photos by: the author
Blue Oval Muscle Lands its Very First Project Car, and it’s Not What Anyone Had Expected
We’ve only been online for a month as of this writing, but after 30 days of feeding you non-stop Ford news by the bowl, we felt it was time to bring things up a notch. To be honest, the plan was to have our first project car already in place when this digital magazine launched. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way.
We spent several months looking for the right car to kick the magazine off with. With a sharp focus on what’s hot now, the initial plan was to pick up an EcoBoost or Coyote powered S550 Mustang. We almost bit the bullet, but the stars just weren’t lining in our favor.
We then considered picking up a Fox Body for a Coyote swap, and even two ’79 Pace Cars had run across our path, but one was extremely overpriced and another, simply didn’t materialize. It’s a long story. Apparently, decent Foxes are shooting up in price and finding one that wasn’t hacked up in our price range are few and far between these days.
However, we thought long and hard to what “Mustang” really meant to many enthusiasts. We also considered the demographics, the following and we looked over what was really in the market today, in terms of price and availability. The truth of the matter is, the SN95 is currently the best bang for your buck. They’ve built them for 11 model years, the aftermarket is still very vast for them and they’re everywhere. Those cars are ludicrously cheap right now, too!
Car snobs today may stick their noses up at the ’94-95 5-liter and the 2V 4.6L GTs, but the truth is, you can do a lot with very little in regards to an SN95. Being as how your author also owned one way back in the day, and has a soft spot for them personally, we started looking in that direction.
We only had a few requirements for our new project: it had to be a factory V8 car, it had to be (at least largely) rust-free and it had to ring in at under $2000 — or preferably less. It seems like not a whole lot of money for a project car, or even much at all to work with, but keep in mind we intend to ultimately replace everything mechanical in the car, anyway.
So roller bodies, Mustangs with seized engines or those on their way out were all welcome, and essentially what we hand in mind. Plus, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to pluck down basically top dollar for the nicest example on the planet, if we were going to replace most of its components.
We were open to a hardtop or convertible, an automatic or a stick and we were open to most color choices. It also didn’t matter if it were an early version SN95 (’94-98) or a later “New Edge” car (’99-04), either. Since we had planned on a Coyote swap, we preferred a Mod Motor example for the sake of making things as easy and painless as possible.
We’ve searched the forums, the various Facebook pages, eBay and a Craigslist, with reach of up to 300 miles from our Northeast Ohio offices. We basically came up empty.
Like any cheap-as-chips car out there, what we did find was a mixed bag of clapped-out rollers, beat-to-death former street racers, and rusted and ragged-out daily drivers. All of the one-owner cream puffs were both overpriced, and simply too nice to modify to the extent that we so intended. Those that seemed promising were simply too far away, sold before we could call on it or turned out not to be as expected.
However, during our recent PRI Show planning, it crossed my mind that we haven’t searched in the Indianapolis area at all, which is where the PRI Show is held every year. Lo-and-behold, we stumbled upon a 2001 Mustang GT convertible in True Blue on Craigslist. The asking price was “$1500.00, firm.” The seller described it as a running and driving car, with the exception that it needed serious brake work, had some cosmetic issues and would need to be hauled away, not driven.
After the show ended on Saturday, we made plans with the seller to look the car over. We also booked a Uhaul car hauler and grabbed the cash from the bank since it was already getting late.
When we arrived, the car was as described — surprisingly. It ran and drove (down the street), and the AOD-E shifted on point. The 2V showed 139k miles on the clock and the engine ran like a top.
However, the brakes were seized up since the car sat for almost two years, as a result of a half-baked previous brake job and an apparent lack of interest and funds from the current owner. The convertible top had a tear, as did the driver’s seat. All of the power windows worked and the convertible top motor works. It also had a clear title and beyond the brake issues, it can easily be a daily driver, at least.
After some quick negotiation, the car went on the trailer for a total of $1350.00. We were happy, and we hit the road back to Ohio.
The 2001 Mustang GT hit the streets at a somewhat interesting time; the horsepower wars were heating back up, gas was cheap and oddly enough, the GM F-body was on its way out. Picking up the slack from the earlier 2V cars, the 2001+ PI 4.6L maintained the same 260 hp and 302 lb-ft. of torque as the ’99 and ’00 versions, but also included a slight bump in compression (9.0:1 to 9.4:1) from the 2000 model. Some say that despite no change in advertised power output, ’01-04 Mustang GTs are a little quicker and laid down better numbers than their earlier counterparts.
For 2001, Ford launched the Bullitt GT, a hardtop coupe that only came with a 5-speed and three colors; Dark Highland Green (naturally), Black and True Blue.
It had a change in gearing and some suspension tweaks, as well as some cosmetic touches. Thanks to an exhaust, pulley and intake manifold upgrade, it was only rated at a measly 5hp and 3 lb-ft of torque more than a standard GT — yikes!
The Bullitt was typically good for low to mid-14s in the quarter-mile, with a best published run (that we could find, and are aware of) of a 13.9 with then Muscle Mustangs Editor, Evan Smith, behind the wheel in hot and humid conditions. Reportedly, many owners in better conditions were able to muster a 13.7. We even confirmed this with Evan himself.
Your author’s previous 2000 GT convertible with an automatic was good for 14.4-14.5s all day, during the time of ownership in 2001-03. The only modifications were a deleted air silencer, a K&N drop-in filter and a Flowmaster catback.
Turning our attention back to our current car, we also find just about every available option; rear defrost, power windows, locks, mirrors, cruise, tilts, remote keyless entry, Mach 460 sound and an aftermarket CD/stereo. We’re not sure how we feel about the aftermarket head unit, but we’ll cross that bridge eventually.
Unfortunately, our car is equipped with an automatic — which is fine, for now. We would have preferred a 5-speed manual, but beggars can’t be choosers. Perhaps a 6-speed swap will be in order, or a modern automatic. The 3.27 gears out back will ultimately be replaced with a 3.73, or a 4.10 gear set if we go manual later.
Apart from the tinted glass, Sony head unit, and aftermarket chrome and clear corner headlights, the car appears to be otherwise bone stock.
So What’s Next?
Since the brakes are dragging to the point of making the car undrivable, we’re going to address that first, obviously. We’re largely doing so, because we want to be able to get some time behind the wheel before we make any serious upgrades. We’re also going to give the car a thorough cleaning, change all of the fluids and spark plugs and perform a basic tune-up. Afterwards, the Mustang will be subject to make some baseline cornering, braking and performance testing — just to see where our particular car stands as-delivered.
We’ll eventually expand into upgrading the wheels and tires, and various aspects of the suspension to help it hook, handle, stop and ride better. Because it’s also a ragtop, a set of weld-in subframe connectors are going in. Once we get the car handling and hooking the way we want, it’ll be time for the drivetrain update.
There are various combinations in which we can choose, but we’re pretty much set on some form of Coyote powertrain. This year’s PRI Show had plenty of hardware on display for said engine platform; from bolt-ons, modified engine components to complete crate engines from Ford Racing.
We’ll be keeping the True Blue hue, dubbing the project “Project True Blue,” and will be making both subtle and drastic tweaks to the aesthetics.
The overall premise will be a sinister street/strip car that can lay down some good numbers but will be a tire swap and suspension adjustment away from a well-handling autocross machine. Tweak the suspension a bit more, drop the top and take your best girl out on a Friday night. This is going to be a great ride!
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of AutoCentric Media, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.