For performance enthusiasts of the modern era, owning a Fox Mustang has been nearly a rite of passage. It has all the classic musclecar ingredients right out of the box–it’s relatively inexpensive, light weight, rear-wheel drive, packs V8 power and sports a manual gearbox. In other words, it has the same core fundamentals that made the original Mustang such a sensation in the first place.
But that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement to Ford’s design. Over the years, more potent models made available from the factory, as well as some of the strongest aftermarket support in the history of the automobile, has turned the Fox Mustang platform into something of a blank canvas for performance enthusiasts.
Want to build a 9-second, street driven dragster? Maybe you’re looking to do some road racing in NASA’s American Iron series? Or perhaps you just want a killer street machine that’ll do the grand touring thing from coast to coast in high-speed comfort and style? Any one of these scenarios (and many, many more) are simply a build strategy away with this eminently malleable platform.
Of course, how long it will take, and how much it’ll impact your wallet, is another story entirely.
Although the look is fairly understated, it’s what’s underneath the skin that makes this Fox Mustang build so unique. An engineer by profession, Scott Hartrick's relentless attention to detail was allowed to truly shine once he completely disassembled the car all the way down to the unibody structure. In terms of exterior aesthetics, his GT now wears PPG single stage black paint, ’93 Cobra ground effects and rear bumper, a Maker's Garage carbon front splitter, and 2-inch, cowl-induction steel hood.
“I’ve owned it since 2003, but it hasn’t seen the road since 2009. Life got in the way and she sat on the back burner for a while. Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to rebuild the car… the right way,” said Scott Hartrick, a utility company engineer from Allentown, Pennsylvania, in a StangNet thread from over six years ago. “It was always a solid ‘5-foot’ car, but like many foxes, it had a lot of little quirks. Years of mismatched modifications and bolt-ons created a lack of reliability and performance issues. Not to mention the stock 100,000-mile bottom end had seen better days. So, this is where I am now. Nothing but a shell and some jackstands.”
As many projects do, the scope of this build expanded exponentially as Scott got a more clear sense of what he wanted to do with his ’88 GT. While it might’ve taken a little longer than he’d initially expected—and required a more substantial investment than he originally theorized—the results speak for themselves. Scott’s process included a full rotisserie restoration; a single-turbo Dart 333 cubic-inch small-block; a Tremec T56 Magnum XL conversion; MGW short shifter, a Cobra independent rear suspension, and a whole lot more.
Since completing the nearly 700 horsepower (on pump gas) build in 2015, Scott’s Mustang has won numerous awards, including a recent Best in Show at the 2016 Foxtoberfest in North Carolina. “I purchased the car for $3,500 when I was 15 years old,” Scott explained. “It was either a car or an ATV, and I decided to get the car, because I was soon getting my driving permit. My father had to go with me to buy the car because I couldn’t legally drive it home. The car was relatively stock with the exception of some suspension modifications and wheels. Oh, and Flowmasters, of course.”
Scott’s GT rides on True Forged Mach 5 wheels that measure 18×8 up front and 18×9 in the rear. 235mm BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW radials are installed up front, while 275mm BFG drag radials are used on the rears. Stopping power is provided by an ’03 Mustang Cobra brake system.
Fast forward to present day, and the state of this Mustang is a decidedly different scenario. Let’s take a closer look at Scott’s incredibly comprehensive makeover of his Fox body.
(Re)Starting From Scratch
This car will essentially be an overpowered sunny day car, and most of the power will never find its way to the ground on the street anyway.—Scott Hartrick
After buying the car and coming of driving age, Scott modded and enjoyed his GT throughout high school. But as the miles added up over the years, he realized that in order to get the car where he wanted it, he was going to need to take a more comprehensive approach to the project. For Scott, that meant stripping the Mustang to its bones so he could perform a full rotisserie rebuild of the car from the ground up.
Bringing the car down to a shell revealed a few surprises right out of the gate. “Found some filler in spots I didn’t expect. The car must have been hit in the driver side rear quarter at some point in its life,” Scott said. “I also cut out the rusted areas of the car. Luckily there aren’t many. I knew the frame rail was bad when one of the stock K-member bolts looked like it was being chewed on by a rabbit for two decades.”
Although Scott’s project wasn’t without its snags along the way, it had a fairly comprehensive build strategy from the outset. After stripping the car down, he installed the eight-point roll cage, along with a set of through-floor subframe connectors. From there, he sorted out the work that would need to be done to fit the turbocharged engine in the car, which included Scott personally modifying the driver’s side header to ensure everything would fit. From there, the car went onto his home-built rotisserie; where he stripped off all of the original undercoating, resprayed the car, and added a Raptor Liner coating to the undercarriage, along with seam sealer.
After cutting out the affected areas and welding in new sheet metal, he turned his attention to the engine bay to ascertain if he would have any fitment issues with his planned combination. “I temporarily bolted up my Maximum Motorsports K-member and mocked up the engine in the car,” Scott detailed in the build thread. “I hit a speed bump when I mounted my driver-side header. It wouldn’t fit. It was hitting the motor mount on the K-member. And it’s not like it almost fit, because the front header bolt was nearly an inch higher than it should be.”
He explained that, after determining that having a driver-side header custom built would be too cost prohibitive, he decided to simply modify the existing header himself. “I went over in my head a million times the best way to route the tubes into the collector. After finally figuring it out, I decided to cut the primaries and re-weld new ones in so the collector would sit between the power steering pump and frame rail.”
The modification was necessary in order to shoehorn in the new powerplant–the aforementioned Dart 333 cubic-inch small-block Ford, paired to a set of AFR 185 cylinder heads, a custom FTI hydraulic roller cam, and a 76mm Comp billet wheel, ball-bearing turbo. Along with a Cartech upper intake, a Holley SysteMAX II lower intake, an Accufab 90mm throttle body, and a Holley EFI engine management system; it was a combination that would later prove to make 698 horsepower and 675 pound-feet of torque at 17 psi using pump gas on the dyno.
Scott also fabricated the lion’s share of the turbo plumbing in his garage. The boosted mill sends power to the rears through a Tremec T-56 Magnum six-speed gearbox.
But first, Scott wanted to add some safety and rigidity to the car, and did so by adding an 8-point chromoly roll bar, along with a set of through-floor subframe connectors. This would supplement the extensive suspension modifications he had planned for the car, which included a Cobra independent rear suspension system with Fult Tilt Boogie Racing Delrin bushings, Maximum Motorsports coilovers, Tokico D-Spec front struts, and Bilstein HD rear shocks.
A look at the Cobra IRS suspension system and the Bassani exhaust, which Hartrick hand-polished.
“This car will not see any launches on slicks, and may actually never see a drag strip. I’m going in more of a handling direction with this build, so it may see a road course on the weekend at best. This car will essentially be an overpowered sunny day car and most of the power will never find its way to the ground on the street anyway,” Scott jokingly said during the build process.
Before putting everything back together, Scott wanted to clean up the car a bit first. “With the engine bay work just about done save a little bit more weld cleanup, I decided it was time to change gears and move onto another part of the project…undercarriage,” he said. And in yet another example of how engineers are one of the rarest breeds out there, Scott decided to make the process easier on himself by building his own rotisserie in his garage. “Beats the hell out of laying on my back and scrubbing the bottom of the car,” he said.
Scott had a hand in nearly every single nut and bolt of the build process, often simply creating his own solutions to obstacles he encountered along the way, which included building his own rotisserie in his garage to simplify the process of removing the original undercarriage coating and respraying the car. After finishing the process of removing the rubberized coating from the undercarriage, Scott gave it a coat of primer, added seam sealer, a top coat of Eastwood Chassis Black paint, and finished it off with a Raptor Liner bedliner coating. “I am honestly very happy with the results. The pictures don’t even do it justice,” he said after completing the process. “The spec sheet said to shoot it between 40-70 psi. I knew that more pressure would shoot a finer mist, so I shot it at 60 psi. I also kept the gun at least 12 inches away from the surface. On the second coat, I kept it probably 20 inches away. This created a final look that almost resembles the look of 80 grit sandpaper. It also hides just about all the body imperfections on the bottom as well. I really couldn’t be happier. If anyone is thinking about using Raptor Liner, do it.”
By now it has probably become clear exactly why this turned into a five-year project. Scott’s meticulous attention to detail, coupled with his habit of engineering his own solutions to many of the obstacles he encountered throughout the course of the project, made this extended timeline a requirement. Starting from the ground up, he has gone over nearly every nut and bolt of this car on its way to becoming whole again.
Like much of the rest of the build, the interior has been through a few different phases. As it sits now, the seats are S197 frames with custom TMI upholstery, who also supplied the suede headliner and visors. Auto Meter gauges are housed in an MC-Machine gauge plate. A fabricated false floor where the rear seats used to live houses the audio system components, which include Rockford Fosgate amplifiers and a Pioneer subwoofer.
As you might imagine with a build of this scale, it’s been an on-going process; even once the car was back on the road, and having a proper support network has made all the difference in this massive undertaking. “I’d like to thank my wife for fully supporting and encouraging this addiction,” Scott told us.
As for the epic, 147-page build thread (which you should definitely check out), Scott said that, like the car itself, it’s a labor of love. “I’m glad that my thread inspires people as much as other’s have inspired me. I know how exciting it is to see other builds evolve and come together—that’s why I did this thread.”