The Mustang has long been one of Ford’s halo cars. It’s a powerful, rear-wheel-drive machine with a one-word objective: fast. The hottest versions have typically featured massive V8 engines, muscular styling and an earth-rumbling roar reminiscent of the most testosterone-spewing, Cookie Monster-imitating heavy metal singers.
Funny, then, that this automotive monster has something in common with a certain pink, battery-hawking, drum-beating bunny. The Mustang keeps going and going. Decades of development gave engineers a long history to draw from when they designed the current S197-chassis Mustang. When the fifth-generation car hit showroom floors for the 2005 model year, it represented the Mustang’s first ground-up redesign in a quarter century. The fourth-generation chassis that hit in the mid-’90s, dubbed SN-95, was still based on the aging Fox body.
While its contemporary competitors—namely the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger—have independent rear suspensions, the updated Mustang keeps its drive wheels mated to a solid axle. This isn’t the hindrance that it seems to be on paper. In the same way that Porsche has managed to build incredibly capable rear-engined cars, Ford’s long-running experience with live axles has resulted in machines that make the best use of them.
The new model’s retro styling arrived to rave reviews, and the make’s motorsports division, Ford Racing, followed the flash with a series of factory-built race cars. These complete, fire-it-up-and-hit-the-track cars arrive with roll cages, adjustable suspensions, track-calibrated electronics, and countless other upgrades. Since 2005, an entire turnkey racer has been available as a simple part number in Ford Racing’s vast catalog.
Following a long tradition, the automotive aftermarket filled their catalogs with parts for the newest Mustang. Aggressive body add-ons, supercharger kits, short shifters and exhaust systems loud enough to make your neighbor hide in the garage are all as close as a Web search for “Mustang performance.”
Whether powered by the carry-over Modular-series 4.6-liter aluminum-block V8 or the new high-tech Coyote 5.0-liter engines, the current Mustang has proved a strong runner on the street, the race track and, in Cobra Jet form, the drag strip. Like that Energizer-powered rabbit, these horses have shown that they can keep going and going and going—all the way to the podium. You just need to decide which formula is right for you.
Our Ultimate Track Car Challenge weekend at Virginia International Raceway included a broad variety of track-only Mustangs, but for this test we cast the net a little wider to include some street Stangs, too. NASA Mid-Atlantic, our hosts for the day, provided us with lap times for anything with a transponder. Time for some horsing around.
Looks to Kill
A supercharger system by Roush Performance adds 5 psi to the Mustang GT’s Mod engine, lighting up the rear tires with 372 horsepower. Shifting is via the seriously short Hurst shifter and retro knob.
The only car in this group with forced induction is also the only one wearing license plates—not because they’re stylish, but because they’re required. Moss Muscle salesman Mark Evans takes this 2010 Mustang GT to shows all over the country in order to display his firm’s wares.
Mark says this car attracts so much attention, he can rarely spend less than half an hour at a gas station; people are always coming up to compliment him on the car and ask questions about it. He keeps a stack of catalogs on hand for such occasions.
Selling Mustang parts isn’t as simple as calling up manufacturers and slapping some photos in a catalog, Mark adds. Good retailers buy the cars they cater to in order to make sure everything works as advertised.
“We frequently test-fit parts that specifically are lacking in instructions from the vendor so we can build instructions for our customers,” Mark explains. Everything on this car is available through MossMuscle.com, Moss Motors’s division devoted to fourth- and fifth-generation Mustangs.
This steed can thank a complete body kit for its extra aggression, though it also helps that it’s lowered about an inch closer to those 20-inch wheels and the big brakes behind them. The smoked headlights blend with the black grille to form one continuous piece, and the reverse-louver quarter windows are a slick modern take on a classic styling cue. An added race-car touch adorns the interior: Carbon fiber pieces cover many of the original plastic dashboard panels and keep the black-and-white color scheme from looking too dour. Thanks to a chance meeting, Jack Roush’s signature adorns two of those panels.
Knowing how to make a complete car, Moss fitted plenty of go under the hood, too. The supercharger crams enough extra air into the engine—a total of 5 psi—to pump the 4.6-liter V8’s horsepower up to a dyno-confirmed 372 at the wheels.
A Ford by Another Name
This heavily reworked Mustang now wears Saleen badges. All the HVAC controls were eschewed in favor of a simple button and switch panel; the engine start button is labeled “Push here, dummy.”
If you can’t afford to build it yourself, see if you can convince a shop to foot the bill for you. That’s the route Chris Cobetto, director of the NASA Mid-Atlantic region, took to get behind the wheel of a race-prepped Mustang. Cobetto called up Performance Autosport, a Speedlab dealer near his home in Virginia, and made his case.
He then picked up a 2011 Mustang GT, took it for 900 miles of testing to check for preexisting issues and, finding nothing, delivered it to the shop to be prepared for American Iron. “In American Iron, the rules are so open that it really gives me a chance to tune the car and continually improve it,” Cobetto says.
Mark LaMaskin, president of Performance Autosport, said they deliberately built the racer from a regular production car instead of a body in white. The bare body in white may seem like the quicker, less expensive route, but it comes without any fasteners—all the nuts, bolts and so on that tie the car together.
Mark says that’s usually not a problem, but they couldn’t get a list of the fasteners needed to assemble the car. Instead of test-fitting nuts and bolts for all of the car’s components, they chose instead to start with a car that had everything and remove what they didn’t need.
The racer—now a Saleen Speedlab car rather than a Ford—was ready to hit the track after 17 days of work, but it had some teething pains during its first track day. The knock sensors were telling the computer to retard the timing, which put a big damper on power.
Their temporary solution, though others advised against it, was to unplug the knock sensors and put race fuel in the tank. The car’s internally stock Coyote V8 is running flawlessly with this arrangement while the team considers a permanent fix.
Read more about this car and Chris’s hunt for sponsors in our August 2011 issue. Buy that issue here.
The Hardcore Tire Smoker
Rob Bodle bought this car with Alcon front calipers meant for an SN95-chassis Mustang—the result of a rushed repair performed by the Zippo team. He later replaced them with the appropriate Brembos.
Ford code-named their FR500C the “Boy Racer,” but it’s far more than that. As delivered, it was considerably more powerful than George Winkler’s FR500S (page 72), and was designed to compete in Grand-Am’s Koni Challenge enduros instead of Mustang-only races. This particular example is Zippo Motorsports’s last Grand-Am machine, built quickly by the team to replace a car that had been wrecked at a race.
Power comes from the Cammer R50, a 5.0-liter version of the Modular series engine supplied by Roush Yates Engines. This 2005 FR500C is the only Mustang on these pages packing an engine that was never available in a street car. Hiding inside its enormous, unique intake manifold are unequal-length trumpets for each cylinder that are designed to maximize the area under the torque curve.
Its cylinder heads are worked-over versions of the twin-cam heads used in the Ford GT supercar, and the exhaust flows through custom headers. These upgrades and a 5.0-liter displacement push this engine’s rating to more than 400 horsepower—Ford didn’t release an official number, just an approximation—though the R50 makes as much as 520 horsepower when tuned for use in Daytona prototypes.
The equipment is durable, too: Car owner Rob Bodle says the FR500C’s engine was built to run a full Grand-Am season without a rebuild, so he’s confident it could go at least two seasons of club racing without a refresh. He competes in NASA’s American Iron Extreme and runs other events like the American Road Race of Champions, but his car’s professional days are over. Persistent fuel system issues have cost Rob some downtime, but after a lot of troubleshooting, the problem was finally sorted with clean fuel injectors.
A special racing version of the venerable Tremec T-56—a transmission originally developed for the Dodge Viper—replaces the stock five-speed unit. It’s a six-speed without a cruising gear: Every cog is meant to be used on the track. “They really overbuilt the FR500C, so much so that Grand-Am kept taking performance away so it wouldn’t sweep the series,” Rob explains.
A factory-built roll cage and an incredibly stiff, fully seam-welded chassis allow the suspension to do its job more effectively. Coil-overs with triple-adjustable dampers support each corner, and urethane replaces the rubber bushings throughout the suspension system. Brembo calipers do the braking up front, but stock Mustang GT units are strong enough for the rear.
The Spec Racer
George Winkler upgraded the car for World Challenge and American Iron use once the Mustang Challenge series died. Among those upgrades was a stroker crank, bumping displacement to 5.0 liters.
George Winkler’s pre-facelift Mustang is an FR500S, Ford Racing’s turnkey racer developed specifically to compete in the old Mustang Challenge spec series. His car was built in 2008.
These ponies were delivered with a window sticker that made their purpose clear. In addition to standard equipment, there was a list of stuff it didn’t have, like unnecessary wiring, floor mats, a heater, and a spare tire. The warranty simply read, “What, you expected 5-years/50,000 miles?”
That wouldn’t have been unfeasible. George has put more than 12,000 track miles on the FR500S without problems, racing it for three years in both the Mustang Challenge and NASA’s American Iron series. His son even took it to a couple HPDEs.
Powering it through those races was the same engine from the standard-production Mustang GT. Its only advantages—a cold-air intake, trackworthy exhaust and reprogrammed computer—provide a modest horsepower increase to 325 from the stock 300. Adjustable anti-roll bars and two-way adjustable dampers are mounted front and rear. The ABS is tuned for race duty and to account for the bigger Brembo calipers up front.
When the Mustang Challenge series met its demise in 2010, George converted the car to SCCA World Challenge GTS-class trim. He fitted Brembo brakes to the rear as part of its conversion, then retuned the suspension to match the series-mandated Pirelli tires.
He also upgraded the displacement to 5.0 liters to keep the car competitive, but this had nothing to do with the new Coyote five-oh powerplant that’s currently making headlines. The original 4.6-liter V8 was just massaged—that is, stroked—to that historically coincidental 5.0 liters while receiving a lot of accompanying headwork.
“It’s fast enough that SCCA World Challenge threw a restrictor plate on me,” George says. “That could hurt us severely.” He’s tuning it in hopes of putting 360 horsepower to the wheels with the restrictor in place and gaining ground in the standings—missing a race out West has put him behind some slower competitors in the series.
Between George and his son, this car is on the track every other weekend. They won first place in points in 2009 for the NASA Mid-Atlantic Region’s American Iron Extreme class. The paint has taken a beating over the years, but its mechanical components continue on unabated, mile after abusive track mile.
The Functional Prototype
Plenty of adjustability in both the suspension and the aerodynamic aids is a hallmark of a real race car. The heat-extracting hood on this machine is made of carbon fiber.
The Boss 302S is Ford Racing’s latest factory-built racer—in as-delivered format it’s legal for SCCA World Challenge as well as NASA American Iron competition. Teams can order their new turnkey track toys by simply ordering part No. M-FR500-B302S. As with Ford’s previous versions in this series of unassuming part numbers, this is an OEM-engineered and -prepped racer with all the goods needed to hit the track.
That doesn’t mean the car is as unexciting as a dome light, cigarette lighter or airbag warning label you’d find in an OEM parts catalog; in fact, those parts aren’t included in the $79,000 purchase price. True, that’s a lot of scratch for a car without air conditioning, but there’s plenty of upgrades present to make it money well spent.
Ford committed to making 50 examples, and each one started out as a body in white. Unlike the standard Mustang GT, all 2012 Boss 302 Mustangs get a revised 5.0-liter Coyote quad-cam engine. Lighter, stronger internals and revised headwork raise output over the standard GT-spec version. This translates to an extra 32 horsepower at an impressive 7500 rpm, a full thousand revs higher than the non-Boss engine. However, it also reduces torque by 10 lb.-ft. to 380.
Thorough suspension upgrades are also on the spec sheet: coil-overs, adjustable remote-reservoir shocks, camber plates, adjustable anti-roll bars, and unforgiving bushings. A Torsen differential puts the power down.
If you’re not one of the lucky 50 to get your hands on a factory-built example, have no fear: You can still build your own. All the necessary parts to build an exact replica are available in the Ford Racing catalog. Besides, building your own allows you to add your own touches along the way.
When Ford Racing’s own prototype and development Mustang Boss 302S arrived at the 2011 Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, it was complete but had never turned a wheel. After the show, it went straight to Carolina Motorsports Park for an on-track shakedown, and after that to Homestead-Miami Speedway for 12 hours of durability testing over two days.
Mark Wilson, engineering supervisor with Ford Racing Technology, hails the car as a low-maintenance racing solution. Grand-Am driver Dean Martin agrees: “It’s rock-solid. Check the oil, check the brake fluid, and put gas in it. That’s it.”
This particular car has since served as both a quality-control vehicle for pieces already in production and a testbed for new parts. “Customer feedback drives what we work on,” Mark adds. Demand from customers led Ford Racing to build the prototype cold-air intake fitted to this development car, which Mark says is pretty close to ready. Likewise, if someone returns a part and says that it doesn’t fit properly, for example, they’ll test-fit it to this Mustang to find out what went wrong.
Mark explains that this car, despite being a preproduction model, is nearly identical to the ones they’re selling. It puts 400 horsepower to the wheels, and its lap times are within 1/10 of a second of the production cars.
The Snake's Nest
After a 60 mph crash into Randy Pobst’s stalled racer during a standing start, this car was left surprisingly intact. The front bumper and splitter had to be replaced, but the hood was still usable.
A stuffed snake adorns Chris DeSalvo’s roll cage. His daughter left the toy lying near the antenna one day while the car was under the wrench at Rehagen Racing’s shop. When the guys working on the car were done, they attached the snake to the roll cage; Chris keeps it there as his good-luck charm.
His team chose to build a Mustang race car powered by the new Coyote engine while the Boss 302S was still just being talked about. He suspected that rumor wouldn’t come to fruition, so he went forward with his project. The goal was to have a car that could compete in SCCA World Challenge, NASA American Iron, and NASA Super Touring 2 without much hassle.
Switching between each of those three series is simple indeed: In ST2, the car is limited to a 275mm tire width, but the engine can run unrestricted. Spec Pirelli tires and a restrictor plate make this ride eligible for World Challenge. And when running that same restrictor plate, the car conveniently has the ideal power-to-weight ratio for American Iron’s 9.5-pounds-per-horsepower minimum.
And that’s all they ever need to change. “Between races at a track day, everyone’s relaxed. There’s very little to do,” Chris says. “This is one of the best cars I’ve ever run. It’s reliable as a stone.”
Unless something else goes awry, that is. At a World Challenge race in April at Miller Motorsports Park, Volvo driver Randy Pobst stalled at the standing start. Chris, unable to maneuver around the impromptu chicane, plowed into the back of Randy’s Volvo at roughly 60 mph. Chris was surprised at how little the Mustang was damaged in the accident. The team had to replace the front bumper and do some bending, but they were able to reuse the hood. Chris recounts that Randy later thanked him for the “Mustang enema.”
When Ford announced the Boss 302S, the numbers indicated that it was worth the upgrade. Chris’s team procured a 302S engine and fitted it to the car along with the other relevant upgrades, a custom exhaust setup, and a cold-air intake system. Unrestricted, the engine delivers 425 horsepower to the wheels.
But Chris isn’t satisfied with it, and promises to switch back to the base five-oh if this high-revving engine ever blows. He doesn’t like that the car has to carry an extra 100 pounds of ballast with the new engine, and he misses the extra torque. (By the way, if you’re interested in helping him out, Chris is looking for sponsors for the 2012 season.)
The Tubes of Glory
Nationwide-series cars have similar bodies, but this one wouldn’t quite belong there: It has more character lines than those flat-sided cars. The live axle is a testament to this car’s simplicity.
Are production-based cars not hot enough? There are scores of proven tube-frame solutions ripe for the picking, and Rob Veschi is under the tree with a ladder and a basket. He chose the finest fruit to make a simple but effective track machine, topping its body with Mustang styling cues.
Performance Autosport in Richmond, Virginia, built this car from readily available components. They started with a NASCAR Cup chassis that was built by Ganassi to Car of Tomorrow design standards. The 15-inch disc brakes come from a Grand-Am racer.
Jason Bowles, winner of the Toyota All-Star Showdown and the 2009 K&N Pro Series West, piloted this car at our Pirelli Ultimate Track Car Challenge this past summer. “The brakes are really good,” he says. “It’s got more brakes than I thought it would.”
The Roush Yates ARCA engine is bolted directly to the chassis without any vibration dampers, guaranteeing as much power at the wheels as possible. “You can really feel the torque in it,” Jason says.
Roush Yates knows a thing or two about building powerful engines: Jack Roush and Robert Yates spent decades as rivals before teaming up in 2004 to build engines for Ford. This fire-breather sucks air through a carburetor into cast aluminum heads, and spits out a mighty 810 horsepower. All that thrust drives through a Jasper top-loader transmission to the live rear axle.
The front and rear suspensions are highly adjustable, with the rear ride height tweaked with a long extension that passes through the back window. It rides 1.5 inches lower than a Cup car and weighs about 400 pounds less. “We tried to take Cup car technology to build an affordable road race car,” Rob says. “It’s a very, very simple car.”
The specific combination of parts makes this chassis ineligible for any type of NASCAR racing; it’s just too much of a hodgepodge of elements from different series. Though the body is based on the specs for the Nationwide series, it sports character lines rather than the Nationwide’s slab sides.
But for regular track events and time trial-style racing, it’s a great tool for nailing ridiculously fast lap times. Jason drove the car to a third-place finish at our Ultimate Track Car Challenge in 2011. A result like that also comes with a bonus prize: bragging rights.
The people behind this creation were cagey about the car’s retail price, but they assure us that it’s an incredible bargain for the lap times delivered. We were told to pass along Lorin Ranier’s number for details on building your own: (704) 906-2581.
View comments on the GRM forums
You'll need to log in to post.