Godzilla-Swap Mustang: Fox-Body Monster Power Thrills

01/26/2024

Godzilla-Swap Mustang: Fox-Body Monster Power Thrills

01/26/2024

“We were the fast and furious before there was a Fast and Furious,” quips Nick Hellums of Wellington, Ohio. “This was back in the late ‘90s. I was into imports at that point, I had the fastest Civic in San Diego at the time. Eventually I had to get out of Southern California – I was just getting into too much trouble with racing.”


The hot-rodding bug followed him to the Midwest, of course, and it wasn’t long before Hellums was itching to build a car again. He applied his efforts to another Honda Civic, but the second time around he built it without any intentions of driving it on the street, opting instead to compete in various events at West Salem, Ohio’s Dragway 42.

Over time, his career in information technology began to take precedence, and he eventually sold the Civic to focus on work and family life. But the urge to build another car returned in 2018, and he selected a 1970 Ford Mustang as his canvas. The Coyote-swapped street machine was built essentially from the ground up and went on to earn a number of awards at car shows over the years, but Hellums says the car’s preciousness led him to part ways with that project as well. “It started getting a little bit scuffed up at the autocross events I was taking it to, so eventually I decided I was just going to drive it on the street,” he says. “But I’m a lead foot, and that nervousness about damaging the car was kind of the catalyst to sell it.”


The proceeds from that sale would fund his most ambitious build yet. The project got underway in Spring 2021, when Hellums found a clean and largely unmolested ’92 Mustang LX. “Initially I wasn’t planning to do a full-on drag car – I wanted to build a street car for NMRA’s True Street events,” he says. “But like most of my projects, I ended up going above and beyond.

And the Ford 7.3-liter “Godzilla” pushrod V8 he selected for the task was part of that philosophy. “I wanted to do something different, and at that time, very few people had done a Godzilla swap in a Fox-body,” he notes. “And I wanted to use a Fox-body Mustang because of its relatively light weight and the strong aftermarket support it has.” Although this aftermarket support made the job easier, he’s quick to note that there was still some ingenuity required to bring it all together. Hellums used a Team Z Motorsports Godzilla swap kit, which included the K-member as well as motor mounts, A-arms, and front coilovers.


For the engine itself, Hellums worked with Willis Performance Enterprises to put together a combination that included Callies connecting rods, Diamond forged pistons, Willis Performance Enterprises’ Stage 2 cam and heads, Danbury Competition Engines intake manifold, and headers from Ultimate Headers. Forced induction is provided by a ProCharger F-1A-94 blower running at 15 pounds of boost. Hellums says the setup is good for roughly a thousand horsepower at the wheels.


“We used a Holley Sniper EFI throttle body for an LS on this; it offered the best fit at the time for that setup, and we were able to bolt it right up to the intake manifold that we got. It’s cable-driven, so we just had to use some adapters to get it to work with the BigStuff ECU’s sensors.”


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The powerplant is backed by a Coan Racing TH400 gearbox with a Neal Chance torque converter, which in turn sends the grunt to a Ford 9-inch rear end with a Strange Engineering center section. Strange also supplied the two-way-adjustable rear shocks, which are bolted up to torque boxes from Team Z, while Team Z’s radius rods provide additional suspension adjustability at the rear.


“I think the real turning point for the project was when we installed the roll cage,” Hellums tells us. “I knew it was going to be fast, so I wanted an 8.50-certified cage. It went in and I realized that we didn’t have a headliner in the car, and I was like, ‘Ah crap, how am I going to re-do all of this?’ And so at that point it became a full-bore drag car.”


Although the car maintained its stock dashboard and even boasted a stereo, the cabin was largely gutted otherwise, and a single Kirkley racing bucket as well as an M&M shifter were installed, while a custom tablet replaced the factory gauge cluster. The exterior, meanwhile, was painted Battleship Gray – a late-model Dodge factory color – and a fiberglass hood and drag wing were added to reduce weight and aid high-speed stability, respectively.

After abandoning the True Street idea, the team set their sites on the NMRA’s Renegade class, but the V8’s displacement ultimately pushed the car into the Open Comp class, where Hellums ran in the 8.6 index in 2023. And as is often the case with new race cars, its initial season saw the team addressing some teething issues.


“There was a lot of learning involved,” he says with a laugh. “We initially got the car together in the summer of 2022 and took it to the Builders Brawl for its first competitive race, and I blew the engine at the event because the lifters went out. We were one of the first teams to identify that problem and get it sorted.”


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Miraculously, the team was able to get the car back together in time for that year’s Holley Ford Fest in September. Although Hellums struggled with some transmission issues at the event, the car still made a big impression on show-goers, and he says that the track time helped him establish a game plan for the subsequent season.


“We made some changes after Ford Fest – we put a 25.5 cage in it, redid the piping for the supercharger, went from 11:1 compression to 12:1, switched to titanium valves, moved to an air-to-water intercooler, and added head studs to hold the pressure.” The upgrades helped Hellums achieve a personal best of 7.96 in the quarter mile at an NMRA race in Norwalk, Ohio during the 2023 season.

But a life-changing event in the fall would alter the team’s trajectory going into 2024. “My wife was diagnosed with cancer last September,” he explains. “We had plans to go to Ford Fest, but obviously that was shelved.” The team ultimately decided to do one last event for the year before putting the car up for sale to help cover medical expenses; a decision that ultimately complicated matters.


“That last event was No Prep Kings at Dragway 42,” he recalls. “And unfortunately, the throttle got stuck wide open on a pass, and I put the car into the wall – both walls, actually. It was a bummer, but in my mind, things like that happen for a reason.”


The car was pretty badly banged up from the incident, but Hellums was able to sell off virtually everything that was salvageable from the car and recoup some of the money. While his racing efforts are on the backburner for the time being, he remains optimistic about the future. “I’m holding off until I know more about what’s going on with my wife. If it’s good news, then I’ll be back. It might not be a Godzilla, but it will be something. And it will be badass.”


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