Jim Smart
June 1, 2008

The Van Gordon-built 302 sports the standard 2M nodular-iron crankshaft, C8OE forged rods, and Speed-Pro-coated flat-top pistons-all blueprinted and dynamic-balanced for smoothness. Van Gordon topped this block with Edelbrock Performer RPM heads with 2.02/1.60-inch valves for improved horsepower numbers. That's an Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold topped with Holley's own 570-cfm Street Avenger carburetor. You might look at carb sizing and ask, "why?" The name of the game in street use is low-end torque, which the Holley satisfies with ease. Go large and you lose torque and volumetric efficiency. Go too small and you lose both torque and horsepower. Van Gordon Racing understood this theory when it planned out Tom's 302. The 570-cfm Holley delivers a nice balance of torque and horsepower, with torque being most important when the light turns green.

Tom didn't go exotic when it came to his 302's ignition system. That's an Autolite single-point distributor with vacuum advance with the Pertronix Ignitor edge inside. No points-just solid reliability inside from a modification that's hidden and takes 30 minutes to install. On top is a K&N air cleaner, which offers greater airflow. It's also important to take notice of practical elements that make a classic more reliable and solid. We like the Monte Carlo bar, born of Ford and Shelby's racing efforts in the early '60s, which stiffens up the front end for better structural integrity. The export brace was mandatory in Tom's mind for improved stability and structural integrity. Note the factory fan shroud, which increases air velocity through the radiator for improved cooling. A trunk-mounted battery frees up engine compartment space and offers better weight distribution.

Inside, Tom kept a close eye on both function and aesthetics. He stayed with the Mustang's first-generation Falcon instrument panel with a white-face twist. The Grant rosewood steering wheel looks terrific and feels good in your hands. A Shelby center gauge pod offers important engine-performance data without cluttering up the dashboard. Flo-Fit seating makes the ride, offering comfort and good looks without costing a fortune.

Tom didn't spend a fortune under the car, either. He kept the suspension stock, with the exception being a 1-inch sway bar, 620 coils, five-leaf mid-eye springs, and KYB gas shocks. A page-turner is Tom's decision to fit his Mustang with Shelby 17x8-inch 10-spoke wheels from California Pony Cars. They're retro, yet current, wrapped in Continental speed-rated radials.

Because Tom liked the Laser Red finish on Lexine's '96 Mustang convertible, he went with the same color, along with a special Pearl White stripe treatment. He had to thumb through several pages of Pearl White color charts, ultimately narrowing it down to six choices before making his final decision.

Tom's efforts prove you don't have to build an outrageous 600-horse Mustang fastback to leave a lasting impression. He did it with a modest budget, great imagination, and the will to make the most of what he had available.