April 1, 2007

Reaching Driving age in war-torn England in the mid- to late-'50s and wanting to go fast taught me much about hopping up cars with little to no cash. But my performance aspirations and financial situation were by no means unique-they were not then and are not now, as almost any performance-minded teenager or 20-something will tell you.

Looking back on my early race days, I seem to recall that 75 percent of the go-faster stuff on my car was either made in the garden shed or adapted from stuff scrounged from the wrecking yard. At one time or another, I have made my own cams, shocks, suspensions systems, headers, intakes, fuel injection, and so on. I have also built several flow benches and a dyno or two. This all used up time rather than money. It also taught me to be resourceful and that if you want something bad enough, you will put in the effort.

This 5.0 was acquired as a near pile of rust-free junk for $1,500. After a lot of work and about $3,000, it looked like what you see here, ran low 13s, and turned respectable lap times on VIR's road course.

To this day, this race-car business had a grip on me. Spending time at University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) with the Motorsports students, I realized many of them were in a similar situation-that is, plenty of enthusiasm but little or no money. I have long suspected that if I catered to broke but enthusi-astic beginners, down the road they would become affluent and capable enthusiasts capable of buying top-of-the-line equipment and building outstanding cars.

To test many low-cost mods and engine builds, I was already working on two other 5.0 Mustangs-one with Mustang enthusiast Jason Peck and one with Mervyn Bonnet, my crew chief whenever I race in any of the southern Caribbean islands. But these cars had already moved well along from stock. What I really needed was a "start from near scratch" deal, and the guy who got the ball rolling here was Rick Sparks at Comp Cams. During one of my conversations with Rick on some cam-related subject, I mentioned that for a lot of the tests I needed to do, a stock, older 5.0 was needed. Well, it turns out Rick thinks a near-stock 5.0 would be good to do some testing with some Comp Cams products and that maybe we could do some tests for them. A few days later, the go-ahead comes in and-presto-we're out looking for a Mustang.

Jason Peck found the No. 2 car, a premium clean '93 LX hatchback in near stock condition, for $6,000. Buying on eBay and scrutinizing the ads for sale items in MM&FF resulted in a fast car at an economical cost. The engine was in good shape, and after servicing and a basic tune, it delivered 220 rwhp.

For most folks, the hunt for a good, value-for-money Mustang would probably start with an on-line search. That's as good a way as any, but my partner in crime on this project-the guy who will, for all practical purposes, oversee the rolling chassis and transmission-is Dale Sciranko, the boss at Custom Performance in Concord. Dale is always on the lookout for good-value 5.0s, as that is what Custom Performance specializes in. Not only do they work on top-dollar cars, but they also sell used cars. I told Dale a few weeks earlier about the possibility of this project taking off and asked if he could look for a suitable car.

In the interest of keeping costs to a minimum, we needed a Stang that was mechanically sound with reasonable paint and a tacky-or worse-interior. Why go for such a requirement? Simple, a car with a poor-to-lousy interior is hard to sell even if the rest of the car is nearly perfect. We planned on gutting the car to axe weight, so buying one with a good interior was a waste of time and money. Another important aspect that needs to be considered is that the cheapest way to buy speed equipment is "used and already on the car." With all the hopped-up 5.0s in the world, buying one with some of the essential goodies already on it should not be a problem.

Here's our low-buck Stang from Grenada. As you see it here, it has a stock bottom end, a Comp cam, a set of RHS heads, a Victor Jr. intake with a 650-cfm BG carb, and a 175-horse nitrous kit. This combination has delivered a best of 10.27 seconds under ideal conditions. A significant amount of this performance is due to the car's low weight in stripped-down condition.

In the space of three weeks, Dale found us a peach-at least from the outside. For the princely sum of $2,800, the car was a no-frills '88 five-speed Mustang that had some speed goodies on it. This car was without A/C, which made it cheaper still, as did the fact it had manual windows. Both these factors were assets for what was to become a race-only car.

Starting from the interior (or what was left of it), we had a car that looked like it had lacked any kind of cosmetic TLC. The seats were worse for wear and had some chemical stains, mostly on the passenger seat and back seat. The passenger seat was about to break away from the floor. Many of the interior panels were missing, as was part of the shifter console. The carpet was in a bad state with oil and grease stains that appeared to be from carrying dirty parts on the floor.