Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsFeatured Vehicles
1988 Mustang LX 302 Block - Humble Beginnings
Time, Dedication, And One Serious Showstopper
Something happens when you purchase a car for the sheer sake of enjoyment. You may have strict plans, but for some owners, ideas change and projects take turns that lead us down interesting roads. Some bite off more than they can chew and don't have the resources to finish the project, while others complete their dream machines.
Achieving the best custom builds often takes time, money, and dedication, as well as the help of friends and family, and Jim Ricchezza of Cherry Hill, New Jersey knows all about it. Jim is a life-long Ford enthusiast and has owned more than 25 Mustangs, including an '88 GT featured in the March 2004 issue of MM&FF, but this slick '88 LX would fill a different spot in Jim's stable. "I bought the car to run a 12.0 index class at Atco Raceway (Atco, New Jersey)," Jim informs us. "However, after running one season it was time to go faster." He also decided to clean some things up a bit while the car was apart.
With his sights set on smoothing the engine bay and stepping up the overall appearance of his soon-to-be track terror, Jim enlisted his father, Jim Ricchezza Sr. for some help with the body. Together, the father and son team own and operate Precision Paintworks in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. The first job was the arduous task of welding and filling the holes under the hood and that took upwards of 80 hours. When the welding was done and the body filler was sanded, the result was nothing short of perfection, but that was only the start. With the rest of the coupe's body in need of attention, replacing body panels was the only way to go. "Every panel on the car was replaced, even the quarter panels," Jim told us. "Once the new metal was hung, the entire car was coated with putty and block sanded." To bring his newly finished bodywork to life, Jim mixed the custom tangerine color and pulled the trigger on the spray gun. Three coats of PPG color and four layers of PPG clear later, and Jim's coupe rolled from the booth with a new attitude.
As soon as the engine bay and bodywork were finished, it was time to make power, and he turned to his uncle, Ernie Ricchezza, who's had a hand in many of Jim's other projects. The idea was to keep it simple and effective, so a '72 302 block was called into duty. Once the machine work was complete, an Eagle crankshaft and connecting rods added strength as the TRW pistons produced 10.5:1 compression. A custom Comp Cam was employed to manipulate the valves inside the new Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads. Ernie then topped the combination with an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake and a Holley 750-cfm carburetor built by Bigs Performance in Altoona, Wisconsin.
With the coupe now having a heart and soul, Jim set out to fortify the drivetrain. He called Dynamic Racing Transmissions and ordered a C-4 with a transbrake along with a 5,000-stall, 8-inch converter. Next, the rear-end housing was pulled, sandblasted, and sent to Rhodes Custom Auto in Delaware. To ensure straightness, it was put on a jig then braced and welded, making it near bulletproof. After being returned to Precision Paintworks, the housing was treated to a few coats of PPG paint before Ernie went to work adding a Moser spool and axles with a set of 4.88 gears. Jim reinstalled the rearend along with a set of Eibach drag springs, Strange adjustable shocks, and UPR adjustable upper and lower control arms to keep the rear planted. Up front, a UPR K-member was given the nod along with a set of QA1 coilovers and a Flaming River manual rack. Billet Specialty wheels sit fore and aft with Mickey Thompson rubber at all four corners.
To complete the transformation from budget track brawler to quarter-mile showstopper, the interior was next on Jim's list. Blacked-out panels now fill the driver compartment along with black carpet and Corbeau seats. Five-point race belts hold Jim securely in place in the event of any mishaps on the track. To tie the exterior to the interior, Jim turned to Bill Kirk who built the custom center console. When he was finished, Tom Meers spent hours with an airbrush making Jim's center console more unique than it already was.
Jim's finished product has yielded amazing looks and a best quarter-mile time of 10.88 seconds at 122 mph. The quest for more power has also driven him to start building a new powerplant for this once humble coupe. By the time this issue hits newsstands, Jim's 306ci engine will have given way to a more potent 347-inch mill. This latest effort for more power should produce quarter-mile times well into the 9-second range.