If you haven't heard of the sport called drifting, here's a primer: take two massively powered cars, dial in a ton of grip, and dump the clutches with the throttles pinned. Courses are set up, but the quickest time isn't the ultimate goal. Judges give points for the line they drive, the speed, angle, and overall impact-including excessive tire smoke and rubbing the walls with the rear bumper. The more sideways the vehicle is, the better. In head-to-head battle, drifters are also awarded points for putting their rides as close as possible to the other car without hitting it. And with entry speeds reaching 120 mph, it takes a great deal of car control, not to mention iron attachments, to keep you from rubbing fenders with your competitor.
Drifting actually started out in Japan, and was later brought stateside by JDM (that's Japanese Domestic Market) enthusiasts with a desire to show what their turbocharged imports could do with a pair of sticky tires and an empty piece of pavement. In all reality, most vintage-racing pilots had to be naturally gifted drifters from the get-go, given the tire technology of the time. They just called it "getting loose." However, it's a younger generation that has made the art and skill of drifting into a top-level sport, and Joppa, Maryland's, Vaughn Gittin Jr. is one of its more prominent practitioners.
Vaughn was one of the first drifters to take the nationally run Formula Drift Championship without prior racing experience-no doubt due to his expert level of car control and a foot-to-the-floor driving style. After running Formula Drift events as a privateer, Vaughn was eventually picked up by Falken Tire, which built him his first Mustang-an '05 model that eventually propelled him to win the D1GP USA vs. Japan that year, and the 2007 D1GP World Championship just shortly after. Ford Racing got involved in 2008, and together they tackled the Formula Drift series, then went on to collaborate on the '10 Mustang RTR. The Mustang RTR (Ready To Rock) is a dealer-installed option package that takes your average '10-or-newer Mustang GT and twists it with Vaughn's personal flavor to put a decidedly more modern edge on the car's retro styling.
During Vaughn's career as a professional drifter, he built his own personal drift simulator in his basement to keep his skills sharp in the off-season. This blend of real life and simulated driving led to his work with console gaming giant Electronic Arts, makers of such Playstation and Xbox franchise hits as Rockband, Medal Of Honor, and Need For Speed. It's the last brand that put Vaughn and the engineers together on a number of projects, and eventually led them to build an actual car that would become part of the game itself.
"I had been working with EA for about three years and spent hundreds of hours helping to develop Need For Speed SHIFT," Vaughn notes. "The Need For Speed crew saw the '10 Mustang RTR-C at SEMA and really liked my vision for creating a new version of a Mustang with different styling," recalls Vaughn. "With this project, we wanted to build something that would crossover from the hot rod crew to the drift fans. I've always loved the '69 Mustang. It's sexy and aggressive-one of the all-time best looking cars ever. It would also allow us to crossover with the Need For Speed and RTR brands."
One look at the late-model Mustang RTR would have told you which direction the car's design would be headed, but Vaughn actually took styling cues from a variety of places.
"Mad Max has always been one of my favorite movies, and I always liked the aggressive look of the car." In addition to the lawman's Ford Falcon, Vaughn collected pages and pages of reference photos from multiple eras and different car cultures to help design the RTR-X.
"The goal was to build a car that could potentially become iconic, but be functional in real life and something that anyone could play in the game." And it needed to be done in the game before it was released in real life.
Vaughn gave the Need For Speed team a presentation that included visual references he had collected over the years. After he got the nod, he worked diligently with in-game designer Andy Blackmore of Blackmore Designs to fine-tune every visual aspect. The entire project was built on paper before a single wrench was turned. To let you know the amount of work that went into the design, Vaughn tells us that the actual car is about 98 percent the same as the digital version.
To get the project kicked off, Vaughn reached out to the Kozeluh twins, Eric and Marc, of Twins Turbo Motorsports in Signal Hill, California, to see if they were interested in the project.
"I have known these guys for a while, and once I explained my vision and sent them the inspiration presentation, they were all about it. After a flight out to California for a meeting with them, I decided to have them work side-by-side with me managing the project, as well as handle the plumbing, chassis wiring, some miscellaneous fabrication, and final assembly."
Following the meeting, the Kozeluh twins took Vaughn to the chassis shop they trust with all of their projects, Steen Chassis in Signal Hill, California. "I met Gary and his son, Jayson, there, and we went over the entire vision, timelines, and what I wanted as a final product chassis-wise. Gary and Jayson were all about it, and they had some incredible ideas, too," notes Vaughn.
The physical version of the RTR-X, as it would come to be known, started life as a Dynacorn reproduction chassis-Vaughn couldn't bring himself to buy a perfectly good '69 Mustang and then cut it up the way he intended. "We got the car in April 2010 from Dynacorn," says Vaughn, "and it went straight to Steen Chassis. They uncrated it and cut the front off within 15 minutes." Point made.
The reason the front end was removed has to do with one of the essential capabilities of any purpose-built drift machine-exaggerated steering angle. Vaughn's competition car opens up the range to a wide 50-60 degrees, which allows him to hang the tail out even farther for more dramatic slides at speed. To give the RTR-X similar capabilities, Vaughn sought out Craig Morrison of Art Morrison Enterprises in Fife, Washington. Craig came through with a complete frontend assembly that offered the 55 degrees of steering angle, along with Vaughn's specified ride height of just 4 inches-all while maintaining perfect suspension geometry. Steen Chassis married the assembly to the body, welded in the rollcage and subframe connectors, and mini-tubbed the rearend. A custom three-link rear suspension with Watt's link was mated to Maier Racing's inboard cantilever coilover system.
From there, the RTR-X went to San Diego, where Mark Delong cut off the driprails, finished the seams, flush-mounted the windows, and fabricated the spoilers. To ensure accuracy, he worked from the illustrations and welcomed Vaughn himself on frequent visits.
"We took the car to Auto Explosion (Gardena, California) where they worked some serious magic on the body." Vaughn had been involved with the website, www.speedhunters.com, since its inception. Speedhunters is a partner of EA Games, and Vaughn used the site to blog about the project during the build. "We used the initial colorways for people to vote online to help choose the colors on the car. Fortunately they chose what I wanted," recalls Vaughn. After executing the custom paint scheme, Auto Explosion sent the RTR-X to Twins Turbo Motorsports, where the Kozeluh brothers completed the final assembly.
You may have guessed from the individual runners sticking through the hood that this Mustang had a vintage pushrod powerplant lurking beneath the hood, but you'd be wrong. Indeed, the folks at Ford Racing set Vaughn up with one of their Boss302R crate engines straight out of the '12 Boss 302 Mustang. The 444hp dual-overhead-cam engine was topped off with a Kinsler ITB induction system for that vintage look, the first such installation on the all-new Coyote-based 5.0L, which utilizes advanced variable cam timing and fuel injection.
"Being that the RTR-X was riding the line between a full-blown track car and a daily driver, I decided to go with arguably the best ECU out there-the MoTec M800 coupled with the MoTec Sport Dash Logger digital display," says Vaughn. Shane Tecklinburg handled the tuning on the MoTec system-no easy feat considering this was the first-ever, MoTec-controlled DOHC 5.0L.
The '12 Boss also gave up its R1 six-speed manual transmission for Vaughn's project, and that's about where the factory hardware ends. Moving backwards, the rearend is a serious piece from Speedway Engineering, which constructed a full-floating 9-inch rear with a Winters limited-slip differential and 4.10 gears.
"Insane wheels with huge lips and proper fitment were a must for the RTR-X," notes Vaughn. "I opted for a set of timeless Work Meister's with the lip and offset charts maxed out." The hoops are custom 18x10 fronts with a deep 5-inch lip, and 18x12s out back with a ridiculous 7-inch lip-all wrapped in Falken's sticky RT-615K rubber. Contrary to what you may think, drift cars are actually set up with as much grip and balance as can be achieved, with relatively soft spring rates and sticky rubber at all four corners. Race engineers regularly chase track conditions from round to round. After all, a car that has a lot of grip is much easier to steer using the throttle and brakes than one that just wants to spin out.
The build clock was ticking loudly at this point, as the RTR-X was set to debut at the Ford booth at the 2010 SEMA show. Stitchcraft Interiors only had three days to complete the custom interior. Vaughn wanted a vintage theme for the interior, but we're not talking classic Mustang exactly.
"I wanted to take it back to the late '60s, early '70s, and add a splash of modern times." Inspired by older race cars, Vaughn envisioned classic diamond-shaped upholstery on the mix of Alcantara and quality black leather, along with old-school toggle switches to turn on the various systems. Pulling from a more modern time, Vaughn added "a little bit of carbon fiber, and a taste of Alcantara." The instrument cluster was cleaned up through the use of the aforementioned MoTec SDL. "I am still blown away by how well Andy was able to put our vision down to get these concept drawings of the interior," says Vaughn.
The RTR-X was the last car to roll in the Ford booth at the 2010 SEMA show, and its debut was well received. Vaughn wasn't able to drive it until the following August, as the Mustang received a little more tuning and then went on tour for most of the year. We caught up with the RTR-X at Willow Springs Raceway, where Vaughn flogged the filly for all it was worth, thankfully in front of our cameras.
With the project complete, it's now a matter of finding the time to get behind the wheel and enjoy it. He still has his full-time gig behind the wheel of his Monster Energy Mustang in the Formula Drift series, so free days are tough to come by. Vaughn mentioned entering it in some track events, and possibly taking it over to Europe for a more-than-likely smoky and sideways tour.
"It's been a huge dream project for me, very surreal," says Vaughn. "People from all walks of life stop and check it out, and it's neat when they see all of the details and ask me about them rather than me pointing them out. They really pick up on it."
As for the digital version of the RTR-X, it's now forever a part of Need For Speed, Shift 2 Unleashed. "I'm the mentor in that game and walk you through the whole game," says Vaughn. Once you've earned it, you can drive the RTR-X yourself and enjoy the tire smoke at speed...legally, of course.
Innovative Performance Technologies is building a 1969 Boss 302 Trans Am clone for the Mustang’s 55th Anniversary celebration on April 16-20, 2019
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