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1986 Mustang Project - Very, Very Frightning
Take one four-cylinder Mustang coupe, add a healthy dose of Lightning horsepower, and the result will scare the Brand Xers to death
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In the annals of car magazine publishing, this has to go down as one of the longest delays in project vehicle installment history. In part one ("Lightning Struck Fox," May 2002), contributor Jack Ryan took you through the trials and tribulations of sticking a supercharged 5.4 Lightning engine into a poor, unsuspecting '86 Mustang four-cylinder coupe, a feat no less daunting then the French Poodle-Great Dane mating ritual.
Fast forward one full year and (ta-dah!), here's part two. This month, we've got a full-on drag test and big plans for the future. But I suppose a little history is in order.
The idea was simple enough. We love Lightnings--what's not to like?--but let's be real. When you're lugging around more than two tons, you are wasting lots of precious horsepower.
So there we were, hanging around the water cooler, wasting valuable company resources, B.S.ing about cars (as usual). The Fridge, our resident '99 SVT project truck, was (at the time) running 12.00s, and making more than 400 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels. Just imagine, I said, if you had that engine in an '80s-vintage Mustang notchback. Everyone ooh'd and ahh'd in agreement, knowing the path to enlightenment and low-elapsed times comes from having lots of power in a featherweight frame.
Let's look at the math. To run a 12.07 in a 4,600-pounds vehicle (roughly where the Fridge was), you need about 517 horsepower, according to our Barry Grant Professor II calculator. Put that same 517 ponies in a 3,100-pound Mustang and you can go 10.58 at about 128 mph. This doesn't take into account the vastly superior aerodynamics of a Mustang or how much power was being lost going through that giant truck transmission versus a C-4, which would be our gearbox of choice.
Well, the next thing you know, I'm burning up the phones to see if there are any takers in this madcap experiment. Hey, it's all in the name of science, right? Sean Hyland of Sean Hyland Motorsport was game to do the install and whatever fabrication was necessary. Ford's Special Vehicle Team was as curious as we were about this idea. We didn't have to ask twice. A complete engine, blower, intercooler, wiring harness, and computer were shipped north of the border. Performance Automatic kicked in a reverse valvebody C-4 with a transbrake and a modular bell housing and we were well on our way.
All we needed was something to put this good stuff into. I've always had a major jones for '85-86 Mustangs. I love the styling and the interior of those cars and prefer this vintage to the '87-93 aero cars. As fate would have it, I was hanging around Valley Performance in Belleville, New Jersey, and found out about an '86 notchback that was up for grabs. It was a four-banger, but had a Wild Rides six-point cage, a built 8.8 rear, Southside bars, a 4-inch fiberglass cowl hood, and that's just for starters. There were also Weld wheels, skinnies, and BFG Drag Radials. The interior had been gutted, but the body was in surprisingly good shape and the price was too good to pass up. A deal was struck and Hyland picked it up. When we told someone we were putting a blown Lightning plant in a gutted '86 Mustang, they said innocently, "That's frightening." A lightbulb went off and a project car name was born. Grant us the poetic license to misspell it "Frightning."
Go back to the May 2002 issue and you can find out how SHM used a Performance Automotive tubular K-member to mount our Triton V-8 in the formerly four-fed Fox. Because the car was born with a carburetor, SHM had to install the appropriate plumbing and 225-lph fuel pump to feed our injected beast. That was not a problem. The biggest stumbling blocks with the swap were the 1 3/4-inch headers and electronics.
The headers and off-road H-pipe had to be custom fabricated, and while the tubular K-member helped, there was still plenty of trial and error to make them work. An off-the-shelf MAC 3-inch cat-back exhaust system bolted right up to the H-pipe and looks beautiful with its polished tips exiting beneath the rear bumper.
As for the "electricky" stuff, in hindsight it might have been easier to go with a stand-alone aftermarket setup like ACCEL Gen 7 DFI. But we knew the EEC-V would be hard to beat as far as driveability is concerned, plus we planned on letting Jim D'Amore of JDM Engineering have his way with the car when SHM was done with it, and his specialty is EEC-V Lightnings. Because SHM could not work its way around Ford's passive anti-theft system (PATS) in the computer, it ended up fitting an F-150 gauge cluster to the '86's dash and wired the EEC-V to that. The result hardly looks pretty, but you get in, turn the key and it runs like a stocker.
And when we got to Raceway Park in Englishtown, having factory electronics was a big help. Even with only 3.55:1 gears, we were banging off the factory rev limiter early into the first run. This was because of both our short (26x10-inch) slicks and the low-revving nature of the Triton V-8. This thing is all about torque and Ford doesn't want you revving it to the moon. It should also be noted that SHM had changed the blower pulley; instead of 8 psi, our vehicle put the boost gauge at 12.
The first serious run was a telling 11.56 at 112.19 with a take-it-easy 1.72 60-foot time. After a brief cooldown, we got more aggressive on launch and went 11.497 at 112.04. Thankfully, D'Amore was on hand to help out. He burned us a new chip and the limiter was now set at 5,600. This helped, but we were still running out of engine speed before we got to the traps and a couple of angry, aborted runs.
The final solution was 5,900 rpm--way too high for this engine, but we didn't have taller tires and we wanted into the 10s in a big way. To that end, Jim added four degrees of initial timing to the chip at the same time. He considered more, but he didn't have his trusty air/fuel meter. 'Tis better to err on the side of caution than to blow up the new toy the first day at the track.
Up next was a spinning 11.28 at 119.24, backed up by (finally) a 10.85 at 119.88. The 60-foot time was a respectable 1.477, but believe it or not we weren't launching that hard. The rear suspension was Southside bars with stock uppers and springs and shocks that could only be described as rusty--for all we know they could have been leftover from when the car was a four-cylinder. Attempting to power-brake Frightning off the line meant devilish launches that sent you in the direction of the wall.
Still, with a less aggressive launch the car went straight and true down the quarter-mile. Pull the Hurst Quarter-Stick every time the tach hit 5,000 rpm and you were in business. The Performance Automatic C-4 shifted hard and sure every time.
We backed up the 10.85 with a 10.93 at 119.75 so we're confident it's a legitimate 10-second piece, with a stock throttle body, heads, and cams. Next on the agenda is the rear suspension and gearing. We've got to make the car work better so we can get more aggressive on the line, maybe even get a little jiggy with the transbrake, which we've yet to hook up. And numerically lower gears with a 28-inch tall slick are most definitely the way to go. We were touching the rev limiter at 5,900 going through the lights. There's no way the 5.4 will survive with that kind of abuse.
Once that's out of the way, we can let D'Amore lose on the EEC-V and the pulleys. If our '99 Lightning can run with 15 psi on the street, so can Frightning.
We definitely think the gears, tires, and suspension tricks alone will put us in the mid-10s, maybe quicker. With the extra boost and a computer upgrade, who knows? Use your imagination. Frightning, indeed.