Being an Alabama Crimson Tide fan doesn't do Austin Craig much good when he's at home in Big Ten country, but while driving his freshly minted '99 Steeda Mustang convertible back from Steeda's expansive campus in Pompano Beach, Florida, rolling with the tide actually may have helped. But rolling in a crimson '99 Steeda helped even more.
While driving back to Michigan and having "more fun per mile" than he'd had in a while, Austin pulled off the interstate to top off the tank. Suddenly a Georgia Highway Patrol car filled his rearview mirror. Feeling that deflated feeling wash over him, Austin pulled into the gas station and nonchalantly started pumping gas. The highway patrol officers approached and declared "Boy, that's a pretty hot-lookin' car."
The duo proceeded to interview Austin about his new toy. One officer asked several questions only a Mustang enthusiast would be aware of and eventually admitted he was the proud owner of a '91 Steeda Mustang. As the officers started to leave, they asked Austin why he had University of Alabama insignias on a car with a Michigan license plate. Austin answered that he lived in Michigan, eliciting a colorful response from the officer.
Fortunately, Georgia doesn't have much of a football rivalry with Alabama or Michigan, but the reason Austin lives in Michigan is simple. He's a partner at J. Walter Thompson, the world's largest advertising agency, which happens to handle all Ford Motor Company's advertising work. Austin focuses his energies on event and sponsorship marketing, where he was essential to bringing corporate support to Fun Ford Weekend's Modular classes.
As a diehard Ford enthusiast, Austin is fortunate enough to travel to a number of Ford events. In his travels he met Dario Orlando at the Daytona SCCA race where the No. 20 Steeda Cobra R captured its first victory in 1997. Later he met up with Dario at the Mid-America Shelby Meet in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There Austin was able to drive Steeda's 500-plus-horsepower '96 GT. Then he was hooked. He added a full Steeda suspension and a Vortech to his '97 Cobra.
That was a fun car, but Austin was ready to step into New-Edge styling with Steeda enhancements. Since Two-Valves are a specialty at Steeda HQ, Dario talked Austin into ordering a GT. Austin's local dealer, Dean Sellers Ford in Troy, Michigan, was a Steeda dealer, so he had the car drop-shipped straight to Pompano for the works.
Naturally, the Steeda crew started by adding the full complement of Steeda suspension enhancements (see sidebar). In typical Steeda fashion, these parts combine to deliver a taut, but compliant, ride which Austin says is exceptionally comfortable. He reports that after 12 hours in the saddle, he could have kept driving without feeling worn out. Also, he says the car is happily absorbing the war-zone potholes spotting the Michigan highways without knocking out his teeth--and that's saying something for a lowered Mustang.
This car doesn't just provide civilized handling, however. During our brief seat time to and from our photo shoot, the car exhibited charm-school driveability while still doling out reform-school-bully power courtesy of the supercharged 4.6. The New-Edge Mustangs are already packing more power than the previous 4.6s, and by our estimation Steeda easily cleared the returnless-fuel-line hurdle. Power came on smooth, and the top end sparkled with no sign of detonation.
Rowing the gears in Austin's crimson beauty was a joy thanks to Steeda's butter-smooth Tri-Ax shifter. Austin says he wouldn't own a five-speed Mustang without one. Of course, just as we shoved it into Third and romped on the go pedal, a delivery truck pulled out in front of us.
Not to fear, Brembos are here. The heavy convertible didn't feel so heavy as the R-model-spec grabbers reined in the Steeda with ease and the G-Trac suspension kept her from nose-diving. Whew!
As impressive as the car's split personality of smooth driveabiltity and sick performance was, the most remarkable thing about Austin's convertible is how good it looks. Bigger wheels and tires, Steeda's race wing, and Classic Design's Light Bar on an eye-popping red convertible changed our opinion of the New-Edge Mustangs with one look. That highway patrol officer was right. This car rocks.
Hey Austin, can we borrow the keys again?
Horse Sense: Thanks to straightforward bolt-ons, Austin Craig's '99 Steeda spins the Dynojet rollers to the tune of 370 rear-wheel horsepower.