Tom Wilson
December 1, 2005

Just like you don't have to buy a new car to understand new-car smell, you don't really need dead rodents in your hot rod to comprehend the need for change. So you can understand our angst upon opening the door to our track car after a long layoff and getting nostrils full of eau de Mickey morte.

Which got us poking around the ol' track beast, searching for the source. And as we poked and shined the light, we had to admit our open-track project car was, well, tattered. There was that general oily sense to the cockpit, especially the carpet, which looked as if someone had been walking around a shop floor in grimy jogging shoes, then rubbing his feet all over our tan carpet. Which, of course, is exactly what has been happening since 1996 when our GT was a new project car pup. Years at dusty West Coast racetracks haven't helped, nor did all those french fries and secret sauce drippings consumed inside this space back in the modular dawn when this car toiled mightily to crack the 14-second barrier at the dragstrip. And let's not forget to mention the dog that must have resided there, judging from the non-nylon hair attached to the cut pile.

Besides being a bit ground in around the carpet, the track car is overweight. Some of this is endemic to a car that lives for both the street and track. In the hot Southwest where this car lives, air conditioning is more a necessity than a luxury, and there's still seating for a passenger, all the original sound insulation, door crash beams, trunk lights, and on and on. All good stuff, but weighty. And then there is the track gear, which includes a bunch of Maximum Motorsports bridge girders tying the unibody together, not to mention the rollbar. Again, super stuff, but none of it particularly light.

One concession we made to the track car's dual role was the retention of the rear seat. Silly, actually, as once the rollbar was installed no one but a mouse could access the rear pew, and even if it did there would be nowhere for its legs, and its head would clobber the jungle-gym rollbar. But we had noticed the rear seats in the back of Bondurant Cobras, which also had rollbars, and liked the finished look of the rear seat. It says, "I'm really a street car with a rollbar attached" rather than "race car." It's a sleeper look if that's what you're after.

But it's also a heavy look, as the rear seat cushion and backrest are retained. The seat cushion is no big deal, but the backrest employs a metal frame with the fold-down pivots and latches attached, so it definitely weighs a few pounds-39.8, to be precise.

So, after a year of toting the backseat around at 130 mph, it was time to remove it and cover the space with a flyweight bit of fiberboard and low-nap carpeting. This is easy enough to do, thanks to the ready availability of rear-seat-delete kits that match original Mustang carpet colors. We obtained ours from Latemodel Restoration Supply-along with a badly needed carpet kit, floor mats, and some pedal pads-and installed it in preparation for our next track outing.

The photos hit the highlights of both installations, but the general idea of this install is easy to explain. The rear-seat-delete starts by removing a handful of bolts and pulling out the seat. The install reuses a few of the bolts to fit a pair of brackets, and a pair of holes are drilled in the cross-car structure that defines the front of the trunk to accept a pair of bolts. After that, the floor and bulkhead portions of the two-piece delete kit fall into place and are secured with screws.

It's all lightweight material and construction, so little weight is regained with the rear delete. Counting the center portions of the rear seatbelts, we removed 40 pounds and probably installed 3 pounds, for an approximate 37-pound net weight loss. Also due to the lightweight, what looks like a rear parcel shelf is pretty much cosmetic, so you certainly can't put the toolbox on it. It would not be difficult to fabricate some under-shelf brackets or even wood supports to form a more weight-capable shelf, however.

Think of the carpet as a carpet kit rather than a drop-in replacement. The molded carpet from Latemodel Restoration Supply had major holes for the shifter and parking brake, but you'll use a razor blade on the rest of the holes to accommodate the seat hardware, seatbelts, and such. We found the replacement carpet noticeably thinner than the filthy original, which was a godsend when it came to stuffing the carpet around our rollbar.

Naturally, installing carpet means removing the seats and center console, which is all easy. If you have a rollbar, you'll need to cut the carpet to fit it around the tubes as necessary. While it isn't a requirement, we found it easiest to remove all seats, the center console, and carpeting, then install the new carpet and rear-seat-delete kit, and finish by reinstalling the front seats and center console. Either the carpet or rear-seat-delete can be installed without regard to the other, so you can have it any way you like.

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You Broke What?

We also had some housekeeping issues to address. A real winner was the ignition switch, which had some of its finely crafted pieces fall into the clock works, allowing us to neatly guillotine the ignition key into two pieces.

Brilliant. You've got the key fob in your hand, the key shaft is imprisoned in the lock cylinder, the ignition switch rotates uselessly, and guess what-our car has the Passive Anti-Theft System, so the key, lock, and computer are matched. Thanks to considerable help from Marc Bodrie at Person Ford in El Cajon, California, and Paul Svinicki at Paul's High Performance in Jackson, Michigan, we got things working again as explained in the captions. Then after we had the vehicle mobile again, we also added a Kenne Bell switch chip to give us a more aggressive tune at the track.

Finally, our next track event was a Nitto Tire presentation, so we were excited to fit a new set of Nitto's brand new and racy NT01 tires to our 17-inch track wheels. By now you've read our full report on the new Nittos after we whipped them on the road course. We can say you'll dig the new tires' burly road race tread design. We sure do.

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Pats Problems

For about a decade, all Fords have used a sophisticated anti-theft system commonly known as PATS, for Passive Anti-Theft System. It makes a Ford nearly impossible to hotwire, which is fabulous as a theft deterrent, but cumbersome should the ignition key or lock cylinder require servicing.

We found the only way the ignition lock was serviced for our '96 Mustang GT was to buy the entire lock set from a Ford dealer, meaning the ignition, door, and trunk locks. Then, after installing the new ignition lock cylinder, the new key will not be accepted by the computer (a chip and radio technology allow the key and computer to communicate). As soon as the key is inserted into the new ignition switch, the computer knows the key isn't a match and disables the fuel pump.

Only Ford dealers can get around this, as they have the hardware to reflash that section of the computer code, so the car must be taken to a dealer. Here's to hoping your AAA towing service is active or your key snapped off while at the dealer.

Alternately, some tuners can defeat the PATS function in the computer. This means you won't be protected by PATS, which is a bummer, and the "theft" light will flash annoyingly for about 10 minutes every time the key is cycled. But any key cut for that ignition lock will start the car, a boon at the racetrack, says Paul Svinicki of Paul's High Performance. That's because in the usual trackside confusion keys get lost or wander off with the driver or mechanic, so with PATS turned off multiple inexpensive keys can be made and kept handy.

What we did was ship our computer to PHP where PATS was defeated. We installed the new ignition lock and key, and the car functions fine. We ignored all the other locks in the Ford lockset and use the remote keyless entry feature to work the doors and trunk. If we had a spare key from the original lockset we'd put that on the key ring, but we don't, so for now we're relying on the pushbutton key fob.

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