Josh Mitchell’s 1985 Fox Body Mustang “ATM”

Why are you looking at Josh Mitchell’s clean 1985 Ford Mustang? It’s simply because Mitchell made a wrong turn. You see, Mitchell and his wife were cruising into the NMRA All-Ford World Finals featuring the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival in Bowling Green, Kentucky last fall, and he was trying to find a way to slip in the gate to have a look around before the event officially began. He thought he had found a way into Beech Bend Raceway Park when he saw two gentlemen waving him over. But rather than waving him in the gate, those gentlemen were editors with FordMuscle looking to feature great-looking Fords. Mitchell’s Mustang clearly fit the bill. Unfortunately, this gate did not provide free access into the event and he was still going to have to buy a ticket.

The Kentucky license plate “4 EYE” represents the four headlights on the front of Mitchell’s 1985 Hatchback Mustang.

A Dream

Mitchell’s beautiful black Mustang has been a lifelong dream project that he has had to patiently wait for. Mitchell knew he wanted a nice Mustang that he could cruise around the street and also run at the dragstrip. As a true blue-oval Ford guy, Mitchell’s daily driver was a clapped-out 1995 Ford Bronco…yes, O.J. Simpson-style. A bowling friend of his owned this 1985 Mustang GT hatch and was planning on doing a Coyote swap, but the project wasn’t taking shape. Mitchell continued to banter his friend to sell the car to him. Over and over again the answer was, “The car isn’t for sale.” Eventually, persistence prevailed and Mitchell’s buddy relinquished and sold him the car for $4,000, with one caveat: “Take this car and follow through with your street and strip Mustang goal.”

The clean and simple interior in Mitchell’s 1985 Mustang GT Hatch keeps things tidy.

Promise Kept

True to his word, Mitchell took the Mustang and followed his dreams. The first night he had the car, he and another friend, Nathan Conley, immediately went to work on the interior. They stripped out the seats and replaced the carpet. The car initially had a 306 cubic-inch engine backed by a T-5 transmission, and while doing some drag racing Mitchell was repeatedly getting beat. This meant one thing: time to upgrade.

In the last three years the car underwent significant changes, which cost Mitchell large sums of money. This is where the nickname “ATM” was derived — every time the car arrived at Taylor Motorsports, where it was worked on, car builder Alex Dixon would exclaim, “Here it is, my personal ATM, just putting more cash in my hand!” Regardless of how much “ATM” was costing Mitchell, he was in full blown build mode, and nothing was going to stop him from finishing his pony project.

Mitchell fell in love with fast cars in the ’80s and always knew he wanted a Fox body Mustang. He had to wait until he was in his 40s before he could put it all together, but when he did, he went big.

The Build Of A Lifetime

The chassis of the Mustang was modified with a UPR K-member, UPR 1-inch shorter front control arms, and UPR camber and caster plates. Mitchell swapped in stronger five-lug setup from a 1994 Mustang. To control the roll and bounce, Viking single-adjustable coilovers in the front with double-adjustable Vikings in the back were installed. For the rear, Mitchell added Team Z double-adjustable upper and lower rear control arms to help hook up off the line. The interior features stock gauges with aftermarket bucket seats. The real magic for this Fox body GT, though, is what came to fruition under the hood.

This 351 block was sourced from a 1994 Ford Lightning truck before it was rebuilt by Smith Automotive in Frankfort, KY.

Heart Of A Beast

Mitchell was searching for the right powerplant for his Mustang, one that would keep him from getting beat at the dragstrip. Finally, he found a deal on a 1994 Ford Lightning 351-cubic inch Windsor block for just $150! He took it directly to the machine shop and said, “Let’s do this.”

The machine shop, Smith Automotive in Frankfort, Kentucky, is known for Chevrolet builds. They made sure to give Mitchell a hard time when he came into the shop, and even threatened to paint the engine block Chevy Hugger Orange. Mitchell allowed the friendly ribbing because he knew the engine builders there, Butch and Chris Smith. They built motors for Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon when they were into sprint car racing. Mitchell just wanted a fast engine and that’s what he got. The end result was a 10.5:1 compression engine that is very streetable and has an absolutely evil sound accompanying it. While the car is streetable, “When it hits, it hits hard,” Mitchell exclaims.

To put the power to the ground, Josh installed RC Hammer 15×10 beadlock wheels with 295/55/15 Mickey Thompson ET Street tires.

The engine was bored .40-over and stroked to 408 cubic-inches. Internals are forged pieces from Scat. A Holley 750 Brawler carburetor feeds the beast through a dual plane Air Gap intake from Edelbrock. The heads are 205 AFR Renegade, with a COMP Cam with .632-inch intake lift and .632-inch exhaust lift with matching COMP Cam roller rockers. Headers are BBK 1 5/8-inch shorties running into a 3-inch custom exhaust. The mufflers, if you can call them that, are Flow Monsters by Holley and dumped in front of the rear axle. “You hear this thing coming way before you see it,” said Mitchell. All said and done, the Smith Automotive engine hit the dyno at 605 horsepower with 610 ft-lbs of torque at 6,000 RPM.

Hard Hits and Smooth Shifts

What makes Mitchell’s Mustang special is the fact that it isn’t too complicated. Small car, big power. It’s clean, simple and fast.

The transmission is a Ford Performance Tremec TKO 600 Extra-HD five-speed from American Muscle. The shifter is an all black billet unit from JEGS, topped with a Pennywise the Clown custom-made shifter knob from Nifty Shifters. The clutch is an Exedy Stage Two clutch. The Tremec transmission is held in place by a Stifflers crossmember. The rear axle housing is a stock 8.8-inch unit that was cut down 2-inches on each side. This allowed Terry Potter in Richmond, Kentucky to build the mini tubs. The clearance gave way to 10-inch Mickey Thompson ET Street Tires. The rearend was upgraded with Strange 35-spline axles with a full spool and upgraded wheel studs. The brakes were dialed in with PowerStop Evolution cross drilled and slotted rotors — these brakes help slow down the big speeds coming from the 600 horses under the hood.

Fighting The Traction Gods

Over 605 naturally-aspirated carbureted horsepower comes out of this 408 cubic inch engine!

The biggest issue for Mitchell’s 4-Eye Mustang is hooking up — the traction just isn’t there quite yet for the car. It ran 11.4-seconds in the 1/4-mile at 127 mph…the speed indicates the Mustang should be in the mid to high 10-second range. Unfortunately, Mitchell just can’t get it to hook off the line, but has plans to rectify that issue. “I’ve been talking with Martin Connelly about how to set the car up to get it to hook,” Josh says. “I’ve already made a few changes to the suspension and I’m looking forward to seeing if it works.”

Mitchell found his passion for fast cars when he was a kid in the 1980s. He rode around in the backseat of a 1969 Chevelle owned by his childhood friends dad, Arnet Conley. “I remember hearing that motor scream and watching as his dad showed no mercy for those rear tires,” said Josh. “I knew from that moment I wanted a hot rod. Finally, I found the time and money to make it happen. This Mustang is the hot rod I always wanted.”

Paris, Kentucky natives Josh Mitchell and his extremely supportive wife (who lets him spend a lot of cash on his “ATM” Mustang project).

Goals and Natural Aspirations

“The goal for this car is to get into the low 10-second range without any power adders…maybe knock on the nines,” said Mitchell. “If I could hit a mid-ten to a low-ten, I would be ecstatic.” What would be next for ATM after that? According to Mitchell, that depends. “Well, I gotta’ sweet-talk the wife for the next steps,” he says. Mitchell wants to upgrade the carburetor to a Holley High Ram Terminator-X Electronic Fuel Injection System and standalone engine management computer. That will require an upgraded fuel system and more money from the ATM. Once that is completed, Mitchell would like to add an F1A ProCharger, which, if he’s having problems with traction now, will certainly add additional friction challenges. But figuring it out is all part of the fun.

The skinny front tires tell you everything you need to know about Mitchell’s 1985 Ford Mustang GT. This car is built to go straight and go fast.

If you’re in Kentucky and you hear thunder coming down the street and a black blur zips past you, chances are you just saw Josh Mitchell driving his “ATM” Ford Mustang.

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About the author

Rob Krider

Rob Krider will race absolutely anything. He is a multi-national champion racing driver and is also the author of the novel, Cadet Blues.
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