shared. They're too secret," Mark says. Squeeze was set at an impressive 9.8:1.

A double-shot of wheelie bars keeps the car grounded to earth upon launch, while two baskets of laundry aid the Wilwood brakes in slowing down the beast after each 1,320-foot pass.

With the long-block bolted together, Mark said no to any sort of factory-style intake manifold. To that end, a heavily worked Sullivan cast-aluminum, single-plane, carbureted intake manifold was laid down between the worked-over cylinder heads, followed by an Accufab 105mm throttle body and a Deed's Performance sheetmetal intake elbow. It was only then that the engine was truly ready for the horsepower makers-the pair of 74mm Garrett turbos courtesy of Deed's and upgraded by Exile Turbo Systems. Feeding the exhaust gasses are a pair of 13/4-inch headers.

The interior of Mark's Mustang is dressed in no-frills, business-only attire. Most, if not all, of the stock appointments were heaved in the name of safety, speed, and light weight. Sitting in the back seat is the large-by-huge Spearco intercooler, with its plumbing running along the passenger side. Throw in a 25.5 rollcage; a custom-fabbed dash showcasing only the needed switches, controllers, and a RacePak computer, and you can see this car's true purpose.

Once the turbine wheel is spinning, the exhaust is funneled out via a 4-inch exhaust. Supplying the needed high-octane go-juice is a Weldon fuel pump that is regulated to supply pressure to the FAST fuel injection system at 40 psi. Knowing that a strong spark would be needed to light the fire in the combustion chamber, an MSD 10 ignition box, coil, and wires conspire with an MMR distributor drive and NGK TR6 plugs to kick off the combustion process under boost figures ranging from 26 to 41 psi. Chilling things out beforehand is a Spearco intercooler. All told, the powerplant was dynoed at 1,781 rwhp at 26 psi of boost and a mind-bending 2,108 rwhp at 41 psi.

With so much power on tap, it was only natural that the rest of the car and its attending drivetrain be upgraded to rock-star status. This began with the trans that would reside in the trans tunnel, as there's no way the stock tranny would fit behind the turbocharged mod monster. A "top secret" Neal Chance converter resides in front of the Mike's Transmission 2,500hp Monster Glide two-speed GM derived slushbox. The fluid is kept cool thanks to an intercooler bathed in ice, and the power runs to the back end via a carbon-fiber shaft. Under the hind end of this Pony, a Strange 9-inch Ford can be found, filled with Strange 40-spline axles, a spool, and 2.91 gears.

Next on the checklist was the suspension, as without a complete overhaul, this Pony wouldn't have a prayer of getting the power to the ground. Forward of the firewall, Granatelli tubular upper and lower A-arms and a K-member conspire with AJE struts to throw the weight rearward upon launch. Putting the heavy S197 on a bit of a diet, as well as aiding in front-end upheaval, is a manual steering-rack conversion. Aft of Mark's seated position in the cabin, the conventional suspension system was deep-sixed in favor of a drag-race-specific setup featuring Strange shocks and MMR's adjustable ladder bar and custom wishbone pieces. The nasty little Mustang hangs Mickey Thompson ET Drag skinnies up front, and wrinkles the sidewalls of the Mickey Thompson 28x10.5 ET Drags rearward. The hoops wrap around Weld's Magnum 2.0-style rims. Poking out through the spokes of the wheels are the Wilwood disc brakes located on all four corners. The binders are aided and abetted thanks to a pair of Simpson parachutes, while wheelie bars keep the front end from landing on the moon when the hammer is dropped.

The factory bonnet was set aside in favor of a 4-inch cowl fiberglass hood, and sitting on the rear decklid is a custom Skinny Kids Race Cars sheetmetal wing, which, at the speeds this Pony will be traveling, is a necessity. With elapsed times expected to be well into the 7-second zone, the interior was turned into a business-only office. The fabricated aluminum tubes that run to and from the intercooler sitting in the rear seat funnel through the passenger-side firewall and former seat location. The door panels were gutted and covered with black carpet, and the stock gauges were replaced with a RacePak computer with a dashboard readout. The center dash tower, which formerly housed the radio and HVAC controls, now has the needed switches, MSD RPM select controller, and boost controller taking up residence. The glovebox can't be opened because the FAST engine-management system resides there. Before each quarter-mile blast, Mark settles into a Kirkey race seat covered in black material, and pulls down tight on the Simpson five-point harness. Keeping things legal is the custom MMR 25.5 rollcage

"An average run goes like this," Mark says. "I pull the car into the burnout box, footbrake it through First and Second gears, and let the burnout roll out. I stage the car and get ready to leave at 4,800 rpm, with the boost at around 12 psi. The car leaves, and First gear is over almost instantly. I'm lucky if I see over the hood when the wheels touch back down. I grab Second gear at 8,000, and aim it for the top end. I pull the 'chutes and hope I have enough track to stop." To think all of this happens in 7.81 seconds at 182 mph-and that run was only on 26 psi of boost.

"Once we ran out of ideas, we decided it was time to replace our '00 Mustang with this car," Mark says. "The old car went a best of an 8.02 at 175, but we needed something newer. It took us a year in the making, but we finally rolled this car out midway through 2007, and as of late 2007, we finally got the chassis where we need it."

So what's in store for this muscle Mustang? "We plan to turn the powerplant back up to the 41 psi of boost that it was dynoed at, and look for runs in the low-7-second zone. Hopefully we can sneak into the 6s. It can be done, as we put the car on a diet last winter and threw on some other modifications that I feel will help the team reach its goal."

With the competition in the Outlaw and Extreme Street classes (FFW and PSCA, respectively) as tough as it is, the task may be large, but it's definitely attainable. Would you expect anything less from a car that has changed the definition of a pony car?