The act of building a car is a deeply personal one.
It’s an act that’s shaped by experience and personal preference. It doesn’t necessarily need to be about budget, nor does it need to involve exotic or rare vehicles. It most certainly doesn’t need to follow current trends, either. Cars should be built from the heart, and with a clear goal in mind.
While there is always the presence of outside influences, the best – and certainly the most memorable – builds, will largely ignore these. A positive community reaction at the end of the process is only an added bonus, but not something that should be desired from the outset. The real joy should come from the finished product. If you’re happy with the outcome at the end of it all, that’s all that really matters. That’s if the project ever makes it to the end of the process.
The experience aspect of the process is maybe the most important part, however. How can you truly know what you want unless you have a huge pool of reference to to work from? How can you dismiss something if you’ve never really tried it? How can you claim something to be the best without ever having sampled its rivals? Good or bad, every driving experience can prove to be beneficial. There’s always something to be learned.
The name Matt Farah should be familiar to most of you who consume automotive media. The host of The Smoking Tire‘s podcast and One Take series on YouTube, amongst others, Matt had an exceptional amount of experience to draw upon when it came to building the one car that almost got away from him: a 1988 Ford Mustang.
There’s a pretty unique quality to Matt’s experiences, too. Unlike most modern motoring journalists who tend to only drive box-fresh and completely stock examples of the latest showroom models, his One Takes have put him behind the wheel of somewhere around 600 cars of varying quality. From high-end tuner cars to, well, complete shit-boxes and everything in between. That level of experience is hard to come by, even within the professional motoring media.
With all of that in mind, how did he end up choosing a notchback Fox Body as the base car for this build?
Like a lot of us who are technically grown-ups, a lot of Matt’s influences come from his youth. In high school, all of his best friends drove ’80s-era Mustangs while he had a Subaru. Obviously, this became an itch that needed to be scratched, albeit a decade or two later.
It wasn’t until five years ago, where an under-the-influence classifieds search (the best kind, I’m told) threw up a 1988 SSP notchback. The SSP (Special Service Package) variants, I’ve learned, are highly sought after ex-law enforcement vehicles as they’re the lightest variant of this generation Mustang available, and the perfect base for performance orientated build.
A deal was done for the less-than-perfect example which already had a 350hp Ford Racing 302R/GT40 crate engine installed, with less than 500 miles, along with a new transmission, springs, shocks and factory brakes. The perfect start to proceedings, anyways.
Matt’s goal with the build was to create a Fox Body that could go around corners, as opposed to the more typical drag car route. A simple premise, and with a car that weighed around 1,360kgs (3000lbs) from factory, it wasn’t an unrealistic goal either. With a capable engine already in place, the focus would be on chassis, tires and brakes to bring the car to life. How hard could it be?
The process began at Maximum Motorsports, who prepared the chassis and converted the rear to IRS. The latter posed the first question of the build: shorten the driveshafts and maintain the stock body, or go wide-body? Apparently, this wasn’t even a question for Matt who already wanted to fit a lot of tire under the car. “Maximum Motorsports wanted to go even wider, with 305s all around, but I originally wanted 275s. So, we met in the middle,” he told me over e-mail.
He continued, “I actually worked with Patrick at HRE on this car, and the RS105 was designed specifically for it. It only went on sale later, after I got the first set. I asked Patrick to reimagine the Cobra R-style and then asked if they would name it the ‘TST 1′ or something, and he was like, ‘Uh, nice try. No.’ It’s now a popular Ford GT wheel.”
When Maximum Motorsports completed their work on the car, the custom wheels were mounted and wrapped in 295-section tires, before the body was shaped around them at RDB LA.
At this point the car was behind on schedule, but it was getting done. RDB repaired the tired bodywork, which had served 10 years with the San Diego Police Department, worked the carbon fibre over-fenders to fit around the fat wheel and tire setup, before then repainting the car. Finally, the car went to BBI Autosport in Huntington Beach to be finished with seats, harnesses, steering wheel, gauges and a cool shirt system.
While the car appeared finished, Matt was really only entering the most challenging part of the process: breaking things, fixing them, and then breaking something else. It was this period that would test even the most patient amongst us. Over-heating, over-cooling, cracking exhaust headers, poor idle, melting wires, steering rack, steering column, rear wheel bearings, misaligned wheelbase, distributor failure and even a steering wheel were just some of the issues faced in the following months.
Now, at this point, you might be thinking “what a shit-box” and I’m sure that Matt was maybe thinking the same, but still he persevered. Again, the experience of knowing that when you change so much on a car, you’re absolutely going to have some sort of issues afterwards was maybe what got him to the end. Either that or he’s even more stubborn than I am, and that’s saying something.
At the end of the process, where more money than he ever dreamed of spending had been spent, he did finally have his perfect ’88 notchback Mustang.Perseverance Pays
It does seem like a tremendous amount of effort to go through for something that’s relatively so humble. I’m sure we could all list the cars that he could have bought, but none of them would be his Mustang. What we do as enthusiasts rarely makes sense to anyone outside of our own minds, but that’s the beauty of it all. We do what we do, for ourselves.
So, what about the end result?
The motor that was in the car when purchased still lives on. The Ford Racing 5.0-litre V8, fitted with GT40 aluminum cylinder heads makes 385hp with 350lb-ft of torque. It’s enough to enjoy, but not not so much that it overpowers the chassis. The car stills needs to be driven to get the most out of.
The 18×10.5-inch HREs with 295/35R18 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s are identical on all four corners, giving the car a perfectly squared footprint.
Behind the black five spokes, are Mustang Cobra brakes which are fitted with Hawk HP Plus pads and matched with Ford Racing slotted Cobra discs, both front and rear, which is courtesy of that aforementioned Maximum Motorsports independent rear suspension conversion.
The same racing specification IRS conversion, which was based on the same setup as their American Iron dominating Mustang, also features a Maximum Motorsports torsen limited slip differential and Delrin bushings. The whole suspension package, both front and rear, is by the same company with the highlights being tubular k-member front suspension with custom valved Bilstein shocks.
The inside is, um, unique? Courtesy of a Modern Fabrics, the interior has been significantly brightened up. It’s also a reminder, if one was needed, that Matt has built this for himself. There’s a half-cage in there along with Sabelt harnesses, Recaro Profi XL seats and a Momo steering wheel.
The Florida 5.0 cluster is outfitted with six Auto Meter gauges. Simple, informative and important.
The gear selector manages gears inside a Tremec T5, with a Centreforce Stage 2 clutch transmitting engine torque to the rest of the drivetrain. Further personal touches also include a centre console tray from a ’73 Mercedes 280SEL and a cup holder from a current generation G-Class.
Without doubt, it’s been a long, long road to convert this former law enforcement car into something wildly different to what it rolled out of the factory as. There is a certain amount of irony in what this car has become, along with its intended use. While the process wasn’t without issue, the end product has resulted in pretty much the perfect outcome.
It might not be the car for you, but it was never meant to be. It was always meant to be Matt’s car.
And that’s just what it is.
Photographed by Larry Chen on a Nikon FM2T & Leica M6 with Kodak Portra ISO160 & ISO400 film
Exactly my thoughts SW1, the flares, to me, where they attache to the car look very, very agricultural. It ruins the look of an otherwise VERY aggressive looking car. Would have been nice to see them molded in.
While I'm not sure of the specifics here, there's a reason they're not moulded in on cars that are intended to be driven hard, either on road or track. If the over-fender is damaged, the rivets are drilled out and a new over-fender installed, rather than the entire fender or quarter panel needing to be replaced.
Or at least cut them to a radius to get rid of the hard angles.
IT's a fantastic car but I can't unsee the corners on the flares.
those flares are fucking TERRIBLE. I can dig the rest of the car, but dear Lord, wtf was he thinking with those God awful flares?
huh never would have guessed. It's also weird cause the fox body in NFS 2015 and Payback have options for that exact same kit. Guess it wasn't just ghost going mad with the design
wtf? Dude thanks for posting this!!! How cool.
So even when you take your car to a shop that considers themselves the experts on the very car you are having them install their own suspension on you still have wheelbase misalignment? I guess its good to know even the "pros" screw up.
If I remember correctly (from a piece years ago on it) one side of the car was something like a half inch shorter than the other, and had been that way at least since its former police days, if not since it was built.
I may be confusing it with another build, but I think that's what situation they're recalling.
The car had been in a corner impact of some sort and the wheelbase was shorter on one side than the other.
Oh that makes sense. I was really surprised something like a wheelbase being off wouldnt be noticed.
Normally I could care less for most mustangs but the fox body is nostaligic for me from my highschool days. This one is pretty much perfect. I dig it.
Love it! Too BAD we’ve Never had the pleasure of having it here in the Philippines. Mustangs are super popular here. (latest generation)
It’s gorgeous. Pure 80s rad, worked over to modernise what Matt wanted. Perfect, I even love the horrendous interior fabric pattern. Awesome.
Absolutely wonderful article Paddy. It’s got a very Petrolicious vibe and I love it. Keep up the good work.
I hate mustangs, fender flares, and most hre wheels.
Everything works perfectly on this car! It looks incredibly, and really digging that interior.
I would be curious to know what sorta modern car this could compete with grip wise. It has a massive foot print, IRS, and solid suspension. Short wheel base, but still probably a riot. Now it might need a tad more power?
I love the look this car has. subtle(ish) but also functional(ish) and finally personal. the touches like the interior fabric just make this an awesome build to me
Moving on Matt Farah always gives me a lovable douchebag vibe. It looks like at a party he'll be the loudest, most annoying guy that also offers every body a lift home, and then waits until they're safe inside the house before leaving. I love his reviews and seeing him driving a car that's actually built and not a regular box fresh car just gives him that extra bit of credibility that this is someone actually IN the car scene and not just looking at it from the outside
Nice Explorer I take on that “Ford Racing” motor. The very early 1996 Explorer intakes didn’t come with that annoying notch on the front corner just FYI.
Oh, but this is definitely for me. He really did all the right things I would love to see in a notchfox were I ever to get my hands on one.
loving this build its what he wants and functional thats all that matters im a senior in highschool with a 2000 ford ranger 4cyl 2.5l auto 2wd reg short bed im hoping to build it with the same idea simple, functional and built for me no one else im not even a ford fan lol im a dodge fan but after i got my ranger and seeing all these builds im getting inspiration for my ranger every car has potential to be great no matter the person
Great photography by Larry, as always. But dude, theres a lot of dust and stuff on your sensor
Yeah, please ignore me, just read Larrys answer concerning the scans. Nothing to see here but an embarrassed idiot.
Will there be story about Twerkstallion, thermal club and your lessons Larry?
I think the title shot set the tone of the car, and Matt Farah, perfectly. Abit rough and ready to those expecting perfection, but you just love it all the same. Same with the flares, yeah they would look better moulded in or the flange trimmed to match the shape, but as they are you see them and just KNOW this car is built to be used.
I had a laugh at the interior trim, suits the car and owner to the ground.
I would have expected a law-enforcement car (especially an american one) to be heavier, not lighter. That's a surprise for me.
LOVE Foxbody notches. Great photos too, they give an 80's vibe! I'm conflicted about the fender flares. I love the idea but the execution looks off in every photo I see. It's that exposed part were the flare meets the body: why wasn't it at least shaped to match the curvature of the flare? The sharp angles make it look very "pasted" on. Otherwise it's sexy as hell with the stance and wheel/tire package. Another suggestion to Matt( I'm sure he's heard them all, ad nauseum): get some real exhaust pipes axle back that are 1 piece (ie VRS)...the welded on tips look funky. I know it's specific to IRS, but to me one of the best parts of the 5.0 notch Fox are those sweet stainless polished pipes for all to see.
ps...good call on the MOMO wheel!