“I was really into drag racing. I did that for a good six or seven years, but I just kind of got bored with it,” Joe Ayad, of Seattle, Washington, explained. “I wanted to build something that could take some corners, and really just expand my knowledge of car building by working on something I hadn’t done before.”
While putting together a road-hugging street machine might’ve been a new endeavor for the Boeing mechanic and instructor, hot rodding has been a part of Joe’s life since before he could drive. “When I was around 14 or 15 I bought a few Hondas,” Joe elaborated. “They were just sort of shells that I threw motors together for and resold to make a little money. At that point the Honda scene was my thing. But for my senior project in high school I decide to restore a ’74 Camaro – paint, body, engine, transmission – all that stuff.”
That Camaro would help shift Joe’s attention away from imports toward V8-powered muscle cars. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mustangs,” he noted. “But it’s funny because I was never really a Ford guy until I bought this car. A few years ago I started looking for a fairly light V8 car with a smaller body, and the Fox platform kind of fit that profile for me.”
Even amongst the sea of track-ready Mustangs we saw during a recent event at The Thermal Club, Joe Ayad’s Fox hatch stood out. While the car has a mean look and stance, it's the function-over-form approach to the build that caught our eye. Above all else, this car was built to be run hard on a road course.
Within a few months of purchasing the car Joe had it completely apart in his garage. “It was a pretty clean body, and that’s one of the main things I was looking for,” he says. “Along with learning how to tune fuel injection, I knew I wanted the car to corner really well. About three years ago autocross was just starting to catch on in Seattle, and I really wanted to build a pro touring-style car that could take on some canyon roads and hold its own at those events.”
That criteria established a clear path for Joe’s build, and the result is an ’87 LX hatch that will turn heads at track days and make six-figure exotics nervous in the twisties.
With its widen fenders, aero pieces and 18-inch STR SR01 wheels, this ’87 LX hatch cuts a purposeful figure just parked in the paddock.
Formula For A Nimble Pony
“I just threw the Maximum Motorsports catalog at the car,” Joe joked. “But one of the first things I did to it after going through the motor was to add a Holley EFI standalone system so I could teach myself how to fine-tune the car.”
That Holley system is paired up with a potent pushrod 5.0 that’s bored .030 over. The bottom-end setup includes a SCAT crankshaft, SCAT H-beam connecting rods, and set of Ross pistons, while a COMP Cams camshaft, Trick Flow 170cc aluminum cylinder heads, a Trick Flow intake manifold, 80 lb/hr fuel injectors, and a Paxton NOVI-1000 supercharger feed the motor the air and fuel it needs to make some power.
Joe says the additional bracing was crucial to get the Mustang to handle how he wanted it to. “It basically keeps the strut aprons from buckling in when I’m going around corners. In stock form these cars do really poorly because the sheet metal is so thin.” The Maximum Motorsports camber/caster plates help Joe dial in the suspension geometry to compensate for the lowered stance.
“The boost can be adjusted at any given moment through the Holley Performance Products EFI system,” Joe says. “I’m currently running it at 12 psi. I’ve pushed it up to 16 psi in the past and down to 6 psi too. It just depends on what track I’m running at and how much power I want to add or take out of it.” The latter helps Joe get more nuanced throttle input, which is especially helpful when trying to achieve fast times on technical autocross courses with high-horsepower vehicles.
Joe tells us that the motor makes 461 rear-wheel horsepower on 16 psi. While that might not sound like much in an era of 800 horsepower factory muscle cars, it’s plenty when you start to consider the power-to-weight ratio of a Mustang weighing less than 3,200 pounds wet. “It will absolutely blow the tires off at full throttle through the first three gears,” he notes. A Tremec TKO 500 five-speed manual gearbox sends the power to the rear wheels through an 8.8-inch rearend with 31-spline axles and 3.55 gears.
While the Mustang is outfitted with plenty of motorsport-spec hardware, including these aggressively bolstered Sparco race seats, it’s still a street car. But despite its roll cage and complete interior, the car still weighs in at a relatively svelte 3,186 pounds with a full tank of gas.
While the LX is undoubtedly a mover, also important to remember that straight-line speed wasn’t the priority with this build – the idea was to create a balanced package. To that end, the chassis has no shortage of upgraded hardware, from enhanced structural rigidity provided by a Maximum Motorsports strut tower brace and a full roll cage to the 40-way adjustable QA1 coilovers that allow Joe to tweak compression, rebound, and ride height to his preference for a particular course.
Joe also discovered a way to move the engine further back in the car for better weight distribution to ensure this Fox is corner-balanced and aligned for road-course duty. “It has aMaximum Motorsports K-member as well as forward-set A-arms, so the tires are actually pushed forward in the fender well and the engine is sitting an inch further back into the firewall than in stock configuration,” he explained. “So it’s a total of an inch and three-quarters between offsetting the tires forward and the engine backward.”
To bring the Mustang back down from speed, Joe sourced a full brake system from a 2003 Mustang Cobra, a setup which offers significantly more swept area than the stock hardware on an ’87 LX. “We went from the factory 9-inch rotors to 13-inch discs with the Cobra system,” he points out. Stainless lines, EBC pads, and DOT 6 fluid help ensure that the brake system can manage the heat generated during extended track sessions.
One of the most eye-catching aspects of Joe’s LX is its wide stance, which is facilitated by home-built fender flares that allow for 315mm rubber at all four corners. Giving the Mustang a widebody look wasn’t originally part of the plan. “It came to a point where I was running a 275mm tires up front and 295s in the rear with the stock fenders,” Joe told us. “I felt like I was just maxed out as far as being able to push the car without it sliding out on me, either the front end pushing or the back end stepping out. I wanted faster times, and after trying different springs rates, tires, and other tweaks, it was clear that I just needed to get more tire to the ground. Doing it took a good two or three seconds off my times.” While the Mustang wore Nitto NT01 rubber when we saw it, Joe says he has a few different sets of tires that he uses — ranging from 200 treadwear street/competition tires to full race slicks — depending on the specific event he is attending.
Autocross & Beyond
Though the build was essentially a way of challenging himself to learn a new racing discipline, Joe says the Mustang really exceeded his expectations. “Once I finished the car I started going to local autocross events and heading out to Spokane County Raceway,” he says. “The car has just gotten a lot of attention where ever I run it at, whether that’s because of how it was put together or how it has done at the events I’ve competed in, and it has gotten some traction on social media as a result.”
While aero has a negligible effect on performance on an autocross course, where the speeds necessary for wind pressure to have a measurable impact on the car are rarely seen, road course competition is another story. On track, a lack of proper downforce at high speeds can actually create lift, making the car unstable as a result. The Carter’s Customs rear spoiler and diffuser outfitted to Joe’s Mustang help to keep the rear end of the car down as the pace increases, while the splitter improves grip at the front end during fast cornering.
That attention would convince him to step up his motorsport game in turn. “One thing led to another and last year I came across Optima Batteries’ Search For The Ultimate Street Car series,” he says. “I thought it looked really cool, so I headed down to LS Fest to check it out and watch the cars run. I was like, “You know what – next year I’m doing this.” So I just signed up for it and drove the car down to Vegas this year.”
The event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past March was Joe’s first time competing with the series, which focuses on street-legal builds that can perform in a wide range of high performance disciplines. The season takes the competition to iconic race tracks all over the country, from Pikes Peak to Road America.
“I wanted to put the car that I built in my own garage up against some of the biggest names in the industry,” Joe told us. “Some of these guys have $300,000 or $400,000 into their cars. I was four seconds off the pace of the guy that won my class, who had nearly 400K into his build. I have maybe 20 grand into this project, so I was extremely happy with that.”
While the car has proven it can go toe to toe with builds costing multitudes more than Joe has invested in this project, he says that ultimately he’s just out to have a good time and mix it up with other like-minded folks at open-track events.
But as you might expect, Joe’s build is one of those projects that’s never really done, and he has some big plans for the car that might ruffle a few feathers, including ours. “Probably within the next year and a half it’ll have an LS7 in it,” he says. “I haven’t actually told a whole lot of people about that plan, but I’ve started collecting parts in the garage and it’s much closer to reality than a lot of people know. I’m just tired of running the supercharger to make the power, it creates a ton of heat in the engine bay and it’s hard to keep the car cool. I’m in the middle of addressing that right now by running a 3-inch intercooler up to the front of the car and rerouting the plumbing away from heat sources as much as possible.”
Regardless of the powerplant under the hood, Joe says more racing is a certainty for the future. “I’ll probably run some local SCCA events in the beginning of the summer,” he says. “And I’ll continue to do the Optima events a couple times a year. Who knows, maybe I’ll score a sponsorship or two out of it. But really I just want to continue to go out there and have fun – that’s why I built it in the first place.”