The Foxbody Mustang, while not the first car to come to mind when rallying is brought up, is not a complete stranger to the stages of the US.
Mike Hurst rallied a notchback Foxbody with the famous 5.0 V8 under the hood in the early 2000s to many class victories. After him, Mark Utecht saw similar success in one, winning multiple regional class championships in a short span of a few years. And more recently we’ve seen Andrew Mozer’s fastback Foxbody, with the appropriate 302 as his car number hit the stages.
So when John Arthurs and Phil Marsh signed up for the Southern Ohio Forest Regional Rally in a 1979 Mustang, we were ready for yet another 5.0 out on stage.
Upon learning more about the car, we were pleasantly surprised to find less than half that displacement show up.
Yes, while muscle car culture usually bullies the four-cylinder and six-cylinder muscle cars out of existence in favor of the V8s, the Mustang that showed up to SOFR was a comparatively scarce 2.3-liter model.
“This was a ‘79 pace car model,” Arthurs explained to DirtFish, “and it was an original turbocharged four-cylinder, four-speed car.
“We picked it up in Virginia, brought it home stripped it down, caged it and did all the safety things.”
As with many of the unusual chassis choices in the ARA, the urge to build a rally car out of one comes from a deep love for the car itself.
After two rallies in the usual starter Subaru Impreza, Arthurs decided all-wheel-drive was “not his style”.
When looking for a rear-driven car to build for stages, there was no contest.
“I grew up racing dirt track and the second car I ever raced was a Foxbody Mustang four-cylinder 2.3 liter,” Arthurs said. “So this was near and dear to me.
“It’s something I’m familiar with. The chassis, the engine, transmission, everything about it. Even down to the fabrication side of where to put the cage and all that.
“So this was like, going back to my roots. This was a really fun build. It was really troubling, and it took us through two loops and turns, but this is exactly what I wanted.
“It just takes me back to my early days of racing and when I grew up and the fun I was having then.”
As with any new rally build though, not everything went exactly according to plan.
“We rebuilt the 2.3 for a turbo and put it on a Holley Sniper EFI kit and we fed the turbo into that and it was all working well until it wasn’t.”
Unfortunately, when it wasn’t working in the run-up to SOFR, the turbo had to go, or else it wouldn’t be able to run the rally.
“We had to ditch the turbo two weeks ago,” Arthurs said. “So we’re hurting on power today. We’re debating turbo or non-turbo, but we’ll get back with something, but with a little bit more power and better gearing.”
But in all other aspects, the car was doing just great.
“Stage-wise, it’s turning great and stopping great. We have no problems at all there.”
In the end, the fifth in class the Mustang achieved isn’t too exciting of a result to most. But for Arthurs and Marsh, it’s absolutely celebration-worthy. To finish the first rally, in a brand new, home-built car all in one piece is no small task.
Thankfully, Arthurs doesn’t plan to stop here with the four-cylinder Mustang.
“We’re going to try to run as much as possible,” he said. “We’d like to do at least three events a year and up to as many as we can financially afford. We’re going around to as many as we can.”
While muscle car culture has never really respected the four-banger versions of the big three pony cars, a sentiment that carries into Ford’s newest 2.3-liter turbo Mustang, it’s just fitting to see this set up in rally.
In a form of motorsport where turbocharged four-cylinder motors rule the roost, it’s fitting to see something so known for twice the cylinders fitting into the status quo.