Hailing from Homosassa, Florida, Russ Gerhardt has owned a wide variety of muscle cars throughout his life. His very first car was a 1972 Mustang, which he purchased from the original owner. Since then, he’s had a big-block-powered Fox Body Mustang, numerous Chevrolet products, including a big-block Nova, and even a 1932 altered drag car. But when he narrows down his preferences, Gerhardt simply says, “I just like Fords.”
The car Gerhardt had held onto the longest was his 1967 Mustang GT. It was a fully loaded, 390 cubic-inch big-block, four-speed, S-code pony that he had owned for 30 years. He had hoped to compete with this car in his first Drag Week in 2020, but fate had other plans.
A Calling For Drag Week
Amidst his many racing endeavors, Gerhardt set his sights on Drag Week and began planning for the event much earlier in 2016. “I really wanted to do Drag Week, and called up Blair Patrick and we talked for a couple of hours,” Gerhardt says of his decision to seek a new engine combination from Ford FE guru and Engine Masters winner, Patrick. “I went with a low-compression turbo engine.”
Low compression or not, the FE still cracked off 627 horsepower and 670 lb-ft of torque on the engine dyno, with the only boost coming from atmospheric pressure being drawn through a single 850 cfm carburetor.
Testing Turns Terrible
As engines from Blair Patrick Enterprises are generally in high demand, it took about 10 months for Gerhardt to receive his new powerplant. He dropped the potent engine into the Mustang, converted it to the F.A.S.T. electronic fuel injection, and backed it with a Tremec TKO 600 manual transmission. But, a test run on the street across from his home didn’t go so well. In fact, it went a bit off-road, and the Mustang ended up on its roof.
Gerhardt was uninjured, but the Mustang was not so lucky.
“I brought my Mustang to Rusty (Gillis) to see if it was fixable,” Gerhardt explains of his trip to central Florida’s Gillis Performance Restorations, which happens to specialize in classic Mustang and Ford restorations. The estimate came back high, as the car needed pretty much everything save for one quarter panel, but luckily for Gerhardt another option came into view.
“I toured the shop and saw the Fairlane and thought I could just put my drivetrain in that car.” Going that route would save him a good bit of time for sure, as rebuilding the Mustang would take the better part of a year. Needless to say, negotiations ensued and a deal was made.
A Fairlane Comes Into Frame
The Fairlane was an in-house, Super Stock project for Gillis Performance Restorations. Originally powered by a 289 small-block Ford, the Fairlane was a base sedan model that didn’t have a lot of rust, but did have significant body damage that required a lot of work to straighten out. While Gillis didn’t get a chance to see the car through to the finish line, he did wrap up the body and paintwork, with the two-door post car glowing in its SPI Red paint. Gerhardt has chosen to leave the fiberglass 427 ram-air hood in the black epoxy primer that Gillis had prepped it with, opting not to go with the flat-style painted hood that Gillis had ready for it.
“When I went to the Fairlane, it didn’t have a clutch pedal in it, and I didn’t want to go through the trouble of converting it, Gerhardt explains of his decision to put an automatic behind the turbo FE engine. Further horse trading with Gillis netted him a C6 automatic transmission that had been previously built for racing, and Gerhardt had local transmission builder Jim Paquet freshen up the unit.
With a chassis, engine, and transmission, Gerhardt now turned his attention to getting the twin-turbo system fabricated. After several failed attempts to find a suitable fabricator locally, eventually he found Profab Performance in Hudson, Florida. The Profab staff was able to fabricate both the hot and cold sides of the turbo system, along with the air-to-air intercooler. Gerhardt researched his turbo options, eventually choosing BorgWarner 69mm S300SXE turbochargers.
“Then I got to learn how to program the F.A.S.T. fuel injection,” Gerhardt tells us. “I couldn’t believe how much air they were moving at idle. I really had to learn to step up the fuel down low just to make it drivable.”
Fast Forward to 2019 and it’s now three years after Gerhardt had begun planning for Drag Week. At this point, he was finally able to get his completed project on the hub dynamometer at Florida Performance.
“We spent all day trying to make it work, but it ran out of fuel on 15 psi,” Gerhardt explains. The twin-turbocharged FE powerplant produced 787 rwhp on 8 psi of boost, and at 15 psi it made 898 at 3,000 right before it ran out of fuel. The lack of sufficient fuel — 93-octane pump gas —wasn’t the only issue on the dyno, as the RPM flared on one run, which Gerhardt would realize during his first track test was a failing torque converter.
“The following Saturday, it exploded the converter at the 60-foot mark on the track at Gainesville,” Gerhardt says of his bad luck streak. That said, the stacked-headlight Fairlane clicked off a best elapsed time of 9.60 on 8 psi of boost at a later track test at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
The following year, 2020, started off with the pandemic canceling many events, including Drag Week. In September, however, Gerhardt was able to take the Fairlane to the FE Reunion held every year at Beaver Springs Dragway in Pennsylvania. There, he tore up the track to the tune of 9.80s.
A post-event analysis of the engine’s health, however, revealed that numerous valve seats had been beat up and were leaking compression, so Gerhardt yanked the cylinder heads and dropped them off to Scotty’s Racing Engines in Shady Hills, Florida. There, proprietor Scotty Guadagno installed new, larger seats, performed a valve job, and blended the ports.
Post-pandemic supply chain issues have made it difficult for many enthusiasts and racers to acquire parts, and Gerhardt’s cylinder head repair was a victim of this, as well. It took three months to turn the repair around and 4 to 5 months just to get new head gaskets.
The next track outing for Gerhardt and his unique Ford Fairlane came in May of 2022, and he coaxed out a 9.80 at 142 mph on just 6 psi of boost. Hoping to make a full 15 psi pass with an upgraded fuel system and some race gas, Gerhardt found the limit of traction at Gainesville Raceway.
“The car wouldn’t hook — it was going right for the wall at the 1,000-foot mark,” he tells us. The Caltrac-based leaf-spring suspension in the back of the car is more than capable of propelling the Fairlane down the track, but additional suspension tuning is likely in order.
Can’t Have Just One
After fighting battle after battle with the car, Gerhardt purchased a different Fairlane in April of 2021 and formulated a new plan to get him to Drag Week.
The new-to-him machine is a 1964 Fairlane formerly owned by Thunderbolt record holder Phil Featherstone. It’s been back-halved and currently packs an all-steel, ‘64 high-riser that has been stroked to 454 cubic inches. With a factory dual-carb induction setup, the Fairlane clocked a 9.84 at 135 mph during the 2022 352 Shootout at Gainesville Raceway.
While the ’64 Fairlane is currently set up as a race car, Gerhardt plans to swap engines between the two cars, and back the twin-turbo combo with a 6R80 overdrive transmission. He also plans to outfit the ‘64 with heat, air conditioning, and a stereo to make it comfortable for long cruises as well as the drag strip.
“I’m tired of not having air conditioning and other creature comforts,” says the Florida resident.