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1981 Ford Mustang - The Foxinator

Don't Underestimate Kevin Kenley's '81 Mustang.

By , Photography by

In the world of Fox-body enthusiasts, four-eyes refers to the early '79 to '82 Mustangs and Capris with four sealed beam headlights. On elementary school playgrounds, four-eyes is the unfortunate bespeckled kid about to get punched by the playground bully. Every now and then, though, that bully gets what's coming to him in the form of a four-eyed smackdown. Take the Saleen spoiler off the decklid of Kevin Kenley's four-eyed Fox, and it looks like the proverbial 90-pound weakling. Woe unto thee who dares challenge this seemingly mild-mannered Mustang, however. A crack of the throttle unleashes nearly 600 hp that will smite its unwitting foe with one swift stroke. Consider yourself warned.

Fairmonts, Granadas, Zephyrs, LTDs, Marquis, Thunderbirds, Cougars, RWD Continentals, and Mk. VIIs are also members of the Fox body family. Go to to meet like-minded early-Fox owners.

OK, the car isn't much to look at, but we couldn't care less. Still, Kevin seemed to think we were putting him on when we asked to schedule a photo shoot. The hood and rockers aren't painted yet, the panels that do have paint are scratched up, and the four-lug wheels scream four-banger secretary car. But you can tell by the exhaust note that there is a V-8 under the hood. Still, there's something odd about the sound-the engine does not make the noises you'd expect from a 5.0.

"Sounds like a mod motor," we say to Kevin, and he grins. "Only a few guys get it. The ones who know will ask me what year the engine is," he replies. Those guys are rewarded with a peek under the fiberglass hood to see the transplanted 4.6L V-8 out of an '04 Mustang SVT Cobra. In last month's Horsepower! section, we featured a similar Cobra engine, but if your short-term memory fails you, this engine-known internally at FoMoCo as the Terminator-was very conservatively rated at 390 hp. However, Kevin is putting quite a bit more power to the ground-nearly 600 to the wheels, thanks to a supercharger upgrade and the Kenne Bell twin-screw unit.

When Kevin first got this car, however, a 4.6 swap was the furthest thing from his mind. He bought this car for $500 in 1993. It was a lowly four- cylinder model with a blown head gasket, and Kevin had the remnants of a built 302 he planned to drop in. All those plans were put on hold for a variety of reasons most of us can relate to-marriage, kids, job, no money-and so the car mostly sat in different shops and driveways until about 2005. That was the year Kevin got serious about getting his derelict Fox back on the road. It was also when the price of gasoline skyrocketed. Bummer. He had just started to amass enough scratch to put his car back together and he wasn't sure he'd be able to make the horsepower numbers he wanted. After considering his options, a 4.6 became the logical choice.

Through eBay searches, Kevin located a seller in San Diego with a low-mileage engine. Once he had it, he knew he had to do a smog-legal swap to get maximum enjoyment out of all his hard work. Any less than that would mean expensive biannual payoffs to the smog man, out-of-state registrations with a fictitious address, or relegating his car to trailer and dragstrip duties only. None of that is good.

California does not make smog-legal swaps easy. In fact, the laws are so draconian that one wonders if they exist only to force older cars off the road. It wasn't enough for Kevin to slap on a pair of headers (or a quartet in the case of the Cobra) and run the factory ECM. He had to basically re-create the entire running gear of an '04 Cobra within the shell of an '81 Mustang. That meant sourcing a bunch of ancillary parts, including the EVAP canister, gas tank, and filler neck.

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