Ha! The notion that plebian, dime-a-dozen Mustang coupes will someday garner the cult following of their fastback counterparts is beyond preposterous. What's next? Brunettes toppling blondes on men's desirability scale? Nonetheless, Curtis Horne makes this declaration with a straight face and as well-mannered listeners, we must briefly think about unfunny issues-like baseball stats-to keep from giggling like schoolgirls. Then, as the door on his enclosed trailer drops down, it all makes sense. If people keep building Mustang coupes like the one we see, they could very well become the fastbacks of the future.
Granted, that's quite a bold prophecy, but Curtis' Mustang is quite a machine. Its GT350-style front valance, cowl-induction hood, and hunkereddown stance up its intimidation quotient significantly, and the coupe's body and interior have been restored to nearperfection. Most importantly, the thing puts down 520 rear-wheel horsepower through a nitrous'd 347 and rips up the quarter in less than 10.60 seconds at 128 mph. And that's with a five-speed stick, folks. While the total investment of about $30,000 isn't chump change, try building a fastback with this much substance on the same budget. You'll fail every time. "Sometimes I think it's a little crazy to have put so much effort into a coupe, but getting a fastback I couldn't really afford meant I'd have to buy a rough car," says Curtis. "Plus, at the end of the day, I really like the coupe."
When shopping for a solid project car 10 years ago, Curtis was willing to pay a premium to have something he could enjoy right away. He wanted a car with a manual trans and a stout rear end, two things he wasn't willing to compromise on. "I found the car sitting in a liquor store parking lot two blocks from my house and thought it would be a good project car, but figured it was full of rust and didn't have a four-speed or a 9-inch," he recollects. "As luck would have it, the car had a Top Loader and a 9-inch, in addition to surprisingly straight panels, new floorpans, and a healthy 289. I thought the $6,000 I spent on the car was way too much at the time, but looking back, I would do it again in a minute, just to have a good foundation for a project. The motor already had a nice intake, carb, and headers, and since I didn't have a garage to work in at the time, it let me drive it around immediately, then start messing with it later."
After driving the car in that configuration for seven years and having gone a decade without a garage, Curtis built a 2,000 square-foot shop to help placate his hot rodding fix. Although his goal was building a fast yet civilized street car, he had no idea that the Mustang would end up running 10s. "My aspiration was to have a 12-second car that I could enjoy on the street, but with the advancements in engine technology since I last messed with cars in the '80s, the car ended up going much faster than I ever expected," he says. "Traditionally, small-block fords have never had good aftermarket cylinder heads. These days, the performance you can get from out-of-the-box heads is amazing, and there are tons of stroker kits available that give you the cubic inches necessary to take advantage of them."
Scooting the 3,040-pound Mustang into the 10s is a production 302 block bored 0.030-inch over combined with a Scat 3.400-inch-stroke forged crank for a displacement total of 347 ci. The bores are fitted with Scat 5.40-inch steel rods and 10.2:1 JE forged pistons. Topping the short-block are Edelbrock Victor Jr. aluminum heads, ported by Curtis, fed by an Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap intake manifold and a Barry Grant 650-cfm carb. A Cam Research 232/238-at- .050 hydraulic roller with .555-inch lift makes use of all that nice hardware while maintaining excellent streetability. Although that's plenty of motor for most, Curtis finished it off with a NOS direct-port nitrous system conservatively jetted to 100 hp. That's not a lot of spray for a fogger system, so we suspect that bigger pills may be in the pipeline.
Backing up the potent small-block is a g-force five-speed manual trans. It features a beefy alloy mainshaft to better endure brutal dumps of torque from the Ram heavy-duty clutch. With the help of his buddies, Curtis forti-fied the Mustang's 9-inch rear end with Moser 31-spline axles, 4.11:1 gears, and a Detroit Locker differential. Without a doubt, the most interesting aspect of the driveline combo in such a competent dragstrip performer is the manual trans. Despite the inherent drawbacks of running a stick at the track, Curtis wouldn't have it any other way. "It can definitely be frustrating watching automatic cars run quicker e.t.'s with the same trap speed, but I like the challenge of running them down with a stick," he explains. "With all the loading and unloading of the suspension that comes with shifting, it's so much harder to keep the car in the groove, but that's what makes it so much more gratifying than running an automatic. A manual also lets you run a larger cam on the street without sacrificing as much streetability."
Despite not having the luxury of a high-stall converter, 10.57-second e.t.'s are still very respectable for the 128.35 mph of trap speed the Mustang kicks out. That's attributable to getting out of the hole in a hurry with stellar 1.49-second 60-foot times, but surprisingly, those figures are achieved with small 28x10-inch tires, not a lot of gear, and a very rudimentary suspension setup. With the exception of Calvert Racing traction bars out back and adjustable shocks at the corners, the suspension is stock. Maybe the man can just flat-out drive?
Track accomplishments aside, drag racing comprises just a portion of the Mustang's overall use. Curtis' main objective was building a car he could enjoy on the street, and he's done just that out of necessity. "Since I live in the country 25 miles outside of town, I knew I was going to have to drive the car quite a bit just to get anywhere or run simple errands," he says. "I make sure to drive it each week by taking my kids to school in it or making a trip to Home Depot. A hot rod has to be a street car first and a fast car second."
Although attempting to predict the future tastes of enthusiasts is futile, if Mustang coupes do end up giving their fastback brethren a run for their money, it will be because of cars like Curtis'. Based on the precedent he's set, it's quite possible that others will be inspired to get in on the action while coupes are still plentiful and cheap.
Curtis says it's very difficult...
Curtis says it's very difficult to get early Mustangs to sit just right. He went through many different configurations of cutting springs and adding spacers to lower the front 2 inches and the back 1.5 inches.
Curtis installed the rollbar...
Curtis installed the rollbar himself with the help of his brother and went through great efforts to make it as inconspicuous as possible.
For a clean install, the direct-port...
For a clean install, the direct-port nitrous setup is routed through a single distribution block located behind the carburetor.