Project Magneto: High-9s For Less Than The Cost Of A Stock GT500

The X-Men issue #1 was dated September 1963, which introduced not only the entire series, but one of the most formidable mutants to ever exist within the Marvel universe. He believed his superhuman abilities were evolutionarily superior to ordinary humans. His name was Magneto.

Five months later, Lee Iacocca introduced the most formidable pony car to ever exist — in fact, this very car helped coin the term and define the category. Fifty-four years later, its dominance has continued through many years of evolution, including the introduction of the 460 horsepower Gen-3 Coyote engine and 10-speed 10R80 transmission on the three-year-old S550 platform.

That’s where the story begins with our latest S550 project car, code-named Project Magneto. Our Magnetic Gray 2018 Mustang GT is a stripped down pony car, equipped with a 10R80 and no bells or whistles. As a result, it is one of the lightest V8-powered variations — a fitting platform to show that we could upstage our previous efforts with the highfalutin GT500 at a fraction of the cost. To do that, we’ll need to go low-sixes in the eighth-mile — and most likely on marginal tracks.

How, pray tell, do we intend to do that? Well, like the Marvel character, Project Magneto believes ordinary, stock S550 Mustangs are inferior to modified ones.

S550 Project Ford Muscle front

Using a drag racing calculator, it seems we will need at least 750 horsepower at the crank to run low-six-second passes in the eighth-mile (or under 9.99 seconds in the quarter). While there have been a few to have done this naturally aspirated in more ideal track conditions, given the elevation and typical track prep we encounter in southern California, boost is a necessity. We will keep the boost-maker of choice under our hats at the moment for this project, but stay tuned to our social media channels for the reveal.

With boost means we will need supporting modifications, such as the fuel and oiling system. Both stock systems have their limitations, which are exploited with an aftermarket power-adder. We also anticipate that the 10R80 will need the typical clutch-and-steel replacement to weather the storm. And the factory axles are probably not going to be in it for the long haul.

The chassis and suspension are perhaps the most critical to our setup. We can’t leave anything to chance, given the track conditions we encounter, which is why we teamed up with Steeda to be our partner on this S550 build. They have advised us front-to-back on everything we need to accomplish our goals, applying the hands-on knowledge obtained from the Silver Bullet project.

We will be paying special attention to the tire selection on Magneto. The latest and greatest Mickey Thompson drag radials are capable of guiding cars much faster than Magneto safely down the track. And we decided to let that be the starting point for our S550 project, using ET Street S/S 275/40/17 drag radials and matching ET Street Front 26x6x17 tires. This 26-inch combo won’t kill the 3.15 rearend gear ratio like 28-inch tires, and will provide plenty of contact patch for near-stock power levels, while still being plenty streetable. Given our past experience, we felt this would be a much better baseline than spending a frustrating night spinning the cheap set of 255-series tires this 80,000-mile former commuter came with.

There are few options for drag radials on the stock 19-inch wheels, so we knew right away that we would be looking at a drag wheel package for Magneto, and RC Components practically dared us to show what the new Street King wheels could do. 17-inch wheel sizes were available for the S550, which clear the standard brakes on our base model. These are the very same Bandit wheels we just gave away to one lucky reader, which measure 17×4.5 and 17×10-inches. RC Components offers standard fitments for just about every variant of late-model muscle car. While they are flow-forged and designed to be driven on the street, they are also a very capable track wheel that meets both SFI 15.1 and 15.2 specifications. Weighing 16 and 20 pounds respectively, the Street King wheels for the S550 are a great balance of light weight and streetablity.

If you are not familiar with flow-formed wheels, typically the barrel is heated and then spun against a spinning disc to achieve its final shape and size. “They start like a cast wheel but the material is rolled in a different way and basically scatters the molecules,” explains RJ Clutter of RC Components. “Think of it like chopping wood — when you chop with the grain, it splits easily, but if you chop sideways against the grain it will not. One chop could never split it from the side. Flow-formed wheels will not flex and bend like a typical cast wheel could.”

This is to be our starting point on the S550 project, which will allow us to do a proper A-B comparison as we start modifying Magneto. With increased power levels, it may be necessary to swap the rear wheels for a set of 17-inch beadlocks (which RC also offers) as well as a 28-inch-tall tire combination. As many of you know, running a 15-inch rear wheel is also an option if you replace the brakes. The OEM hub will only allow up to about a 9-inch wide wheel, though. Billet hubs are pricey, but a 15×10-inch wheel opens up a world of tire options, including bias-ply and radial slicks, which will hook on just about any surface — unlike radials, which work best on “radial prep.” These are all things we plan to explore in the coming months.

Now that we’ve gotten to know Magneto and what’s ahead, lets focus our eyes on the present. The fall and winter months in SoCal aren’t exactly blustery, but the temperatures can certainly drop at night, which is typically when we do our testing at Barona Dragway and Irwindale Dragstrip. There is a point in the evening which strikes a balance between the stickiness of the track and lower intake air temperatures. Thankfully, in the fall and winter that window is much larger than the summer.

Since the S550 is completely stock at this point, I drove Magneto down to Barona on the RC wheels. The car handled quite well considering the lop-sided contact patch of the “bigs and littles.” This is certainly saying something through the winding hills in San Diego County. The radials ride nicely and the wheels seem to balance easily on the tire machine – I felt no vibration at speed. The fit and finish was befitting a pretty high-end drag wheel at a reasonable price. And the ABS system appeared unaffected.

Check out those nuts! Seriously, the RC aluminum lug nuts are really light and thread beautifully. 10/10 would recommend!

At the track, we aired down the rear tires to 30 psi on the first hit, used the factory line-lock to make a nice (but not overzealous) burnout, and left from idle — rolling into a 2.10 60-foot and an 8.34 at 91.2 mph. Throughout the night we made eight runs in total, and tried a variety of different launch techniques. The 10-speed transmission shifted beautifully each time. Although we did attempt to manually shift on one run, it seemed the ECM did a much better job at it. Besides, we had other problems…

The best run was made with the tires at 26 psi, left foot braking as high as the brakes would hold (2,200 rpm), which was the biggest issue with launching harder. The tires could take more than the car was able to dish out, because without Launch Control (only the Performance Pack had this in 2018), the factory brakes and skinny tires struggled to hold the car at the line. I’ll say one thing about Magneto: it was dead consistent. There were multiple runs to back up our best of 1.99 60-foot and 8.19 at 90.8 mph. On this night anyway, it appeared there was no hope of besting those short times or cracking into the sevens. That would have to wait for another day.

S550 Project Ford Muscle drag strip

Photo credit: Pete Liebig Photography


We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves for the next track outing. We’ll be working with Steeda on our suspension setup, upgrading the driveline, and we’ll start plotting our recipe for boost. Stay tuned as we dig into our winter S550 project to make sure Project Magneto is ready for spring.

S550 Project Ford Muscle RC wheels front


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Scott Parker

Scott dreamed of being in the automotive media in high school, growing up around car shows and just down the street from Atco Raceway. The technology, performance capability, and craftsmanship that goes into builds fuels his passion.
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