We weren’t prepared for such a detailed answer when we met Kevin Solesbee at a small car show and innocently asked, “So, who did the work on your Mustang?”
Maybe it’s because Kevin is such a nice guy who doesn’t like to leave anybody out or maybe it’s because his hometown of Concord, North Carolina, is ground zero for about a hundred sponsor-lovin’ NASCAR teams – either way, his reply would have made Sunday’s Nextel Cup winner proud by including everybody who ever turned a wrench on or pointed a spray nozzle at the ’95 GT known locally as the “Big Thing.”
Back in 1992 Kevin was just another guy who loved cars when an ’89 Mustang coupe entered his life… then an ’87 T-top GT…then a ’90 LX.
“I didn’t do a lot to those first cars,” Kevin claims with serious understatement.
No, not a lot. The ’89 notchback had a 306-cid V-8 with a Holley 750 four-barrel sitting on top of it. Kevin lowered it, tinted the windows, and installed 4.10:1 gears, off-road pipes and Flowmaster mufflers. He also applied custom paint and interior treatment. That’s all.
The ’87 GT that followed only received 4.10:1 gears, a C-4 automatic transmission, lower springs, window tinting, a big shot of NOS. Nothing to write home about there.
Kevin even considered his ’90 LX with automatic, lowered suspension, off-road exhaust and 4.56:1 gears to be “basically stock.”
“I learned a lot about engines and how to make modifications from working on them. I also met a lot of great folks who were willing to share what they knew with me.”
Ten years after his pony car love affair began Kevin had a network of friends and friends of friends ready to make his dream of an extreme-performance Mustang come true. He bought a ’95 GT coupe for $11,000 with 39,000 miles on the odometer whose only mods were Cobra R wheels, aftermarket heads and a matching intake.
This is where the extensive list of people and parts begins.
Working with his friend Kelby Harris, of Harris Racing, Kevin replaced the stock 302 with a 347-cid V-8 that Glendale Machine bored .040 over, blueprinted, decked and line-honed. A Scat 4340 Forged Steel crankshaft was balanced and polished to the owner’s satisfaction before installation. Eight Mahle forged aluminum dish-top pistons and matching pins were joined to the crank by Eagle chromoly steel H-beam connecting rods, resulting in a 9.89:1 compression ratio.
Deep in the belly of this iron beast spins a Comp Cams camshaft custom ground to a 238/244 duration and .590/.608-inch lift. Comp’s hydraulic lifters work with Crane 1.6:1 roller rocker arms to open and close Ferrea stainless steel valves measuring 2.02 inches in diameter (intake) and 1.60 inches (exhaust). Comp double springs and titanium retainers sit atop a pair of Vic Edelbrock’s aluminum Performer heads that Kevin had ported and polished to Stage 3 specs by Heads Up Performance in nearby Lumberton before protecting with Ford Racing valve covers.
A free-flowing K&N filter is the simple starting point for air and fuel into this 5.7-liter dynamo, but the journey takes some exotic and expensive turns from there. With such a stout hardware package under the hood, Kevin wanted the kind of horsepower that natural aspiration just can’t provide, so he ordered Procharger’s entire supercharger system, including the D-1SC blower with small pulleys (built by friend Aaron Moss), three-core aluminum intercooler, polished three-inch piping and race-ready blow-off valve. A 75mm Professional Products throttle body works perfectly with Edelbrock’s intake and Victor EFI manifold; Holley’s 50-pound injectors, in-tank fuel pump and Kirban Performance Products’ billet fuel pressure regulator.
“I wish I could say that we came up with this plan, then ordered all those parts,” Kevin admits. “We were experimenting, though, so some things worked and others didn’t.
“For example, we had trouble with head gaskets holding up under 20 pounds of supercharger boost, but Kelby and I converted to an O-ring setup and fixed that problem.”
Electronic and ignition management is ably handled by MSD (distributor, coil and control box), Optima (battery), Autolite (spark plugs) and Taylor (wires). Brenspeed Custom in Leesburg, Ind., burned a special chip to make the blown 347 work right. Keeping everything cool and streetable are a Griffin radiator and Flex-a-lite fan. Additional oomph comes from a Compucar 100-to-150-shot wet nitrous oxide system fed by a 10-pound storage bottle in the trunk and activated by the driver’s foot. Moving exhaust gases away in a hurry are MAC long-tube exhaust headers with 1 3/4 –inch tubes and 2 ½-inch MAC pipes leading to Flowmaster mufflers.
The transmission is – surprise! – a stock Mustang five-speed, but backed up by a billet steel Ford Motorsport flywheel, RAM Powergrip HD clutch and 4.10:1 rear axle gears in the factory housing. Weld Draglite wheels measure 15×10 in the rear and 15×3.5 in front. The fat rear tires are BFGoodrich 295/50-15s while the skinny fronts are Kumhos – a combination that makes the Eibach spring drop appear more severe than it actually is. An HPM Crossbar subframe connector helps keep the chassis rigid against so much torque.
“The five-speed won’t be staying much longer,” Kevin said. “I’m going to replace it with a heavy-duty C-4 automatic. Clutches just don’t hold up well against this motor.”
Big Thing’s exterior benefits from a short but carefully chosen list of goodies such as a Cobra front bumper cover and smoked headlights, Euro-style smoked taillamp housings, a Saleen fiberglass wing and Cervini cowl hood with three inches of additional engine clearance. Jeff White applied the luscious layers of Laser Red and Black Cherry that have caused many cases of whiplash in the Carolinas.
“I can’t believe the job Jeff did on the paint,” Kevin told us. “There is so much time and labor in there, and he did it in a little shop behind his house!
“At first the whole car was covered in Laser Red because I liked the monochrome look. When I parked it at a show, though, most people passed right by it. After Jeff covered the top in Black Cherry, the car looked like it had some kind of high-tech glass roof and now people flock to it.”
The Cobra-ized GT retains the factory Saddle cloth interior but Kevin has added Auto Meter gauges measuring boost, oil pressure, water temperature and nitrous oxide pressure; reverse-punch aluminum pedals; Pro Shift light; Kenwood CD player; and boost retard dial. Kevin took one look at the stock trunk and realized the spare tire bin would make a great home for the NOS bottle; it now shares the space with the relocated battery.
At idle, Big Thing sounds like a cross between a jet engine and an angry lion, yet it was docile enough to putt around all afternoon during our photo shoot without so much as a hiccup, fluid leak or anxious moment – even the air conditioner works! When Kevin dipped into the boost in second gear on our way to a new location the sound and kick raised goosebumps.
We pass Morrison Motors, a local dealership famous for its huge selection of Corvettes, Mustangs, Harleys and other vehicles of collector interest. From the serene cockpit of the growling beast Kevin points to one of several go-fast beauties Morrison has on its front row.
“I was thinking about building Big Thing into a high-performance show car, then buying a Z06 Corvette to play with,” Kevin recalls. “But now it’s gotten out of hand and I know I won’t be able to pay enough attention to the project if I get interested in another car.
“I don’t consider Big Thing to be finished. That’s why I haven’t run it on the dyno yet. We estimate from one run at a dragstrip that the engine puts out about 650 horsepower without nitrous, and I just feel like there is more power in there.
What you see on these pages is simply the first of at least two phases for the parts-hungry Kevin, who is saving his money and scheduling time off to install a new list of high-performance goodies.
“My friend Mickey Dixon of Dixon Racing & Fabrication is going to build a full rollcage so the car doesn’t twist itself in half when we add more power. He also made all the custom brackets you see under the hood. I’ve got a cog belt system coming and we’re still tuning the nitrous oxide setup.
“Once all that’s in place I can finally take Big Thing out to the strip and let ‘er rip! Then I think I’ll be done.”
Can any Mustang owner ever really be content to stay still once he’s had a taste of such extreme overkill?
We sure hope not.