Like many enthusiasts, Tom Carfagna took to cars at a young age. Moving from toy cars to building models, he was destined to move to life-sized machines as soon as he was able to. Along the way, however, a particular Fox body Mustang struck his fancy.
“Two of my neighbors when I was growing up had Mustangs,” he recalled. “One had a 1964.5 K-code fastback and the other one had a Grabber Green 1970 Boss 302.”
While the classic Mustangs piqued his interest, the Fox Mustang eventually called his name. A fan of the four-eye era, he picked up the pivotal pony car that brought fuel injection to the platform before the aero era began.
“I purchased my Mustang GT brand new in August 1986. It was my first new car, and I used it as my daily driver for approximately eight years, racking up approximately 123,000 miles. For winter driving, I purchased inexpensive cars,” Tom says. “The introduction of fuel injection and look of the front end attracted me to these cars. It was also lighter weight than most of the cars of that era. Over the years, the development of many aftermarket parts available for these cars sweetened the pot.”
Along the way, he began modifying the car for enhanced performance, including bolt-on suspension upgrades. A little taste of improved handling led him to leap to a full Griggs Racing system. Based on the foundation of a torque arm and Watts link out back and a tubular K-member up front, this system revamps the geometry of the factory suspension and delivers a dramatic improvement. In addition to the Griggs coilovers, bushings, sway bars, and adjustable A-arms were installed. Koni Yellow struts and shocks paired with Maximum Motorsports adjustable caster/camber plates rounded off the suspension build.
“It is a night-and-day difference,” Carfanga enthused. “There is no wheel hop, no front-end dive when braking hard, and it goes where you point it with no drama.”
Along the way, he built a 331-cube stroker small-block that followed the specs of a magazine build. It made good power, but he could never get the combination to behave until he swapped from fuel injection to a carburetor.
“The car had constant drivability issues,” Tom said. “It would stop running while driving. Many attempts were made to ‘fix’ the problem. However, nobody could determine the cause of the stalling.”
With the car running well, he wanted to build the car he had always imagined and turned to a performance shop to completely revamp it. The car was stripped down to a shell, a roll bar installed and the engine compartment smoothed in anticipation of a ground-up restomod build. Then it went to a body shop and sat. Sadly, the shops involved never delivered on the promise of building his dream car.
“In 2013, I removed my shell of a car and most of its parts from the performance shop before it was shut down by the state,” Tom explained. “Several customers were pursuing legal actions against the owner.”
Disheartened by this outcome, he was committed to seeing the project through. After fastidious online research, he discovered a shop called Our Dream Auto Restorations highlighted by YouTube channels. That resulted in a second lease on life for his build.
“In 2019, I contacted Daniel Arnold, general manager at Our Dream Auto Restorations, about the possibility of restoring my car. Long story short, I informed him of my story and he and his crew were willing to restore my car,” Tom said. “Words cannot describe how thankful I am for all the help they provided to make my dream car a reality. The shop kept me informed and provided advice that was vital to the success of my build. The talented staff made my car what it is today.”
Though its path took a detour, his dream car had realistic goals, and some of them had already been achieved with his suspension modifications. However, the allure of a modern engine swap and the driveability that comes with it, struck a sensation.
I wanted approximately 400 horsepower, excellent handling, and strong braking in a relatively stock-looking 1986 Mustang GT. Something I could enjoy on the road as well as the track.
With that in mind, he selected a Ford Performance Gen 2 Coyote crate engine breathing through a ported 2018 Mustang GT intake and a JLT cold air. It’s fed by an Aeromotive A1000 fuel pump inside a Stealth tank under the sway of an Aeromotive billet fuel pump speed controller. With its Ford Performance Control Pack PCM via HP Tuners hardware and software by Pro Dyno in Ft. Mill, South Carolina, it puts down 425 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque.
While he was fond of the former pushrod engine’s low-end torque, the Gen 2 Coyote delivers incredible high-RPM power and docile manners. Barking out through a full BBK Performance exhaust and Dynomax mufflers, the crate Coyote is mated to a TREMEC TKX transmission paired with a Silver Sport Transmissions STX shifter, a McLeod Racing RXT Street twin-disc clutch, and a Griggs Racing 3-inch aluminum driveshaft. Power from the driveshaft meets the road via a Currie-prepped 8.8-inch rearend filled with a Torsen limited-slip differential, 3:73 gears, and Currie 31-spline axles.
More than the sum of its parts, this 1986 Mustang GT restomod brings together all the attributes that Tom wanted from his dream Mustang.
“It’s not a luxury car. The suspension gives great feedback on different road surfaces,” Tom said. “Around town, it drives with little effort and mild rumble from the exhaust. Put your foot to the floor and it will go where you point it, in a hurry, and put you back into your seat.”
Despite its performance, when the hood is down this four-eye Fox strikes a clean, but mild-mannered pose. Onlookers at cruise-ins or show often appreciate its mildly modified aesthetic until they see the source of its motivation.
“The look on their face when I open the hood is priceless,” Tom said. “They are blown away by the Coyote and the detail under the hood.”
While Tom finally finished his Fox project, project cars are never truly finished. As such, he hopes to add a pair of Recaro front seats and a set of BC Forged 18-inch wheels at some point down the road. For now, however, he will relish driving the Mustang that was once his first new car and is now his dream machine.