"All I wanted to do was run 12s," Don Jones says. Are you chuckling yet? Nearly every gearhead can remember saying, "I only wanted to run (fill in the blank)." And before long, the project that once had simple goals was suddenly 8.50-certified with a built motor and race suspension. Such was the case with Don Jones' '02 GT convertible.
"I can still remember when I bought the car. It was a gloomy winter day, and for some reason, it spoke to me," says Jones. "I knew that a Cobra made a ton more sense than a GT convertible did for going fast, but something about that car told me it was the one," he adds.
In his younger years, Jones owned some proper muscle cars, like a '71 Mach 1, a Boss 351, and even a '69 F100 with a 429 and a Muncie four-speed. Despite the sweet iron, he got his real thrills as an avid motocross racer and later as a motorcycle drag racer. But when family ties fell upon the young racer, he hung up the helmet.
That is, until several decades later when his son moved out and Jones had an abundance of free time. When boredom set in, the racing bug bit again, only this time his wife requested that his chariot be four-wheeled.
"My wife Peg has always been supportive of my hobbies, which I'm thankful for, so when she asked for a compromise that I race a car instead of a motorcycle, I happily obliged," Jones says.
Yeah, he said race. That's right, despite buying a Two-Valve convertible, racing was in his future. A chance encounter with another sales associate at the used car dealer during the purchase of his GT would forever change Don's path. "The salesman showed me a calendar of Mustangs that a co-worker had on her wall, and she just happened to be the wife of AED co-owner Drew Wallace," Jones said. "She gave me Drew's number and a week later, I was at the shop in search of a 12-second timeslip."
I know a ton of people look at me like I'm crazy because the car could easily run 9s with a few more mods.
Drew and the AED crew added a Vortech V-2 Si blower with a Paxton front mount air-to-air intercooler kit. The smog-legal setup easily put Jones into the 12s, but only for a dozen passes before the dreaded "tick" suddenly ended the fun.
"That tick ended up being a bad piston, and after the motor was pulled, we discovered it wasn't even the original, but rather one from a Lincoln," Jones said. So instead of an OEM rebuild, he handed over the reigns to AED with the premise that he wanted to go bracket racing.
"Going all-out is nice, but I wanted to bracket race since it's a ton of fun, there are many classes, and there's nothing closer than index racing—it's a thrill," Jones says.
A FRPP low-compression Aluminator short-block was the foundation for the new propulsion, topped with Patriot PI heads and Hitech Motor-sports Stage 2 blower cams. A FRPP 70mm throttle body was called into play, as was a custom fuel cell with stainless steel braided lines, a Weldon 2025A fuel pump, a FloMax card-style MAF, and a catted exhaust system. The setup passed smog and still killed it at the track.
As anyone will tell you, power is only half the battle, so the silver bullet became a testbed for chassis tuning. Tons of different suspension components and various geometries were tried before AED settled on a UPR K-member and coilovers up front, along with Racecraft adjustable upper rear and lower arms.
As one would expect, the mounting locations of the suspension points aren't exactly stock, but what remains relatively untouched is the 8.8 rear that's had the axle tubes welded and filled with FRPP 4.30 gears, a spool, and connected to an aluminum driveshaft that spins the Race Star drag wheels.
"We focused on removing weight, so a custom rear subfloor allowed us to mount the fuel cell and the associated fueling components, while simultaneously dropping weight and helping us sneak under 3,100 pounds without the driver," Drew Wallace of AED said.
We can all agree that racing with a convertible just isn't the norm since they tend to weigh more than coupes, exhibit serious chassis flex, and require a ton of additional safety equipment.
"We commissioned a local chassis shop to build the 8.50-spec chrome-moly cage so that it not only allowed Don to race in any class, but it preserved the functioning factory top. Don's been known to drop the top in the burnout box," says Wallace. If you got it, flaunt it, right?
Life inside this tidy New Edge is as clean as the exterior thanks to a Kirkey Racing seat, a B&M ratcheting shifter, and functioning A/C. With the stick still in place, Jones was able to wheel the 'vert to deep 10s.
"The car ran as fast as 10.38 at 134 mph when it was a stick. It was a ton of fun and fast on the big end, but it wasn't consistent, and consistency is key in bracket racing," Jones says.
So another trip to AED resulted in a C4 swap—actually, several swaps, until they found a bulletproof C4 from Mike's Transmission in Lancaster, California, with a manual valvebody and a 5,200-rpm Spec Rite stall converter.
After the transmission woes were solved, the next pieces to go were a handful of stock intake manifolds. "The plastic stock units aren't known for their strength under boost, and we exploded three before I was able to reinforce the last," Wallace said.
The transmission combo might have knocked power to 540 hp at the wheels from the 605hp stick numbers at the same 15 psi, but the car was consistently running 10.30s and pulling the wheels like a Boss.
When that still wasn't enough to run in the 10.60-class during the heat of summer, AED added more mods aimed at maximizing the Two-Valve's efficiency. American Racing long-tubes joined the party, along with an Edelbrock Victor Jr. lower intake manifold, a 4140 intake elbow, and an Accufab 75mm throttle body. The final piece of the pie was good ol' E85 corn oil for consistency and value. The result: 10.18 at 132 on a 1.39 60-foot in 100-degree summer heat. That means when the cold weather hits, they're going to struggle to keep it out of the single digits.
"I know a ton of people look at me like I'm crazy because the car could easily run 9s with a few more mods, but that's when things get complicated. I love running in D-Gas and the ET Summit Pro Series," Jones says. And enjoy it he does, as the car has seen upwards of 750 passes and dozens of worn-out slicks since it was built just a few short years ago.
"It's a family thing. That's why my plate says, 'Peg Thanks'—not only because I believe every car should have a name, but also because I wanted to thank my wife and family for everything. Without them, nothing is possible," Jones said.
While some search for every last ounce of power and e.t., others spend countless hours crafting a car that will make them competitive in a certain class because, like Don Jones, they simply love the thrill of racing.
"Now that I've been racing for the past few years I can't imagine life without it, I just wished I'd met the AED crew and bought my Mustang earlier."
Hats off to you for doing something you love, Don. If only everyone could be so lucky.