When K&N took delivery of this “body-in-white” 2014 Ford Mustang GT, the company’s goal wasn’t to build it into a road racer. It was going to be something completely different.
Initially, the intent was to fit it with an EcoBoost engine from Ford. K&N had plans to make the car as light as possible, run it on E85 fuel, and make it as fuel-efficient as possible, then maybe have a celebrity drive it from K&N’s headquarters in Riverside, Calif., to the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas. However, the project never really got off the ground, according to Dave Martis, R&D manager for K&N Engineering.
“The logistics of the whole thing — the EcoBoost wasn’t out ye — and getting all the parts and pieces we needed to do it, we would have been better off buying a car with a four-cylinder in it and gone from there,” Martis said. “But the fact we just had a bare tub made the challenge almost insurmountable.”
Because it was delivered as a body in white, the car had no VIN, which meant it couldn’t be registered to drive on the street without going through the “special construction” build process with the state of California. The state only allows so many of those a year, so the idea was scrapped and the car ended up sitting untouched.
“The body in white sat around for a year, and finally I just went to my boss and said, ‘Hey, look if we’re not going to do anything with this car, let me build it into a road racer and let’s get some exposure.’ He said if you can do it and not ‘spend the world,’ then that’s fine.”
Martis spent the next three months lining up sponsoring companies to supply parts. They had to purchase many components, too, because a body in white comes with, well, nothing. No engine, transmission, axle, suspension, among other things. Just a bare tub with fenders, doors, and glass. They don’t even have seam sealer. Before they began installing the parts and pieces, Martis and his team started by removing as much unnecessary metal from the tub as possible.
“We basically started off removing a bunch of sheet metal because a body in white comes with all the inside door panels and kick panels and a lot of sheet metal that you really don’t need in a racecar,” Martis said. “So we cut the roof off of it and cut basically all the interior sheet metal out of it. We took probably 450 pounds of sheet metal out of it before we started.”
Martis and the team at K&N used the project as “filler work” between other projects in the shop. They built the cage and infrastructure for different systems, such as the fuel cell. Once they had that work completed, they sent the car out for paint. Contrary to the name, the car wasn’t white when it arrived. It was dipped in zinc chromate, that olive drab primer all bodies go through before the paint process at the factory.
They then fitted the car with a factory-fresh Ford Coyote 5.0-liter V8, a Tremec Magnum XL six-speed transmission and a custom rear axle built at Curry Enterprises in Corona, Calif. Curry Enterprises welded thicker axle tubes on the differential housing because the factory tubes can bend or flex. Curry also added approximately 1 degree of negative camber and an eighth inch of toe out. The setup employs full-floating axle shafts with splines on each end. Basically the hub and the spider gears are splined, and the axle shafts are conically splined so they don’t bind due to the angles imposed on the axle tubes. Martis tied it all to the chassis with a Watts link and torque arm system from Cortex Racing in Sonoma, Calif.
“It makes the car turn in and handle a lot better, especially on a stick axle car,” Martis said. “On a technical track, it really shines. The car is more predictable. You can run it on the edge a lot more. As far as tire wear goes, it’s not so bad. You end up burning the rear tires off the car before they scrub out. The car is making 400 horsepower. As heavy as it is, it’s very easy to spin the rear tires.”
In stock trim, the S197 Mustang uses McPherson front struts, but a body in white doesn’t include any suspension components. For the front suspension, Cortex also supplied a full K-member, to which all the components of the short-long arm suspension fastens.
“It’s pretty much a bolt-in deal,” Martis said. “We didn’t have to do any welding on the car.”
Given the long relationship between the two companies, K&N tapped AEM to develop the engine management system for the new racecar. AEM needed a test car to develop its new Infinity system for Ford Coyote applications. In addition to fuel and timing curves, the Coyote engine also benefits from variable valve timing, all of which can be fine-tuned with the AEM Infinity system.
“Our Ford was the first racecar that had the Infinity tuning system on it, as far as Coyote engines are concerned,” Martis said. “It’s basically plug and play and it worked out well. I really can’t say enough about those guys. They really helped us out.”
In its first season of racing, the car came close to winning the American Iron title at the 2014 Western States Championships. In one of the best races of the weekend, K&N driver Ryan Walton diced with Agent 47’s Corey Weber in an epic battle. Walton missed a shift about midway through the race, which allowed Weber to slip by. Walton never could find his way back to first, and ended up finishing second.
“It was going well. I was in the lead,” Walton said. “I missed a shift going toward the Carousel and that’s when he got by me. I stuck with him and we kind of fought through traffic together, but it wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
The K&N car isn’t competing this year because there was no budget allotted for racing. Martis thinks it’s only a matter of time before it’s back on track.
“The car’s not going anywhere,” he said. “It’s ready to go on the trailer and go racing next weekend if we had to. We spent quite a bit of time and money on it. I certainly don’t want to see it sit and become a hangar queen.”