Robin Paulsell's 1989 Mustang GT Convertible

Car of the Month for Oct 2022


  So what is Project 89? Project 89 began life as an ordinary 1989 Mustang GT Convertible in very tired condition. In early July 2017 I was contacted by Dan McCabe that one of our GHMC club members needed some help. Jacqueline McCal-mont’s car had broken down and was sitting at a garage in Vacaville, it needed to be moved quickly so they didn’t incur any storage fees as the repair (diagnosed blown head gasket on the right side) was going to be expensive and they weren’t sure the car was worth the costs. I picked up the car and brought it back to my shop East Bay Classics for storage until the McCal-monts could decide what they wanted to do. After a few days Mike decided they wanted to sell the car, something that would be hard to do when it didn’t run, had minor body damage, needed a complete interior, and needed a new top. They really didn’t want the car to be scrapped and neither did I, so we struck a deal and Project 89 was born.
With over 150,000 miles on the car there was no question the engine needed to come out for at least a top end overhaul. Af-ter pulling the engine and disassembling it we discovered both head gaskets were blown and much worse, two of the pistons were burned and the cylinder walls were scored. The engine would now be a complete rebuild which completely changed my plans for the car. I decided to build a car that would show-case the shops abilities, a high horsepower CARB legal, Modi-fied MCA show car. With the engine off to the machine shop I began formulating a plan for the modifications and gathering parts. This was going to be a long process since my crew, and I could only work on it during our minimal free time between customers cars.
Step 1 was removing the front bodywork, suspension, and steering. Then the entire front end and subframe was prepped and painted in Bright Regatta Blue Metallic to match the exte-rior. The original AOD transmission was also sent out for a complete rebuild and upgrade to handle the additional planned horsepower.
Step 2 was installing the new front suspension with BMR ad-justable tubular lower control arms, Eibach lowering springs and struts, massive Eibach sway bar, and new steering rack. BBK adjustable top strut mounts and brace were also installed. For the rear the standard traction lock axle was removed, con-verted to disc brakes, changed from 3.0 gear to 3.55, painted, and a Drake Girdle cover plate was installed. BMR adjustable upper and lower tubular control arms were installed with Ei-bach lowering springs and shocks along with a Eibach sway bar.
Step 3 was the drive train starting with reassembling the engine after it came back from the machine shop. I selected the Trick-Flow complete CARB compliant engine kit designed to make 370 HP when used with tuned headers and a 70MM throttle body. The kit included their Twisted Wedge aluminum heads, Wiseco forged pistons, roller cam, and roller rockers. I added Eagle forged steel rods for extra strength and a Melling high flow oil pump in the bottom end, then topped it off with Trick-Flow upper and lower intake manifold, aluminum valve covers, BBK throttle body, BBK cold air intake, MSD distributor, and a high flow water pump. The engine was mated to the rebuilt AOD transmission, then installed and connected to the rear end with a rebuilt heavy-duty driveshaft. The exhaust was handled with BBK tuned headers followed by MagnaFlow SS 2 ½” high flow cats and complete exhaust, again all CARB legal.
Step 4 was handled by Rolf Fabrication out at Sonoma Race-way where the custom 6 point roll bar was fabricated and in-stalled. Rolf also welded in the subframe connectors to stiffen the chassis.
Step 5 was back in house where the roll bar was painted Re-gatta Blue Metallic and then the body work began. Cracks were found in both door frames that required welding and addi-tional plates to stiffen the metal, this is a common problem with Foxbody convertibles since they began life as coupes and are modified. The rear deck lid required considerable work to re-move the factory luggage rack and install the Cervini Cobra style spoiler which was modified to fit perfectly. The quarter panel wheel openings were modified to clear the larger 17X9 wheels and minor body damage repaired. The stock GT rear bumper and rear skirts were replaced with a Cervini Cobra rear bumper and skirts which was modified for a closer and tighter fit to the body. The front fenders were clearenced for the 17X9 wheels, had minor body damage repaired, and were then in-stalled so the Cervini Cobra side skirts, Cobra Stalker nose, and Ram Air hood could be fitted. The side skirts were modified and bonded onto the side of the car and front fenders in 2 pieces so the fenders could be removed for paint. The nose was modi-fied heavily to provide better fit and tighter gaps and the hood required major bodywork to fix wavey spots and get the gaps right. Once all the body mods were complete the panels went through 3 stages of block sanding before disassembly and paint. With bodywork completed the painting began, the fenders, bumpers, hood, trunk lid, and spoiler were all painted off the car. After everything was painted the car was reassembled, then color sanded and buffed.
Step 6. With all of the mechanical, body, and paint completed the car was now solely in my hands to complete the top, inte-rior, and trunk. Since I had never replaced a convertible top ona Foxbody I called my retired interior mentor Milad to help meinstall the new Robbins Cadet Blue vinyl top. While I fitted the new carpet around the roll bar my body shop crew modified the rear quarter panel covers fiberglassing over the seat belt openings,speaker grills, and arm rest slots. TMI made custom Mach 1 style door panels for me and I sewed up some matchingcovers for the quarter panel covers. I fabricated the rear seatdelete to fit around the roll bar tubes and covered it with matching carpet. The kick panels were cut and fitted around the rollbar tube, then painted. The center console was modified by removing the arm rest and ash tray, then cup holders and multiple power ports were added, a B&M Rachet shifter was installed, and the console repainted. The final interior touch was
to install the leather and suede Corbeau racing seats with 4-point seat belt harness. For the trunk I installed matching carpet and then hand fabricated front and side panels out of aluminum and covered them with foam and vinyl that matched the interior panels. This couldn’t have happened without my dedicated shop crew Ken, Jose, and Clive, or the help from Greg, Paige, and Brenda when I needed a hand. After 5 years, 450 hours of bodywork and paint, 200 hours of mechanical work, and 100 hours of interior work Project 89 (aka “The World’s Most Expensive Foxbody”) was finally done. I had hoped to have the car completed for the MCA National but couldn't make it, the car debuted at the Sacramento Area Mustang Club car show and received Best
of Class. I hope the McCalmonts like what I’ve done with their family car!

By Robin Paulsell