Marc Christ
Brand Manager, Modified Mustangs & Fords
January 23, 2012

Some guys take a 5-liter Fox-body Mustang LX or GT, put a turbo or supercharger under the hood, and call it a sleeper. Others transplant a mod motor into a four-cylinder car and think they have achieved sleeper status. But there's more than just leaving a car looking stock and adding power.

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The threshold that has to be broken isn't in the overall appearance or the choice of powerplant and/or power adder(s)--it's in the details. Few understand that quite like Michael Vanes of Highland, Indiana. His '93 LX coupe is exactly what we think of when the term "sleeper" is uttered.

No, he doesn't have a big-block shoehorned between the fenders, or a huge blower, or twin turbos. He chose a naturally aspirated Three-Valve--and not even an FRPP Hot Rod Three-Valve like the valve covers suggest, but a stock, 281ci Three-Valve out of an '07 GT. Yeah, he upgraded the ECM and shorty headers (Two-Valve) to FRPP pieces and had the combination tuned by Brandon Bussard of Bussard Performance Specialties (Warsaw, Indiana), but the rest of the engine is stock as a rock.

But before a powerplant could be chosen, Mike had to find the right car. "I've always liked sleepers," he tells us, "and this one caught my eye because of the luggage rack." The car was on Craigslist.com for $1,400 and had been posted by the granddaughter of a 91-year-old lady, who couldn't drive anymore. Mike immediately flew from Indiana to Southern California and drove the 90,000-mile 2.3L coupe back home for its transformation.

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Back in Indiana, Mike enlisted Dan Kuzemka of Coachcraft Body and Paint to smooth the engine bay and repaint it to match the original white exterior. Bussard and his crew then went to work installing the Three-Valve and the rest of the drivetrain and suspension (except the rearend, which Mike installed himself with some help).

To handle the 300-plus flywheel horsepower, Mike chose a T-45, as well as an Andy Schmidt-built 8.8-inch rearend, complete with FRPP 31-spine axles, 3.55 gears, and a Traction-Lok differential out of an SVT Cobra. Bussard then added a slew of Maximum Motorsports pieces, from the K-member and caster/camber plates to subframe connectors and torque-arm rear suspension.

Since the new engine didn't quite fit under the stock hood, Mike added a Cervini's 1-1/2-inch cowl hood. He left the 10-hole stock wheels and factory luggage rack, though. He even had the exhaust dump just behind the stock '99 SVT Cobra mufflers; he then added the faux four-cylinder tailpipe to deceive unsuspecting prey.

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Inside, the granny-maintained interior remains intact and in mint condition. Mike even added a bobbing dog on the dash, a box of tissues on the package tray, and a stereo delete panel. Outside, he added a "RETIRED" vanity plate in the front.

It's so unsuspecting that most probably don't even notice him sitting next to them at the stoplight--until the light turns green and Mike is gone in a flash.

It's so unsuspecting that most probably don't even notice him sitting next to them at the stoplight.

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