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Noel Valdez grew up lusting after import builds, but he knew American muscle was the end game for him long before he ever owned anything with a V8 under the hood. “My parents got me a Mustang Cobra as a high school graduation present,” the Las Vegas, Nevada-based digital press operator recalls. “and I already had a 2.3-liter Whipple supercharger sitting in my bedroom before I even had the car.”
Within two years he had the blown Cobra running 10-second quarter miles with the help of nitrous, exhaust upgrades, and some suspension mods, a setup that was maintained for the better part of a decade. But eventually Valdez decided he was ready for something more purpose-built, so in 2014 he bought a 2000 Pontiac Trans Am with the intent of building a focused drag car. “That was my first LS car,” he says. “It was gutted and caged, and it a 6.0 LQ9 with a 300 shot of nitrous.”
Although it was a potent machine, he discovered that the build wasn’t quite where he wanted it. “I did LS Fest with it and found out that it was too fast for slow cars and too slow for the fast cars!” That in turn led Valdez to a back-halved ’63 Nova project. He decided to ditch the spray for boost with that project, opting for a twin-turbocharged combination that made about 750 horsepower at the wheels that allowed the Chevy to lay down 5.5-second ETs in the eighth mile. But within a few years Valdez was ready to take on something new.
“I decided to get rid of the Nova in the summer of 2020,” he says. “The Cobra still has heat and A/C, so that’s kind of the driver, and I was just bored with the Trans Am. I didn’t know what else to do with it to make it fast. With all the new Coyote Mustangs and Hellcats, everything in Vegas has been starting to get really quick, and since the Trans Am is gutted nobody really wanted to play. It kind of looks faster than it is. So I decided that I wanted to put together something that was like a different interpretation of the Nova build.”
Set on a compact pickup this time around, he considered both a Chevrolet S10 and an LUV but deemed them both too be a bit too common. “A buddy of mine in Salinas, California, had this ’72 Ford Courier sitting in a barn,” he tells us. “It was a roller and it was in pretty rough shape, but the body was clean.” The truck also had racing in its past, having run in the 10-second range in the quarter mile back in the early 2000s under small-block Chevy power.
Valdez brought the Courier back to Vegas and set to work bringing it back to life, initially with the intent of running a built LS with nitrous for the sake of simplicity. “But I was having trouble fitting the LS in there because of the way those trucks are designed,” he explains. “So I had to swap the whole front end to a Mustang II suspension. And once I had spent the money on that, I basically just got carried away.”
After some deliberation he decided to ditch the nitrous idea and build another turbo setup. He considered going with a large single turbo before decided on a mirror image-style twin configuration. The combination consists of an LQ9 outfitted with a Brian Tooley Racing turbo cam and valve springs, 243 heads, a Holley Hi-Ram intake, and a pair of 67mm turbos VS Racing that are tuned to deliver about 15 pounds of boost, a setup that Valdez estimates to be good for about 850 horsepower at the rear wheels. But even with the Mustang II front suspension, he still faced some challenges getting everything to fit in the tight confines of the Courier engine bay.
“Once I had the turbos I had to figure out the situation with the Shearer intercooler,” he says. “There’s just not a lot of room in there – I have about ten inches from my crank pulley to my front bumper. The air-to-water intercooler is what really gives the truck its crazy look – it makes the intake stick up really high.” A two-speed Powerglide transmission sends the power to the rear wheels through a Ford 9-inch rear end, and a Holley Terminator X Max is onboard to manage the proceedings. “I had used the Terminator X Max on the Nova, and it was really easy to work with – just plug and play. I also liked the fact that it covered all the bases – I’m using it to control boost, my trans brake, and pretty much everything else. And it saved me some money in that way – instead of having to buy a separate boost controller, a two-step, and a bump box, this allowed me to do it all with one unit.”
On the chassis side, Valdez upgraded the truck to a five-lug setup to go along with the Mustang II front end, and QA1 coilovers are on hand to give it the low and mean look. Weld AlumaStar wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson drag slick ensure that the power gets put to good use.
The interior of the truck was kept mostly stock, but key upgrades like the Motion Raceworks steering wheel, racing harnesses and aftermarket buckets make the Courier’s primary purpose well understood. The two-tone exterior paint turned out to be in fairly good shape after Valdez buffed it out, so he left it as it was and painted the intake and turbo plumbing to match.
He fired the truck up for the first time at this year’s LS Fest West, about a year and half after he had started the build. “I remember thinking that I was going to do this project over a weekend,” he says with a laugh. “But giving up on it was never a consideration – I wanted something different.”
Although he didn’t get a chance to race the truck at LS Fest West this year, he has every intention of making some passes at the 2023 event. There are also some plans for setup changes in the future, but he says that those can wait until he’s ready to switch things up again. “Eventually I might swap in a 408 stroker, lower the turbos down, and move to a Dominator ECU so I can run M1 fuel and get rid of the intercooler. But that’s stuff that might happen over the next few years – for now I’m just stoked to have it and enjoy it.”