As the first shipment of shiny new-gen Mustangs was landing in Australia, I was having a different type of Mustang experience over in the US.
But the Mustang I was driving was lower, wider, louder and a whole lot meaner than the ones coming off the ship at Appleton Dock in Melbourne. I’d flown across the Pacific to meet Carlos Gomez, owner of KAR Motorsports, and have a blast in his 686kW twin-turbocharged, wide-bodied, air-bagged orange Mustang.
Gomez got into the tuning scene more than 14 years ago when he opened KAR Motorsports in Chula Vista, California, which specialises in tweaking Mustangs, Camaros and other American muscle cars. As a kid, it was Gomez’s dad who introduced him to the custom car scene. Gomez would watch his father tear down and build back up all sorts of performance cars. And, for Gomez, it was Ford’s pony car which attracted him most.
“Every time I saw a V8 roll by, for one reason or another, my eye would be drawn to the Mustang’s nice design and curves – that look is what did it for me,” Gomez says. Once Gomez was in high school and got his driver’s licence, he set about saving enough coin for his own Mustang. A ’66 popped up and he grabbed it, and he finally had a car he could work on himself. And so a business was born.
Fast forward to 2015, and with the arrival of the sixth-generation Mustang – code-named S550 – Gomez picked up a Competition Orange 5.0-litre manual and went to work making it his own.
What’s the first modification you would do to a V8 Mustang that’s already putting out a healthy 324kW (US-spec cars make 18kW more than Oz ones)? Add two turbos, of course! The Hellion twin-turbo kit is a perfect fit with the Coyote’s factory-forged internals. The top-mount twin-installation from Albuquerque, New Mexico, features 64mm precision turbochargers, an air-to-air intercooler, an Aussie Turbosmart E2000 boost controller and four-into-one extractors.
This set-up typically produces about 650hp (485kW) at just 5psi pressure. But when Gomez ups the game to 16psi (the maximum for a standard block) the turbos unleash around 920hp (686kW) to the wide rear tyres.
DeatschWerks injectors and a JMS ignition booster (24volts; 44amps) keep everything on track. The exhaust is a bolt-on system from MagnaFlow, and four huge tips replace the stock car’s two. The Tremec TR-6060 gearbox is untouched apart from an MGW racing shifter, which shortens the throw and gives a more direct feel.
Rather than elect a traditional suspension system, Gomez went with an air set-up. The Air Lift Performance kit features 30-level adjustable damping, camber adjustment and, best of all, a drop of up to five inches over the stock height. Now it’s not wise to drive around in full drop mode (even if you’re cruising Chapel Street). The car needs to be a couple of inches off the road to give the best ride, and, fortunately, the conversion includes an air management system that allows quick and simple adjustments.
Gomez also ticked the Performance Pack option on his 5.0-litre. This means six-piston, 15-inch Brembos up front and single-piston, 13-inchers on the back, which provide more than enough stopping power. Another Italian product is the massive Pirelli P Zero tyres: 285/30 up front; supercar-spec 335/30 down back. Monstrous 20 x 11-inch and 20 x 13-inch Rennen R5 forged wheels hold up the P Zeros.
LA firm TruFiber supplied Gomez with a set of oversized wheelarches, which fatten things up by five centimetres up front and almost eight out back. Gomez also fitted TruFiber’s carbon bonnet, boot lid, spoiler, front splitter, grille, and rear and side splitters. The quality of the carbon work is awesome up close, and with all the body add-ons the car has morphed from sleeper GT into LM-spec wide-bodied monster.
While the paint seems factory, Gomez added some blue pearl which he says makes it pop. It’s subtle, but when the soft Californian sun hits it on the right angle, the edges seem to sparkle.
On the inside you’ll find TruFiber carbon dash panels, which blend in nicely with the exterior carbon, and Katzkin leather-trimmed (hope it’s not actual cat skin) Recaro seats with five-point Simpson harnesses. The rear seats have been removed and replaced by a Watson four-point half cage. This blend of comfort and track works really well.
With the photography around Red Rock Canyon complete, it’s time to finally have a crack in the orange monster. So we head further away from Las Vegas in search of more interesting tarmac.
Gomez eases me in and lowers the boost levels, so that I can get my head around the car. But even at this setting, it still makes around 700hp (522kW). So after sweating some left-hand drive gear changes, I finally get the guts to press down hard on the throttle.
Holy hell! I only hold full throttle for a few seconds and we are well over the 80mph (130km/h) Nevada speed limit. The exhaust crackles a little as I back off, and the turbos hiss. “You like?” Gomez asks. “Umm, yes I like very much,” is my reply, as I try to re-calibrate my brain to the acceleration meter.
The Air Lift suspension does a good job of getting power to the ground, while also providing a decent ride – a traditional suspension set-up would never ride this well at this height. Cornering is very flat and predictable, despite the fact we never get close to its grip limits – you would need a track and a lot of talent for that, and if those steamroller 335 rears let go it’d be very scary.
We pull in to a big scenic car park for a break from the violence and spot two guys on Harleys. As they grab a few quick pics of the Mustang I ask them what they think.
“Love the colour and how fat is it, mate,” one says in a thick Aussie accent. Three Aussies, a Mustang and two Harleys in the Nevada desert – just a normal day’s work, then.
Back to the car and Gomez, who had been fiddling with something. “I’ve upped the boost, buddy, should be good for 900hp (670kW) now,” he says. Yeah, no worries. He must be impressed with my driving skills, or the heat is affecting his head.
We find a big straight, make sure the horizon is clear, and go for it in second gear. As it comes on boost it breaks into crazy wheelspin and starts crabbing up the road. I keep the throttle pushed down for a couple of seconds trying to steer into the slide. It’s no good, the rear tyres are being torched and I’m all over the road, so I back off.
I look over to Gomez who is grinning: “This is insane, mate!” I have another go at it, this time feeding in the power a little more gently, which stops the wheels spinning up. I’m barely giving it more than half throttle and the KAR Mustang is rushing towards 100mph (160km/h). “I’m done,” I say, sweating, feeling weak and a little scared. This thing has broken me.
With more time, however, I’m sure you’d get a handle on the power and how to use it properly. It definitely takes more than a day to get to know this car, though. Sure, you can run the Mustang with less boost and lower power levels, but if you have 900hp (670kW) available, tell me you’re not going to want to use it every time you drive it.
The mods are hardcore and have turned an already fast car into a total weapon, but it still is an extremely comfortable car to cruise in. Knowing that you have that much power in reserve is very cool.
I thank Gomez as he drops me back at my rental Prius and we say our goodbyes. Now don’t tell anyone this, but I’m a little relieved when I start up my Hybrid to drive back to Vegas – and reality.
4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
SPECS: KAR MOTORSPORT MUSTANG GT
Body: 2-door, 4-seat coupe
Engine: 4951cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Bore/stroke: 92.2 x 92.7mm
Power: 686kW @ 6600rpm (approx)
Torque: 1100Nm @ 4600-5600rpm (approx)
Power/weight: 388kW/tonne (approx)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 1769kg (approx)
Suspension(F): struts, anti-roll bar
Suspension(R): multi-links, anti-roll bar
Tracks 1632/1705mm (f/r, approx)
Steering: Electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes(F): 380mm ventilated discs; 6-piston calipers
Brakes(R): 330mm ventilated discs; single-piston calipers
Wheels: 20.0 x 11.0-inch (f); 20 x 13.0-inch (r)
Tyre sizes: 285/30 (f); 335/30 (r)
Tyres: Pirelli P-Zero
Pros: Eye-popping looks, outrageous grunt, V8 roar and turbo hiss
Cons: Driveways, ride quality gone out the window, bit of a handful
Price: US$95,000 (AUD$125,000, approx, including car)
Up close: KAR Motorsport’s GT
They do things bigger in the States
1. Who that?
Kustom Auto Reinvent (KAR) is located in Chula Vista, San Diego. It offers engine, suspension, body and paint work for both new and classic cars. Its wild Mustang was displayed at the 2015 SEMA show on the TruFiber stand.
2. Slam dunk
Getting this ride height with regular suspension would destroy both the ride and the handling. The solution? Air Lift suspension that offers 30 levels of damping, camber adjustment and almost 13cm of on-the-fly ride height adjustment.
3. Carbon copy
Carbon features prominently, taking care of the bonnet, boot lid, spoiler, grille, front, side and rear splitters and the dash. The fancy black wave is also everywhere under the bonnet; the weight saving is welcome, but really it just looks extremely cool.
4. Bulking up
KAR’s body additions make a regular Mustang look positively weedy. Los Angeles company TruFiber provide the huge wheelarches which fatten the car by five centimetres at the front and almost eight at the back, necessary to clear the massive 20 x 11.0-inch and 20 x 13.0-inch rear rims.
5. Power game
Factory forged internals means the 5.0-litre Coyote V8 is happy to handle a bellyful of boost, even with 11.0:1 compression. Just 5psi will deliver a healthy 485kW, but the motor’s maximum tolerance of 16psi gives you an outrageous 686kW and 1100Nm of tyre-frying torque.