Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
1988 Mustang 5.0 LX - A King And His Castle
Live In A House, Or Live In Your Car?
Many of us have had to sell our cars for one reason or another. It's not a recent cultural phenomenon, as people have had to do this since the advent of the automobile. The good thing is that many of us eventually get back to having a hot rod in the garage. Such was the case with Bellingham, Massachusetts, resident John Serra II.
Before John came to the tough decision of selling his pride and joy, it was a day back in 1984 that got him hooked on Mustangs. "I was in high school in the parking lot and a guy in an '85 Mustang GT was doing donuts for minutes on end," says John. Shortly after that experience, John took a lot attendant position at the local Ford dealer in 1987 and fell in love with a particular '88 LX Mustang.
"It came in on the trailer and my job was to unload them and wash them before they went out on the lot. I told them I wanted that car," recalls John. He bought that very '88 Mustang and began reading Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords at the same time. Unfortunately, the Mustang was stolen.
Not one to easily give up, John's next purchase was an '89 5.0L Mustang hatchback. The black-on-red Pony didn't stay stock for long, and eventually culminated in a 351-powered terror with two stages of nitrous, a Tremec transmission, and 10.50 elapsed times in the quarter-mile. John held onto the car until 1994, when he faced a dilemma. A bad real estate investment left him looking for a new residence, and unfortunately he had to sell his pride and joy to make the down payment on his castle.
"I made a promise to myself that I would build another one," says John, and what you see here is the fruit of his labors. By 2001, John needed to get behind the wheel of a 5.0L Mustang in a bad way. His friend told him about an '88 LX that was for sale.
"The guy was asking $5,000, and I offered him $3,500 because it had holes in the floor and the trunk. He called me later, desperate to sell it, and after he put all of the stock parts back on, I bought it for $2,500."
Short of sticking it on a rotisserie, this Mustang has undergone a full restoration from the bottom to the top. Along the way, John has made numerous changes to the drivetrain and suffered many engine failures that tried his patience and his pocketbook.
The coupe started out with vintage J302 cylinder heads as some of the first mods, and the car put down a respectable 298 rwhp in normally aspirated form. From there, John bolted on a ProCharger P600B centrifugal supercharger. After awhile, he blew the head gaskets right out of the 302. When that engine came out, John pulled the stock T-5 transmission and installed a Tremec 3550 five-speed with a Centerforce clutch.
That combination didn't last long before John pulled the P600B and installed a Vortech V-2 SQ supercharger with an aftercooler. The combination produced a lot of power and broke a lot of parts.
"I've been taking stock blocks apart left and right," notes John. When the most recent engine went together, John swapped out the 3550 for a TKO 600 from Pro Motion Performance, along with a McLeod twin-disc clutch setup. Sooner or later, John is going to have to step up to a better block if he is to satiate his horsepower needs. For now, the latest stock block bullet has been filled with .030-over slugs from Diamond and forged connecting rods from Eagle. ABT Machine in Holliston, Massachusetts, handled the grind work on the block, while EZ Breathing Cylinder heads in Franklin, Massachusetts, ported the Trickflow Twisted Wedge aluminum cylinder heads.
Having been unhappy with the Ford Racing E303 camshaft, John installed a Wolverine Blue Racer 1087 hydraulic roller camshaft. The 1087 cam was popular early on in the 5.0L rage, and it has always carried a great reputation for power and drivability. Duration checks in at 222/232 degrees at 0.050, and valve lift registers 0.510/0.534-inch. Residing atop the lifter valley is an Edelbrock Performer RPM II intake manifold, with a 75mm Accufab throttle body and a Pro-M 80 mm mass air meter reading the intake charge. The Vortech SQ remains, offering 14psi of boost, and John enlisted Mike Freeman to rework the EEC-IV computer programming. For now, 36-lb/hr fuel injectors run off a stock fuel system with twin external fuel pumps.
For such a capable engine combination, the exhaust system is rather tame, with a pair of Ford Racing Performance parts 15/8-inch shorty headers dumping into a Bassani 21/2-inch x-shaped mid-pipe and Dynomax Super turbo mufflers with stainless steel tips.
With the body being so rusty on this New England-based rocket, one could easily assume that John wasn't going to leave the rusty suspension parts alone. That being said, Ford Racing "B" coil springs reside at the corners and work with Koni SPA-1 front struts, Steeda caster/camber plates and bumpsteer kit, along with Factory Five control arms out back. A D&D Motorsports tubular K-member removed some excess weight from the front end.
The Fox-body Mustang's 8.8 rear axle assembly is one of the toughest housings to come under a ponycar, and when properly equipped, can handle 1,000 hp or more. John fortified his 8.8 with an Eaton differential, Superior 31-spline axleshafts, and a 3.73:1 ring-and-pinion set.
In need of larger injectors, and probably a larger fuel system at this point, John's little 306ci engine pumped out a claimed 575 rwhp and 509 lb-ft of torque. He hasn't had much track time with it, but so far the Colt has run 11.3 at 129 mph with a soft 1.99 short time. He's gone as fast as 1.61 in the first 60 feet, but was unable to catch Third gear when it came time. The car has 10-second power, but we have to wonder for how long given the stock block's propensity for splitting at this horsepower level.
For everything that John has done underhood, he's opted to go the minimalist route on the exterior. Though bathed in bright red paint, the Mustang sports a stock-height fiberglass hood from H.O. Fibertrends, and a set of chrome pony wheels. John had the rear wheels widened to 9.5 inches to accommodate 26x10.5-inch Mickey Thompson ET Street tires, while the front 16x7s are wrapped in 255/60/16 Michelin Pilots.
The interior is likewise mundane, or at least as mundane as red upholstery gets. The very clean red tweed seats are positioned amid a rollbar, and a few Auto Meter instruments adorn the cabin along with a pair of five-point racing harnesses.
As clean as this coupe is, John tells us he drives it everywhere. Whether it's to the local cruise-in or to the dragstrip some 100 miles from home. "I started reading Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords in 1988 and my dream ever since has been to have my car featured," says John. "You will never find a bigger fan of these cars anywhere. Your magazine has been my inspiration." With a 20-year dream now coming true, one might wonder if the sacrifices along the way were worth it. Well, the king has his castle, his car, and a car feature. Get yourself a good engine block John and you'll be set.