Nineteen years ago, Mike Niehaus found his dream car sitting on the lot at a Pontiac dealership in Columbus, Ohio. It wasn’t a new Trans Am, but a nicely kept 1986 Ford Mustang GT. As Mustang enthusiasts know, 1986 was the last year for the “four-eyed” Fox-body and the first year for the enduring 5.0 H.O.
Despite the seemingly low rating of 200 horsepower, the 1986 GT had great potential. The roller-cam–equipped 5.0-liter delivered nice torque, go-fast aftermarket parts were readily available and the Fox-body was also very light weight.
“I bought the GT in November 2000 with 79,000 miles on the clock,” Niehaus said. “The original plan was to lightly mod it and have fun. I added nitrous and slicks and it ran 11.94 at 116 mph.” Bottle swapping became tiresome, so Niehaus pulled off the juice and also yanked the engine for a rebuild. He bumped the displacement to 306 cubic inches and added CNC-ported Trick Flow Specialties Twisted Wedge heads, S-Trim Vortech supercharger and TREMEC 3650 5-speed. This combo was a success, netting consistently low 11s, with a best of 11.35 at 127 mph.
“Unfortunately, I split two stock blocks in half with the blower combo, so in 2005, I tore the whole car apart and didn’t get back on track until 2009. I rebuilt the engine using a Boss block and stroker crank to get 331 cubic inches. I also switched to CNC-ported Trick Flow Specialties R heads, custom solid-roller camshaft and Vortech YSi blower. I ended up with 851 rear-wheel horsepower and it ran 9.21 at 151 mph. My bad luck continued, however, because after four passes, I broke the blower.
“With the car fixed, I ran mostly local stuff and in 2015, started going to NMRA events. In June 2018, it all came together for me when I won NMRA True Street in Columbus with a mid-9-second average,” Niehaus told us. “Shortly after the win, I switched to On 3 Performance 67mm twin turbos. I picked that kit because it was affordable and On 3 Performance is 30 minutes from my house. I got the turbos and fabricated a lot of the kit it myself,” he added. “I also traded the TREMEC 3650 for a sturdy TREMEC Magnum and McLeod RTX clutch. The Magnum is smooth and it makes the car easy to drive,” he stated. “I’ve been beating this for two years and it still shifts so nice.”
Niehaus has been refining the car since, adding a Team Z Motorsports suspension and combination of Strange Engineering struts and Viking Performance shocks. At 3,385 pounds with driver, the car has run a best of 8.99 at 166.5 mph.
Niehaus rowed his TREMEC Magnum gearbox to his first-ever win in the 2019 TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout at NMRA World Finals + Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “Winning the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout was amazing,” said Niehaus. “I’ve won True Street, have two runner-up finishes and was a runner-up at the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout in 2016 here in Bowling Green. I’ve been trying to win this race for a few years, but it never came together until now. It was awesome going down track, passing Clint Derango, knowing I was going to win. In the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle I was at a loss for words; the feeling was surreal. I have to thank Chad Roberts from On 3 Performance and Brian Turner from Dyno Tune Motorsports in Columbus for tuning the car. I also have to thank my girlfriend, Abby Lundberg, for all her support.”
Nothing in racing is easy, but Niehaus said that making passes in his GT is relatively simple. After a quick burnout, he stages, then revs the small-block against the two-step. Typical launch is 5,000 rpm and the boost will hold at roughly 5 psi. When he dumps the McLeod clutch, the engine ramps up to 16-17 psi for first and second gears. In third gear, the boost climbs, with more than 21 psi being jammed into the Holley EFI intake. That equates to over 1,000 horsepower being sent to the rear 275/50-15 Mickey Thompson tires. Niehaus typically rides the wild pony through the traps in fourth gear in just over 8 seconds at 165 mph and he tosses the parachute before easing into the Aerospace Components drag brakes. On a good day, he’ll run three passes in NMRA True Street and be in contention for the win. In Bowling Green, he took runner-up in True Street, then went on to win the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout.
With the 2020 season just around the corner, Niehaus will be looking for many more 8-second passes. He plans to hit NMRA True Street in Bradenton, Norwalk and Bowling Green and to defend his TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout title.