Rebuilding My Totally-Not-Collectible Mustang, Part 5

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The first performance tests for my 1980 Ford Mustang “restomod” are complete and the early signs are very positive.

Along with the 1974 and 1981 models, the 1980 Mustang is arguably the least desirable of any Ford pony car ever built and is certainly not worth the money and effort for a restoration. But the car has tremendous sentimental value for my family. I bought the car in early 1982 as the second owner. My wife and I dated in this car and I’ve since put over 240,000 miles on the odometer. So this is a labor of love. Nostalgia is all the value this car needs.

American Muscle

The Mustang’s original 2.3 liter, four-cylinder engine and 4-speed manual transmission have been replaced by a 347 cubic inch Ford Windsor small block with a Tremec 5 speed gearbox from McGunegill Engine Performance of Muncie, Indiana (which, thankfully, also happens to be the home of a local drag strip).

The car is still severely handicapped by its original 2.73 open differential, which is scheduled for future replacement. To make matters even worse, the subframe connectors have not yet been installed. So other than the engine, the car is still very much in stock condition.

347 CI Windsor small block Ford stroker engine from McGunegill Engine Performance, Muncie IN

We made just five passes in an effort to post a 0-60 baseline. I had no intention of taking the car to the very edge of its performance envelope. The goal was simply to establish a baseline of performance by which to judge the success or failure of future modifications to the car.

The first two runs were experimental. I spun the right rear tire on takeoff and used third gear, quickly realizing that neither was a good idea. Not only does a single-tire burnout leave an embarrassing skid mark on the pavement, but it also means you’ve wasted your only method of propulsion. Not good. The 0-60 times hovered around 7.3 seconds. That’s not terrible, but I knew we could do much better.

At this point in the car’s evolution, the way to get the best 0-60 time is to avoid spinning the rear tire and stay in second gear all the way to 60 mph, thereby eliminating the final shift. I tried that on the third pass, but I smoked the right rear again on the shift to second gear and ended up at 6.9 seconds.

The final two passes were more successful, producing very respectable 0-60 times of 5.99 and 5.97 seconds. The key was to run the car harder and longer in first gear in order to allow a hard shift into second at full throttle that wouldn’t spin the rear tires.

I’m sure the car could do even better with a few more runs and a bit of tinkering. It could probably get into the mid 5-second range with some effort, but that would probably be asking more from a stock 2.73 open differential than it’s prepared to deliver. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

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We were successful in establishing 5.9 seconds as the car’s baseline 0-60 mph performance barometer with a reliable and consistent digital scoring system, and that’s enough for now. With the addition of a 9 inch Ford rear end with 3.73 gears and subframe connectors, that 0-60 time will probably drop into the 4-second range. That puts it on par with the 2019 Mustang Bullitt, the 2018 Mustang GT, the 2017 Dodge Challenger T/A 392 and many other modern muscle cars.

The little Mustang still runs on standard pump gasoline and it’s mild enough for the Mrs. and me to take to the local drive-in theater and a few old drive-in restaurants, two of our favorite summer pastimes. Yet it’s light years ahead of anything Ford envisioned in 1980. So far, so good.

Stephen Cox

Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions

Driver, FIA EGT sportscar championship & Super Cup Stock Car Series

Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN

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Stephen Cox is a racing driver in the Electric GT Championship, the Super Cup Stock Car Series and the World Racing League endurance sports car series. He is also a television host and CEO of Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions. He is currently in his 10th season as a co-host on NBCSN’s Mecum Auto Auction. Stephen also serves as producer for the Super Cup Stock Car Series telecasts on MavTV and other programming on Fox, Outdoor Channel, Velocity and more. His past television work includes hosting: Champ Car World Series Indianapolis 500 NASCAR Winston West Barber Dodge Pro Series Paris-Dakar Rally USAR Hooters ProCup Stock Car Series Mid-American Stock Car Series ARCA Truck Series Stephen Cox is among America’s most versatile professional racing drivers. Few drivers have competed on both asphalt and dirt. Fewer still on both road courses and ovals. Fewer still in both open wheel and stock cars. And virtually none can add the elite division of off road desert racing to their resume. Stephen has not simply raced in each of these divisions – he has scored championships, wins, poles or top ten finishes in every single category, and in 2017 he adds the international Electric GT Championship sports car series to the list. From ARCA ovals to SCCA road courses, endurance racing to Rolex GT sports cars, from Tecate SCORE Baja Trophy Trucks in desert sands to the Hooters Pro Cup Series and Super Cup Stock Car Series on America’s famous southern ovals… Cox has driven them all, and won. Track record holder at Midvale Speedway (OH USA) Track record holder at Gingerman Raceway (MI USA) 18 career wins 17 career poles Mitsubishi factory test driver 2004 GT Challenge Series champion 2004 Championship Motorsports Association Rookie of the Year As a writer, Cox has authored: L&M PORSCHE; the story Penske’s 1972 Can-Am championship SHELBY LEGEND, TRANS-AM WINNER; the 1966 Ford Mustang Group 2 SCCA Racer AGAINST ALL ODDS; the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona Cox also authored the Small Team Sponsorship Guide for beginning sponsor-hunters, the classic book and seminar that redefined the way entry level teams attack corporate sponsorship.


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