My First "Fast Car"

Before opening Grindhouse Performance, before the race teams, and before my engineering career started, I was a sophomore in college shopping for a car to replace the one I'd just totaled. I was 20 years old and working through school. Most of the money I had was going to food, textbooks, and the car I'd just yard-saled into a tree. I did say I was 20, right? After a few weeks of searching through the usual suspects, Mustangs, 240sx's, S2000's, and others, I stumbled on a 2002 Ford Crown Victoria LX Sport just 9 miles from my apartment. 

 What made the LX Sport special is it had matching black leather interior and a floor shifter similar to the much more expensive (and dream car of mine)  Mercury Marauder. Marauder's were a rare, special model that used a 302hp DOHC 32 valve 4.6L V8, bumped up from the "Performance Improved" 235 horsepower 16 valve 4.6L found in the common Crown Victoria's, Grand Marquis, and base Mustang GT's at the time. 

What made the LX Sport 9 miles from me even more special, is the seller had installed an Allen Engineering supercharger kit. This was an extremely rare conversion designed for adapting an Eaton M90 roots style supercharger and an air to water intercooler specifically to Crown Victoria's. Keen eyes will recognize that the thumbnail isn't, in fact, that supercharger, but we'll get there, I promise.

Somehow, 9 miles from my apartment, was a black on black SUPERCHARGED Crown Victoria that made more power than my dream Marauder at less than half the price. Miraculously, just barely outside of my budget. It was too good to be true and I had to have it. I convinced a couple friends to take me out to see the car, and one heinously sideways test drive later, we haggled down to a price I could drive home that night.

It didn't take very long for hindsight to start kicking in.

To get plates on the car, it needed to pass an emissions inspection. The car had plates on it when I bought it, and the seller mentioned it's never been a problem for him. None of the emission components had been removed from the car, so I was beyond belief to find "FAIL - retest within 30 days" written across my inspection. I was furious. I was still balancing work, doctors appointments from my car accident,  and a hyper aggressive class schedule that was kicking me square in the teeth. I had no money, no time, and 30 days until the temporary tags expired for my only transportation.  


    But there was no better therapy to me than hearing that supercharger and obliterating what was left of the tires anyways.

    After a couple weeks researching how to get the car to pass inspection, and after talking to the seller who made it clear not to bother them again, I decided to take the car to a tuning shop back home to see if a new tune could get the car to pass. The car did have an oxygen sensor with a gauge, and it was running pretty rich from what I could tell. It was a Hail-Mary attempt, but I was running out of time and didn't really have any other ideas.

    The morning bringing the car to the tuner was filled with nervousness and excitement. I needed this to work, I didn't have the money to do this, and the child in me was excited to see if they could eek even more power out of the car. The shop was incredible. Every square foot of the building was full of every tool and every kind of racing implement you could imagine. Old muscle cars, drag cars, more fifth gen Camaro's then I could count with big, polished superchargers on every last one of them. The tuner, who was also the owner, showed me around. His enthusiasm for the shop and his craft was incredible, and I immediately gravitated towards him. I had dreamt of owning something like this place since I was a kid and he could tell. I couldn't contain my excitement as the car got onto the rollers for the first time. 

    The tuner was quick to point out that the device controlling the injectors and spark timing was pretty archaic; it was actually a physical board modifying the ECM, rather than a flash tune. This meant more labor in creating a new tune from scratch, and having to buy a flash tuner, but it made the most sense as my best shot at getting the car to pass inspection. They got everything changed, got the base maps and drivability taken care of, and within a couple of hours it was time to start making pulls at full power.

    ...and boy did it not make the power the seller said it did. After doing a number of different inspections, changing the belt, plugs, and a few other measurements, 350rwhp and 410lb/ft was the best we could get. Pull after pull, the supercharger screamed. The engine sounded better and better the more he worked, but the peak numbers just weren't moving anymore. I was glued to the entire process, loving every minute of watching them problem solve. The tuner explained that any more timing would risk damaging the engine and since I needed this to be reliable, this was as far as we could take it. We pulled the car off the dyno, I swiped my credit card, and got ready to leave.

     As I left the shop, it felt like an entirely different car. All the drivability issues were gone, it was incredibly responsive, and whether or not it passed inspection, it felt amazing. The numbers didn't matter, this car was fast. I matted my foot at every opportunity. My heart pumped, hard, and I felt more alive in the five miles leaving the shop than I had in months.

    ...then it exploded, five miles down the road.

    I limped it back to the tuner, with so much smoke behind me that I couldn't see out of my mirrors. 

    "Hey, did you forget your phone or something?" he asked.

    I unloaded everything: school, my relationship, the car accident, being broke. This was my breaking point. He notices the smoke starting to pour around the building and realizes what happened (and why this random kid was having a breakdown in front of him). The team pushed the car back into the garage, started looking over it, and told me what I already knew; the engine was gone. "I haven't had something like this happen in over 20 years, I'm so sorry". I was staring blankly at the wall. This wasn't his fault, this was mine. Everything I was going through was my responsibility and it wasn't until that moment that it all hit me.

    We spent the next hour talking about everything I'd unloaded on him while we waited for my mom to come pick me up. I wasn't terribly excited explaining how I managed to kill two cars in under a month. We talked about life, the classes I'm taking, what I want to do after I graduate, who I was, and who I wanted to be. He left to look at the car with his team again. I'm sure it was only a few minutes but it felt like hours I stared at the wall, trying to come up with any idea what to do.

    After what seemed like an eternity, he came back into the office and sat down next to me. I never would've guessed the next thing he said.

    "Would you want to work here this summer? We can set this up in the back and work on it during your free time".

    A chance I wouldn't get twice, and one I couldn't have wanted more. 







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