Horse Sense: Papa Jon Huber has not always been a four-cylinder fiend. He's been racing since the '60s, which makes him almost as old as Robin Lawrence, but he put down the shifter to focus on raising a family until his son Jon took an interest in drag racing. Papa Jon is an aircraft quality control engineer by trade, but he has dabbled in building a variety of engines, most recently the turbo four-cylinder under the hood of Little Jon's '79 Mustang Ghia.
What was built in October 1978 and delivered with a single turbo under the hood? To narrow down your choices, it was made in America and the car doesn't feature a screaming chicken on the hood. Even Melvins-in-training should know Mustangs were available in 1979 with a turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder, and you're looking at the first one that rolled off the assembly line. This one makes dramatically more power than it did in 1978, and trust us when we say the car didn't even come close to hangin' the hoops from the factory.
We don't think Tom Huber needed it to pull wheelies as the car's original owner. Tom was a Ford Motor Company engineer at the time he purchased it, but his time on the title was short-lived. His brother Jon Huber-Papa Jon-got the car in May 1979. Papa Jon almost the sold the car a few years later, but his son Jon wanted it for when he turned 16. Little Jon says, "He stored the car at my grandmother's house until that time and in 1990, the car came out of storage." He started racing it immediately at I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Missouri, and it went 9.90 in the eighth mile. "I thought that was fast." He and his dad made steady improvements to the car, but it remained a daily driver until 1998 when it was decided to make the car a racer. Now, the car is raced weekly at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois, but it retains its streetable nature-more on that later.
At the '06 World Ford Challenge, Jon put the car in front of its largest audience, and he made the most of the opportunity by putting the car on the rear bumper for every pass. Not only did he stay in the gas, but he also put the four-cylinder deep into the nines. You would be hard-pressed to find a four-cylinder that performs as this does. Even we were inquisitive about car's story, because we had never seen it pull the wheels or run low nines as it did at WFC9. But we were finding out what St. Louis, Missouri, locals knew all along: this car is special. "The locals have been following the car the entire time," Little Jon says. "But what I think has brought attention to it in a larger capacity are the wheelstands and traveling to more race-tracks across the country. Fans love the wheels-up launches and it draws them to check out the car."
The Huber boys took advantage of another opportunity to put the '79 on a national stage by competing in Hot Rod magazine's '06 Drag Week. If you're unaware, competitors must drive the cars they race in Drag Week between several dragstrips in the Midwest. Support vehicles are not allowed, so anything you need should be on a trailer or in the car itself. "Initially, we were looked at as just another entry," Jon says, "except to those who were familiar with the car." Just as it did for us and everyone else at WFC9, it only took one pass for people to be amazed. "People were trying to figure out what it was and how it went so fast."
Jon finished Second in the Power-Adder Small-Block class, but in a heads-up race against the class winner, Jon showed what a single-turbo four-cylinder can do against a twin-supercharged, LS2-powered Nova: beat it. From "just another entry" to being well respected by the end of Drag Week-that's a great example of what wheels-up launches and low nines will do for a racer.
Speaking of wheels-up launches, we asked Jon what's going through his head when he's looking up at the sky. "I'm thinking...how high is this thing going to go, how long will I ride it, is it going left or right, and how can I set it down easy?" Hey Jon-do you offer rides?
A Big Stuff 3 fuel-injection system indicates how much fuel is needed from the Aeromotive Eliminator fuel pump and 160-lb/hr injectors, among many other parameters. A Jacobs ignition keeps the spark lit for the estimated 800hp emissions-legal mini-monster. The Ghia's best time is a jaw-dropping, bumper-dragging 9.04 at 148 mph.
It's a good thing these guys are associated with a fast Mustang because they're not too quick on their feet. During our photo shoot, the boys decided to hold an impromptu foot race. When someone says "race," our ears always perk up. Papa Jon (far left) didn't race because we needed a starter, and quite frankly, we didn't want him to embarrass us. Going right from Papa Jon are foot-race kills Andy "Pimp Daddy" Wink, Josh "I shop at the Gap" Witte, Steve "Low Octane" Gasich, and Jon "Hot Shoe" Huber. Their names are now firmly emblazoned on the side of our Nikes, which we would like to thank for our blazing speed. For his Mustang's blazing speed, Little Jon would like to thank Zinger Race Fuels, Precision Turbo, Randy Gillis at JE Pistons, the St. Louis Wrecking Crew, Mike Almerito, and his family for all their help. "A special thanks to my dad for his knowledge, hard work, dedication, love, and support. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am today.
In the late-model Mustang world, the 5.0 V-8 put the aftermarket on its back, and continues to carry it today. Just because everyone's jumping off the bridge doesn't mean you have to do the same. Papa Jon built the 178ci dragon-slayer using a tall-deck block. He also added an Esslinger crankshaft, Sanez connecting rods, JE custom pistons, and Total Seal rings. Using a cylinder head designed by Ford for ARCA competition, it didn't need porting-you know the head is a serious piece. It's a breather, though, with resized and reshaped combustion chambers, 2.02/1.60 valves, roller rockers, solid lifters, and a Comp Cams custom grind to Papa Jon Huber specs. He also made the custom intake manifold, which has an Accufab 90mm throttle body attached to it. What was that about a 90mm throttle body being too big? When you have a single Precision Turbo PT-74 turbocharger huffing 30 pounds of boost, you need a large hole to force it through, and the 90mm fits the bill.
The first year Fox Mustang is not regarded as the most aesthetically pleasing. For that reason, many have been converted to '87-'93 specs up front. But, the Huber crew left the exterior alone, save for an '86 GT rear wing. With the Weld Racing Alumastars in a big and little arrangement, the car doesn't qualify as a sleeper. When Jon cranks up the four-cylinder, it's easy for people to not give the car a second look; the subtle PPG grey paint drives that fact home even further.
The Ghia's interior remains largely stock, but several items were changed or added to make the car race-friendly. The lightweight JAZ racing seats were added for support, while several Auto Meter gauges play supporting roles for the factory gauges. Manual windows always catch us by surprise when we're looking at a late-model Mustang, but they're lighter than the power units. Even still, not every late-model had power windows. An Andy McCoy Race Cars rollcage helps keep the chassis straight during bumper-dragging launches while Jon keeps a hand on the B&M shifter, ready to hit the next gear and calm the landing.