KJ Jones Senior Technical Editor
August 1, 2008
Photos By: Courtesy Of Paul Schmitz
Not even the ominous dark clouds of an approaching storm could stop us from going after a long-elusive (for one technical reason or another) 10-second timeslip with our project T-top coupe. Don't let this lazy launch (1.56 60-foot) fool you. By the time this run was finished, our 830hp street/strip terror had run right through the 10s and solidly into the 9-second e.t. range.

Horse Sense: "We aren't going at this from a set-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 with confidence and won't leave us stranded or breaking out the tools during the trip." -Tech Editor KJ Jones in our project car's introduction story ("Raisin' the Roof," May '06, p. 94).

It has been almost three years now since we first wrote about our acquisition of a rare '86 notchback 'Stang with T-tops and our master plan for restoring it, and ultimately driving and racing a finished product that we hope will be thought of as the baddest street/strip project Pony this magazine has ever built.

The Fox-Rod-style restoration has been a great experience, and our T-top coupe has received many accolades for its appearance and engineering, including several car-show awards and a feature story in the Jan. '08 issue of 5.0&SF ("Top This," p. 102). It has also garnered praise for its performance on the street and chassis dyno (830 rwhp/727 lb-ft of torque).

However, despite all of the good that has come our way with the project car, achieving success at our final goal has been met with frustration at every turn. Driving the coupe to a 10-second e.t. at the dragstrip is a goal we set our sights on more than two years ago. Reaching that goal will bring the project full-circle.

We decided to run with the 'Stangs at the PSCA's Orme Brothers Spring Break Shootout, and we entered the new Mustang Maddness class sponsored by Ford Racing. A whopping 38 Ponies showed up for battle in this Open Comp-style eliminator, won by Dan Marciano in his 10-second Fox GT.

The closest our coupe has come to the 10s is an 11.318 at 119.12 mph, which we detailed in a report on our first trip to the track ("Final Exam," Aug. '07, p. 164). Subsequent attempts resulted in a blown engine ("Full-Throttle Meltdown," Jan. '08, p. 68) and an aborted run due to an unlatched hood ("Lights, Cameras...Action!" Mar. '08, p. 128).

While a constant lack of success might keep some 'Stangbangers from going forward, one thing is certain: There's never any quit in our game. Our eyes stay totally focused on the prize when it comes to project cars. As a case in point, note Associate Editor Johnson's 6-year Roadkill effort, which we understand is finally just a solid day's worth of work away from running under its own power.

There's no question we were excited when we saw "T-top Coupe Drag Test" on a recent assignment rundown. We decided to bring the coupe to the Pacific Street Car Association's '08 Orme Brothers Spring Break Shootout event at Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California, one week after the NMRA's season-opening event in Bradenton, Florida.

While finally making a good hit was paramount, we also saw this event as a great opportunity to install and try XFI's new Touch-Screen Dash/Data Logger (PN 301417), a compact data-capturing unit for our project car's XFI engine management system. Our good friend Patrick "The Wiring Wizard" Hall helped us install it a few days before the race.

A G-Force fire jacket and pants with a bulky hooded sweatshirt still wasn't enough to keep the chills away from your tech editor. While SoCal's cool, late-winter temperature was far from the freezing cold that points toward the east were experiencing, a losing battle with the flu had KJ looking for warmth anywhere he could find it.

Based on history, you're probably figuring this is the point where we tell you that "everything was going fine until..." and then give you the lowdown on some sort of mechanical or mental disaster that would once again keep us from improving on our 11.31 best e.t. This time we're not going to say or even imply that type of negative sentiment. The truth is, we finally achieved success on the dragstrip with our T-top coupe. Launching from a 1,000-rpm idle with Mickey Thompson's 28x10.5x15-inch ET Drag slicks mounted on Weld Alumastars, your tech editor jockeyed our A.R.E. Performance (350ci engine)/Paxton (Novi 2000 supercharger)/Performance Automatic (AODE)/Chris Alston's Chassisworks (FAB9 rear)-equipped project car to a string-straight 9.790 e.t., at 141.98 mph in the quarter-mile (6.36/115 to the eighth).

Looking back once again at that May '06 intro story, in another interesting quote your tech editor says (in the "Ask the Editors" sidebar): "I'd try to set this car up to fly, but I wouldn't build it to such an extreme that it would be a mid-9-second street Mustang or anything." Well, our T-top coupe actually made running mid-9s look easy, and it has long proven itself as a Mustang with good street manners. Yes, KJ has to eat his words on this one, but there's no doubt that words have never tasted so delicious.

Here are photos and captions from our whirlwind week of race preparations and finally reaching the all-hallowed plateau of street/strip 'Stang performance-the 9-second zone!

Ford Racing's Wayne Geoffrey (left) and Jesse Kershaw (center, black shirt), and Mark Franchetti of Keystone Automotive (not shown) stopped by our pit to check out the project car and join us for lunch. Mrs. Jones handled barbecue duty, and her track burgers, hot dogs, and marinated chicken didn't disappoint.

It's a great feeling when the stars align and you have a successful track outing, regardless of which type of racing.

A lot of credit for our 9-second run goes to being prepared, and thus being relaxed instead of making last-minute changes or updates to the tune, suspension, and so on. All we did was put a quick charge on the battery, set air pressure at 12 psi in the Mickey Thompson ET Drag slicks, and topped off the tank with 5 gallons of VP Racing Fuels MS109E unleaded race gas.

Without trying to downplay anything about our 9-second experience, the truth is, the ride really wasn't overwhelmingly dramatic. There was no monster wheelstand, no wild wheelspinning, and no sashaying from side-to-side in our lane. Since this was the first pass with 830 horses under your tech editor's butt, the decision was made to leave soft from idle and shift at 6,500 rpm. The 'Stang responded by running straight down the track using 20 psi of boost, pouring on the real steam at the eighth-mile, and tripping the finish-line beams in 9.790 seconds at 141.98 mph.

A stop at the scales after the run was a true eye-opener. As the project car sits with its full interior, stereo, and all of the other accessories we've loaded it with, the T-top coupe weighs in at a whopping 3,500 pounds (with driver). Sure, there's a lot of performance we're giving up with all that weight, but it's a street car, so there won't be any stripping of parts or anything of that sort in an effort to lighten it up and go quicker. As it is, the car probably will go quicker once we launch with the transbrake and extend the shift points, so we're leaving things just as they are with the project 'Stang, saving the full-on, drag-race focus for our upcoming Boss 340 '90 LX.

Our newly installed XFI Touch-Screen Dash/Data Logger proved to be a great addition to the project car. We played back the recording of our landmark run and were pleased to see it was captured in its entirety without any problems. Our Snow Performance water/methanol injection system did a great job at cooling inlet-air temperature, which we're sure played a part in achieving the impressive speed.

This is what makes our T-top coupe's drag performance such a big deal. With a driver on board, the car weighs 3,499 pounds (we rounded it off to 3,500 pounds). The 9.79 e.t. is one thing, but getting that kind of weight to move at 141.98 mph tells us Rocco Acerrio's engine and Paxton's Novi 2000 are working well together and really making horsepower.

There's no better proof of accomplishment than this timeslip. The print is light, so here are the incrementals for you to analyze: R/T = 0.229; 60' = 1.560; 330 = 4.281; 1/8 = 6.384; MPH = 115.04; 1000 = 8.222; 1/4 = 9.790; MPH = 141.98.

We were never really big on toting a laptop around inside the project car whenever we wanted to make a flight recording (datalog) of the engine's operation. While planting a computer squarely in the floor or seat might seem OK, the chances of the laptop sustaining damage from vibration or being banged around when you're hard on the gas is actually fairly high.

XFI's Touch-Screen Dash/Data Logger (PN 301417) is a slimline, dual-function electronic dashboard and datalogger that will help us as we try to improve on our coupe. It will give us real-time details on underhood activity during our 9-second trips down the dragstrip.

We really dig the fact that the unit can record more than 1 hour of continuous datalogging time, and it doesn't require an immediate download of information after each run.

Many thanks go to our friend Patrick "The Wiring Wizard" Hall for handling the electrical part of our datalogger installation. Our coupe's FAST XFI engine management system is one of its most critical components. The Wiring Wizard made sure all of the electrical connections and wires throughout are properly soldered and routed to power and ground to prevent any operational failure or loss of data due to vibration or other forces.

The XFI Touch-Screen Dash/Data Logger includes wiring that allows it to capture data from 12 extra analog inputs in addition to information coming from the processor itself. We're not using any of the auxiliaries, so The Wiring Wizard caps the end of each wire with heat shrink to prevent accidental shorting or connectivity problems.

We had The Wiring Wizard relocate this inline fuse from the middle of the datalogger's main harness to a location closer to our 12-volt source behind the dashboard, for easier access to the fuse if it ever has to be changed. Always add heat shrink before crushing down on or soldering the wiring connectors, and make sure you use enough to fully protect a connection.

This Y-shaped Controller Area Network cable is the lifelink of the XFI Touch-Screen Dash/Data Logger, as it's the line that transmits data in the processor into the touch-screen panel. The cable connects to the datalogger's main harness and can also be daisy-chain-linked to additional FAST accessories in a network fashion. Each end of the CAN circuit must be closed with plug-in terminators that are included with the system.

The blue wiring connector is removed from the XFI processor...

...and yellow and green wires of the CAN cable are installed and secured inside locations 25 ("yes" signal/yellow wire) and 26 ("no" signal/green wire) at the back of the plug.

The passenger seat served as the docking point for our laptop when we used it for logging engine data during dyno tests and at our previous track outings. The Wiring Wizard routes the datalogger's main harness through the passenger-seat knee bolster, which enables us to set the logger's screen panel on the seat, where it's within easy reach.

Clean has always been one of our mandates for the interior in our project car. The Wiring Wizard routes the yellow and green CAN wiring, connectors, and plug underneath the center console and out of sight.

The datalogger's main harness plugs into the back of the touch-screen panel and is secured by tightening the lock ring.

With the wiring completed, installing C-COM XFI software and going through an elaborate processor-to-datalogger setup is the final step before we can begin recording. The configuration procedure isn't necessarily rocket science, but XFI acknowledges that the ins and outs of dialing-in the logger aren't presented well in the instructions, and the tasks should be done with the assistance or consultation of XFI specialists on the FAST tech line. Our phone call with the helpful folks at FAST lasted about an hour.

The high-resolution, backlit, 6-inch LCD display is easily programmed with one finger.

The touch-screen panel looks right at home in the cabin of our coupe. Recorded data can be viewed on the unit's display screen or downloaded with a USB into a laptop for analysis and use when tuning.

With easy access from the driver seat, we're now able to use the XFI Touch-Screen Dash/Data Logger to reference all of the vital information inside the XFI processor. Our unit is programmed to record data whenever the TPS indicates 75 percent throttle and stop recording when power is shut down. There are no switches to flip or space bars to press. Just mash the gas and begin recording.

We all know the importance of getting power to the ground. To date, applying all of our project car's horsepower to the street or racing surface has been a challenge, as drag radial and DOT-approved street tires have worked OK (the best 60-foot with Mickey Thompson ET Streets was 1.594), but we're certain we'll have better results all around if we use a traditional slick tire on the rear of our coupe. That said, we're making the upgrade to Mickey Thompson's ET Drag slicks in the 28x10.5x15-inch sizing that has been synonymous with Fox-body Mustang drag racing for a long time.

We also decided to roll the 'Stang onto the hoist at B&D Racing for a check and reset of rear suspension and pinion angle. Horsepower has its best chance of getting to the rear wheels when the driveline is as straight as possible, so Mase Rowland is checking all of our rear suspension's angles and making the necessary adjustments to ensure we'll have good launches and clean runs.

The results of our latest dyno testing and our desire to nail down a perfect run prompted us to make another tire change for this track test. We're replacing the Mickey Thompson 27x10.50x15-inch ET Street (DOT approved) rear tires with full-on ET Drag slicks (off-road use only). Because our project car is heavy, we've selected the "S" (stiff sidewall) version of MT's popular 28x10.5x15-inch racing rears.

Saul "The Surgeon" Gutierrez of Extreme Automotive removes both of Chris Alston's Chassisworks lowers, shortens their lengths accordingly, and then reinstalls the arms. The change creates the necessary clearance for mounting the rear wheels and slicks without a problem.

Similar to an NMRA EFI Renegade 'Stang, the "true 10.5" tire tucks neatly underneath the back of our T-top coupe. No, we didn't sneak minitubs back there, but the wheelhousing modifications we made to fit Mavromont Industries' Pony R 17x10-inch rear wheels and big 315 Nitto street tires on our project coupe ("Real-Deal Wheels," June '08, p. 72) help achieve this look and stance with the slicks, which are mounted on Weld Alumastars (15x8.25-inch with a 5-inch offset and 5-inch backspace). We saw a 0.034 improvement in the coupe's 60-foot e.t. with a change to slicks.

Our first attempt at mounting the new slicks exposed this minor problem. Despite the rear wheelwell being rolled, the back of the tire makes contact with the lower portion of the housing, which tells us that the coupe's lower control arms must be adjusted.

Brian Schapiro and Mason "Mase" Rowland of B&D Racing made time for us to bring the coupe into the shop to verify and adjust pinion angle, as it hasn't been properly set since the car has been up and running. A drive-on hoist is required for this task, as the 'Stang should be resting on its full weight with the tires adjusted to the correct air pressure before making any changes.

Mase removes the driveshaft and marks each Chassisworks double-adjustable upper control arm.

The marks serve as reference points that will allow Mase to keep track of the number of adjustment turns he makes on each side.

Pinion angle is basically the angle of the rearend's pinion gear in relation to the driveshaft. Our coupe's pinion will rotate upward under launch or hard acceleration, so Mase dials in 3 degrees of negative pinion angle by adjusting the upper control arms to compensate for the rotation, ensuring the imaginary line from the back of the crankshaft through the transmission, driveshaft, and the pinion is as straight as possible.

Inside the trailer, the head of our wall-mounted HalGuard Automatic Fire-Suppression System sits parallel to the hood/engine-compartment area of our project T-top coupe. It will provide great protection for the car, and the contents of the trailer should there ever be a fire inside our car hauler.

Prep for the drag test included a few upgrades on our 28-foot enclosed trailer as well. In an effort to bring more organization into the small area, we installed several items from Summit Racing Equipment, including a fuel-jug rack, aluminum storage shelf, 17-inch ratchet-strap hanger, canopy and collapsible-chair racks, and so on. They will keep our work area more efficient and simplify the loading process at the end of a race day.

We also installed the new HalGuard Automatic Fire-Suppression System from H3R Performance (PN HG 550S). It can be mounted on the floor or ceiling of a trailer, shop, or garage, and features a thermally activated head that will discharge the fire-suppression agent when it senses temperatures higher than its 155-degree Fahrenheit rating.

We've been keen on HalGuard for a while now and use H3R's fire extinguishers in all of our project vehicles. The HalGuard chemical is cool in that it's nonconducting and residue free, so it's easy to clean up if the system is ever discharged.

Installing the fire-suppression system takes about an hour and a half to mount properly on the wall of a trailer, and it provides great peace of mind about the security of your trailer's contents in the event of a fire.

Each galvanized, self-tapping screw includes a flat washer that helps spread the clamp load evenly and secure the bracket to the wall. It's important to use a level when installing brackets for this fire-suppression system to ensure the tank will be mounted correctly. We recommend using red Loctite on each screw. Once the wall brackets are installed, tank brackets are placed around the HalGuard cylinder and secured using a 9/16-inch socket and wrench.

Once two crossbeams (studs) are located behind the wall panel, we mark the locations for 10 small holes that must be drilled to secure the system's upper and lower mounting brackets (five holes per bracket).