I was recently watching an online video of the 2017 SCCA Runoffs American Sedan race. A-sedan, as it’s commonly referred to, is a class for 80s and later American muscle cars prepared to a set of rules that bears a strong resemblance to that of the original 1966 through 72 TransAm series. No tube frames, silhouette bodies, or wings here; the cars are all built from assembly line unit bodies. But they aren’t showroom stockers, either. They have full roll cages, stripped interiors, fuel cells, modified suspensions, and built smallblock V8 engines with horsepower figures not too different from the engines that powered the original TA cars. They do run on DOT (street) tires, not racing slicks, but that really just makes them even more like the classic TA cars. It’s supposed to be a class for people who want to race a V8-powered sedan on a budget. Of course, the size of the required budget depends on how competitive you want to be. If you just want to have fun in local SCCA races anywhere up to mid-pack or so you can pick up a perfectly serviceable car more or less ready to race for under ten grand. From there, it goes up until you get to the Runoffs where a car with a chance of winning will run to several tens of thousands, at least.
In numbers, A-sedan grids tend to be dominated by 80s and 90s Camaros and Firebirds, and 1994-2004 Mustangs – cars you could buy cheap at a used car lot and make a race car out of. In recent years, however, the sharp end of the grid has been increasingly populated by late-model cars, including Pontiac GTOs (Australian version) and Cadillacs, but mostly Mustangs, especially the ones driven by Andy McDermid (below), who has won more A-sedan national championships than anybody else in the history of the class.
This year, however, McDermid crashed in practice and retired early from the race. That left some breathing room for everyone else, and the race came down to perennial multi-class champion John Heinricy, in a 90s Camaro, chasing after…wow! An old Fox body Mustang. Where did THAT come from?
This particular one had qualified on the pole and held off the vastly experienced Heinricy to take a flag-to-flag victory. The driver was Bryan Long, who had made two Runoffs podiums before but in GT-1. After watching the video I got to wondering when was the last time a Fox body had won at the Runoffs. It had to have been a long time, if ever, I thought. Well, not really. It turns out that it was as recently at 2014, at Laguna Seca, and the car and driver came from my own home state of Washington. Not only that, he won the class championship on his first try.
Here’s the winning car, a notchback even, Driven by Dylan Olsen of Kelso, Washington, about 100 miles down the road from my hometown of Puyallup. I wonder if he built it from an ex-Washington State Patrol car. The WSP used notchback Mustangs as pursuit vehicles for several years, and they were fairly common on used car lots for a while until they were bought up by racers and hot rodders who recognized them as a great starting point for building really strong but lightweight performance cars. Speaking of light weight, if you look at the photo of Olsen’s car you will see, just forward of the racing number, the figure 3100. That’s the car’s weight. On McDermid’s car the figure is 3300. that 200 pound difference may not seem like much but even in a 40-minute Runoffs race tire management is vital to success. Especially in classes where relatively heavy sedans (compared to smaller sports cars) have to run on street-type tires a 200 pound weight advantage can make a real difference. It may help to explain why what appears to be a relatively low-dollar car was able to prevail over a field of cars many of which likely had a lot more bucks dumped into them.
Anyway, all this got me to wondering about the Fox Mustang’s racing history. Of course, being a lifelong TransAm fan I knew the Fox body shape had formed the basis of the wide, low fiberglass and carbon fiber bodies used on frontline TransAm and GT1 cars for more than a decade. But what about the actual production-based cars? Well, It turns out there is more there than I realized, including some really trick-looking cars that, along with all the American Sedan competitors, would make great slot cars. And a slot car manufacturer with some clever tooling designers could make a tool for producing the bodies that incorporates the various parts needed to make modeels of a lot of them.
The three Foxes pictured above amply illustrate the AS cars, but there’s much more. There is an organization called the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) and Fox Mustangs abound there. Take a look at these…
This Camaro-Mustang Challenge (CMC) car looks pretty basic. Not much change to the stock body.
This CMC car has a couple of possibly homemade add-ons.
This American Iron (AI) car has a blade spoiler and tacked-on front airdam and side skirts, but the body is still essentially stock.
This notchback has a big rear spoiler and front airdam plus a humped hood, but still mostly stock bodywork.
This American Iron Extreme (AIX) car is really getting serious with fender work, a blended-in front airdam, and that big wing and hood. And then, we come to…
This. It’s still a unit body car, not a tube frame, but check out the widebody kit and the whale tail. These could easily be included in the slot car body tool as separate add-on parts to be used or not as needed for the particular model being produced. And from here it’s not that big a step to…
An 80s/90s DTM car. Here is the point where we probably cross the line to new tooling for at least the body and probably the chassis, not to mention whels and tires. The car is very like an early tube-frame Transam car, though I do believe the DTMs were unit body cars, also. Here’s another DTM Fox…
By this time the TransAm tube frame cars had gone full widebody without distinct fender flares but they had not yet gone to wings. This configuration probably represents the ultimate unibody Fox Mustang, and what a totally gorgeous car! I can’t believe these two European racing Foxes (and there are others) wouldn’t sell well on both sides of the pond.
Why do I think the Fox Mustangs would make popular slot cars? It’s because these cars, most of which are still racing in serious competition, as opposed to vintage events, where preservation of the cars precludes all-out racing, are cars people can relate to. Anybody with a decent middle-class income can still afford to buy a Fox (though prices are going up) and turn it into something that at least looks like one of these cars. Millions of them were produced and a great many of them are still on the road, and for many enthusiasts they are still the car they wanted when it was new and now have or still want to have. They are quintessentially American but they have been raced in Europe and Australia as well, so they will have at least some kind of following there. Americans love Mustangs (and Camaros and Firebirds of the same era; they would also make popular slot cars) and so, I think, do more people in other countries than the manufacturers might imagine. There are more than enough of them to provide colorful liveries for years, enabling the manufacturer to get its money’s worth out of the tooling.
More on this in another blog post. There’s lots more to show and tell.