From the January 2021 issue of Car and Driver.
In 2013, a customer walked into Lebanon Ford, just north of Cincinnati, and asked salesman Charlie Watson about buying a supercharged Mustang. Watson didn’t have one and the dealership couldn’t build one, and the customer left. The moment ate at Watson. He hated losing that sale, so he spent three years creating a performance program for the dealership to offer what he couldn’t that day.
By 2016, Watson had built a following selling small upgrades like cold-air intakes, Roush tunes, and the occasional supercharger. He was inspired to go bigger, though, after watching Smokey and the Bandit: “Hearing that Trans Am fire up and cause trouble was just as amazing as I remembered,” he wrote on the dealership’s now defunct blog in April 2016. In bed that night, he couldn’t shake the charge he got from that Pontiac on the screen. “It hit me that all that car was,” he said, “was a chassis and a big engine.” It lacked the electronic, aerodynamic, and suspension upgrades that push modern performance cars like today’s Mustang Shelby GT500 outside the average enthusiast’s budget.
Watson wondered what would happen if he took a base Mustang GT, put a blower on it, pushed it to 700 horsepower, and sold it for something reasonable. He wrote on the blog that “after recalculating several times, pinching myself, and rubbing my eyes,” he finally had his answer: a 727-hp Mustang for $39,995. He was so excited, he posted the deal around 1:00 a.m. Customers put down deposits the next day. When the news hit Yahoo’s front page a few weeks later, the dealership had to hire a call center to manage all the inquiries. Watson had struck a chord with his high-horsepower, low-dollar Mustangs.
In 2017, he took his program a few miles south to another dealer and created Beechmont Ford Performance (BFP). Today, BFP will sell you a new Mustang GT with a six-speed manual and a Roush Phase 2 supercharger bellowing a claimed 750 horsepower and 670 pound-feet of torque for $44,994. The modifications can be financed with the car and are covered by a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty. And because of Roush’s close relationship with Ford, you can have the car serviced at Blue Oval dealers across the country.
BFP only builds cars to order, so it sourced a 2019 Mustang with a 10-speed automatic and a 750-hp supercharger package from customer Charles Gerhardt for us to test. At idle, the 61-decibel rumble from the Roush axle-back exhaust sounds like a warning, and the black 20-inch Niche wheels wrapped with staggered Nitto NT555 G2 rubber add to the imposing presence. This BFP-built Stang will happily smoke its rears at 60 mph, yet when shuffling through traffic, it feels like a stock Mustang GT. Barreling down on-ramps gives us an almost roller-coaster-like rush. Kick the throttle at 50 mph and 70 arrives just 2.3 seconds later. Repeat at will, laughing maniacally between stabs until the authorities hunt you down. Which won’t take long because, when spurred for all it has, the BFP Mustang positively roars through that Roush exhaust.
But that was after the car was fixed. Our initial outing to the test track had us asking, “Where’s the beef?” Hitting 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and clearing the quarter-mile in 12.3, the BFP car was two-tenths slower to 60 and three-tenths slower in the quarter-mile than a stock Mustang GT with the automatic. The BFP car clearly wasn’t making 750 horsepower. Plus, Gerhardt’s tire selection had the grip of a greased watermelon, dropping the skidpad performance from 0.97 g on the stock GT to 0.84 g.
We shipped the car back to BFP, who, after questioning our ability to test cars, discovered that the Mustang was running the wrong software. With the correct code installed, we returned to the track for a second run. A Roush pit crew also swung by to bolt on a different set of 20-inch wheels and Continental ExtremeContact Sport tires, a combination that comes with Roush’s Stage 3 car and which BFP sells separately for $3022.
This time the modified Mustang dashed to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, squeezing between the stock GT’s 3.8-second sprint and the 760-hp Mustang Shelby GT500’s 3.4-second time. The BFP-built Stang ticked off the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 124 mph, chasing the GT500’s run of 11.3 seconds at 132 mph. That’s a little off the mark considering the pounds-per-advertised-horsepower ratio of the modified Mustang, at 5.2:1, is better than the 5.5:1 proportion of the GT500. And while cornering grip climbed to 0.95 g, it failed to match that of the GT with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. We also mistook a software glitch that wouldn’t allow wide-open-throttle shifts into sixth gear for a 135-mph governor. Roush is working on a fix for that.
BFP’s customers aren’t just looking for cheap speed, though. The market is as much about personalization as it is performance. Newkirk, Oklahoma’s Alex Hartley spent five years researching his dream Mustang. He began with a specially ordered Stang because he wanted all the go-fast hardware but none of the weight from luxury options, and by the time BFP was finished, Hartley had a Whipple supercharger, long-tube headers, beefy internals, and a high-capacity fuel system. He also insisted on getting the final tune from the Mustang specialists at Lund Racing, which BFP arranged. Christened Cornyote and used as a daily driver, his Mustang netted 750 horsepower on a tank of E85 and cost $55,000. He has since added a smaller pulley that bumps the output to 850 horsepower, and when he bolts on a set of 11.3-inch-wide drag radials out back, Hartley runs mid-nines at the drag strip.
Of course, modified cars seldom add up to the sum of their parts. Gerhardt’s Mustang—particularly on those Nitto tires—is a reminder about the perils of parts-catalog engineering. With a seemingly infinite number of choices in the aftermarket, there are more ways to screw up a car than improve it. Hot rodders are often their own worst enemies, as they spend thousands of dollars piecing together cars that handle worse than the factory setup or that are simply unlivable in traffic. Building a car that’s objectively better than Ford’s best work will never be cheap or easy to come by.
With its tuned Mustangs, BFP isn’t exactly David slinging rocks at Goliath. But the company has carved out a niche amid Ford’s crowded pony-car lineup. The basic BFP build trades away the performance that’s rarely used on public roads while doubling down on the straight-line grunt that most muscle-car buyers want. This kind of personalized package—served up with a warranty for less than $50,000 versus the GT500’s $74,095 outlay—is why BFP gets 1000 calls every month asking about builds. Seven years after that customer seeking a supercharged Mustang left disappointed, Watson has turned his corner of Ohio into a mecca for enthusiasts looking for custom high-performance Fords they can’t get from the factory.