KJ Jones
Brand Manager, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
January 24, 2011
Photos By: KJ Jones

If we haven't said this before, let us hereby acknowledge that Big Steve really knew what he was talking about when he came up with his now-classic line, "A project car is never really finished until you sell it."

Now, don't go running away from this story to go scour Craigslist or eBay sale listings with hopes of finding one for our coupe. It's not for sale. Actually, as far as your tech editor is concerned, the rare T-top 'Stang with a trunk will be in the Jones family for many years to come. So, despite whatever feeling of completion we sometimes may have, the special black notchback will always be a work in progress of sorts.

With this being the case, our latest Project T-top Coupe tech venture comes nearly one year after our experience at the PSCA's Street Car Super Nationals V in Las Vegas; a bad experience, unfortunately, but one that has brought about a new commitment to making the overachieving coupe even better than it was.

We've enjoyed the credit and congratulations that have come for the big-time power the T-top car pumps out with a drivetrain combination that skeptics felt wasn't capable of generating that type of real-world steam. If you're not familiar with the setup, here's a quick general overview of the 3,500-pound Mustang's previous engine and transmission package, which put 866 hp and 727 lb-ft of torque on the ground, and covered the 1,320 in 9 seconds-A.R.E. Performance & Machine 350ci small-block Ford; AFR 205 heads; Scat 3.250-inch crank; and 5.4-inch rods; SRP dished pistons; Comp 0.608-intake/0.612-exhaust hydraulic-roller cam; Holley SysteMAX II intake manifold; non-intercooled Paxton Novi 2000 centrifugal supercharger (20 psi of boost); and Performance Automatic Super Comp AODE transmission with a Precision torque converter.

Yes, this fairly simple package, made up of off-the-shelf/non-custom pieces, has been responsible for the good times we've experienced while cruising and drag racing the coupe. However, at SCSN V we learned (in catastrophic fashion) that big steam-moreso, the components that make big steam-have their limits. The bottom line is, we have learned and now accept the fact that throwing 20 psi of non-'cooled boost into the Pony's 350-inch bullet is asking a lot of the Sportsman Racing Products dished, forged pistons that we used in the engine (regardless of tuning, high-octane fuel, and so on).

We definitely took the SRP slugs beyond their limits for a much longer time than anyone thought they'd last. The performance is a testament to SRP's durability, as we're sure the pistons would live a lot longer in similar severe-duty conditions if they're used in the lesser-powered engines they're designed for.

In this latest (and if we're lucky, "last") rejuvenation of T-top Coupe's powerplant, we're using our newfound knowledge about pistons to hopefully go beyond the "hundies" and take T-top coupe's horsepower above the 1,000 mark. A rack of eight custom flat-top forgings from JE Pistons gets the nod for this big-steam effort, along with a fresh crankshaft (PN 43022) and rods (PN 65400927) from Scat, and a step up to AFR's 225cc cylinder heads (PN AFR1456).

Despite sustaining fairly severe damage in one cylinder, the old-school Ford Racing Performance Parts 8.2-deck "R" block has been sleeved and continues to serve as Rocco Acerrio's mechanical canvas, from which a new, slightly bigger (353 ci) work of engine art will be created.

With this rebuild comes a new mission. As stated earlier, our T-top coupe definitely has exceeded all the expectations that any of us had at the outset of the project. (It's hard to believe that was back in 2006.)We're still working with the rare Pony, and of course, want to make it even better. For this 'Stang, better comes in the form of more horsepower and our new goal is for the coupe to put down 1,000 (or more) ponies at the feet!

Yes, we're chasing the dyno now, and we realize that hitting the 1,000hp target will take more than a rebuilt engine with better-breathing heads and a few more cubes. So in addition to the engine upgrade, we're also making changes on the supercharger side of the power system.

T-top coupe's 20 psi of boost has come by way of a non-intercooled Paxton Novi 2000 supercharger/10-rib, 3-inch pulley-and-belt combination. The lack of an intercooler basically has been the pistons' Achilles' heel, as inlet-air temperatures of 280-plus degrees have had their way with the SRPs, despite safe (rich) tuning and even a blast of water/methanol spray.

All roads to cooling the high IATs have brought us to finally accepting the fact that an intercooler must be added to our forced-induction program. Going with a 'cooler is something we've been hesitant about doing. This was largely because installing a unit that will support the type of boost and horsepower the engine generates will require modifying (i.e. cutting) some portion of our rare 'Stang.

After much deliberation, Vortech's Mondo water-to-air intercooler has been selected for the job. Your tech editor and Rocco both agree that the Igloo (PN 8M201-007)-as the Mondo Cooler is called in blown Fox-body circles-is the perfect unit for our effort. Clearancing the 'Stang's cowl hood (for the intercooler's case, lid, and discharge tubing) is a lesser infraction than boring a 4-inch hole in the firewall and cowl box, doing away with passenger seating for 'cooler placement, or hacking up the '86 snout-style fascia to allow better airflow to an air-to-air intercooler.

So as you can imagine, a good amount of thought has been put into our newest quest for big steam. The tried-and-true Novi 2000 that we've been flogging since the 'Stang was built, will be called on once again for our initial attempt at making a 1,000 horses. The blower now sports a cog-belt drive (blower/crank cogs are roughly the same ratio as serp pulleys) instead of the 10-rib serpentine, and we're confident that without a slipping belt we should see 2-to-3 pounds more than the 20 psi that was the blower's previous max.

If that's not enough for you, the real treat will come after our dyno testing with the original supercharger, when we unbolt the Novi 2K and bolt Paxton's all-new head unit on the potent small-block Ford.

Details on the new Novi 2500, which sources tell us may be Paxton's answer to sister-company Vortech's YSi-trim, will come when we reach the test stage. For now, study the accompanying photos to see what comprises T-top coupe's new boost-ready bullet.

A.R.E.'s Rocco stresses that the right combination of parts is key. Even though we're deviating a bit from our original setup (which well may have made 1,000 horses had the air charge been intercooled), we're confident that the new engine package and cogged/'cooled blower setup will work even more efficiently than its predecessor, which was an animal in its own right.

Tough Gig

With a goal of 1,000 rwhp, we realize it will be onerous to reach the plateau without addressing the T-top coupe's supercharger situation. While we're sure the Paxton Novi 2000 that has helped get it to 866 hp is plenty capable of producing the required amount of boost for a thousand ponies, we've come to accept the fact that it cannot happen without cooling the air charge.

To fix this, we're adding Vortech's Mondo water-to-air intercooler to our project car. The Igloo allows air to pass across ice-water-cooled cores, which dissapate heat and dramatically reduce air temperature/increase air density (our non-intercooled inlet temps were as high as 280 degrees) before it reaches intake ports in the heads.

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The intercooler improvement is followed up by a significant change in the Novi's drive characteristics. Cog pulleys are replacing the 10-rib serpentine-belt wheels on the crank and blower. We're making this move to ensure that belt slippage-and the loss of boost-will no longer enter into the performance equation, on the dyno or the dragstrip.

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Saving what undoubtedly is the most exciting upgrade for the end of this effort, an exclusive test of Paxton's all-new Novi-based supercharger is on the schedule. For a long time, the Novi 2000 has sort of played second fiddle to Vortech's YSi-Trim supercharger, especially among those who seek four-digit dyno numbers. Our plan is to explore what's possible in terms of making the 1,000-plus rear-wheel horses we want-first with the OG Novi; then we'll step up to the new unit, which we're told will definitely give Vortech's blower a solid run for its money.