David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/6/09 4:03 p.m.

Project cars are always demanding. Regardless of the planning and preparation, something is bound to go wrong, even under the best circumstances.

Undertaking a project in order to compete in the Grassroots Motorsports $2003 Challenge adds just that much more strain to an already complicated endeavor, because when something goes wrong, a competitor doesn’t necessarily have the funds to make an easy fix, thanks to the budget limits set by the Challenge rules. This is where creativity and the willingness to get a little dirty come to the rescue.

The Challenge

Competing in the Challenge means entrants have to abide by strict budgetary rules: They must buy, build, race and show off a car for $2003 or less. Sounds easy enough. Buy a car, make it fast, make it handle and make it look good for two grand. Well, maybe not so easy, as totaling up the cost of parts quickly brings to light the challenge ahead.

The idea behind this unusual event, which is supported by Kumho Tires and CRC Industries, is to get people to build cool, low-buck cars. The only wiggle room in the budget for the 2003 event, which was the fourth staged by the magazine, was a provision in the rules that allows entrants to sell unneeded parts to help replenish their $2003 fund. And nothing prevents competitors from—best of all—acquiring parts for free from a junkpile.

At the event itself, held in Gainesville, Fla., this past April, cars competed in three activities: an NHRA-style drag race, an SCCA-style autocross and a Pebble Beach-style concours. While the Challenge concours is more Daytona Beach than Pebble Beach, the principle is the same: The cars must look good in order to be scored well. Creativity in the buildup doesn’t hurt a score, either.

Bill Gotwalt of Lakeland, Fla., experienced firsthand how creativity helps a Challenge score. His home-built SHOgun replica—a 1988 Ford Festiva powered by a mid-mounted Taurus SHO engine—put him in fifth place at the end of the $2003 Challenge weekend. He calls the project his “Fastiva,” and because of his skills, there were few of the problems that seem to plague so many other projects. That’s amazing when one considers that he cobbled together two completely different vehicles and relocated an engine amidships.

Humble Beginnings

A spiritual successor of sorts to the Renault R5, the original SHOgun was a Ford Festiva powered by a 220-horsepower Taurus SHO engine, with the powerplant placed behind the driver.

Starting in 1990, fewer than 10 were built by Chuck Beck and Rick Titus, with one of the original cars going to talk-show host and all-around car guy Jay Leno. Since they were so rare and so custom (and built from two new cars), the sticker price on these petite supercars was $47,500—much higher than what’s allowed by Challenge rules.

According to Road & Track, the SHOgun could cover the quarter mile in 14.0 seconds, although one magazine review stated that sub-13-second times should be possible under the proper conditions.

Despite the similarity in the projects, Bill says he only vaguely knew about the SHOguns built more than a decade ago when he started his own project. “I’d never seen one or seen pictures of one. I just remembered hearing something about them,” he says of the project’s beginnings. “I starting building it and then typed ‘SHOgun’ into Google and saw pictures of one and said ‘I can do that.’”

He began building the car as a fun daily driver after getting out of SCCA road racing. He was three weeks into the build before he remembered the Challenge. “I saw it wasn’t costing me so much, so I started saving receipts and built it for the Challenge,” Bill explains. After all of the buying and selling, his receipts totaled $1896.29.

Why build a street car on a strict budget without ever having seen his target? “Race cars are mid-engined to me,” Bill says of his endeavor. “I had a Festiva a few years back, and it was a good car. I need a roof, air conditioner, and it needs to be mid-engined. I found an SHO for $600—great, it has a/c.” He does live in Florida, after all. Besides, it’s not much of a project if it’s not challenging.

Bill brought home the $600 Taurus SHO and began his search for a Festiva. A friend spotted one abandoned on the side of a central Florida interstate and gave Bill a call. “It sat on the side of the road for six days and had three wheels and the right-hand mirror stolen from it,” he recalls. Bill tracked down the owner and asked what was wrong with it. “He said the radiator blew up. I offered him $50 for the title, and he said okay,” Bill explains.

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