K.J. Jones
February 24, 2008

Horse Sense: Our esteemed editor, Steve Turner, says a project car is never really finished until it's sold. Fear not! The Fox-Rodded '86 T-top coupe that has been one of this magazine's main attractions for the last year won't be going to the highest bidder any time soon. We'll continue to make cutting-edge street/strip mods on it and bring you all the details right here.

Now that we're a few issues beyond the report on our T-top coupe's street and dragstrip debut ("Final Exam," Aug. '07, p. 164), some people may be under the impression we've exhausted all the story possibilities for this Fox-Rodded project.

Not a chance.

The saga of our T-top coupe isn't finished yet. While stories focusing on the car's future upgrades and mods may be more infrequent than the monthly installments we gave you during its build period, it's important that you know we're still adding to and using this rare 'Stang to install, test, and showcase hard-core street/strip equipment for '79-'93 Foxes.

If you're scratching your head trying to figure out what we're talking about, for the past year, we've been deep in the throes of putting together a rare '86 Mustang LX coupe with T-tops. We acquired this special 'Stang in October 2005, and in a timeframe of just shy of a year, proceeded to resurrect our find, transforming it from near hopeless to an award-winning street cruiser/dragstrip brawler that came together on the pages of 5.0&SF.

At the outset of the project, we stated our intent to build a 'Stang that represents the old and new, as '86 Mustangs are considered by many enthusiasts to be the Ponies that started 'Stangbanging madness as we know it. We also wanted the car to be capable of driving on local streets and freeways and quick enough to click off 10-second e.t.'s on pump fuel whenever we were in the mood to do so. The project car serves as a live model for development of items that represent new-school technology for '79-'93 Mustangs. It features parts and improved accessories that were unheard of years ago.

While we enjoy cruising the streets of SoCal, hearing the sweet sound of the coupe's Rocco Accerio 350 and whistle of its Paxton Novi 2000 supercharger, we're of broad-enough scope to acknowledge the fact that street cars aren't made of muscle alone. The way we see it, a good street 'Stang's total package includes a killer exterior appearance and a clean interior that features either a fair share of cool, custom personalization or is bone-stock and unblemished to the point of absurdness. Acceptable ride quality is also important, although it's understandable that drag-inspired cars may not ride as smoothly as other street 'Stangs.

The coupe's trunk space was far from being considered show quality before K Dezines went to work. Keith creates enclosures and panels for Mustangs' trunk or hatch areas that can make these kinds of nightmares look as though they never happened.

Based on reader feedback, we think the bases are covered fairly well with our T-top coupe. However, one piece of this Mustang's puzzle has been missing for a while and it's finally time to add it. As promised, we're installing Sony's MEX-1GP Giga-Panel head unit and a full array of Scoshe's eFX Hyper-Drive amps, speakers, wires, and accessories to the coupe's cockpit-and more importantly, the trunk. The project car originally came to us void of any stereo equipment, although there were signs that some sort of audio components were once installed. It's only right that we treat it to a killer audio system that features the latest in cutting-edge hardware, for our listening pleasure when we're getting our cruise on or to pump the latest psyche sounds while we're waiting in the lanes to make another blast down the dragstrip.

Naturally, when a boatload of cash has been spent on equipment that's light years beyond the Ford Premium Sound or Mach Audio that 'Stangs are equipped with from the factory, each piece should certainly look good and function well. To ensure our 'Stang's audioworks won't have any appearance or operational issues, we're fortunate enough to have the installation expertise of Keith Doughty of K Dezines Audio in Tucson, Arizona. If the company's name sounds familiar, it's probably because of our Tech Inspection review of the company's rear-seat-delete system (Aug. '06, p. 212), which we installed on a Fox 'Stang.

Keith is the braintrust behind the popular bolt-in back-seat eliminator kits for Fox, SN-95, and S197 Mustangs; a New Edge seat delete is currently in the works. His creative wizardry has also been applied to the design and layout of award-winning stereo systems found in numerous 'Stangs throughout the course of his 20-year career. K Dezines created the stereo system in Dan Nicholson's '92 GT, which is featured elsewhere in this issue ("Street Fightin' Man").

With this report, we're taking a deeper look at an ultra-specialized area of the Mustang hobby that we're not too familiar with by following along as Keith installs our T-top coupe's new stereo system (well, Editor Turner keeps tabs on the latest happenings in car audio, but that's because he's a confessed electronics geek).

As shown in the photos and captions during the five days Keith used to design and install the T-top coupe's audio setup, we learned there's a huge amount of planning, fabricating, and painstaking trial-and-error that goes into outfitting a 'Stang with a great-looking, sinister-sounding audio setup. "Anybody can say they do stereos, but it really takes time to do it properly," says Keith. We wholeheartedly agree. That said, let the music play.

We stripped the coupe of its front and rear seats and removed the tops just before Keith began.

A lot of behind-the-scenes preparation went into our new Sony/Scosche/K Dezines audio system. With our project car based on a dual-purpose theme (street/strip), we really want a stereo that looks and sounds similar to audio systems found in magazine features and show-quality street cars without compromising any of the 'Stang's drag-race treatments in the interior.

One of our first preparatory actions is to take measurements in the trunk and in the rear-window's package-tray area on the inside of our coupe. Keith Doughty is using our data to construct the box for twin 10-inch speakers, a rack for two amplifiers and distribution block, and finishing panels for the trunk. Our intent is to have all the stereo equipment fit and look as natural as possible, despite the presence of rollcage tubes passing through the package tray and trunk.

Since the stereo will pump the high and low notes at levels that are far beyond that of a stock non-subwoofered/non-amplified stereo system, we want to be sure our sound isn't contaminated by outside noises (road, wind, engine, and so on) or excess vibration from the T-top coupe itself.

To guarantee the coupe will be tight and our sound will be right, we removed the front and rear seats and all the trunk's contents. We then applied HushMat's Ultra vibration-dampening material to the coupe's entire trunk section, as well as to areas inside we didn't cover when we gave the project car an initial treatment of dampening material prior to installing its interior.

Keith believes wires are the weakest links in any stereo system. "If the stereo sounds bad, the problem is more than likely due to using cheap wires in the system. On several occasions, all I've done is rewire a stereo system with higher-quality wire, and it sounded a lot better."

With assistance from his wife, Holly, Keith begins our installation by routing all the power and speaker wires of our coupe's audio system from the trunk to the back of the dash. They then go through the radio opening for safe-keeping until it's time to make final connections.

Scosche's eFX 14- and 18-gauge speaker wires and three two-channel, twisted RCA cables (wiring that connects the radio to the amplifiers) are used for this area of the installation, as well as 4-gauge wire for the amplifiers and ridiculously thick One-Ott cable for the system's main power.

K Dezines creates custom speaker cabinets and packages for Mustangs of all years and styles.

For our coupe, Keith conferred with Trevor Kaplan of Scoshe Electonics and decided to use pairs of Scosche's 10-inch subwoofers (PN HDW1004), 511/44-inch rear-ledge midrange speakers (PN HDX52), and 611/42-inch door midrange speakers (PN HDX67). Each midrange speaker includes a 111/42-inch tweeter horn.

Solid speaker fitment is important for any stereo system. High wattage, road vibration, and the opening/shutting of a 'Stang's doors are all variables that can cause ill-fitting speakers to fail.

It's common for custom stereo installations to require fabrication of application-specific pieces to secure speakers, and our project is definitely a testament to this. Prior to our installation date and based on measurements we e-mailed in advance, Keith spent nearly a week to develop a subwoofer cabinet that won't conflict with rollcage tubes inside the coupe's trunk.

According to Keith, subwoofers perform better when they're facing toward the back of a vehicle. "The wavelength of the speaker is increased," he says. "When you combine increased wavelength with the deflection of the trunk, the sound from this system's subs will be awesome with the cabinet mounted rearward."

We also made an 11th-hour discovery of how speaker installation is affected by a difference between window-track mounting locations in the doors of T-top and hatchback 'Stangs. This had Keith creating new brackets for the window tracks to prevent a major setback for the project.

Next to speakers, amplifiers are the heart and soul of a killer stereo unit.

Keith set up the T-top coupe with Scosche's HD4300 (stereo/four-channel for right/left and front/rear speakers) and HD 1400 amplifiers. While the HD 1400 unit is stereo/two-channel, we're using it as a mono/one-channel amp for subwoofers.

The amps throw down about 650 total watts, which is more than enough for the cozy confines of our project car.

We believe the coupe had some sort of stereo at some point, but it was gone by the time we acquired the project 'Stang. We were left with a gaping hole in the center of the dash.

Our history with Sony's Giga-Panel AM/FM/CD/MP3 head unit dates back to the '05 SEMA show and Andrew Sivori's (Sony Senior Marketing Manager) demonstration of the seriously cool feature. It makes this unit a must-have for those who can appreciate listening to a personalized playlist while they're cruising.

How is this possible without patching an iPod or similar device into the stereo system? It's simple with the Giga Panel: The head unit features a built-in 1GB flash memory, allowing enthusiasts to drag and drop their favorite songs from any computer directly into its memory via a high-speed USB 2.0 link.

This radio is a testament to the new technology we think adds a certain level of cool to 'Stangs that are getting on in years, such as ours. While there are hundreds of cool radios on the market, we're happy with our choice.

Installing high-end stereo equipment is one thing, and dialing it all in for optimum sound quality is another.

Keith tunes the system by setting the volume on the Sony Giga-Panel head unit at 29, then plugging in and setting gain and bass boost levels on each amplifier individually.

While the system pumps out a collective 650 watts, Keith feels 29 is probably the highest comfortable sound level for the compact surroundings inside our T-top coupe. The process is somewhat similar to basic nitrous tuning, as gain is adjusted in a similar manner as timing is set for nitrous. Keith adds gain and bass boost for each amplifier until he hears the slightest tinge of distortion in the sound, then backs off in quarter-turn increments until the audio signals from all 10 speakers (two subwoofers, four midrange and four tweeters) sound solid and clear.