January 1, 2009
From gutted shell to its on track debut, we had our '95 GT ready for action in NASA's Camaro-Mustang Challenge racing series in just 99 days.

Depending on your perspective, the gist of this article may sound like a fortune or a bargain. Even half of 10 grand is a lot of money, especially if you spend it all at once, but in the world of competitive road racing, it's barely a weekend's tire and gas bill. Still, keeping costs at a bare minimum has always been the primary goal of the National Auto Sport Association's Camaro-Mustang Challenge series, which is the main reason why I began racing in it back in 2003.

Bit by the bug to go wheel-to-wheel racing, but with no previous experience other than having attended a couple of track schools and a few open track days, I looked around for a class I could get my feet wet in. When I began building an '84 Mustang GT for the class, my initial goal was to run in CMC for a year or two and then step up to the faster and more expensive American Iron (AI) class. But after my rookie season, I lost that desire. For one thing, in CMC I seemed to be having as much fun as the AI guys were having, but for a lot less money. I was also spending a lot less time both at home and at the track working on my car than they were. So, after three full seasons racing the old Fox, I knew CMC was where I wanted to stay.

The only problem was that the car was getting tired and was battle-scarred from its campaigns, so I decided a new car would be better, faster, safer and stronger than the old one.

I bought the gutted chassis with a fully-welded rollcage, but no suspension, rearend, or wheels, from a fellow racer for $2,500 in April during a NASA race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. With the help of spares, eBay, Craigslist, and parts robbed from my old CMC Mustang, I was able to get the new chassis on wheels in an afternoon. By the way, that's not purple-it's Sapphire Blue!

Over the next several issues of MM&FF, we'll outline the process of building and racing a new road racer, as we examine the chassis, suspension, and drivetrain modifications needed to turn a typical Mustang GT into a competitive road racing machine-albeit on a budget that any do-it-yourselfer can accomplish on nights and weekends, without taking out a second mortgage. This month we'll lay out the project and get started prepping the chassis for assembly.

Bare Bones Brawler
From the start, I had a few key goals. First, it would be a ground-up build rather than a gradual transformation of a street car, which meant starting with a stripped shell and building it up rather than replacing one part at a time. This can be a daunting task for a first-time builder, and it's a big reason why so many half-built project cars end up on eBay and Craigslist. Working in my favor, I had already built a car, so I knew what worked, what didn't, what was worth the time and money, and what was a waste of both. You learn from your mistakes, and the second car is always better than the first, takes less time to build, and in this case, actually cost less to build because I skipped the things I knew wouldn't make it go faster. With any luck, it would also be more reliable and easier to maintain.

The goal of simplicity manifested itself in several ways. First, I wanted to keep as many stock parts as possible. The CMC rules place a premium on stock parts because they are typically the cheapest and easiest to get. Also, the more stock the cars are, the easier it is to police the competition and maintain a level playing field. With my old car, I went out of my way looking for trick parts to replace that were within the rules. But the longer I raced in CMC, the more I learned that was counterproductive. The non-stock parts were always the ones that gave me the most trouble and rarely made the car faster. So for the new build, I focused on keeping stock parts for ease of replacement, reliability, and low cost.