Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
A Frightning Situation
Is our experiment a lethal time bomb or a street/strip terror? Read on and find out.
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It took about one year to complete this project, but as promised, we managed to stuff a fire-breathing Lightning V-8 into our unassuming '86 LX coupe. We thank you for your patience, believe us, the wait will be worth it, as we have some exciting editorial planned for this project. The ratty Mustang now moves under its own power, in fact, we went directly past "go" and headed to the dragstrip before ever taking the coupe out on public roads. And on the very first outing (MM&FF, May 2003, "Very, Very Frightning") the faded grey and slightly dimpled Ford ran all the way to the finish line--pedal to the metal, baby!
That it did so the first time out was a terrific accomplishment, because most projects need a little sorting out before they can be run hard. Newly built hot rods often come with bugs--ours had two, and they were easily resolved. Okay, we do have some items to fix up (read: interior, paint, suspension, etc.), but nothing that stopped us from wreaking havoc on the quarter-mile.
In the second installment (May 2003) we wrote about Frightning's debut and the resultant 10.85/119-mph pass we ended the day with. Credit goes to Sean Hyland and his gang from the great white north, which assembled the car, and to JDM Engineering, which helped us with the tune on our track day. SHM did a bang up job with the install and with many of the one-off fabricated parts that made the install a reality.
Upon returning from its vacation in Canada, the LX was turned over to Jim D'Amore and his posse from JDM Engineering. Lightning king D'Amore eschewed the nasty rev limiter (actually he raised it to 5,900 rpm), which made it possible for the Mustang to make it to the finish line without the fuel cutoff kicking in. But he didn't stop there. D'Amore's Lightning runs 10.50s at 130 mph, and he's responsible for the performance of our Lightning project's 11.78 at 110 mph (stock throttle body, blower, upper intake and long-block), so we knew he'd be able to serve up a delightful recipe for our lighter and less aerodynamically challenged Mustang.
Back on a cool day in November of last year, the coupe busted into the 11s, and by nightfall it was a bonafide 10-second runner; 10.85 at 119 mph to be exact. The question was, "How quick could this puppy go?" MM&FF editor and car owner, Jim Campisano, figured low 10s with ease, while John Hedenburg and I won't rest until we get in the 9s.
We know the race weight with my 150-pound body in the seat was 3,010 pounds and that the combination was tweaked just a bit, but there were a few ponies left in the horsepower bank. When we closed shop that day in November, our Stang benefited from a 380hp Triton sitting under (well, partially through) the 'glass 4-inch cowl hood. Performance mods included custom long-tube headers, a 2.70-inch (replacing the stock 2.930-inch) upper pulley and parasitic drag was reduced with an electric cooling fan. Otherwise the 5.4 was stone stock. Backing the twin-cam beast is a Performance Automatic C-4 and a rusty 8.8 with 3.55 gears. Save for the Southside lift bars, the suspension was OE. Like BASF, our job is to make it better.
We enlisted the tuning expertise of D'Amore, who first rolled the Mustang over to Crazy Horse Racing in South Amboy, New Jersey, for a preliminary meeting with the Dynojet. The Dyno confirmed that Frightning was spitting out 352 horsepower at the wheels, but we wanted more.
So, it was back to JDM Engineering for a little super tune. Without even hooking up his trusty Horiba air/fuel meter, D'Amore suspected that the 5.4 was running lean. He says the two limiting factors in a stock Lightning package are the powdered metal connecting rods that have a tendency to leave the classroom without a hall pass, and the stock fuel pumps, which must supply ample detonation-resisting, high-octane fuel. Considering our Mustang didn't even have the same fuel pump capacity as a stock Lightning (actually it had one 255-lph pump), he knew one of the first modifications would be more fuel flow.
Adding more fuel was easy thanks to the twin 190-lph Lightning pumps that D'Amore's guys installed in the tank. As for the connecting rods, I suppose we'll take our chances.
Next, JDM added one of its popular adjustable lower pulley kits (we went with the 9-psi pulley) and also installed a smaller belt, which proved to be much tighter than the old one. In fact, the stock belt was so loose it could be removed by hand. Because of that, we'll conclude it was surely slipping at times. Lastly, JDM threw on a much larger K&N filter and hooked up the transbrake in the Performance Automatic C-4 so we could build a little boost on the line.
With the noted modifications we were off to the races and to some quicker elapsed times (or so we hoped). We hadn't run the car on the dyno since the mods, but we were confident that the mill was making more power and we couldn't wait to let it rip. Before doing anything we warmed up the engine and drivetrain, then we cooled the engine before the run.
For safety's sake I donned my Simpson fire jacket and helmet and climbed aboard, sliding into the torn vinyl chair. I clicked the five-way belts into place and tugged on them for good measure. Not that I was scared, but this is Frightning, you know. Amazingly, the 10-second screamer fired on the first turn of the key and it idled smooth and quiet, much like a stock Lightning. The unique view through the windscreen must be noted. It's not every day that you drive a late-model Mustang with the engine sticking through the cowl hood. My friend in Memphis, Jeff "You ain't getting' my paint code" Swanson, suggested we cover the engine with a new hood, but I told him the coolest part of driving the car is that you can see the throttle linkage whip open with every crack of the throttle. And that's way cool.
Anyway, I checked the gauges (oil and water temp) and rolled up to the burnout box. Since there's no line lock I had to hold the brake and heat the tires the old fashioned way. No problem, the 5.4 makes gobs of torque and the tires come up quick. However, when exiting the burnout I heard an eerie noise, and I know it came from the rear. In fact, I'm confident the differential is going to give up the ghost soon, but it made it through the day.
If you remember, last time out we mentioned LX hooked pretty good, but had to squeeze the gas off the time to get the best traction. Flat punching it produced mad wheel spin, I knew this and decided to use the same technique this time around. Unfortunately, the addition of an estimated 50 lb-ft of torque and who knows how much horsepower put the tires into massive spin as soon as I laid into the gas. I pedaled the machine once or twice and ran it through the gear anyway. With only a 2.06 60-foot time, the Mustang mustered an 11.52, but with a trap speed of 121.98 mph, up from our previous best of 119. Keep in mind our Stang is sporting a rusted rear suspension that probably wasn't too good for racing when it was new. The upper arms have dry-rotted bushings and the shocks don't even work. Additionally, it uses lift bars, which are too aggressive for any car with this much torque. Fret not, a complete UPR rear suspension, Laurel Mountain drag launch kit, and a new 8.8 axle housing with 3.27 gears and good axles from Drivetrain Specialties are on the way.
Despite the poor launch, the Mustang was making power, but I did notice that even with the taller 28-inch slicks the engine felt a little flat from about 1,000-feet on. It was screaming (for a Lightning), working well above the 5,500-rpm mark. This meant there was too much gear in there--hence the order for the 3.27s to replace our 3.55s. D'Amore thinks that when we get the tune right we may even go for 3.08 cogs.
My next attempt started and ended with wild wheel spin and a miserable 2.43 60-foot time. On the third try I was able to ease the Stang off the line and record an 11.0 at 121 mph. Figuring we had nothing to lose, I tried it again using the transbrake and it worked. I mean the brake functioned, but the tires blazed like a nitro Funny Car and I aborted the run.
Realizing that brake wasn't going to do us any good, I reverted back to "foot- braking" it for the next run. D'Amore, who was on hand, burned a new chip with a little more fuel on the top end and less timing in the low- and mid-rpm range. Our thinking was the reduced spark lead would kill a bit of power, but it was for naught. The boosted Triton was just too strong for the 28x10.5-inch Mickeys, which were overwhelmed once more. A bit later, after a cool down I returned to the line and gently cruised to a 10.96 at 121 mph, not the best, but at least it was back in the 10s.
By mid-day we realized without a better suspension and perhaps some ballast in the back we weren't going to get the low 10s we so desperately wanted. Nevertheless, I made one final run and got away with a 1.54 60-foot and a 10.83 at 121, just a tick better than our first time to the track.
Not to overstate the obvious, but before this outing we kind of knew traction was going to be a problem. Turning up the power was just so easy and we couldn't resist. Oh well, a lesson is learned. As you can imagine, our next move is to install an updated rear suspension and to make provisions for ballast just in case the suspension needs some help. Then we'll be back with a vengeance and we're not stopping until we get in the 9s.