David S.
By David S. Wallens
Jan 6, 2009 | Ford | Posted in Shop Work | From the Dec. 2003 issue | Never miss an article

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.

Making the SHO Go

Once Bill had both cars for a starting point, he began to cut and sell. Nearly everything from the Taurus was parted out except for the engine, transmission and subframe, netting $634.37 for Bill’s pocket. However, in accordance with Challenge rules, he counted only $600 back into his budget. (You cannot credit the budget with more than you paid for the car, no matter how much you receive from selling off parts.)

“It really was a simple process,” Bill says of mating the two cars. “I measured the stripped SHO. I measured the Festiva and cut the rear out of it. I backed the Festiva up over the Taurus subframe, lined it up and started making adaptor plates.”

To allow room for the engine, the full width of the Festiva was cut out, as was about three feet of depth. “The cutoff point was exactly where the floor pan kicks up vertically,” Bill says. The entire Taurus subframe was used except for the four original mounting ears, with these being removed to make room for the engine and accommodate the Festiva implant. Once the Festiva unibody and Taurus subframe were lined up and spliced together, Bill welded in a roll bar to strengthen the combination.

A few problems crept in during this part of the project, but nothing too serious. Since the stock SHO water pump wasn’t capable of pushing coolant from the back of the car to the front-mounted radiator, an electric pump was added, claiming $180 from the budget in the process. (Ironically, the water pump that Bill used on the Fastiva was made by a company called Shogun Industries.)

Within two weeks, Bill had the major part of the build complete, and he turned his attention to making it move down a drag strip and around an autocross course.

“I used a complete Taurus front end on the car,” Bill explains.

Salvage yard scrounging paid off handsomely for Gotwalt, as he found Taurus front struts, as well as brake components and even a radiator, all for $290.97. Within that total are also front and rear springs that happened to be in Bill’s posession. He assigned a fair market value to them in spirit of the rules.

What he couldn’t find in the junkyard or couldn’t fit properly, Bill made. “I don’t plan it out at first. I don’t write it out. All of it is done in my head. I make everything,” he explains. A local scrap yard provided the necessary steel and aluminum for the handmade suspension bits found on the car, and this includes the A-arms and steering rack.

“I machined it up, welded it together and put it on—it just worked,” Bill says. Fortunately for his budget projects, Gotwalt lives near a scrap yard that sells steel for 15 cents a pound and aluminum for $1.00 per pound.

Project Problems

Bill used Taurus front suspension components—including the brakes—at both ends of the car, although custom A-arms were needed to complete the conversion.

The work on the Fastiva progressed quickly, only to come to an abrupt halt. Or rather, a complete lack of halt. “The braking system didn’t work,” Bill laments. “All of the other designs worked perfectly, but something went wrong in the braking system.”

Bill had installed junkyard Taurus front brake units on all four corners of the Fastiva and matched them to a Festiva master cylinder, but the system would not bleed.

“It’s bad when bleeding brakes takes longer than mounting the engine,” he recalls, “but it did.” Five master cylinders later, the system bled—only it wouldn’t work once the wheels were on. At last, a new Wilwood master cylinder solved the braking issues for $68.90. Fortunately, only the pieces found on the car at the Challenge count toward the budget, so the five faulty master cylinders just cost Bill a headache as far as his Challenge project was concerned.

With the brakes finally sorted, $50 worth of Ford Thunderbird wheels replaced the units stolen from the side of the road. Bill also had to purchase a $120 fuel cell for the car.

SHO Is Pretty

ine compartment now houses a fuel cell and Wilwood master cylinder.

Once Bill had the car moving—and stopping—he focused on making it look more like the SHOguns and less like a stock Ford Festiva. He stretched the original front fenders just enough to flare them. The back ones were formed from sheet steel and tack welded to the body; they were then smoothed in with fiberglass. A gallon of Kitty Hair long-strand fiberglass reinforced filler ($34.98) and a gallon of Bondo ($14.29) helped with the aesthetics, although Bill now says that he’ll use the more expensive Kitty Hair from here on out for his project cars.

The paint was a Ford sample leftover from his previous job, and he had someone spray it on for him. “I’m not as good at body work as I would like to be,” Bill says of the car’s appearance. “I don’t know if paying someone to paint your car is considered part of the spirit of the event, but that’s what I did.”

Spray paint, new gauges, a tachometer and new carpet all helped pull his car together for the concours judges.

Judgment Day

Bill spent quite a bit of time on the GRM message board—found online at—talking about his car with the rest of the competition. In fact, once the Fastiva was completed, Bill offered his fabrication skills to other competitors—for free! One person took him up on the offer. (See accompanying sidebar.)

The first day of racing found the Fastiva setting a best drag strip time of 14.040 seconds. But Bill says he knows how to improve those times for next year’s event: “I didn’t have drag slicks. Drag slicks are a good thing when drag racing.”

Among the 66 challenge teams, the top drag car of the weekend was the V8-powered 1981 Datsun 280ZX of Erik Lawson, which recorded a blistering 11.486 seconds.

The concours judging placed the Fastiva in the top 10 with a score of 41.375 points. Top honors in this category went to the V8-powered 1969 Datsun 510 of Jeff Hixson and Minh Duong with a score of 47.625 points.

Bill and car came in fifth in the autocross portion of the weekend, though two of the runs saw the Fastiva spinning, costing precious seconds. His fastest run was a 51.476-second pass, a couple of ticks behind the 48.825-second run recorded by Lee Graser in a 1988 Mazda 323 GTX, the top autocross time that day.

Bill’s skillful fabrication efforts and high placement in each category placed his Fastiva fifth overall at the end of the weekend. He also nabbed Honorable Mention in the Best Engineered category.

“I really wanted the Best Engineered trophy most of all. That’s what I’m most upset about,” Bill says with a laugh. He’s coming back next year, gunning for that trophy. “I’m going to take it this time,” he vows. We certainly wouldn’t bet against him.

Helping the Competition

Bill Gotwalt, creator of the Fastiva, helped fellow Challenge competitor Bill Maulding make the big show.

When Bill Gotwalt finished his Challenge Fastiva in just two and a half months, he decided to look for something else to build before the Challenge.

“I put a message up asking if anyone wanted me to build a car for them,” he explains. “As long as it didn’t cost me anything, I’d build it. Bill Maulding asked if I was serious.” Gotwalt was, and the resulting partnership led to a V8-powered 1972 Porsche 914 that placed 36th at the Challenge.

The 914 was found in Atlanta for $1000, and as it already had big wheels and fender flares, the pair used it as a starting point. Gotwalt performed the engine swap and then handed it over to Maulding to make it pretty and sort out the handling.

“I was thinking of building one for myself this year,” says Gotwalt, impressed with the 914’s potential. He had checked out the 914 on a computer program called “Car Test 2000” (see which allows you to plug in a car’s specifications and then predicts how it will perform in the quarter mile. Gotwalt dialed in 150 pounds for a bigger engine and specified bigger tires, and the program said the 914 should do a 13.2 second pass. Maulding ran a 13.334 (and felt he could do better), so this may be a program worth looking at to evaluate the possibilities for your entry in GRM’s $2004 Challenge. And who knows, Bill Gotwalt may have some time to lend you a hand.

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