Can You Make a Beast Dance?

Recently, Alpha Gearhead posted that we were looking for guest writersGary Horneck of Huntsville, Alabama responded with this great piece that we’re delighted to share with you!  Enjoy!

Time to Adapt

I’m an old gearhead. Throughout most of my life I was able to drive, modify, and race whatever project I cared to take on. I was 48 when I finally settled down and married, which put an interesting wrinkle in my “whatever I want” mind set.

After six years in Florida, we relocated to be closer to my wife’s handicapped mom, and in the ensuing car shuffle, my heavily modified Volvo 740 Turbo Wagon became my wife’s daily driver.

This did not work out well. The Volvo was a bit too much to car for my wife, and her mom could not get into it without breaking interior pieces off… car shopping we went.

The Search

The gearhead needs something to modify and race, the wife needs a safe and reliable daily driver, and we need something her mom can get into.

What car can do all that? Not many. I needed something big, something like the majority of senior citizens drive, and when I brought home a 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis my wife was not pleased. img_4453Even she could recognize flaccid, floppy handling. “Hold that thought dear… I’m building something that will blow you away”. Good thing she trusts me.

Dancing Lessons

The Grand Marquis I started with is a Fleet version, a corporate lease vehicle that weighs only 4,075lbs. It had 18,000 miles on it and was bargain priced. I planned on suspension modifications for the back, but the front suspension on the Panther (Crown Vic & Grand Marquis) is surprisingly well designed. With equal length a-arms, coil over shocks, all aluminum cradle, rack & pinion steering and sway bar, very little modification is required for great results. P71 KYB shocks and a massive ADDCO sway bar took care of the front.

The rear suspension components on all Panther models are rather thin stamped steel that flex under load. Metco solid billet control arms and Watts link bar with polyurethane bushings instantly transformed the handling. KYB P71 shocks, ADDCO sway bar, a complete rear axle assembly with limited-slip and better gearing from a P71 Pursuit finished the rear suspension.

I was able to source a set of Shelby GT 500 wheels with tires that were new take off pieces, added some Stillen Motorsports rotors, and Hawk brake pads. The difference was shocking.

Strength Training

Under the hood all late model Panthers have the 4.6L “modular” V8 that has powered millions of Ford vehicles over the years and goes forever. For a Mustang application there are differences, mainly better airflow, and better exhaust, resulting in an additional 30-50 hp.

I converted the single exhaust to dual, used a larger throttle body from the Expedition, did some port matching on the intake side, cold air intake, colder plugs and an engine tune by HyperTech. The 0-60 times on the car initially were 9.2 seconds. After the engine work the time dropped to 6.2 seconds and the car had a proper muscle car feel to it.

The Beastly Ballerina

My goal was to have something I could still race around with, and right after completion of the car our local SCCA had a High Performance Driving school. Both my wife and I took the car through 3 days of training; I continued to race it for a season, garnering quite a few trophies along the way. Yes you can make the beast dance.

Gary has always enjoyed extreme activities but had to slow down several years ago due to a combination of a catastrophic surfing injury and diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Still works on his own vehicles, competes in Autocross and enjoys frequent track days!  Read his story here.

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