Bangshift Feature: Tasca Ford’s Mod Shop Upholds A Long Legacy of Ford Performance – By Brian Lohnes Posted 12/07/09
There are few car dealerships in the country that gearheads recognize from coast to coast at the mere mention of their name. The great high performance dealers from the 1960’s and 1970’s are largely memories from the golden age of Detroit performance and the few that do survive are normal workaday car dealers with an interesting history. Rhode Island’s Tasca Ford stands in stark contrast to that humdrum fate. These guys are still building, racing, and winning in high performance Fords, just like they were during the wild days of the ’60s and early ’70s.
We heard that Tasca was one of the few places in the country that was authorized by Shelby to perform the upgrades to change Mustangs into Shelby Super Snakes, we also heard that they were cooking up some interesting stuff on their own that would result in them selling brand-new, hot rodded Mustangs, with a factory warranty. Like the days of Baldwin-Motion, they are developing performance packages that buyers can select to take their factory stocker to more than 500hp at the wheels, and still keep the factory warranty.
Here’s a gallery of photos from our visit.
One thing we can say for 100% sure is that these guys walk the walk. When we passed down one hallway of the massive dealership, where the management offices are located, one of the first doors we passed was the office of Bob Tasca III. If the name is familiar, it’s because Bob is the driver of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Nitro Funny Car. His office wall is lined with Wallys he earned while racing his Alcohol Funny Car and the current fuel burner. Prior to stopping into Bob’s office we heard the sounds of someone wailing on a car at the drag strip. We naturally assumed it was Bob looking at some video, but we were wrong. Those sweet sounds were coming from the next office, occupied by Carl Tasca, the driver of what is the quickest 2009 Cobra Jet Mustang in the country. He’s been in the 9.20s at more than 140mph with the car. Carl was studying video and looking at Racepak data with Ralph Porier, a 50-year employee of the dealership and one of the guys who helped build cars like the original Thunderbolt, and the cars that would serve as the template for the legendary 1968 Cobra Jet Mustangs. They started swapping stories about Bill Lawton’s vitctory at the 1965 Super Stock Nationals at York, Pa. Like we said, these guys are the real deal.
Before we get too deep into the current day working at Tasca, we need to provide some history on one of the most remarkable Ford performance dealers in the country. The driving force behind the success of the business through a large part of the dealership’s history was Bob Tasca Sr. As both a New England hot rodder and a business man, it did not take Sr. long to see that there was a serious market for performance cars targeted at the youth market. He embraced the win on Sunday, sell on Monday mantra that pervaded the automotive culture in the 1960’s. Maybe more importantly than his passion for performance cars were his sales volume numbers. Being that Tasca Ford was a high volume seller and an important piece of Ford’s business in the New England region, Sr. had the ear of whomever he needed with respect to the Ford brass at the time.
By the time the early 1960’s came around, drag racing was starting to take the youth performance market by storm. While sporty cars had a following in the 1950’s, it was a fairly niche market that was largely comprised of foreign cars. The typical drag racing enthusiast was a young, domestic car buyer, with extra money in his pocket for upgrading the car he was going to drive off the lot with. The problem that Tasca faced in the early 1960’s was that Ford did not have a model hot enough to stay with the Chevrolets. Chevy, by this time had made a strong move to capture the youth performance market and had begun developing a strong following amongst the hot rod set.
Taking matters into his own hands, Tasca gave special instruction to mechanics John Healey and Dean Gregson to tune a 406ci 1962 Galaxie to within an inch of its life. This car was the first to gain the dealership some performance cred as it had the guts to out run the Chevys and with driver Bill Lawton behing the wheel, regularly did. Tasca’s next set of instructions, to take that motor from the Galaxie and plunk it into a Fairlane would light the powder keg of Ford performance. Tasca kept Ford apprised of the progress of the program and they were so impressed, they shipped a 427ci motor for them to test out. Yes, Tasca created the Ford Thunderbolt. The car hauled so much ass, Ford authorized 100 copies to be built by Detroit Steel Tubing. The original was sadly crushed, but its spawn are some of the most legendary drag iron of all time.
This success resulted in parts sales and car sales skyrocketing. On the drag racing side Bill Lawton would go on to drive a series of A/FX Mustangs, and ultimately flip top body funny cars under the Tasca banner. Their 1965 Mustang packing a 427ci cammer engine won the Winternationals, the NASCAR Nationals, and the Super Stock Nationals. Tasca Ford was now a nationwide brand.
After the successes in the early to mid-1960’s Ford sales began to dip when Chrysler and GM products were clearly more muscular. Ford’s share of the performance marketplace was slipping as kids with money did not want to buy a car that was behind the pack right from the start. Cutting to the chase, the 390ci
Mustangs were not getting the job done and Tasca felt as though customers were paying for something that they weren’t getting. The solution came shortly after a mechanic blew up a Mustang with a 390 in it whil street racing. The Tasca guys installed a 428ci police interceptor engine with heads that had larger valves and some port work. Pulling a 735 cfm Holley off the parts shelf completed the package and resulted in a Mustang that would turn low 13s on street tires though the mufflers. After showing it to Ford management and a write in campaign from Hot Rod Magazine, Ford decided to built the car, and the rest is history.
One of the truly significant Tasca accomplishments of the last 20 years was their lobbying for John Force to be brought into the Ford fold. A random meeting with Force on a snowy Rhode Island night at the dealership led to Tasca Sr. to lead the charge within Ford on behalf of Force. That charge resulted in a partnership with Ford, which has worked out for all sides we’d say.
Cut to 2007 and the creation of the first ever Shelby “Mod Shop”. Carroll Shelby hand picked Tasca Ford (for obvious reasons) to become the first location outside of the Las Vegas factory that could actually convert a Mustang into a bona-fide Shelby product, all the way up to the top shelf 725hp Super Snake.
Since that day, they have turned out more than 100 Super Snakes and countless other upgraded Shelbys. Due to the success of that program, the mod shop has begun to develop their own performance packages that buyers can opt for when buying a new car. The shop also upgrades cars that are already in use as well (not to Shelby models…only new sales can get that treatment).
Shop manager Dennis Gomes Jr. oversees the operation of the skunk works like department located in a non-descript building at the rear of the immaculate Tasca compound in Cranston, RI. A younger guy who has been with the dealer for several years, he understands the history and legacy that he upholds today.
“We really have two types of customers,” Gomes said. “There are the people that really don’t know alot about the dealership and then there are the people that know everything. There are now two other mod shops (Hyland Motorsports in Canada and Quantum Performance in Texas) but we have people that demand to have their car done here because of the history.”
Gomes is in the charge of several young and talented mechanics that perform all the work, from installing performance rear end gears to swapping suspensions and bolting on blowers. The shop has it’s own dyno where custom tuning is performed. Gomes is the guy that handles that part of the process. “I really love working on the dyno and finding horsepower through tuning,” he said. “We don’t just load pre-made tunes into these cars. Each car gets it’s own custom work, that’s what our customers expect. The most popular thing we’re doing now is doing some bolt on upgrades to cars and then tuning them. It is a good value for the customer and they have a car that will run better than stock at the drag strip.”
Gomes crewed on both the alky funny car and the nitro burning example that Bob Tasca III campaigns. The kid is as hardcore as they come, but unlike an independant performance shop, he also has to remember that he works at a dealership. “We don’t experiement on customer cars,” Gomes said. “We do that on our own stuff. Sure, I can put a car on the ragged edge of what the motor can handle, but that’s not what we want to do. Really, we want to provide the customer with a car they can use for whatever they want but not wreck the driveability and durability. I’ve blown up some of my own stuff finding where the limits are, we don’t do that with customer cars.”
Shelby maintains a tight grip on the quality control of their cars and before any conversion is release to a customer, an inspector comes from the home office and applied the serial plates after a detailed going over of the cars. “Normally we get three or four cars done before we have an inspector come out, but there have been times when they have come out for one car if we needed it,” Gomes explained.
When we were touring the shop there were a host of Super Snakes being finished up, a Shelby GT/SC that was ready for pickup and a couple of interesting Shelby Terlingua package cars being finished. “These cars are pretty cool,” said Gomes. “The supercharged V6 makes good power, and they handle very well since they are lighter in the nose than a V8 car. We have not done a ton of these cars, but the few we have completed impressed all of us.” It should be noted that the Terlingua’s require the most body modifications of any Shelby package car, on the order of 40 hours of labor to make just the body part of the conversion.
Suprisingly, very few of the cars are sold to New Englanders. “I think we have sold four Super Snakes in Rhode Island,” Gomes said. “We ship cars all over the country and all over the world. I know at least one went to Turkey.” Typically Gomes will speak with a buyer to make sure that their expectations fit the model that they are looking to buy. “Some people call up and just want the 725hp Super Snake because it is the 725hp Super Snake,” explained Gomes. “I like to talk to the buyers and find out what they plan to do with the car. If a guy is going to drag race the car, that 725hp model may actually not be the one he is looking for. Maybe I can suggest something that will fit his needs a little better.” Tasca’s longtime motto has been “You WILL be satisfied. This is a way for them to make sure of that.
Through our travels around the dealership, we met a lot of Tascas. This is still very much a family business and you really can’t go more than five minutes without seeing another smiling Tasca family member with a customer, in the service area, or working the phones. Carl Tasca Jr., (his dad’s drives the Cobra Jet remember) met us by the dyno and explained what Tasca’s reasoning behind it’s performance department was. “We’re a family of hot rodders, but we had always just done it for ourselves,” Tasca said. “The mod shop is our way of taking that history and passion and sharing it. I’ve spent way too much money in the past at performance shops that sold me a pile of parts that didn’t work well. I’d get my car back and it would drive like crap or it just was not nearly as fast as it was advertised it would be. Knowing that experience is not singular, and that we have proven packages we can offer customer to make awesome, relaible power, we thought it was a perfect addition to our business.”
The shop is now working with several vendors testing new products and although he did not come right out and say it, Tasca hinted that there is more of that type of stuff on the way. “We’re in the position now that we can really start to look at partnering up with manufacturers and jointly developing parts and packages that no other dealer in the country is doing,” he said. A product of that philosophy is sitting outside the showroom in the form of the “Tasca Stage 1” Mustang that is packing a Ford Motorsports suspension package, exahust upgrades, a dyno tuned motor, and some exterior upgrades.
This is neat stuff, and frankly, it seems whenever these guys get to working on stuff like this, the history shows that big things happen. The family is not content to sit still and in the current automotive and economic environment, sitting still means death. “High performance is in our blood,” Tasca said. “We have always had a passion for going fast. The work that the mod shop is turning out is proof of that and we’re going to support and grow that part of our business. We’re enthusiasts and our customers are enthusaists.”
So what does the future hold? Gomes is interested in expanding the scope of the mod shop to even work on some stuff outside the Ford fold, “We have the talent and the facilities to handle a lot of varied work.” The guys have already done some preliminary playing with the new Taurus SHO and like what they have found. Details were not shared, but the grins and smiles at the mere mention of SHO tuning told the tale. They’ve figured something out.
The 2010 Mustangs are arriving and the guys already have one to convert into a Super Snake. The dealership is on the list for three 2010 Cobra Jets. One will stay and Carl Sr. will drive it. The other two have already been claimed by private buyers (one of which we know!).
Work at the mod shop is steady, not at the torrent levels seen a few years back, but when we were there, the place was jammed full of cars, everyone was busy and the phone was ringing. We’d say that’s pretty good stuff these days. It is very cool to see a private dealership take this approach to performance cars and uphold the legacy built by their forefathers. With the edition of the Tasca “Stage” cars, the historic achievements of Tasca Ford in the past are literally being brought back to life.
Who’d have thought the little state of Rhode Island would turn out of be one of the hubs of Ford performance worldwide? If you question that, feel free to stop by the dealership and ask to see a Tasca. They’ll be lined up to prove it.
Story Found on www.bangshift.com