American Racing founders Romeo Palamides and J.O. Ellison most likely had no idea how much of an influence they would have on American car culture when they started the company in 1956. The Torq-Thrust wheel helped launch an entire after-market industry, bringing performance wheels from the track to the street. When the Mustang was introduced in 1964, it didn't take long before Torq-Thrusts became the performance wheel of choice among Mustang owners.
So when American Racing began its initial plans for building a SEMA car, the vehicle of choice was obvious. "Our goal was to make a car in the theme of the SCCA cars of the late-'60s, many of which ran on our Torq-Thrusts," says Tony Millunzi, brand manager of American Racing. "We wanted to highlight this history and show that we are American Muscle. If you want to build a great American musclecar, you have to start with the quintessential muscle-car, the Mustang." The American Racer was born.
The Planning Stages
At first, American Racing planned to build an all-out race car. "The initial vision was much more hard-core," Millunzi says. "We had talked about taking the dash apart, pulling the carpet, installing a custom 'cage and nets-basically making it a race car." That was soon scrapped in favor of something more streetable. "We settled on more of an 'inspired by' theme after realizing that we actually wanted to drive the thing."
With the vision in place, American Racing recruited Jason Cenora, owner of 281 Motorsports, to help build the car, and Hillbank Motorsports in Irvine, California, to supply the parts. Cenora, who was Hillbank's sales director at the time, is known for building some incredible Mustang show cars. You might remember his Shelby CS8 Mustang that graced the cover of the Aug. '07 issue of Modified Mustangs. "Jason has a real passion for Mustangs, and he brought that enthusiasm to this project," Millunzi says. "He treated the car like it was his own, and went above and beyond to get it done." Hillbank's relationships with other vendors were essential in getting the project completed, and having their help, along with Jason, ensured that it didn't become just another corporate show car that no one would want to own.
Looking the Part
An additional reason for building the Mustang was to show off American Racing's new wheel, the TXM. It was important to style the Mustang to highlight the wheels, which are finished in matte black with a machined face. "Initially, I had planned on going to Jeff at Merzee's Paint and Body in Santa Fe Springs to have him paint the racing stripes," Millunzi says. "After telling him about the wheel, he mentioned that he had a really cool paint idea he'd been saving for the right project. Using Alsa Ghost Chrome paint, he could make the car look like brushed aluminum." The result matches the wheels perfectly and is a paint job like we've never seen. Although it's difficult to capture in photographs, the brushed-aluminum look is so real, you'd swear it's the actual thing.
"There were some people internally who doubted a brushed-aluminum paint scheme, but when I was asked at SEMA how we got an aluminum body, I knew we had made the right call," Millunzi says. The paint is nicely matched with two wide, flat-black stripes with thin red pinstripes that run the full length of the car. A 3d Carbon "Boy Racer" body kit completes the race-car theme, including a rear wing that's painted to match the stripes.
Power in the hands of ARE
With its flared fenders and racing stripes, the American Racer looked ready for some hot laps, but it first needed some go along with the show. The solution came in the form of a race-trim Saleen Speedlab supercharger system complete with an upgraded fuel system. With the added boost, the Three-Valve puts out a tire-shredding 493 rwhp and 447 rwtq. For good measure, a nitrous system from Nitrous Express has been set up to work with the supercharger. Other performance modifications include a MagnaFlow exhaust system complete with x-style crossover, high-flow cats, and Magnapack mufflers. A Meziere electric water pump and an Optima red-top battery also found their way underhood.
True to its inspiration, the American Racer is set up to handle like a Koni Challenge car. It has been fitted with performance lowering springs and front and rear sway bars from Progress Technology, as well as Bilstein dampers at all four corners. Braking hasn't been ignored either, and upgraded stopping power comes from a massive Saleen front big-brake kit with 15-inch two-piece rotors and six-piston calipers. Putting the power to the ground are sticky BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW tires, P275/35ZR20 front and rear.
Safe And Sexy
The cabin of the American Racer carries over the theme of the exterior and would fit right in whether on the track or at a show. For the racer, a four-point Autopower rollcage has been installed, and lightweight Cobra Misano carbon-fiber seats complete with four-point safety harnesses keep both the driver and passenger firmly in place. A triple gauge pod mounted on the A-pillar houses Auto Meter gauges that keep tabs on the nitrous system and supercharger. Speaking of the nitrous system, dual bottles have been placed on top of the custom rear-seat delete just in front of the billet "American Racing" illuminated sign. It's one of the best uses of that space we've ever seen. Other interior features include billet interior accessories from UPR and a trick Infill G4 in-dash multimedia system that is essentially a personal computer with a 250gb hard drive. The interior trim has also been painted to match the outside, one of Cenora's personal touches.
As with most SEMA projects, the American Racer was more time consuming than originally anticipated. Even Cenora, who has much experience building show cars, felt the stress of completing the car on time. "As the builder, you're always faced with delays, but you must deliver the finished product on time regardless," he says. "I believe at one point, parts of this car were scattered in eight different locations having something done. All of this while holding a full-time job. Talk about total chaos!"
Readying the car for SEMA came down to the last minute. The American Racer was finally completed at 8:30 the night before it had to be loaded on the transporter. Even then, a few final details were finished on the show floor. "I really have to thank Jason Cenora and Keith from K-Dezines for toiling over the car hours before the show opened," Millunzi says.
The hard work and last-minute details were worth the effort. "At SEMA, people loved it," Millunzi says. "I don't know how many times I had to tell admirers how the paint job was done. Then they would see how clean the overall look was, that supercharger on the engine, and fall in love." American Racer was such a hit that one man even offered to buy the car on spot. Despite being told it wasn't for sale, he later returned and asked again how much the boys would take for it.
Everyone back at American Racing loves the finished car, too. "Almost every day I have someone in my office telling me why they need the car over the weekend," Millunzi laughs.
We don't blame them! The American Racer is a Mustang we'd love to have for a few days ourselves. The only debate would be whether we'd race it or show it. Decisions, eh?
American Racing's '08 Mustang GT Coupe "American Racer"
- 4.6 Three-Valve modular
- Saleen Speedlab 550 supercharger system with fuel-system upgrade
- Nitrous Express billet plate wet-fogger nitrous system
- Meziere high-output electric water pump
- Optima Red-Top battery
- UPR billet engine dress-up kit
- 493 rwhp
- 447 rwtq
- MagnaFlow performance x-style crossover with high-flow cats
- MagnaFlow after-cat exhaust system with Magnapack mufflers
- Front: Progress Technology performance lowering springs, Progress Technology sway bar, Bilstein struts
- Rear: Progress Technology performance lowering springs, Progress Technology sway bar, Bilstein shocks
- Front: Saleen Extreme System, 15-inch rotors, six-piston calipers
- Rear: Stock, single-piston caliper
- Front: American Racing TXM, black and machined face, 20x9
- Rear: American Racing TXM, black and machined face, 20x9
- Front: BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW, P275/35ZR20
- Rear: BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW, P275/35ZR20
- Infill G4 in-dash multimedia / Windows-based personal computer featuring a 250gb hard drive, Sube Sports Cobra Misano carbon-fiber two-piece seats, Autopower four-point safety rollcage and four-point cam-lock 3-inch safety harnesses, K-Dezines custom rear-seat delete with billet-aluminum "American Racing" lighted sign, Pro Design brushed-aluminum rear-seat delete cover, Auto Meter carbon-fiber series instrumentation, UPR billet interior accessories
- 3d Carbon Boy Racer body kit, Alsa Corporation Ghost Chrome Brushed Aluminum paint with flat-black racing stripes from Merzee's Paint and Body, Valeo Sylvania HID Xsighting Lighting headlights
Special Thanks to:
- Hillbank Motorsports, Irvine, CA
- Saleen Speedlab, Irvine, CA
- Merzee's Paint and Body, Sante Fe Springs, CA