Real Performance Mustangs Exclusive Interview with Tuning Pioneer, John Garner of HorsePower Ranch
By Scott Jensen / Real Performance Mustangs
"By telling the story I am going to have to give a little secret away - that if someone tells me something is impossible I have to prove them wrong." - John Garner
RPM: Tell us a little about yourself and your long and storied background in racing & tuning?
John: I have always been into modifying cars, since before I was 16. I grew up on a farm and we were always fixing the equipment so I jumped right into things like shortening frames and building custom motor mounts. My first major project was back in the late 80's with a 1980 Toyota pickup that I put a chevy 350 in with a tunnel ram, dual quads, and a stepside box from a chevy luv that I made into a dump box. I built all the motor mounts, did the frame shortening, and all the engine tuning. When I finally had to sell it the kid who wanted to buy it had to get his dad convinced that it would be reliable. He had several shops inspect it and everyone said it was built right. Finally his dad said if it passed emissions his son could buy it. Not only did it pass but the guy at the emissions testing facility said it was well within all the specifications for a 4 cylinder emissions.
I was also always into computers and writing software. One of my early jobs was designing an interface to connect external hard drives to computers that were not designed to have a hard drive. I wrote the micro-code for the controller and the early driver software to make the system work. Binary programming and simple controller software was something I was very familiar with.
Later when it came time to program computers in cars I had a huge head start as I understood the basics of both platforms. I found very quickly that the "experts" in software didn't know much about tuning and the "experts" in tuning were really intimidated by using a laptop and burning chips. When I started programming the shop owners would sit and watch me on the dyno and ask questions. Quickly they started hiring me to do tuning for them. That spread and soon I was traveling all over the United States tuning at shops and fixing the impossible problems that everyone else had given up on. I knew at that point that I wanted to own my own dyno shop so I started saving and collecting parts to make it a possibility.
As far as racing, I enjoy going to the track to prove what I have built works. I enjoy talking to people at the track and I love the comments I get when I take something that everyone says can't be done and make it go really fast down the track. Other than that I don't have a lot of interest in collecting points or building a class-specific race car. For me that is way too constraining as one week I may want to take my Mustang, the next my F350 with the Cummins diesel, and the next I may go with a customer or a friend to see how what we did to there car will perform.
RPM: You have built some amazing, and tuned other amazing cars over the years what are your favorite major builds?
John: My major "builds" are my own cars. My personal Mustang has been in Hot Rod, Car Craft, Muscle Mustang, 5.0, and others. I have an old blog site that I posted the build in that still gets a crazy amount of hits every month (the site has not been updated in years). That site is www.superstang.com.
My other major project has been my 1978 F350 with a Cummins 24 valve common rail that makes 650 RWHP, 1,350 RWTQ, and still gets 17+ MPG and makes a great daily driver. It has been featured in 8 Lug Magazine and has its own site www.8lug.com.
I am currently working on my Sons 1998 BMW 323is that we put an M3 engine in, ported the head, put a cometic gasket with studs, wet nitrous, and am now installing a home-made turbo system. My plan is to use old-school tricks to make it run without custom tuning. Doing things like tricking the air-charge sensor to pull timing, using a Mafia (designed for Ford) to make a Mustang air-meter work on a BMW, using Ford injectors, etc. It isn't done yet but everyone online says it is impossible which is why I have to do it.
RPM: Our mission statement, and everything we do is about " Real Performance " tell us about your car and how it embodies the " Real Performance Mustang "
spirit. Word around the drag strips and streets is that you refer to your beast as Super Stang!
John: Wow, where to start. By telling the story I am going to have to give a little secret away - that if someone tells me something is impossible I have to prove them wrong. With that said try to remember the Mustang performance market back in the late 90's. Chips were just becoming available but there were a lot of myths about what could and couldn't be done. I remember being told you couldn't run injectors bigger than 30#. That the factory EEC-IV couldn't support more than 450 RWHP. That a Vortech couldn't make more than 600 RWHP. That a custom air/water intercooler wouldn't work as well as an air/air intercooler. There were all kinds of limitations out there that everyone just believed, because the experts of the day told you that it couldn't be done. I read every magazine that was out and believed most of what I read. After a while I found that much of what was being said was not true and that Magazine articles are written to sell magazines which sells advertising, so always question what you read. Take the data in and make the best decisions you can based on all the information you can collect.
The one restriction my wife gave me when I started modifying Super Stang was it had to remain a street car. It also had to meet her definition of street car. She had to be able to get in it and start it without going through a pre-flight check list. It had to start the first time and idle. It had to have air conditioning. It had to shift nice. It had to be somewhat quiet. It had to handle and brake properly. It had to have a radio. It had to have comfortable seats and have access for people to sit in the rear seats. All kinds of people build a race car and slap plates on it and call it a street car but would you and/or your wife drive it to work in rush hour traffic? That was the constraint given and to be honest I am really happy I did keep it that streetable or I would have not learned nearly what I have about tuning and what is really possible to do with a street car. This was backed up when I won the most legit street car at the invitation-only Hot Rod Magazine Pump-Gas Drags.
RPM: What are some of the events you have coming up in between tuning and working on your projects you would like people to know about?
John: I am really trying to make it to Forum Fest with Super Stang but otherwise my only goal is to make it to the track at least once a week. My big goal for this year is to be able to drive Super Stang to the track with the top down, air conditioning on, listening to the radio, run an 8 second quarter mile (8.99 will work) and then drive it home. I realize there are lots of cars that can run an 8 and drive on the street but how many are really street cars?
RPM: Tell us about the Horsepower Ranch and the loyal following you have developed with the " Pony " car crowd! I know that what dyno is better arguments
have been happening since dyno's were invented so I assume your choice of the Mustang Dyno was an informed one? Or did you like the name of it? ( Joking )
John: I have to say that I must be one of the luckiest people in the world. I am doing what I love and (for those that don't know) my shop is at my house so my commute consists of walking across the lawn to shop. I actually have horses on my property so one of the common comments I get when people first come out is "I get it now, why you call it HorsePower Ranch". Having the shop at home does present a few challenges, like keeping the neighbors happy. Every now and then someone does a burnout or drives fast down the road I live on. When this happens it risks my ability to keep the shop open. It doesn't happen often but whenever it does I have to remind myself to remind everyone to drive slow in my neighborhood.
Why a Mustang dyno? Because I was lucky enough to fly around and tune all over the country I was able to use all types of dynos. The Mustang dyno is capable of measuring over 2,000 HP and someday I would like to make that much. I can also introduce a load where many dynos can't so I can do accurate tuning, especially on turbo and supercharged applications. When tuning on a dynojet or any rotational mass style dyno you can't trust the tune will be good on the street. You need to be a able to simulate actual load. I also like that I can datalog so many channels on the dyno. I can keep timing, air/fuel, HP, TQ, engine coolant, load, air charge temperature, fuel pressure, boost, fuel trims, everything on one screen. On most dynos you have to datalog on a different system and try to compare your external data to the dyno data. This is less accurate and takes longer. The only feature I don't have that I would like to have is all wheel drive but I was willing to give that up for the other benefits of the Mustang dyno.