1991 Ford Mustang - Beg, Borrow, & Deal
Project Cheaper Sleeper
From the January, 2013 issue of 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
By KJ Jones
Photography by KJ Jones
Alove for modifying, personalizing, and building hot Mustangs is one element of the DNA in all of us at the mag, and just about anyone else who faithfully reads 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords. Yes, we, in a sense, live for badass Ponies and rightfully take pride in having a role in their development. Through the years, the magazine's full-time and extended staff members have taken part in many Mustang builds. Some projects are high profile and have been successful, and there are some that unfortunately have languished into that area of the almost forgotten. And there are great ideas that still haven't come to fruition.
While time, or a lack therof, is often included among the main reasons why project 'Stangs don't get finished (Big Steve says project 'Stangs are not done until they're sold), we know the reality is that the project efforts of many hard-core enthusiasts usually screech to a halt because their owners' lofty intentions exceed beyond their budgets. The reality of limited funds is one of the factors that led to the acquisition of our latest inductee in the 5.0 Hall of Project Cars--a bone-stock, 145,000-mileage Deep Emerald Green '91 5.0-liter/AOD LX hatchback. Tech Editor KJ Jones purchased it in April 2012. Many of you who loyally follow our Facebook page may already be up on this new addition to the fleet. But for those of you who don't keep abreast of our online musings, consider this your official introduction.
Yes, this is another project series that features an old-school 'Stang. This virginal LX is perfect for presenting the ideas and upgrade options we have in store, which, in stark contrast to past project Mustangs, are not dominated by the high-tech, high-priced hardware that we've highlighted in other builds. This time our plan is to forgo building an ultimate street Mustang, and instead focus on transforming this project Pony from a stone stocker into a reliable street sleeper.
Tech Editor KJ Jones and our...
Tech Editor KJ Jones and our latest project Mustang's original owner, Ms. "Helena S," are all smiles as they complete their cash-for-car exchange. Project Cheaper Sleeper, a fairly clean, mechanically sound, Deep Emerald Green, stock '91 5.0 LX, was purchased for the paltry sum of only $1,000--definitely a score in every sense of the word.
Cheaper Sleeper's exterior...
Cheaper Sleeper's exterior qualifies as being OK, by our tough standards. While the body panels thankfully are straight, save for some fender-to-door misalignment and a wrinkle in the hood (hidden in this photo by the old-school hood bra), the clearcoat over the Pony's original Deep Emerald Green paint is severely challenged.
Tough standards aside, we're...
Tough standards aside, we're leaving things as they are for a while, as the worn visage is perfect cover for the performance upgrades we have in store.
To do this, we're infusing it with a mix of proven, old-school performance bits (and tricks), as well as a few brand-new pieces that are specifically designed for '86-'93 5.0s. It's a concept that's doable by enterprising and capable do-it-yourself types, or the project can be farmed out to a trusted Mustang shop--over time, and as funds permit the work to be done. Yep, just like the old days when such project Mustangs were driven every day.
With '79-'93 Mustangs being so old and abundant (even in stock trim), our Cheaper Sleeper project truly is all about taking a solid platform and building a cool 'Stang that doesn't require deep pockets to make it that way. Today, the market is strong for all sorts of quality, used aftermarket parts. Of course, there are components that must be new. But, remember, there are always fellow members of the Mustang nation who might be changing directions on their combos. If you're patient and really want to save money as you're upgrading, be diligent with your search. The parts or services you need will eventually come around. We plan on exploring all of these avenues of thought-based frugality and sharing the results in the series of articles that we hope you will enjoy. For starters, read on through the following photos and captions that provide a few details about Project Cheaper Sleeper, and some of the first steps we've taken toward ridding it of its bone-stock pedigree.
Horse Sense: Yes, there's a lot to be said about "ultimate" 'Stangs. You know--rides that are masterfully crafted to include interior/exterior appearance, performance, and street driveability. In a perfect world, we'd all have these bases covered when we modify our cars. But given the great expense of taking things to an ultimate level, we totally understand that building one isn't possible for everyone.
Although the stocker's original...
Although the stocker's original 5.0-liter bullet is horrendously dirty, it runs like a champ--for an engine with 145,000 original miles. We credit this to Helena's diligence at making sure the 'Stang was serviced (oil change, tire rotation, and so on) every 5,000 miles.
Our '91's interior has character,...
Our '91's interior has character, and that's exactly what's necessary for maintaining the car's unassuming persona. We dig the fact that it's "all there," and know that companies, such as National Parts Depot, have everything necessary for correcting flaws if we elect to do so.
In addition to the 'Stang's...
In addition to the 'Stang's great price, we're super-stoked about the thick folder of documents included in the deal. Inside we found all of the original sales paperwork (including a copy of the $13,000 check from Helena's credit union that was used to purchase the LX) and repair orders/receipts for everything that was ever done to the car. At this point, having a detailed vehicle history like this is like having gold if you buy a Fox and plan on modifying it.
Knocking some of the funk...
Knocking some of the funk off is the first order of business with an acquisition like this, and our friend Edgar Fuentes handles such efforts for the entire roster of SoCal-based project 'Stangs. Edgar really had his work cut out for him with the Sleeper, as its paint was faded by years of sunbake.
Removing the bra revealed...
Removing the bra revealed this glaring example oh how badly the paint has faded on our Pony.
The detailers brought shine...
The detailers brought shine out of the faded paint and even put some bling back in the '91's chrome Pony wheels. Despite the wheel shine, we're replacing the chrome hoops with four clean non-chrome originals (and adding General G-Max AS-03 UHP radial tires), which were scored for $10 each.
Yep! This really is the same...
Yep! This really is the same stock 5.0. While the bullet cleaned up pretty nicely, we’ll be making a few changes to slightly change its appearance and dramatically improve performance.
In Southern California, more...
In Southern California, more specifically, the Greater Los Angeles area, traffic like this is a common element of your tech editor's daily commute to-and-from our West Coast headquarters in El Segundo. In its stock trim, the LX easily handles these and all other road and driving conditions that are presented--especially stop-and-go traffic and 100-degree heat.
However, the 'Stang's air...
However, the 'Stang's air conditioning does have an issue (as evidenced by the seatbelt sweat stain on KJ's shirt), which we are adamant about correcting at some point during the build.
Killer deals and good-guy prices are the fuels that power the huge exchange (on the Internet, at swap meets, and such) of Mustang parts and services that make budget-conscious projects like ours doable.
Diligence, patience and sometimes persistence really are the keys to making stout transactions online--especially in person--as is having cash or electronic funds at the ready so you can strike and close good deals as quickly as possible.
Your tech editor is a regular...
Your tech editor is a regular at early morning, high-performance swap meets, which are held each month throughout the LA area. Events like this are excellent for scoring all sorts of 'Stang parts, as well as tools and other items that DIY-Stang mechanics use when working on their Ponies.
This '94 Ford Explorer GT-40...
This '94 Ford Explorer GT-40 cylinder heads/intake package literally are the parts that inspired our Cheaper Sleeper train of thought. Some of you reading this may be too young to know, but this package was once considered a great low-buck performance upgrade for stock 5.0 'Stangs.
For all intents and purposes,...
For all intents and purposes, it's the same induction package that was standard equipment on the fabled '93 Cobra engines. While we acknowledge there are certainly better induction choices, this setup certainly is proven and inexpensive. With the porting and tricks that we have planned, it should help our project post impressive rear-wheel stats on the chassis dyno.
Of course, the Internet is...
Of course, the Internet is one of the best sources for great deals on new and used/good-condition Mustang parts. A big part of this project includes acquiring necessary parts through deals found on Craigslist, eBay, and Classifieds areas of many popular Mustang-enthusiasts' websites, such as Corral.net and others.
Here's a small sample of a...
Here's a small sample of a few pieces for Sleeper that were acquired through Internet deals, and trust me, there will be more. While most of the parts will remain under wraps until it's time for their installation, we're especially happy about the short-tube headers. The 1 5/8-inch tubes are CARB-legal. It's an area that we're not completely embracing with this effort, but we are trying to include some smog-legal parts in the build.
Post-purchase inspection uncovered...
Post-purchase inspection uncovered this leaking 8.8 differential. With an inspection and reseal necessary, we decided to make a gear change, too.
We kicked off Cheaper Sleeper’s mods with a simple gear swap and a spring, shock, and strut replacement. AOD-shifted ’Stangs are extremely sluggish by nature, and OEM gear ratios (3.08 and 3.27) for ’86-’93s don’t help low-end matters at all.
In an effort to improve in this area yet economize as much as possible, Stevie Morrow of Stevie's Garage in Simi Valley, California, installed a spare set of Ford Racing 3.55 gears in the project's differential. With 3.55s, the 'Stang shows slight improvement in stoplight takeoffs, but there definitely is a major difference on the freeway when the throttle is punched to accelerate around big rigs and slower traffic.
The suspension upgrade was made in part based on necessity (the factory coil springs were shot), and vanity as well (we desperately wanted to rid the LX of its notoriously high stance). Our buddies at GTR High Performance assisted in this area, after KJ and GTR's Eddie Zapata struck a $60 deal for a set of lowering springs.
Because of their expertise with Fox Mustangs, most mod procedures for our Pony will take place at Stevie's Garage or GTR. However, as Cheaper Sleeper is your tech editor's daily driver, there also will be occasions where we'll make changes on our Project 'Stang right at work, in our own West Coast Tech Center (located in El Segundo, California).
While unfortunately we don't...
While unfortunately we don't have any way of learning how two teeth on the LX's stock 3.27 were nicked, we're glad we performed the inspection, nonetheless. This set of Ford Racing Performance Parts 3.55 gears and an install kit (includes necessary bearings and so on) were sitting on a shelf in the shop, and were put in service as interim cogs.
Stevie Morrow of Stevie's...
Stevie Morrow of Stevie's Garage in Simi Valley, California, is the Mustang specialist supporting this latest project venture. As an OG 'Stangbanger who hails from the glory days of Fox Ponies, Stevie is hip to all of the retro stylings that are being incorporated in our LX build, and hyped about working with the new concepts that confirm that Fox Mustangs remain a significant force in our hobby.
Once the rear is buttoned...
Once the rear is buttoned up, a minor rear-suspension mod is the next improvement on our agenda. Check out the OEM exhaust system. The restrictive stock tubes also will be going bye, bye fairly soon.
Fox Mustangs (and all platforms...
Fox Mustangs (and all platforms that followed) are plagued with a stock ride height that arguably is one of their most-disappointing qualities. As you see in this photo, the cars sit way too high. We took measurements of 26-3/4 and 27-1/8 inches (driver-side front and rear) and 27 1/8 and 27-1/2 inches (passenger-side front and rear) on Cheaper Sleeper. This tall stance definitely calls for bringing the body down by at least an inch (or slightly more) by installing lowering springs, which also will even out the height numbers at the four corners.
GTR's Eddie Zapata put us...
GTR's Eddie Zapata put us onto this package of lowering springs for a cool sixty bucks! The springs are of unknown heritage but the price was perfect, and they're in good enough shape for use on our project car.
Installing this set of Strange...
Installing this set of Strange Engineering's '79-'93 Mustang adjustable front struts (PN S6001EM) and rear shocks (PN S6000EM) contributes to the project's sleeper persona. While our LX may not have the stunning looks of a hot street/strip or corner-carving Pony, equipping it with cool gear like this will allow us to dial-in the shock valving for all sorts of driving or racing styles.
Battered spring isolators...
Battered spring isolators (front and rear) are typical of stock Fox suspensions with 100,000 miles.
Energy Suspension's polyurethane...
Energy Suspension's polyurethane isolators replace the battered stockers.
Here are the completed upgrades......
Here are the completed upgrades... for now. We went with this simple package to start to do away with the 'Stang's OEM ride height, tighten up the suspension a bit, and add a little trickery (adjustable shocks and struts) for the car's first dragstrip test. Future chassis improvements include a stout package from Maximum Motorsports, which will be detailed in an upcoming segment of this series.
Our spring replacement uncovered...
Our spring replacement uncovered a serious malady with both swaybar end-links. Basically the bolts for both sides were bent, and likely would have snapped at some point if we hadn't caught the problem. Energy Suspension makes a direct-replacement set of links that feature Grade 8 fasteners, which are considerably stronger than the cheesy fastener that somehow got there.
Cheaper Sleeper's front-suspension...
Cheaper Sleeper's front-suspension upgrades were simple, and we're sure they'll prove to be effective.
The new lowered stance is...
The new lowered stance is much better. The springs dropped Sleeper down to approximately 25-1/2 inches in the front and 25 7/8 inches at the rear. We eventually plan to replace some of the stock rear-suspension components. A lower-control-arm upgrade hopefully will bring the back of the car up slightly and level off our Pony's stance.
After working with today's ('05-'13) Mustangs, which produce fantastic rear-wheel horsepower and torque when modified, we admit it's sometimes difficult to process the lower numbers of bone-stock Ponies of the past.
Not long after purchasing the '91 LX, we strapped the Pony down on the Dynojet chassis dyno at GTR High Performance to find out how it's really doing (from a performance perspective) with almost 150,000 miles on the virgin 5.0-liter engine. Not surprisingly, and as you see by the dyno graph and chart, the 'Stang isn't a record-setter of any sort. However, when comparing our project's dyno numbers (with an AOD transmission) against data from Rob Bieskche's bone-stock five-speed LX, which also was tested on GTR's 'Jet (see "The Main Event," Oct. '12, p. 52) the difference of 178 to 209 is almost exactly 15 percent.
Most of this project's upgrades will focus on drivetrain, and in theory, the amount of performance-lost-through-the-drivetrain will tighten considerably once Performance Automatic's new Fox-specific AOD transmission and torque converter are installed in Cheaper Sleeper.
Our goal is to ultimately get the LX to throw down at least 275 horsepower at the feet. While the number may seem miniscule by today's high benchmarks, it's important that you understand we're not out to set big-steam records with this project. Achieving a cool 100 (or more) naturally aspirated horsepower through inexpensive mods is plenty acceptable…and impressive...for an '86-'93 5.0. That's our immediate plan. Then we'll add nitrous oxide.
While we always had plans...
While we always had plans of taking Cheaper Sleeper to the dragstrip, an unfortunate mishap with Project T-top Coupe one week before the NMCA West's inaugural race at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California (an accident that was detailed on our Facebook page), forced us to call 'Sleeper into service as our race car for the 2012 NMCA West season.
Everyone enjoys the bragging rights that come with having a modified Mustang that can be driven around anywhere and still get busy when wheeled onto a dragstrip. As we stated earlier, we'd like to have those same privileges with Cheaper Sleeper. And with that said, we also need to clarify the fact that our intent isn't to strive for super-low e.t.'s or warp speed.
A good 12-second daily driver is plenty cool. That's where we hope to get with this project Mustang, and we'll be campaigning Sleeper in the NMCA West's Granatelli Motorsports Mustang Madness class for the 2012 season in pursuit of that e.t. range.
For initial baseline data, we took the car to the sanction's inaugural event (held June 2012 at Auto Club Raceway in Famoso [Bakersfield], California). Competing in the race gave us a great chance to make several runs, and learn more about our lab rat's performance--or lack thereof--in bone-stock, high-mileage trim.
From a racing standpoint, your tech editor did not fare well in the season opener (lost in a first-round double-breakout race against Cal Gordon). However, the project car withstood an entire weekend of wide-open flogging, and was able and ready for KJ's commute to El Segundo the following Monday.
Although our latest project...
Although our latest project Mustang was as stock as a rock, we still gave it the race-car treatment for its NMCA West debut.
The decision to tow the 'Stang...
The decision to tow the 'Stang was twofold: A) The rig was already hooked up, checked out, and all set to go (everything was arranged before the accident with T-top Coupe), and we really wanted to show off and try out the new Weld Racing DB59 17-inch dually wheels and Toyo Tires Open Country H/T 17-inch tires that we put on our tow rig in early 2012.
The West Coast's Mustang racers...
The West Coast's Mustang racers definitely have a place to race (for an NHRA Wally, at that) at all NMCA West events. Granatelli Motorsports Mustang Madness is an Open Comp-style category for all Ford-powered 'Stangs. We believe it's a perfect platform for us to race our project car and evaluate the effect of its various upgrades.
Qualifying for Mustang Madness...
Qualifying for Mustang Madness is based on the driver's reaction time, not elapsed time for a run. With your tech editor's skills somewhat diminished after long time away from racing, a few reps on the Perfect Launch practice tree (by Proform) offered a huge benefit.
Lazy...well...slow (but consistently...
Lazy...well...slow (but consistently slow) launches were all that the project 'Stang could muster during three time shots and three qualifying passes. The Strange Engineering front struts were adjusted to their loosest setting, and the rear shocks remained at the same midrange setting used for daily driving. Our plan is to upgrade the stocker's engine and drivetrain, and campaign it in Mustang Madness for the entire NMCA West season. If things go according to plan, future launch photos will be a little more dramatic.
In stock trim, Cheaper Sleeper...
In stock trim, Cheaper Sleeper leaves the starting line without any significant tire spin. Launch rpm was consistent for each run (1,500 rpm), and the stock AOD transmission was plugged into "2" before each run and allowed to shift on its own--without going into Overdrive. Obviously, we're not quite ready for super-sticky Mickey Thompson ET Street Drag Radial tires just yet, so the car sits on stock-size General's G-Max AS-03 UHP radials (40 psi/front, 35 psi/rear) that see street and freeway miles every day.
Here is the data from Project Cheaper Sleeper's quickest-and-fastest run of the NMCA West weekend (#7000). The high-15-second, quarter-mile e.t. is about par for the course with a stock-5.0/AOD combination, and we're pleased with the 90-mph speed. We're also confident the e.t. numbers will drop considerably as we go forward, and the addition of horsepower will bring more mph. But keep in mind we're also paying close attention to the Pony's eighth-mile stats. Some of our future drag tests may be conducted on the 660-foot dragstrip at Irwindale Speedway, and the 'Stang's performances in that distance will be used as a benchmarks on those occasions.