Flip This Car: 1992 Ford Mustang LX 5.0 Convertible—Part Five
By Christopher Smith
May 30, 2012
The 5.0 returns to its quarter-mile roots…and wets itself
Over the last 13 or so years I’ve made at least 70 passes down sanctioned quarter-mile drag strips, most of which involved piloting cars not ideally suited for such activity. By not ideally suited, I’m talking old school Taurus SHOs with manual transmissions that tended to explode after a bit of abuse. But those years were some of the best motoring fun of my automotive career, and in the process I gained a well-rounded, basic education on the sport of drag racing, from proper staging etiquette to analyzing the numbers on the all-important time slip—that little piece of paper each driver gets at the end of the run showing a variety of times and speeds. I’ll talk more about that later.
And through it all, never once did I experience a breakdown at the track. You probably see where this is headed.
is located about an hour north of Detroit, and it’s quite literally a strip of pavement in an empty field. At this drag strip there are no grandstands. There is no tower. The safety crew consists of a guy with a 1989 Chevy pickup. The restroom doors are propped open to prevent toxic odors from going critical. There aren’t even any timing boards showing elapsed time and trap speeds; if you want that information you need to pull into the dirt pit area, park, and pick up your time slip at the concession stand. On the plus side, test and tune events at Lapeer Dragway generally have very light attendance so there’s often no waiting to make a pass. For anyone who’s blown four hours at a packed drag strip just to get a couple lousy runs, Lapeer’s rustic facilities are a small price to pay for nonstop action.
It was a cool Saturday in mid-April when I finally got out to the track, but I didn't make the trip solo. My old 5.0 Mustang was joined by a pair of friends and their brand new 2012 5.0 Mustangs, setting the stage for a generational battle I was positively destined to lose. Rounding out our racing team was a stock SVT Focus, and in something of a return to my drag racing heyday, a first-generation Taurus SHO that had been beautifully rebuilt by a friend and SHO colleague. Given the Mustang's heft and tall gearing I figured these latter two vehicles would be my main competition for the day, and as
luck fate would have it, they were indeed the only two vehicles I raced against.
We arrived at the track just past noon, and true to form there were only a handful of other cars in the pits. I was stoked—it had been a few years since I really spent some time at the strip and we more or less had this track to ourselves. I was looking forward to knocking out 30 passes, possibly more if I felt like tempting Murphy’s Law, and that would still leave plenty of time for tweaking the timing, fiddling with air pressures, and all the tiny technical adjustments gearheads love to make when they’re around other gearheads at a race track.
I didn’t quite get to 30 runs. As it turned out, four runs were all Murphy needed to initiate a catastrophic explosion beneath the 5.0’s hood.
Okay, I’m being dramatic. Technically, the 5.0 didn’t blow up, but one of the two 20-year old molded heater hoses on the firewall sure did. It happened within the first half-hour, and it was such a nasty little snapper to replace that it took me the rest of the day working in the dirt pit area to make it drivable for the 128-mile journey back to the security of my shop. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to bring a host of tools and hoses with me but none of my replacements could match the oddball S-shaped corkscrew hose that popped. For me, then, the biggest adventure of the afternoon involved scouring auto parts stores in Lapeer for a matching design, which I finally found after a store employee let me browse their entire stock of hoses in the backroom. Ironically it was a Ford 2.3-liter Mustang hose that proved to be a perfect match (their listing for a 5.0 hose wasn’t even close) and after a few bloody knuckles and lost clips I was on the road and nursing the car back home, where I could dig deeper and perform a proper repair without worrying about the sun going down or losing more specialty clips in the dirt. Once in the shop I discovered the second heater hose was also near its breaking point, so the following afternoon was spent removing the EGR valve for better access and replacing that hose as well.
So sadly, my big plan for an afternoon of drag racing, in-car videos, photos galore and nice sound clips of the new exhaust all went up in smoke, and I do mean that literally. All is not lost—I do have a couple videos to share, including a nice in-car shot from the SVT Focus of my infamous fourth pass, clearly showing the heater hose departing this world. The other video is a run against the Taurus SHO, and yes, the Mustang gets spanked. But at least it sounds good going down the lane with the new exhaust. More on that to come as well.
RAW VIDEO: Mustang vs. Taurus SHO at Lapeer Dragway
RAW VIDEO: Mustang heater hose explosion at Lapeer Dragway
Though I only had four runs, I did gain some valuable insight into roughly how much power the Mustang is making and how it's being used. Remember when I mentioned analyzing time slips? Yeah, those numbers are more than just conversation pieces so let's take a look at my best run, which was a paltry 15.8 @ 93 miles per hour. Sadly, that’s a time many modern pickup trucks can beat and at first glance, one might suspect the old 5.0 is down on power. Looking closer at the time slip, however, it's easy to understand what's going on, and it's not a lack of power. It’s a lack of gearing.
The slips at Lapeer display elapsed times to 60 feet, 594 feet, 1/8 mile and 1/4 mile, with speeds also indicated at the 1/8 and 1/4 marks. Many tracks also list times at 330 feet and 1000 feet, but Lapeer's abbreviated slips still offer plenty of information. The 60-foot and 594-foot times help showcase the car's ability to launch and pull down low, while the 1/8 and 1/4 numbers are good indicators of mid and high-end power.
The very best 60-foot time I could muster was a miserable 2.42 seconds, and that’s brake boosting without any wheel spin. In part three
of the series I mentioned the Mustang’s lack of low end tug, and right here you can see it firsthand in the numbers. The tall 2:73 final drive will take this car to almost 50 miles per hour before it shifts out of first gear. Couple that with the extra weight of the convertible and you end up with a car that’s very
slow out of the hole.
Once it gets moving though, the old 5.0 pulls pretty darn well. My best 594-foot time was 9.94 with an 1/8-mile time of 10.30. By themselves those numbers aren’t impressive, but take a look at the gap between them. Seeing a gap of less than a half second tells me that, by half track the Mustang is really building speed, and that’s reinforced by an 1/8-mile trap speed of 73.1 MPH. The final trap speed of 93 MPH is also a positive indicator that the old 124,000-mile engine is still making good power. By comparison, I’ve run more than a second quicker in other cars with nearly identical 1/8 and 1/4 trap speeds, with the only difference being a much stronger launch. That's how I know this car isn't down on power. Take the same engine, mate it to a five-speed manual with slightly better factory 3:08 gears, drop it into a lighter Mustang LX hard top, and the result would be a mid-14 second Fox Body Mustang, which is what most people expect these cars to run in stock trim. Oh what a difference a set of gears can make!
But that’s not going to happen with this particular Mustang, at least while it’s in my care. As I mentioned in part four,
this car’s first, best destiny isn’t to be a street fighter, but a delicious V-8 ragtop specializing in cruising, and after much deliberation I finally have the V-8 music to complete the package. Just after the stock manifolds is a new BBK H-pipe, followed by Flowmaster’s American Thunder exhaust system with chrome tips. It burbles with a clean rumble at idle, goes kamikaze with V-8 machine gun chatter at speed, and yet with the 2:73 gears I can cruise at 70 on the highway with no drone at all (one of the reasons I’m not changing gears). And much to my surprise, with the new system in place and the car on a steady diet of premium fuel I'm hitting 22 miles per gallon (yet another reason why I’m not swapping gears), which isn't too shabby for an old pushrod 302. The downside to the exhaust is that I wasn’t able to handle the install on my own. 20 years of life in Michigan required an oxy-acetylene torch for removal and even then a new manifold stud and two new oxygen sensors were required, so chalk up another $200 to the final tally. I’d be lying if I said I’m not getting deep into expenses for this car; in fact I'm going to forego the convertible top replacement for now and see what kind of interest I get with the top as-is. It’s still fully functional and leak-free, but with numerous patches of cloth tape over splits and tears it definitely isn't pretty. And with every up-down cycle I wonder if this will be the time I’m greeted with a gigantic tearing sound of canvas separating from canvas. Of course, I felt that way in part one
when I first went roofless, and again in part two
when I dropped the top to bring home the Griswold family Christmas tree, so perhaps I’m just a bit paranoid.
I suppose the sensible thing would be to just leave the top up until the car sells, but that’s not why I bought a Mustang convertible. That’s not why I drifted it through a Michigan winter on snow tires. That’s not why I fixed it up, dressed it up, and most recently, aurally enhanced it to produce a 302 cubic-inch gun salute every time I hammer the throttle. I bought this car to enjoy open-air motoring, to show people that a small, rear-wheel drive convertible can be used all year long, and that it can be an affordable fling when the affair finally comes to an end. That last mission objective is still in progress, as the Mustang is a couple weeks away from officially going on the market (I promised my niece I’d have it for her graduation open house in June—apparently it’s still cool enough to impress the kids these days) but if there are any FTC readers who might be interested, you've certainly earned the right to get first dibs. E-mail Editor@windingroad.com and I'll get back with you. Otherwise, look for the 5.0 to be appearing soon in the Winding Road Showroom.
With this series drawing to a close, have my other two objectives been met? Well, summer is just a warm breeze away and I’m still here, the Mustang is still in one piece, and it’s currently parked in the garage with bits of BF Goodrich caked in the wheel wells. And if that's not clear enough for you as to how I feel about this Mustang you should know that I haven't been this tan since my graduation open house, way back in the summer of 1993. Yeah, this is going to be a hard sell, and I’m not just talking about the asking price.
I think that pretty much says it all.
1992 Ford Mustang LX 5.0 Convertible
Vehicle status: Loud and proud
Miles driven: 6004
Observed fuel economy: 21.8 mpg
Tire tread depth: 4/32 front, 5/32 rear
Broken parts since the last article: Molded heater hoses, oxygen sensors
Total parts investment to date: $668.95 (Complete header-back exhaust system and install with two new oxygen sensors), $27.54 (two molded heater hoses, hose clamps and coolant), $1235.63 (total from part four) = $1932.12