Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
January 1, 2009
It's tough to beat a TVS'd GT500 engine to turn heads, but adding some choice gear from JLT, MGW, Moroso, Optima, and Steeda turns things up a notch-nothing too over the top, but enough to say it doesn't look stock anymore.

As a group, we Mustang fans are never satisfied. Perhaps that's why we fell in love with Mustangs to begin with. They serve as the perfect vehicle to consummate a project-car love affair. From a clapped-out four-banger Fox to the latest S197, there are so many aftermarket options available to customize our cars that it can be dizzying. That's why we often emphasize planning a project before beginning on one in these pages, as those choices can take you on tangents which sometimes go beyond the scope of your budget or intentions.

Such things are easy for me. The second I decide to buy a car--after fretting for weeks about how to pay for it--I instantly start forming my project car plan. It was no different when I finally took the plunge on Project Vapor Trail--an '08 Ford Shelby GT500 painted Vapor Silver.

While the overall styling of an S197 interior is good, it can get a bit dark and dull in there without a few accents. Crutchfield, Ford Racing Performance Parts, Pioneer Electronics, MGW, Shelby Performance Parts, and Silverhorse help brighten up PVT's interior. It's easy to get carried away with the bling, so remember that a little is tasteful and a lot is overkill.

When you buy what is at the time the top of the line Mustang available, you may be asked why you would modify it. Some guys are content to put these monsters in a bubble hoping they might be worth big bucks later; others would turn them right into race cars. I don't fall in either camp, I just looked at the GT500 as a bolt-on dream come true. Take a great foundation, add just the right bolt-ons, and enjoy a great car.

My goal for PVT is to make it into an ultimate street car. If you've been following our stories so far, you know it has plenty of power already and more than a few cool custom touches, not the least of which is Classic Design Concepts' Glassback roof. For our next phase, it's time to doll up the interior and engine compartment. After all, there's nothing worse than showing up at a cruise night or car show to see another car that looks just like yours.

Check out the caps and snaps to see the list of mods I dreamed up right after placing the order for PVT with Anderson Ford Mercury. Best of all, most of this gear will fit any S197 Mustang, not just the GT500.

The toughest part of installing Moroso's sweet aluminum tanks is trying to avoid making a mess when removing the old ones. We cheated a bit with the supercharger coolant tank (PN 63493) as Justin Starkey of VMP Tuning (www.vmptuning.com) did the dirty work while the intercooler system was drained for the AFCO heat exchanger ("The Invisible," Nov. '08, p. 96) from Lethal Performance (www.lethalperformance.com). When doing the other tanks this time, I used a siphon pump to drain out most of the fluid; then placed a small towel under the fittings to soak up any spills.

PVT has worn FRPP chrome cam covers since it left Anderson Ford Mercury, so the stock oil cap hasn't been cutting it for a long time. I selected a snake-logo'd, triple-chrome cap ($39) from MGW to continue the theme.

Be sure to drain the coolant into a clean pan so you can use it to refill the new tank (PN 63768). Between the size differences and the bit of lost coolant, you need to top off the tank with a 50/50 mix of coolant and water. While filling up the system, I added Royal Purple's Purple Ice, just as we did with the intercooler system. According to RP, Purple Ice "reduces engine heat by reducing the surface tension of the radiator fluids for improved heat transfer."

As you can see, our pal Allen Colding painted the Moroso tanks Vapor Silver to match the outside of PVT. The bare aluminum tanks are works of welding art out of the box, but matching paint gives them that custom touch. Besides the beautiful welded fittings, another nice feature of the Moroso coolant tank is that it accepts the stock, screw-on radiator cap. Of course, stock doesn't cut it for PVT, so we again turned to MGW Limited for one of the company's snake-logo'd, triple-chrome caps ($39). MGW gear is top notch, and its rad cap is a full cap, not just a chrome cover.

While the Moroso power steering reservoir (PN 63491) bolts right in place of the stock unit, it's a bit larger, so it can be tricky to reinstall the hoses without making a mess. Like the coolant tank, I siphoned out the power steering fluid; then used a towel under the hoses to capture any lost fluid. With the new tank installed, I took the opportunity to fill up the system with synthetic fluid.

The last piece of MGW chrome snake action is the new dipstick handle ($28). This thing really improves upon the plastic, yellow stocker, and it's an easy install. Just trim the stock handle with wire cutters, slide the MGW handle on, and clamp it down with an Allen screw.

While the stock battery is centrally located rather than hanging over the front of the car as it did in pre-S197 'Stangs, it's still just a plain black battery and not really up for more than starting the car. To improve the looks and prep for a more demanding audio system in the future, a natural upgrade is an Optima Red Top, which provides 800 cold-cranking amps and is more resistant to damage from heat and vibration than a traditional battery. In Florida, the heat can really shorten a battery's lifespan.

If you've been reading 5.0&SF for any time, you know I have a thing for carbon-fiber, so the minute I laid eyes on JLT Performance's carbon pieces, they went right on the list. In fact, if I hadn't already added the FRPP CAI included with the SuperPack, I'd be all over the JLT CAI as well. Anyway, JLT's radiator cover and fuse box covers are easy to install.

If there's one area of the S197 engine compartment that stands out like a sore thumb, it's the unsightly strut nuts. Fortunately, Steeda has a nifty dress-up solution that carries the look of its blower pulleys to the strut towers.

The Steeda billet strut cover (PN 555-0658; $79.95) fills the opening and installs simply with the interference fit of an O-ring, while the Steeda strut-nut covers (PN 555-0662; $59.95) just need a gentle tap to slide tightly into place. The difference is huge.

One of the more labor-intensive tasks was installing the Tru-Billet Traditional interior door handles (PN 5104; $119) from Silverhorse racing, but the results were well worth the effort. Essentially, you unbolt the door panel, and unplug the harnesses so you can get to the cable on the back of the door handle. Once that's popped out, you can pry out the stock door handle, replace it with the beautiful Silverhorse unit, and reverse the operation. Silverhorse provides great instructions, so it's easy enough for even an editor to do it.

The Silverhorse Tru-Billet handle not only looks great, but feels more solid than the plastic piece it replaces. I chose the satin and clear anodized version to match my other interior pits, but Silverhorse also offers triple-chrome plating.

Like the strut towers in the engine bay, it's the cheap, plastic power-port cover that sullies the S197 interior. What better place to add an MGW Deluxe power outlet plug ($28) emblazoned with the coiled snake? The company offers too many variables to list, but there are several logos to chose from, including the cool "Eject" option. This has to be the easiest upgrade to install and makes the biggest difference. Just pop out the plastic, and push this one into place.

To match the Silverhorse handles, the next addition is one of the company's Tru-Billet mirror-control knobs (PN S197-533; $25). Again, satin was the finish of choice, but installing this piece couldn't be easier. You just pull off the old knob-I used a towel and needle-nose pliers to protect the old knob-and push on the Tru-Billet knob.

Rounding out the satin-finish additions from Silverhorse is a set of its '07-'08 Tru-Billet climate controls (PN S197-525-07; $59). The '07-and-up cars have unique knobs, so be sure to order the proper fitment-not those for '05-'06 cars. These knobs are available in satin, black, polished, and triple chrome, as well as two lighting options, green or red. I chose the red to match the FRPP lighted doorsills, and I can change the MyColor and Ambient Lighting to match as well.

Installing the MGW e-brake handle was a bit more challenging. PVT was ordered with the Premium Interior option, which means the emergency brake handle, door handle, and dash have a faux leather cover, which brings the interior upscale a bit. However, this extra material made the MGW handle cover a tight fit. Be sure you back out the Allen retaining screws and use something slick to help ease on the MGW piece. I used Turtle Wax Ice interior cleaner, which worked like a charm and didn't leave a residue. Once the handle is on, you can tighten the screws.

Now here's a mod that doesn't just look good, but actually made the car more fun to drive-MGW's composite race knob ($65). This composite handle has great tactile feel and ever so slightly increases the height of the shift handle for a bit more leverage. The result is even better shifting from my previously installed FRPP short-throw shifter. MGW offers several styles of knob in several variations. This one is available with GT, running horse, snake, or shift-pattern emblems in satin or chrome.

Obviously I'm a fan of MGW's gear. It's top-drawer stuff, and the satin finish is classy. What sold me on the billet cupholder bezel ($59) is the optional coin tray ($34) with the Cobra logo.

The bezel installs with two-sided tape: Just prep and stick. The coin tray pushes into the smaller front opening of the bezel to offer a stylish place for your lose change or pocket lint.

One of the tricks to adding billet dress-up gear is to refrain from going overboard, and MGW's Deluxe billet seat-lever buckles ($58) are a great example of that restraint. Rather than replacing the whole lever, these covers are a prep-and-stick bit of shine that dress up the seat without taking over.

You can't add billet gear to your Mustang without replacing the plastic door-lock knobs with something more befitting. MGW's door-lock pins ($16) not only look good, they feature Allen set screws to keep unscrupulous car-show gawkers from lifting yours. Be sure to put these on after you do anything that requires removing the door panel, as they won't fit through the stock hole.

While there won't be much of an audience in the back seat, it seems fitting to round out the MGW run of mods with the company's coat-hanger replacement kit ($29) in the same satin finish. These units look great and still provide the breakaway safety afforded by the stockers.

One of the most annoying parts of the S197 interior is the center stack. If you lean your leg against it while on a long drive, the sharp corner isn't too comfortable, so Moss Mustang has this ingenious knee pad (PN 056-241; $24.95) that affords you a cushiony place to rest your leg. The pad installs easily with adhesive-backed Velcro and blends into the interior.

It must have been an oversight to delete the '05-'08 Mustang Lighted SVT sill plates (PN M-13208-LSVT; $275) from the Ambient Lighting package, but fortunately FRPP picked up the slack and made these available. You simply tap into the wiring harness behind the A-pillar trim, string some wires under the dash and carpet...

...and clip the LEDs into the sills, which look just like the stock SVT sills until you notice the light. You can't alter the color of these like the Ambient or MyColor lightning, but I dig the red.

Another trick piece from Moss is something you won't see often, but you'll appreciate it every time you do. The S197 glovebox can be a scene of chaos, and your stuff tends to fall out when you open it. Well, this glovebox organizer (PN 055-310; $26.95) is the easiest part I've ever installed, but the improvement is massive. Not only can you fit more in the glovebox, but it's more organized and secure to boot.

You know from PVT's engine mods that I like carbon fiber, and along with those choice billet mods, what PVT needed was a splash of carbon fiber to set off the interior. Fortunately Moss Mustang has a robust selection of dash kits. I chose the real carbon-fiber dash kit (PN 055-294; $239.95), real carbon-fiber accent-panel kit (PN 055-295; $114.95), and real carbon-fiber add-on kit (PN 056-061; $119.95) for a manual-trans S197. After prepping the target surfaces with the alcohol pads provided in the kits, I checked the tackiness of the surface with masking tape. A few surfaces needed more cleaning; then I carefully installed each piece, making sure it was where I wanted it before firmly pressing it on for good.

The finishing touch for my interior upgrades is this autographed GT500 plaque (KIT-SP-DPGT500; $324.95) from Shelby Performance Parts. This plaque features the Shelby logo, the VIN of your GT500, and the signature of the man himself, Carroll Shelby. Similar plaques are found on the GT500KR, and these are a must-have for the GT500 owner. Just clean and prep the dash, stick the plaque into place, and you're done. Some owners carefully clearcoat the plaque to protect Mr. Shelby's signature from the elements. Krylon UV-resistant clear (PN 1390) from a craft store seems to be a popular option. Be sure to apply several light coats so the signature doesn't run.

Like my carbon-fiber fetish, I'm also afflicted with a love of gadgetry, so there was no way the stock Shaker 500 system was going to cut it. I might have stayed the factory course if Sync were available, but since it wasn't, I gained voice control, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth calling, navigation from a solid-state hard drive, as well as options to add the satellite radio of my choice, and even sign up for the trick MSN Direct service (which can tell you gas prices, movie times, weather, and traffic around your GPS location) with Pioneer's F900BT ($1,099).

First I had to get the stuff to put it in the car, so I turned to Crutchfield-just as I have since I was a teenager. When you buy your gear from Crutchfield, you get a dash kit, wiring harness, instructions, and free tech support, which can be handy.

Fortunately the Crutchfield service techs not only sent the gear I needed to install the F900BT, they also warned me the install harness doesn't include switched power, so I had to go elsewhere. Otherwise, Crutchfield provides simple, plug-in harnesses (PN 120705521). Just match up the colors, crimp or solder the two radio harnesses to the adapter harness, and plug it in. There is one trick for installing a new head unit and using the factory amps. They require a 2.5v turn-on signal, while most head units provide a 5v signal. If you don't add a voltage regulator to step down the juice, you'll get a popping sound when the amps kick on. There is a great website dedicated to Pioneer head units at www.avic411.com. Be sure to check it out before you start your install.

The first step is to unbolt the top of the console inside the arm rest and pop it out of place. Yes, I should have done this before adding the new e-brake handle and shift knob, but I still managed to slide the console out without having to remove and reinstall those MGW bits.

Once the top of the console is out of the way, these two side pieces slide straight out. The larger face plate pops out of place, but you have to wrestle free a few wiring plugs before you can remove it.

Before putting in the new head unit, I removed the rear seat and ran the GPS antenna to the rear package tray, sliding it under the cover so it has a clear view of the sky but can't be seen from inside or outside the car. If you're running a sat-rad antenna, you can use the same spot, though the manufacturers would likely recommend a spot outside the car. While the console was apart, I ran the optional iPod cable (PN CD-IU230V; $49.95) into the armrest by notching the access cover for the parking-brake cable adjustment and feeding in the cable. Now I can plug in my iPod, put it in the armrest, and forget about it.

With the side trim out of the way, you can see the four bolts that retain the factory head unit. Remove them, slide out the Shaker 500, and unplug it.

Crutchfield provides this install kit (PN 120995807) for the a double-din head unit. You simply install your head unit into this adapter, and it provides the proper mounting points for your Mustang. With the unit all wired and mounted, you return all the trim panels to stock.

The one trick to installing a head unit in an '08 Mustang is that switched power isn't available by way of the plug-in adapter harness; you have to find it elsewhere. Fortunately a quick review of the fuse panel in the passenger-side kick panel showed an unused circuit with delayed power, meaning the power will stay on for a while after the key is turned off-until you open the door. By tapping into power here with a mini-fuse tap from the local auto parts store, my F900BT switches on and off just like the stock head unit.

While I still have big plans to upgrade PVT inside and out, these are a few of the cool upgrades I've added to the outside of the car along the way.

The stock S197 antenna is simply too long and stands out like a sore thumb. Fortunately, Moss Mustang has a variety of shorty antennas, and I picked the smoked chrome unit (PN 002-539; $20.95) to trim a bit of height and add some style.

Since PVT is one of my prized possessions, it only makes sense to protect it as much as possible. Between the beating sun and the pouring rain, it can be tough to keep it clean. As such, one of the first things I acquired for the car was a WeatherShield HP car cover (PN C16968PG) from Covercraft. Emblazoned with the coiled Cobra logo, this cover not only helps keep the car clean and shield it from the solar oven, it also does an amazing job keeping the car dry during our daily afternoon monsoons. I get grief for covering PVT, but I feel so much better when I do.

Not counting all the mods installed before I even picked up PVT, the absolute first modification I installed on the car was a real carbon-fiber tag frame from Tag Armur (PN 114261; $49.95). Not only is this unit built from my favorite composite material, it features a clear polycarbonate shield over the tag, hides the attachment bolts, and provides a bit of security for my vanity plate. It requires a special tool to remove the shield, so it's more difficult for someone to lift your plate or registration sticker. But let's face it, the best part is that it looks cool and keeps the tag nice and clean.

Along with JLT's way-cool underhood carbon-fiber bits, I also installed the company's carbon-fiber mirror covers (PN CFMC-M05+; $129). These are a subtle, classy upgrade for the larger mirrors on the S197 and are dead-simple to install. Just prep the surface with an alcohol pad, let it dry, then stick on the mirror covers. If you don't like carbon fiber, you might want to stop reading the PVT stories, as there's more to come for this ride.

The headlights and taillights really stand out against PVT's Vapor Silver paint. To tone them down a bit, I selected smoked headlight (PN 055-789; $54.95) and taillight (PN 055-786; $59.95) tint kits from Moss Mustang. If you've ever tinted windows, you'll find these thick, precut pieces are a breeze to install. Simply clean the lights, spray them with water spiked by a bit of dish detergent, position the tint, and squeegee out the water and bubbles. Only the fog lights required a bit of heat persuasion, and the result is a far more menacing look.