Justin Fivella
November 29, 2013

It's a scenario gearheads are all too familiar with: Person gets car and wants to go moderately fast, then gets bitten by the bug and wants to go faster and faster until, without realizing it, they've added a rollbar, big slicks, and constructed a serious beast far beyond what they ever imagined. Wrenching, driving, and hot rodding can be an evil thing (in the best kind of way). It's a tricky beast that tempts you with excess and rewards you for indulging. Maybe it's the thrill of a fast car or the zing of the chase, but building a fast Ford can be an addictive endeavor.

So it came as no surprise that one day we woke up and realized the Smog-Legal Killer was fast enough to warrant a rollbar. In what seemed like an instant, the old coupe went from a weathered hide to a respectably fast Fox-body. Lost in the pursuit of more power and better e.t.'s, we nearly forgot that with 10-second timeslips come mandatory safety precautions.

While some might balk at spending money on safety parts instead of go-fast bits, solid safety components are a wise investment for several good reasons. First, shutting down early or going through the traps on the brakes in order to avoid getting kicked off the track for running too fast without a rollbar sucks. Secondly, actually getting kicked out for running too fast because of improper safety equipment sucks even worse. And lastly, safety should always come first, because as much as we love the sport, investing in such hardware helps insure we'll enjoy it for years to come.

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Safety First

So with safety in mind we contacted Maximum Motorsports (MM) in search of a rollbar that would make us legal and also keep us safe. After some discussions with Jack Hidley, one of MM's best engineers, we decided on the six-point bolt-in Drag Race rollbar (PN MMRB-2) with an additional diagonal crossbar for even more strength. The beauty is not only NHRA legal, but it's designed to bolt into place.

Never one to cut any corners, Maximum Motorsports insured the bar was more than up to the task by constructing it out of 13⁄4-inch by 0.134-inch-wall DOM tubing for the utmost strength and rigidity—in case you were wondering, the NHRA rules only call for 0.118-inch ERW tubing. Even the harness bar is beefier than the NHRA regulations of 11⁄4-inch ERW, measuring a stout 11⁄2-inch by 0.134-inch thick.

Furthering the fortress are six 6-inch by 6-inch by 1⁄8-inch reinforced floorplates that mount to the rear fender wells, the floorpan just in front of the rear seat floors, and near the kick panels on the floorpan up front. These burly bits sandwich the floor and are secured in place with the supplied Grade 5 nuts and bolts.

We asked Hidley about the strength of the bolt-in plates and got an explanation that made our heads spin—about what you'd expect from an accomplished engineer. In street speak, the floorplates create enough friction between themselves that it's literally impossible to separate them and with a wide footprint you won't find them poking through the floorpan in a rollover crash either. In other words, you're in good hands ... or bars.

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So you know the rollbar is beyond safe and highly engineered, but other noteworthy features include swing-out door bars that ease entering and exiting the car. The bars are also easily removed for street driving where the cage becomes virtually nonexistent. Never ones to miss a beat, Maximum Motorsports sends the rollbar in bare-metal form since welding a bar with powdercoat or paint adds several steps to the process.

Although the rear braces bolt to the main hoop, in order to remain NHRA-legal, they must be welded. While the bolts hold the bars in place and make them easy to weld, doing the duty inside the cockpit is highly unadvisable (aside from tack welding) since it's not only precarious at best, but interior bits are highly flammable. We had ours powdercoated semi-gloss black beforehand and simply grinded, welded, and then spray-painted the areas that needed the NHRA attention.

Since quality parts mean nothing without a proper install, we paid a visit to the West Coast Mustang gurus at AED in Shingle Springs, California, where brothers Drew and Greg Wallace helped make quick work of the install. Chances are good if a company makes a part, these guys have track-tested it, and the dynamic duo had the 'bar marked, welded, and mounted in nothing flat. There are shops that install parts and there are shops that install and track test the parts, AED falls into the latter group and thankfully has first-hand experience with what works and what doesn't.

Once the 'bar was installed it fit like a glove, but the installation procedure can take time and a fair amount of patience is needed for those unaccustomed to rollbar installs. Making sure everything is plumb before drilling holes is key, because once you've punched a hole, there's no turning back. And having to elongate holes or drilling another set as a result of improper measurements can quickly become your nightmare. Remember, measure twice, drill once!

The MM rollbar fits snugly around the interior so be mindful of the headliner and interior panels during the installation—be prepared for a tight fit. Taking your time is paramount, but you'll be happy you did, because the finished product looks factory-fresh.

Let It Eat

After months of preparation, there was no way we were leaving anything on the table. With the ultimate e.t. in mind, we contacted Mickey Thompson and asked them to pull out the big guns. Nothing against radials or even ET Streets, but we wanted big hook and plenty of drivetrain-saving sidewall flex so we stepped up to the big dogs, some ET Drags out back and low rolling resistance ET fronts on the leading edge.

We knew some fenderwell massaging would be in order, but that was the price we were prepared to pay for big traction and so we opted for a set of ET Drags in a 28/10.5-15S (PN 90000000851). These sticky Mickeys measure a stout 28 inches tall for big sidewall flex and plenty of speed on the back end while also giving us a full 10 inches of tire width. It took some work but we stuffed them inside the arches after mounting them on a set of lightweight, old-school Mickey Thompson one-piece drag wheels.

Up front we opted for 26.0/4.5-15 Mickey Thompson ET Fronts (PN 90000000820) since proper drag skinnies like these can possibly cut 0.1 off your e.t. compared to a heavy full street tire. The Mickey's cut rolling resistance and wind drag, not to mention they also look the biz. If you're after every last e.t., some ET Drags are certainly an E-ticket ride to killer 60-foots and are equally easy on the drivetrain.

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Track Time

After months of hard work and plenty of prep work, it was time to see if the Smog-Legal Killer had a 10- second e.t. in it. After paying another visit to AED for some preparation work, it was time to visit Sacramento Raceway and let it eat.

Astute readers will note the baller Weld AlumaStar wheels up front. Due to a scheduling conflict, our 15-inch front skinnies didn't arrive in time, so the guys from AED came to the rescue and let us borrow their personal set of skinnies—now that's a helping hand. With your author behind the camera, we threw hot shoe Drew Wallace from AED in for a few passes. What transpired was nothing short of frustrating.

Despite the little feeling in our guts, we decided to try for the 10- second e.t. without sway bars or even an antiroll bar. This was a bad idea, as the car launched crooked, and danced all over the track, even on the top end. To say it was a wild ride would have been an understatement—it was plain scary.

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To add insult to injury, we under-spec'd the clutch. By no fault of the clutch, we opted to keep costs down with a budget single disc—in the end, it bit us. However, the unit did admirably well despite being overworked 100 lb-ft above its torque rating. Surprisingly enough, it survived multiple 5,000-rpm launches and produced consistent 1.5-1.6 60-foot times despite being overtaxed. After several good launches, the last pass of the night was finally too much, as the clutch slipped at the hit and each subsequent shift.

So what did she run? Well, with a wildly crooked launch, a slipping clutch, and having to lift at several points for fear of our lives, we crossed the stripe in 11.08 at 123 mph. Yes, we missed our goal by 0.08 second. While the fact that we chopped nearly a second off our last track outing of 11.98 at 122 mph was impressive, there was no way were going out like that. We could taste a 10-second e.t.!

Down but not out, we loaded up and went home. After a few days the sting of defeat wore off and determination set in. We have a clutch upgrade to address and some chassis-stiffening to fix, but we'll be back at it again. Stay tuned—there's no turning back now!