Make no bones about it, the humble scribe writing this is a big fan of '82-'86 Mustang GTs, with the '83 ranking as a favorite. To this day, yours truly remembers the ads proclaiming, "One Hot Piece of American Steel." Although the car's 175 factory horsepower may seem laughable in 2008, 25 years ago it was a big deal. There was simply no new domestic performance car at that time that could offer the same level of driving excitement for under 10 large (the Camaro Z28 and Trans Am may have been newer, sleeker designs, but they were more expensive and less easy to live with on a daily basis).
Another guy with a real thing for '83 GT Mustangs is Mike Morella. "I remember when these cars came out," he says. "As a school kid in North Carolina, I lusted after them." By 1985, Mike was in high school and driving an Oxford White '83 GT with black interior. "It was just a really neat car," he recalls. "For the time, it was fast and a lot of fun. You could just steer it with the gas and off you went. Because it was light, it could run pretty good on the street."
Like any aspiring hot rodder, Mike did a few things to the car, namely installing a performance air cleaner and aftermarket exhaust system. "I did what I could, but was on a limited budget at the time," he says. Mike also lavished considerable care on the car, keeping that white paint sparkling and the interior nice and clean. Sadly, things came to a crashing halt-literally, as the car was totaled in an accident. "It was a real blow, but there was little I could do," he relates. "I knew I wanted to find another one, but in the meantime I decided to concentrate on other stuff."
Finding A Replacement
However, the lust for an '83 Mustang just didn't go away and in 1999, Mike came across an ad for one in the Mustang and Ford Trader. "It looked really clean, but at the time I didn't have the money to buy the car," he says. "But I decided to cut out the ad and keep it, hoping down the road that if the car was still for sale, I'd have the money to buy it."
And, as if destiny somehow intervened, a couple of years later, Mike had hoarded enough coin to consider buying another Fox Mustang as a viable proposition. "I still had the ad, so I decided to call the guy up on an off-chance and, wow-it was still for sale," he says. "It was in Alabama on jackstands. I asked my parents to go look at the car for me and they said everything checked out."
So Mike, then living in Florida, went up to Alabama, bought the car, and decided to drive it back home. "When I first laid eyes on it, the thing that got me was not only that it was exactly the same color as the car I had back in high school, but how original it was," he says. "By that point, most '83s were junk, but this car still had its original paint, graphics, and an interior that was in excellent shape. The only mods to it were a camshaft, a performance exhaust with long-tube headers, and an aftermarket stereo. The car still had the TRX wheels on it." On the way back home, however, one of the exhaust collectors blew near Jacksonville. To Mike, "it sounded like a NASCAR stocker, so I drove it steady, not wanting to attract attention, of course!"
Break Out The Tools
Back in his garage, Mike's next step was to figure out what to do with the car. "I'm a big fan of road racing and open tracking, and I knew that I wanted to take the car out and have some fun, but with the factory suspension, man, that thing would roll," he says. "One of the first things I did was lower the Mustang and put some tubular sway bars on it, both front and back. Because I knew it was going to see the road course (I raced motorcycles professionally for 13 years), I knew that, especially because it was a T-top car, the chassis needed some stiffening." Mike's solution was to weld in a set of full-length subframe connectors with seat crossbraces and a Steeda strut-tower brace.