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More often than not, when it comes to motorsports activities, the Fox-chassis Mustangs are often thought of as a drag racer first. It's not too surprising, really...look at the staging lanes at any dragstrip and there is a good chance of seeing a 1979-1993 Ford Mustang waiting for its turn to make a pass. But Fox-body Mustangs are more than just drag racing fodder...they work really well on road courses as well. David Crabtree ran a very early four-eye Fox in the Kelly American Challenge series, Gerd Ruch ran a 1990 GT in DTM racing in Germany (among several others who picked the Mustang due to its bang-for-the-buck approach to speed). Mustangs were also legal under the FIA's Group A rules, which meant that they saw action in other parts of the world, notably the Don Smith-run car that ran Bathurst in 1984 and 1985.
Mark bought the car new, and around 1994, Ford offered a warranty paint job due to the clear coat flaking off. It hasn’t been painted since then. The aero pieces are a Carter's Customs (C2 Aero) package. "Aerodynamics is such a voodoo science," Mark says, "but the front spoiler should work on the autocross!"
At first sight, Mark Bowling’s 1989 Mustang reminds us of these often overlooked 1980s-era road course machines. Mark bought his 5.0L Mustang new, on March 12th, 1989, and slowly evolved it into a do-anything racer. Around five years ago, Mark started daydreaming about building a dedicated racecar. Looking at a Factory Five Cobra kit car, he planned to use the Mustang as a parts car, with its 5.0L drivetrain earmarked for this new project. “Or even build a 1965 Mustang...that’s a perfect racecar to me, but I forgot I had a race car in my garage already,” said Mark. “If I was going to invest all this time, money, and energy, why not do it to my Mustang? The economics made more sense. Plus, it has too much sentimental value anyway. It serves me more. I wanted to compete with it and do multiple forms of motorsports. I started drag racing and now moving over to this...it's been a fun car, that’s for sure.”
The interior of Mark's car is simple, with Corbeau racing seats and additional gauges where the center vents used to be. A Maximum Motorsports 6-point roll bar with lowered door bars makes it easy to get in and our of the car.
He went to work rebuilding the Mustang and called upon friend Joe Stone of Stone’s Performance of Lexington Park, Maryland to help with the engine build. Joe started with a stock 302 “roller” block, bored it .030 over, and added a stroker rotating assembly from Scat. They cut down dome pistons to get a resulting 10.5:1 compression. Mark runs 93-octane pump gas. Trick Flow R 53cc heads give the little small-block the lungs to breathe properly. Joe installed a custom-specification Bullet Racing Cams camshaft and tuned the stock ECU to handle the newfound power.
When we caught up with Mark at the 2021 Ford Festival, this iteration of the project, with the new engine, aero package, and autocross-centric interior only had 200 miles on the odometer. “This is an excellent event to shake down the car for three days,” he said. The car still features electric windows and cruise control, but no A/C. The team had transmission issues a couple weeks prior, so they were using a borrowed T5 for the time being, but Mark has his eyes on a Tremec TKX in the future.
The wheels are Cobra R replica wheels sourced from Late Model Restorations, measuring 17x9, wrapped in 275mm-wide tires. A Maximum Motorsports Grip Box Kit, along with Panhard bar, sub-frame connectors, and control arms, keeps the Mustang rigid during the hardest cornering. Out back is a Ford 8.8 rear end with an Auburn limited-slip and 3:55 gears.
Mark and Joe still have a lot of work left, though. “We have to bring it out, tune it. It still needs a lot. We don’t know where the suspension needs to be, or the tune, anything.”
Mark built the car to compete in the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association (PHA), featuring six courses of twisty mountain roads. With an already healthy showing of Fox Mustangs, his car will be right at home.
When asked about the future of the Mustang, Mark responded, “...you mean, 'is it for sale'? Absolutely not. I’m very attached.”