5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
Raisin' The Roof: 5.0 Magazine Builds an '86 T-Top Drag Car
Embarking on a mission to resurrect one of the rarestFox Mustangs ever built
Horse Sense: "A T-top coupe? I've never seen one before. Are you sure it's factory?" At this point, we should bepaid a dollar for each question we get about the pedigree of our latestproject vehicle. Sure, Fox coupes are popular and may be a dime a dozen,but it's really becoming clear that one like ours truly is somethingspecial!
Consider this excerpt from a message thread posted on the Hardcore PowerLounge forum on Hardcore 5.0.com www.hardcore50.com. It was a response to the online poll, "Which ['Stang] do you call yourbaby (coupe, hatch, 4.6/modular, or don't care, as long as it looks goodand goes fast)?"
Kaje5ohh: "I've owned only hatch cars thus far, but I do dig coupes though. Here's a car nobody mentioned . .. the rare and elusive T-top COUPE! Yep, there were a few of those carsout there back in the '80s. T-tops or not . . . they're WAY cool!"
The post was made by 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords' new tech editor, KJJones, way back in August 2002--which can be considered ancient historywhen you're dealing with the online Mustang world. Things change quicklywhen it comes to this stuff. Fast-forward to October 2005 for thisinteresting sequence of notes on Hardcore.
V8Only: "I'm desperate to get hold of the guy giving that '86 T-top notch away. My bro and I already have aGT-40-headed Explorer engine with a Tremec 3550 waiting for the rightcar such as this. I apologize for this being my first post; I just wantto get hold of this guy quickly. Anyone know who he is? Thanks!"
Kaje5ohh: "What's up, man? It's beenawhile. How are you and your bro doing with the 'Stang salvaging? Well,I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but I've got the coupe you'reasking about. Sorry, man. It was a done deal as of 7 a.m. or so today.Actually, it was in the works awhile ago, if that's any consolation.Keep in touch. I might be checking with you guys for a few four-eyeparts. I know y'all have a stockpile of 'em."
Codeman: "So, it will remain afour-eye then? The '86s are my favorites, and if I couldn't have [that car] I just want to see it live. LOL. Keep us up to date, Kaje5ohh."
Yes, KJ won the Internet scramble for the highly sought-after, rareMustang. And, of course, "doing something" with this holy grail of Foxesalmost instantly became one of the main entries on our '06 agenda.
Building a strong, street-bred, real-world 'Stang is our plan. And, inthe spirit of Dr. Jamie Meyer's "Project Mondo Stocker," Editor SteveTurner's "Real Street" (both of them coupes as well), and even AssociateEditor Mike Johnson's (will-it-ever-be-completed) "Roadkill," amodular-Fox effort--we really want our new four-eyed acquisition toshine on the street and the dragstrip.
In a test of our ability to create such a 'Stang, we're committingourselves to get this T-top ride finished in time to take it on Hot Rodmagazine's Drag Week event. For those of you who aren't familiar withDrag Week, we like to think of it as the ultimate Wild Street/TrueStreet (in sanctioned-Mustang-racing language) challenge. Five days,roughly 1,500 miles, and five dragstrips--for more details see page 38of the Jan. '06 issue of Hot Rod.
Why do this with such a rare car? First and foremost, we decided ourDrag Week Mustang had to be a Fox because maintaining awareness (ourreaders' and our own) of our 5.0 roots is crucial to us. After all, weare 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords, and we refuse to let it be forgotten thatthere once was a time when a 5.0-powered, '79-'93 hatchback or coupe wasthe foundation for a strong, street Mustang. While we admit a lot of ourattention is now given to '99-'05 Mustang GTs and the Four-Valve Cobras,we want to show you that hooking up a four-eyed Fox--the 'Stang thatreally started the madness--is still seriously cool.
Drag Week will certainly have a collection of some of the most radical,street legal (by street legal, we primarily mean registered and insured,but with the question, at what cost?) cars of all makes, and cars thatwill cover both the five-day-cruise and 1,320-foot-dragstrip distanceswith displays of amazing performance. But we aren't going at this from aset-the-world-on-fire position. We'll be shooting for mid-to-low 10s,but more importantly we want a car that can be driven every day withconfidence and won't leave us stranded or breaking out the tools duringthe trip. One of the keys to having a good street car is simplicity, sosticking to the basics in terms of chassis, drivetrain, andinterior/exterior appearance is what we'll focus on as we bring thisPony back to thoroughbred form. But because we also realize it's a newday and time for our hobby, it's only right that our T-top car has adecent helping of new, whizbang technology as well.
So, with that said, welcome aboard! We'll be bringing you updates onthis project through a series of stories that will focus on variousaspects of the build, including building and installing the 347-inchpowerplant and drivetrain, installing a rollcage, setting up thesuspension, plumbing and electrical, reupholstering stock seats andlaying carpet, body and paint, and a whole lot more.
These photos and captions give you a first look at the special lump ofMustang clay we plan to mold into greatness. Study the pictures, thendrop us line athref="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com and giveus some ideas on what to call this project Mustang.
Total Car Count
Production numbers for T-top Mustangs (cars that carried the productioncode D, which stands for removable T-tops) seem to be as elusive as theactual coupes. Even the folks at Ford were stymied by our query aboutthe total number of Fox cars with the funky roof that were built. Only2,825 '86 Mustang coupes were produced between September 10 and 26,1985, so the number of T-top cars derived from that run--especiallythose with 5.0s--must be incredibly small. Based on the VIN decoding wewere able to do, it appears our project ride rolled off the assemblyline at Ford with a 5.0/T5 drivetrain combination back in late 1985. Afactory '86, 5.0, T-top car with a trunk--oh, happy day!
It took only a little research time on the Internet for us to find thisinformation about our T-top Mustang and others we sensed are out there(we usedhref="http://www.carfax.com/"TARGET="_new">www.carfax.com,href="http://www.google.com/"TARGET="_new">www.google.com,href="http://www.foureyedpride.com/"TARGET="_new">www.foureyedpride.com and a cool links page called Trevor's T-top Coupe Gallery,href="http://www.hometown.aol.com/tl93lx/home.html"TARGET="_new">www.hometown.aol.com/tl93lx/home.html.) The 'Net is a good startingpoint for data, but we ultimately hope that somewhere, somehow, throughsomeone, we'll be able to get to the bottom of finding out exactly howmany siblings our 5.0 T-top coupe really had.
The T-roof was a Regular Production Option (option code 21D) from 1981through early 1988 coupe and hatchback models. Based on our research,the official "home" of T-top Mustangs was a company called Cars andConcepts, of Brighton, Michigan, which handled the Mustang T-top--andconvertible--conversions for Ford up until 1993. Ford broughtconvertible production in-house in 1994.
Ask the Editors
Editor Turner thought it would be cool for the editorial team to shareour thoughts on how we would build the car if it were ours. Here's whatKJ, Steve, Mike, Doc, and Tom had to say.
The thing is, this really is my car. Despite having owned two otherT-top Mustangs (an '84 GT and an '86 GT), I have never really been ahuge fan of T-tops. Like this car, those hatchback 'Stangs were simplydeals that couldn't be passed up. But the rarity of the coupe has astrong appeal. It's pretty cool to own a Fox Mustang that's actuallyconsidered rare by some of the most-respected 'Stangologists in thegame.
As a Mustang drag racer, it's not a hard guess that my buildup ideasfocus mostly on one side of the popular term "street/strip," and I'mexcited about running our finished project in Hot Rod's Drag Week event.
For this car, I'd start with a good rollcage and subframe connectors,especially since T-roof cars are structurally weaker than a full-roofcoupe or hatchback. The tried-and-true 347/supercharger combinationwould power this ride and I'd love to ultimately have 600 pump-gashorses (that's a conservative figure) at the rear wheels. It would be ahydraulic-cammed motor for sure, and I'd even use a belt-drive setupinstead of a timing chain to dispel the myth that a camshaft timing-beltsystem can't survive on a street engine. Naturally, all the supportitems needed for the engine (fuel pump, ignition, and such) would beinstalled. Another item from the bag of tricks would be an aftermarketEFI unit that would enable us to dial in programs for street power andon-track competition.
Using a hard-hitting, AOD with transbrake transmission and a huge cooleras opposed to a stick would be cool. A bolt-in, 9-inch rear with 3.73gears would sit under this coupe, as well as a street/strip front andrear suspension (tubular K-member and A-arms, and coilovers up front,with adjustable everything and an antiroll bar in the rear), and goodbrakes. A nice set of 15-inch wheels all around, with the bigs andlittles mounted on them. This type of suspension and wheel setup iscommon on tons of daily driven 'Stangs, so I don't think the demands ofDrag Week would pose any problem. We'll be traveling through the flat,Midwest region, but it would be a totally different story if our tourtook us across the pothole-riddled thruways of the East.
Since the T-top coupe is such a special Fox, I'd definitely try to keepit real in terms of exterior and interior appearance--meaning therewould be no upgrade to the '87-'93 "aero" front fascia or big windowsreplacing the OG rear-quarter glass. At this point, the four-eyed Foxsupply is dwindling and it's important to preserve these cars if andwhenever possible. I'm at a crossroads on what color I would paint thiscar. One minute, I'm feeling a hot, candy or pearl-style color that'sbound to have the world looking when we drive by, and the next minute Ithink it might be best to repaint it Black. The only real concession interms of appearance would be a subtle seat upgrade, where I'd use a pairof the popular gray tweed front seats from an '88 GT and carpet thatworks with whatever the color ends up being. Then a stereo/DVD systemand maybe a navigation setup (since Turner will be my copilot) andthat's about it. I'd try to set this car up to fly, but I wouldn't buildit to such an extreme that it would be a mid-9-second street Mustang oranything. While that kind of performance is definitely the bomb, it alsocan be the welcome mat to the land of big-time expense, as the car wouldbe more on the ragged edge and susceptible to breakage that could becostly.
The thing to keep in mind is that Drag Week covers nearly 300 miles eachday. While having the big power is important, I'd build the car with themindset that driveability and going the distance without any problems,the need for a tow truck, or even having to turn a wrench is crucial.I'll help anyone along the way who needs it, but I don't want our car tolet us down. With that attitude in mind, I'm hereby declaring thatTurner and I will not tow a supply trailer with this car. Call itconfidence or call it stupid, but that's the way it's gonna go (somebodyplease get the defibrilator for Turner). Gas and go, baby. Gas andgo--street-car style!
That's how I'd build it. We'll see how it all works out.
Like Jamie, I'm quite jealous of KJ. I love Fox coupes. Plain andsimple, the coupe is the timeless Fox body style. When I was younger itwas all about the GTs, but these days there's nothing for me quite likea clean Fox coupe. No wings, no foglights, no nonsense. But never in mylife have I seen a T-top coupe. I've long wanted a T-top car. If you'regoing old school, you might as well go all the way, but I alwaysenvision an '82 GT or an '87-'88 GT when I think about T-tops. I neverthought two of my favorite Mustang options were available in the samepackage. Now that KJ has shown me the light, I want one too.
KJ and Mike give me a bunch of grief about not being as hardcore aboutthe drag racing as they are. While I love the Mustang drag-racing scene,my predilection is toward having really cool street cars. I like power,but I want all the creature comforts too. For me, the challenge ismaking the power, making it live on the street, and being able to enjoyit at the dragstrip or on the road course too. So, with that in mind,I'd be Fox Rodding this baby to the hilt!
First off, as much as I like the stock square-light cars, if I gotserious about modifying one, I'd go aero. Blasphemy I know, but I'd haveto add the newer quarter-glass--the early stuff always bugged me, andonce I did that it'd be a full conversion. I'd throw on a modestcowl-induction hood, and that would be it on the outside. As for paint,it would be a coin flip between Silver and Wild Strawberry--my fave Foxcolors. On the inside, '87-'93 interior trim (black, of course),aftermarket seats, a rear-seat delete, Auto Meter gauges, and athoroughly modern in-car entertainment system would be the order of theday.
I would want to keep an eye on weight wherever possible, because my planunder the hood would be something high-revving backed up by a0.50-overdriven Viper six-speed, and big gear out back. The engine comboI've wanted to pull off for a while is one of FRPP's 5.0 Cammer crateengines in a Fox--you know, a modular 5.0 in a 5.0! I'd start outnaturally aspirated, then eventually add an intercooled blower when theNA power got old.
Finally I'd want to rigidify the chassis as much as possible with astreet-friendly 'cage. The suspension would be somethinghandling-oriented that would still do the job at the drags--likely afull-torque-arm setup. And braking would have to be as big and modern aspossible. There's just something so cool about packing a classic--youheard me--a car with modern technology.
Too bad it's KJ's car . . . did I just type that?
I'm not a Melvin so I don't care about numbers, unless it's an '89 SSC,but that's another story. The car is perfect--it's lightweight, compact,and easy to work on. I would do a turbo combination with a sticktransmission that has the good stuff in it, and a clutch that's up tothe task. My car would have functional A/C and heat because, don'tforget, you have to drive the car 300 miles or more a day, and Septemberweather can be unpredictable.
Speaking of that, I would carry drag tires in a trailer (hitched up tothe back of the car) and have regular street tires on the car for thehighway trips. I would have a street setup and a track setup--meaning Iwould maybe have adjustable shocks and struts, and might even run a swaybar up front for street stability and yank it off once I got to eachtrack. Another good thing about the turbo combo is if you do have aclutch or tranny issue, the exhaust won't be in your way in case youhave to replace either one or both. I would have several shifters withmultiple shifter handles and pistol-grip knobs because somewhere alongthe line I'm going to break one of them for sure.
I'd paint the car Silver with the GT script on the hood, and with FR50017x9 wheels with 245/40s up front and 255/40s out back for the street,and nothing but Bogart D10s for track use. I'd use a simple tubularrear-control-arm setup with drag-oriented springs all the way around.With a simple 306 with a nice heads, cam, and intake package, and theturbo, 500-600 hp is easily attainable and tunable.
I'd have a trailer hitch made that can be removed at the track becauseyou don't want to tear up the track when you pull the wheels and put iton the bumper. Oh, yeah--along with my Atlas and the driving directionsfrom Hot Rod, I'd also have my trusty map to Third gear.
Dr. Jamie Meyer
My first thought about this car was one of complete jealousy. I'velooked at several '86 coupes only to find they are 5.0 transplants orjust too far gone to save. Let's get this straight--an '86 coupe with anoriginal 5.0 engine is a "stupid rare" car. My heart says, "Restore thecar to its once and former glory." But my soul tells me, "Make the carwhat you want it to be because that's what owning a Mustang is allabout."
The goal to run in Hot Rod'sDrag Week (and I'm assuming you want torepresent this magazine like a man) brings up the question of where tostart with this thing. You'll have to build an 8-second car and hope itcan run in the 9-second zone as a street car with the concession of pumpgas, heat cycles, and weight. To make that kind of power over the courseof five days without breaking anything major, you can forget nitrous.I'd go with a big-inch Windsor in the 408-inch range with lowcompression and a good aluminum head that offers tremendousgasket-sealing capability like the time-honored Trick Flow High-Port.Put in a sensible hydraulic-roller cam so the valvetrain doesn't eatitself on Day Two at the drags or a thousand miles into the drive. For apower-adder, I think a big turbo of at least 88 mm is the way to go, butyou could make a reliable 1,500 horses with one of the blowers fromVortech or ProCharger.
You'll need the biggest intercooler you can fit in this little car, witha monstrous fuel system so you have lots of adjustability. I'd pick anAOD-E trans with a rather tight converter to decrease heat, and I'd wantto build a really big trans-cooler setup. The goal of the projectdictates what the chassis has to be. You'll need a real SFI 'cage withthe best stock-suspension components out there. You might even want tothink about putting a ladder-bar setup in the car to make sure the carit's stable. All of the steering and suspension components will need tobe replaced because on a car with this mileage, they are junk. If you gothe cheap route with a stock suspension, rebuild the 8.8 rear that camein the thing as a tribute to the first year that rearend showed up in aMustang.
Our readers want more low-buck tech stories. If what I've outlined istoo expensive, then stuff a 351 in the thing with a good set of headsand a big bottle. You might last a couple of days! Good luck.
You've got a great project on your hands--but, wow, a T-top coupe? I'vebeen working at Super Ford or 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords magazines since1987, and I can't recall seeing a T-top coupe. It's undoubtedly one rareFox, but I couldn't begin to put a number on how many were built.Certainly there are almost none left.
For modifications, I'd first ask myself if I wanted to drill holes in arare T-top coupe, then I'd probably reach for the drill. Chassisrigidity is going to be important with such a car, so a full 'cagetightly tucked into the interior would be high on my list. Then it wouldbe off to the rear axle to select a suspension that fits your powerrequirements. I've seen several 10-second torque-arm street/strip carsthat appeared to work well; otherwise I'd poll some of the drag-chassisshops for their recommendations.
For a street/strip car, there are all sorts of powertrain options thatwill work. Turbos or nitrous are two power-adders that really have agreat operating range--from tooling around on the street to carrying thewheels at the strip--so I'd consider them. Of course, a simplecentrifugal-blower setup obviously works well, too. If you're bucks upand really more interested in the strip, there's nothing crisper than ahot, naturally aspirated engine, but that is the expensive,high-maintenance option.
Above all, I'd keep the entire car lightweight. Weight is the enemy, sothe more pounds you can shed, the more fun you'll have. The more weightyou lose, the less streetable the combination (no A/C, racing brakes,3-inch front wheels, no front sway bar, missing bumper bars, and such),so it has to be a compromise between street needs and strip wants. It'ssomething each builder has to wrestle with.
Seeing how you are looking for a "street legal, comfortable, dailydriver-style street/strip car," I'd say the A/C stays and I'd be carefulabout adding weight to the front end. That means aluminum whereverpossible on the engine and moving the battery to the trunk. For a dragcar that just has to turn the occasional number, nitrous is thelightest, best weight-balanced power-adder (the heavy stuff is in thetrunk), and it obviously doesn't have to be a pain on the street. Becareful about adding a massive radiator (weight) if you don't need it,and go for a tubular K-member and other weight savers you can figureout. A tubular sway bar will retain handling while shedding a fewpounds, as the stock bar is a real pig.