Photos by StangTV Editor, Don Creason
Every car guy (and girl) seems to have a tragic tale about a coveted automobile one of their parents owned and short-sightedly parted with, never to be seen again. Jim McGrath, of Cincinnati, Ohio is committed not to let that happen, after waiting his whole life to finally acquire the car of his dreams and custom cater it to his personal taste. Not exactly a mid-life crisis, McGrath has always felt an affinity for muscle cars, but honorably put the needs of his wife, career, and family first, he had long hoped for the time he could satisfy his need for speed with a clear conscience.
I want to fly under the radar and not draw attention to myself so I told the local Ford dealership to keep an eye out for a nearly new black on black GT coupe.
Good things come to those who wait and that fateful day arrived when the dealership called to say that they had exactly what he was looking for – a loaded 2011 GT with only 10,000 miles on the clock. While the model year is technically 2011, McGrath explains that it was actually manufactured in 2010 – the same year his son Zachary was born. “I always wished my old man held on to the hot cars he had in his youth, so I decided that I should avoid the same mistake and save this car that is the same age as him.”
McGrath admits his father, a 40 year veteran and recent retiree of General Motors, was less than impressed with his decision to go with the blue oval over a bowtie. “His only response was, ‘At least you bought American,’” laughs McGrath.
Not one to be mechanically inclined, McGrath originally intended to keep the vehicle bone-stock, but has admittedly always wanted to try his hand at racing. “I wanted something new and modern that I wouldn’t have to tinker with, but that didn’t last long.” Like most projects, this one started small with a simple visit to Paul’s Automotive Engineering (PAE) owned and operated by Paul Faessler and his son Brian. Things snowballed from there. One small mod turned into two, and the next thing McGrath knew he was buying a racing trailer.
“Before we get into a project, or any money changes hands, I like to get an idea of what the customer’s interests and intentions are,” explained Faessler, who has been in business for over 30 years. “Essentially, Jim wanted a streetable version of our road race car.” The car Faessler is referring to is a rip-roaring 800 rwhp 2014 Mustang that his 23 year old son Brian piloted to be the first Ford to ever win in the NARRA (North American Road Racing Association) GT Unlimited Class as well as overall.
“Our approach is always safety, good brakes and handling,” explains Faessler, “Once those three things are accomplished then we can move to the engine and get to work on increasing power.” Following closely to this tried and true strategy, the first pieces of the puzzle were the Maximum Motorsports four-point safety cage, Ford Racing rear seat delete with brace, Sparco racing seats, and finally a Simpson seven-point harness.
Brian’s racecar proved to be somewhat of a guinea pig for this project, as several elements of the project were not only inspired by the 800 hp Mustang, but also sourced from it.
“Although Brian’s car sports PAE’s custom SLA front suspension we have had a lot of success with the Ford Racing Handling Kit we installed on Jim’s car. This was at the same time we were upgrading the brakes on Brian’s racecar, so we repurposed the 14-inch Brembo Grand Am setup, including real race calipers and two-piece rotors,” said the senior Faessler.
PAE has had a longstanding relationship with Forgeline, who provided the three-piece forged aluminum GA3R rims (19×9.5 front, 20×10.5 rear) wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires 265/40/19 front, 305/35/20, and another set of 18×9.5 GA3R Forgelines withToyo Proxes RA1 rubber for the track.
At that point it was back to the Ford Racing parts bin for a front splitter and brake duct kit. A Saleen rear wing was added to provide some downforce and to look good doing it. An upgraded C&R radiator with a integrated oil cooler was then installed to keep temperatures low when the competition heats up.
True to his word, Faessler then set to work under the hood, installing Boss 302 heads and a host of Cobra Jet components from Ford Racing, including an upgraded throttle body, Billet steel oil pump, and CJ cams. Ford Racing didn’t have their cold air intake developed for this model at the time, but they plan on installing a Cobra Jet cold air intake shortly. These enhancements, along with a set of Kooks long tube headers and X-pipe make 452 hp and 388 ft-lbs. of torque at the wheels on their in-house Dynojet with a conservative SCT tune thanks to PAE’s resident technician Mike Wilson.
Admitting that his expertise lies in real estate and not engineering, McGrath was particularly appreciative of the honesty and transparency of their relationship, rather than simply that of a salesperson. “We tweaked the car and played with it over the course of six months,” said McGrath, “Paul was very accommodating, taking the time to explain every minute detail and never once rushing me.” Understandably he wanted to spend his money effectively and not in areas that were extraneous or unnecessary.
In many cases, the relationship with the people who modify your car is done along with the project, but with Paul and his team at PAE it was just the beginning. This confidence allowed McGrath not only to trust Paul to work on his car, but also be his racing coach. They strapped the Mustang to a trailer and went to Putnam Race Park in Green Castle, Indiana where they put the recently completed car through its initial paces.
Not wanting to put any scuffs on the car in its first laps McGrath admits he let Paul drive the car first. While he admits he has never gone skydiving or bungee jumping, driving his own Mustang on a racetrack was the biggest rush he has yet to experience in his life. “I’m not a nervous guy, but I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest because I was so scared and excited.”
Paul has been teaching McGrath how to get the most out of the car and has built up his confidence as a driver, which in turn has only made him more addicted to improving the performance of the car. In addition to swapping out the stock rear portion of the exhaust, future plans include an upgraded transmission and rearend, along with a Tiger Racing Carbon Fiber hood to add downforce and reduce weight.
Judging by how badly McGrath has caught the bug, modifications to this Mustang are likely far from complete. Considering that the heir to this family jewel is only four years old, the car that lucky little Zachary is driving when he’s old enough will be vastly different than the one we see before us today.