Austin C. Craig
January 9, 2012

Like most Mustang enthusiasts, I have read my share of articles about Mustangs being modified for better performance. What I have not read are articles about what it was like to live with the Mustang after the performance parts were added. Evaluating a modified Mustang on the race track is one thing; living with it on a day to day basis is quite another.

With plans to attend the Woodward Dream Cruise last summer, I came up with the idea to drive a completely stock Mustang GT from South Florida to Detroit (over 1,340 miles), have the car modified for improved acceleration and handling, then drive it back with the modifications. With this in mind, I headed to Plantation Ford to order a '12 Mustang GT Premium with factory performance options like the Brembo Brake Package (includes 19-inch wheels and P255/40R19 Pirelli P Zero performance radials), 3.73 gears, and HID headlights.

I have owned 25 Mustangs over the years, including three Shelby G.T. 350s, and without a doubt the '12 Mustang GT is the finest Mustang I have ever parked in my garage. It delivers plenty of fun per mile and looks great. The six-speed shifter is well positioned and the steering wheel provides a great feel as well as a selection of controls so you don't have to take your eyes off the road.

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Much has been written about the new 412hp Coyote 5.0L engine and rightly so. In stock form, the 5.0L runs like a banshee and keeps the GM, Chrysler, Asian, and European hot-rods in the rearview mirror. Mike Harrison and his engine team at Ford did not forget the underhood appearance; when you open the hood, a nicely laid-out engine bay greets you.

After putting 1,000 miles on the car and changing the oil twice at Plantation Ford with synthetic blend, we were ready for our road trip. The plan for the first day was to drive 12 hours to Knoxville, Tennessee, some 840 miles. The GT got 21.9 mpg while averaging 78 mph. With the adjustable and supportive seats, I exited the Mustang without having to report to the local chiropractor!

The final leg was uneventful as we enjoyed eight hours that took us from the hills of Tennessee to the flat lands of Kentucky, Ohio, and finally Michigan. After checking in at our hotel, we headed to Grosse Pointe and our favorite watering hole, Lucy's Tavern. Barbra and I lived in Grosse Pointe Farms prior to the move to Florida and always enjoyed the beauty and charm of the community. The Mustang GT fit right in.

Modifying the GT

With the new Mustang GT, Mustang Chief Engineer Dave Pericak and his Team Mustang members have created a fast, well-balanced, and fun car. The last thing I wanted to do was turn the Mustang into a hard-riding, over-the-top brute that would make cruising on Woodward Avenue and the trip back to Florida less than rewarding. I remember all too well when a friend modified his '06 Mustang GT. The tweaks transformed the Mustang into a loud, hard-riding vehicle that was hard to live with. I wanted to enhance my Mustang, not make it less desirable!

When it came time to select a company to modify my Mustang, I wanted one that had a solid engineering background and plenty of experience. I found just what I was looking for in MRT. Owner Scott Hoag is a graduate engineer and Mustang enthusiast who was responsible for the '01 Bullitt GT and '03-'04 Mach 1 when he worked as a program manager at Team Mustang. After 17 years with Ford, he founded MRT in 2003. The company's primary products are performance exhaust systems, which Scott and his team design, engineer, and manufacture at their facility in Plymouth, Michigan. Complementing the exhaust lineup is the company's styling products.

The Performance Division of MRT is a full-service paint, tuning, custom exhaust, and high-performance shop. With these capabilities, I selected MRT to upgrade the Mustang.

Researching the exhaust, I discovered that, although the factory system performs and sounds good, the stock H-pipe starts at 2-1/4 inches at the mid-pipe before expanding to 3 inches. The MRT H-pipe is a full 3 inches in diameter for extra volume of exhaust that provides the deep exhaust note. MRT dynamometer testing also showed an increase of 23 lb-ft of torque over most X-style crossover pipes.

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To complete the new exhaust system, I selected MRT's Interceptor axle-back exhaust. Like the H-pipe, the mufflers are manufactured from 304 stainless steel and weigh about 20 lbs. less than the factory system. Best of all, Hoag has engineered the system to eliminate the dreaded 2,000 rpm drone that some performance systems have.

I have always admired the cold-air intake systems from Lee Bender's C&L Performance, so I was happy to learn that MRT carries C&L products. For my GT, Hoag chose the system that requires an SCT tune. Since the late 1990s, every Mustang I've owned has had a SCT tune. Chris Johnson always seems to be ahead of the curve with the latest products that really make a Mustang perform. Hoag has engineered a tune that is compatible with the C&L intake system.

For a more aggressive stance and improved handling, I asked MRT to lower my Mustang. Scott recommended H&R Sport Springs, which lower the car 1-1/2 inches to provide not only a great road stance but also a lower center of gravity and reduced body roll. When lowering a Mustang, Hoag also recommends replacing the rear lower control arms with J&M billet versions and adding an adjustable J&M panhard bar.

To take advantage of the aggressive stance, I wanted to add MRT's front splitter, which is engineered so it does not protrude past the front facia and can be fitted with cold air ducting to the front brakes.

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Since I like to show off the great-looking engine compartment, I requested a set of MRT hood struts to replace the factory hood prop. MRT can paint the hood strut brackets to match the exterior paint, in my case Race Red.

The tinting of the rear taillights completed the exterior modifications. MRT Performance has a special coating for tinting the taillights that adds a special look to the Mustang's rear end styling.

Finally, MRT installed an MGW shifter to improve the shifting and upgraded the factory stereo with a Kicker/Shelby audio system, which allows the bass, mid-range, and high frequency to play louder without distortion. It's also about 23 pounds lighter than the Shaker 500. Since MRT is a Shelby Performance Parts dealer, we were good to go.

Driving The Modified GT

With the modifications completed, it was time to drive. During the Woodward Dream Cruise week, we added 619 miles to the odometer while cruising Woodward, traveling with Mustang Club of America members to Dearborn for dinner with Ford Group Marketing Manager Robert Parker, and then back to Dearborn for the Team Shelby banquet at the Henry Ford Museum. We also displayed the Mustang at Ford's Mustang Alley during Woodward.

After the Dream Cruise, we drove 160 miles to East Grand Rapids to visit with family before heading home. Even on the less-than-table-top-smooth Michigan roads, the Mustang exhibited excellent ride quality and extra bite in the corners. I noticed increased power and acceleration thanks to the C&L intake and SCT tune, and the exhaust note was perfect with a deep, mellow sound. The MGW shifter improved the 6-speed gear changes in a big way. The shifter is smooth and direct, something this gearbox really needs, and the MRT shift ball provides a nice feel.

While visiting with Robert Parker, he told me that Ford research shows that most 15-30 year-olds do not know how to drive a manual transmission. So while in Grand Rapids, I used the opportunity to teach our 15-year-old grandson, Tevin, how to drive a manual. We found a church parking lot where I put him through the paces of learning how to launch a manual shift car. I was very proud of him as he caught on very quickly.

After a great time in Michigan, we headed home. During the two-day journey from Michigan to South Florida, I noticed that the GT responded better, especially when passing in the Tennessee hills. At the end of the first day, we had traveled 756 miles to Chattanooga and averaged 23 mph at a sustained 78 miles an hour.

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During the drive, we really enjoyed the Sirius satellite radio; we did have to back off on the bass, as the Kicker Audio system really provides an improvement. The sound quality of whatever music we selected, from Buddy Holly to Lady Antebellum, was far superior to the factory system.

The final leg from Chattanooga to home was more of the same great ride quality. When we hit heavy rain around Orlando, the Mustang remained stable and tractable. I'm glad I ordered the Brembo brake option!

All told, we traveled 3,988.2 miles, including 1,483 on the return. Ford built a great Mustang and the modifications at MRT made the car even more road hungry and fun to drive.

Postscript: Shortly after returning home, I had the oil changed at Plantation Ford to full synthetic, as recommended once past the 5,000 mile mark. I also had the gearbox oil changed to full synthetic, which does improve the engagement of the gears when shifting. It is an involved process, and certainly not cheap, but does make the gearbox easier to operate.