The term “street car” has evolved continuously and rather rapidly over the past decade thanks to racers hellbent on finding out how fast they can go. And Aaron Johnson’s unassuming 1996 Mustang GT falls into the category of street cars that are a whole lot quicker than you think they are — this Ford-powered monster has nearly dipped into the 6-second zone and can go for a Sunday cruise without any issues.
Johnson didn’t grow up in a family that was obsessed with cars, however, he was quite handy with mechanical things as a kid. When Johnson got his driver’s license, he naturally became interested in cars, since they played right into his fascination with machines. The drag racing side of things came from always needing to see who had the fastest car in his group of friends. Johnson went for a trip to the dragstrip with a friend’s father, who showed him how the sport worked. After that, Johnson was ready to go back.
Johnson drove the Mustang every now and again in high school, even though his father owned it. The car became Johnson’s a year after he graduated, and while bone stock at the time, that didn’t last long.
Johnson never originally planned on building the Mustang to its current level, but like all fast project cars, it just happened over time.
“Initially it started out as just a car with some bolt-ons, but I kept pushing for that next e.t. milestone that I wanted to conquer. I would always see a faster car I liked and make it my goal to get mine to that level. When I got to that point and it wasn’t enough, I would change setups again. I think it’s just a normal progression that happens with the times: you always look for more performance while keeping the same original dream alive. The dream for me began in the mid-2000s when radial racing was just taking off during the BFG 325 drag radial days. So that simple, stock-appearing, high-powered, small-tire car has always been the dream for me,” Johnson says.
Johnson turned to Mike Nitzsche of DoorSlammers Chassifab in DeWitt, Michigan to fabricate a custom roll cage for the Mustang. The Mustang’s chassis sports a full catalog of Team Z Motorsports suspension parts, including a tubular K-member, A-arms, torque boxes, Fab-9 rearend, and anti-roll bar. Strange Engineering struts and shocks take care of the dampening duties in the front and rear.
Powering the Mustang is a 427 cubic-inch small-block Ford built by Baker Engineering LLC. The 9.5-inch deck Dart Iron Eagle block is the home for a Callies crankshaft, Oliver billet steel connecting rods, and custom Diamond pistons. Total Engine Airflow prepared the TFS-R heads that work with a COMP Cams solid roller camshaft, Morel Ultra Pro lifters, Trend pushrods, and T&D rocker arms. The engine is topped off with a Holley Hi-Ram intake that brings air into the engine and mixes it with E-85 from a set of Fuel Injector Development 2750cc Deka injectors.
A pair of Precision Turbo 7675 Gen2 turbos provide the boost to the engine, while a set of Precision 46mm wastegates and a TurboSmart BOV keep the boost under control. The air-to-air intercooler was built by NCC Fabrication and the headers are from Valley Speed. Johnson and his friend Cal Hayward fabricated the rest of the turbo system themselves. Capizzi Automotive built the Powerglide transmission that Johnson uses and PTC built a custom torque converter for this application.
The Mustang is controlled by a Holley Dominator EFI system that Johnson tunes himself; he estimates the car makes around 2,000 horsepower to the tires based on its track performances. In full street trim, the Mustang has run a 4.51 at 165 mph to the 1/8-mile and 7.006 at 187 mph to the 1/4-mile, with Johnson lifting at the 1,000-foot mark.
Johnson campaigns his Mustang in the Limited Drag Radial class at Milan Dragway each month with his wife, Alane, and crew chief John Raymond. The car also goes to different small-tire no-time events and any street car shootouts that it fits into. Johnson likes to attend a few big events each year, like the Outlaw Street Car Reunion and The Shakedown. When the car isn’t being raced, Johnson drives it to local meets and car shows.
“At this point, my performance goals are to see how fast we can go with what I feel is a true street car. It runs on pump E-85, has an air-to-air intercooler, is all steel, and isn’t cut up. I just remove the air filters and race it the exact same way it is driven. The goal for next season is improving our consistency — I would like to cut a 1.09 60-foot and run well into the 4.40s to the 1/8-mile,” Johnson says.
Aaron Johnson’s Mustang is just cool…there’s no way around it. He can drive his car to the lanes, rip off a low 4-second pass, and then drive it back home with the radio playing his favorite tunes.