What qualifies a car to wave a particular model’s banner? This question arises when we begin to delve into the world of custom and race cars. The deeper the customization the greater the departure from the original. The same is true in racing, the faster and more powerful the car, the fewer components it shares with the original model. Often riding on custom chassis, with trick suspension systems, many custom and race vehicles bear resemblance to the car they were inspired by only loosely in basic shape, and perhaps in that their powertrain is based loosely on something from the model’s manufacturer.
The Mustang world and most of the participants at this year’s SEMA show stood in awe at Creations’ n Chrome’s Mustang this year. This car, named TopNotch, is the brain child of CNC owner Gary Watson. A Mustang fan since his childhood years, Watson set out to build his ultimate expression of what a Fox body Mustang could be. “All my good memories from high school centered around a Fox Body Mustang,” he told us. Like many Gen X’ers, the then fairly new 5.0 was the car to have if you were into late model performance.
We can think of few other cars in history that have enjoyed such long running popularity. The Fox body inspired a whole new group of enthusiasts at a time when performance cars had long since taken a back seat to fuel economy. Some purists might scoff at the idea, but the Fox body Mustang is to Gen X what the Tri-Five Chevy was to baby boomers.
“When you come up with the name TopNotch you had better be able to back that up,” said Watson. He decided to build this car as a showcase for what his CNC shop is capable of. Having participated in several builds for SEMA and charities through Ford Motor Company over the past several years, this car is a radical departure from the simple restyling, paint work, and bolt on performance mods of those rides.
We wanted to do something that no one else had done before and bring fox bodies back to the forefront - Gary Watson
“We wanted to do something that no one else had done before and bring Fox bodies back to the forefront,” said Watson, pointing out his efforts paid off. We couldn’t come up with a time in recent memory when a Fox was so prominently displayed at SEMA, the aftermarket’s biggest show of the year.
Beginning with a rusty shell, the coupe was an abandoned project someone was attempting to setup for road racing. The car was completely disassembled and acid dipped to reveal any problems. This build was to have several goals in mind. It would have to stand the Mustang world on it’s ear, doing things that had seldom if ever been seen together on a Fox Body. It would need to handle and perform well, with the idea of going road racing for time attack events.
Last it would have to be 200 mph capable. Watson has plans to at least go the deuce at a standing mile event, if not faster. “We’ve done the math on the car’s weight, horsepower, aerodynamics and gearing, we’re pretty confident it will go 200, but we’re told it takes quite a bit more to do 220,” he told us.
This rusty heap was an abandoned project. In the hands of the CNC crew it went from near scrap heap condition to six figure superstar.
Where the stock frame rails once resided now sits a full custom built chromoly tube chassis. The entire chassis weighs just seven hundred pounds according to Watson. Things continue to get even crazier as you delve deeper into the details of this cars build. First is the track width and length, both of which have been increased by at total of three inches each.
Next is the wild JME suspension’s cantilever short-long arm suspension system for the front. This is the first time we’ve seen such an application on a Fox body Mustang. This system weighs a full 62 pounds less than the stock strut/spring and k-member combination. It also allows for an insane six and half inches of backspacing on the front wheels.
The rear suspension on paper could sound a bit mild compared to the front. However when you consider the fabrication skills required to pull it off, it becomes impressive indeed. Watson engineered the rear suspension to utilize S197 Mustang control arms and three link setup. It’s running Hotchkis adjustable lower control arms and upper link, as well as an adjustable panhard rod.
Steering is handled by a Tommy Lee steering quickener and chain offset. The setup can be changed from a 9:1 ratio (1.5 turns lock to lock) for time attack events, to an 18:1 ratio (3 turns lock to lock) for running the standing mile.
Engine and Transmission
The engine has been set back 17 inches. Yes that’s right, 17 inches. Look at the photos, you’ll see that most of the Ford Racing Performance Parts Aluminatior 5.0 Coyote engine is hiding under TopNotch’s cowl. This allows for perfect 50/50 weight distribution in the car.
That FRPP Aluminator is the model setup for boost from Ford. It’s being force fed by a Vortech JT trim supercharger. The total combination is good for 1000 HP. Providing cooling for that Coyote is a Ron Davis double pass radiator. There’s no need for power steering either as the most of the engine weight now sits in the center of the car.
Watson will be rowing gears via a G-Force five speed long transmission. Necessary for the horsepower and rigors of performance driving. Making the connection between transmission and engine is a RPS carbon fiber triple disc clutch.
A Currie Enterprises nine inch rear differential is held in place by those rear Hotchkis components. This configuration will allow Watson to change gearing for conditions, whether running standing mile or Time Attack events, or just driving on the street.
There is little left of this car’s original body. The only original component that remains is the steel roof. In fact Watson tells us the entire exterior of the car now only weighs 100 pounds. This was achieved through the extensive use of carbon fiber components - TopNotch is one of the leanest foxes you will ever see.
The front bumper weighs only eight pounds. Maier racing carbon fiber fenders were used to widen the body and provide the proper flare to clear the massive tires.
Extensive use of carbon fiber body panels adds up to a body weight of just 100 pounds and a curb weight of 2500 pounds. Pictured left, Gary's wife Kristin holds up both complete doors for Top Notch, weighing just 14 pounds each these doors are a fraction of their stock steel counterparts.
When you come up with the name TopNotch you had better be able to back that up - Gary Watson
The carbon fiber doors only ring in at 14 pounds each including their hinges and windows. They have a trick hinge design that allows them to be removed quickly and easily speeding maintenance on the car.
The car is riding on a set of HRE C100 Wheels. The fronts alone are bigger than what most of us would dare to try on the rear of our cars. Front wheels measure 18×11” while rears are a massive 18×13”. Falken Azenis tires provide the grip, 265/35/18 in the front and 315/30/18 rear. Stopping power is handled by Wilwood discs at all four corners.
The first thing that everyone notices about TopNotch is the paint. This is probably the area that Creations ‘n Chrome is most known for, sprayable chrome. This multi stage paint process known as Spectra Chrome involves spraying a base layer of paint, a layer of liquid silver, a transparent layer to tint (if desired) and then a final clear coat. It’s a process Watson has been perfecting his technique on for years. His work has been featured in numerous magazines and even used in movies. For TopNotch, a layer of transparent blue was chosen and the final result was given the name “Ballistic Blue”, in honor of the car’s high speed goals and in-your-face attitude.
TopNotch's right fender during the paint process, left you can see the liquid silver layer has been sprayed, and pictured right after the color stage.
Inside the car you’ll find that due to engine setback the driver’s seat is actually next to the rear quarter glass. So looking left Watson will actually be staring out the quarter window. That seating position should be comfortable and supported though with Sparco seats for both the driver and passenger. Safety harnesses and the steering wheel also come from Sparco.
Due to the confines of the roll cage, which is necessary for both chassis stiffening and required for the planned speeds that TopNotch will achieve a stock dash will not fit. Engine Set back has something to do with this as well. A dash from a Subaru STi was sourced through a local parts supplier and fitted to the car. It fits perfectly between the roll cage.
Watson keeps an eye on everything with a Racepak dash. An AIM data logger will record runs on both the road course and in the standing mile.
Not Quite Finished
While it appeared to be completed at SEMA, TopNotch is not done yet. Watson and his crew are currently constructing a full length Belly pan for the underside of the car. This pan will improve aerodynamics on the standing mile even more, hopefully helping Watson hit the 200 mph mark.
TopNotch has definitely set the bar high for unique Fox Body builds Just when we thought we’d seen everything, something new comes along with a totally new, twisted take on this old favorite. We’ll be watching Gary Watson and the Creations N Chrome team to see what they churn out in the future. We’re also looking forward to seeing the results of some of their time attack runs, and especially their attempts to eclipse the 200 mph mark in the standing mile.