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Photograph by Eric "ug" Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Mecca of Horsepower

By Eric "ug" Carlson

"Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir."
Leonard Cohen

THE FORD MUSTANG has been the most accessible muscle car for the common man since 1964 1/2. There have been ups and downs over the years--witness the putrid Mustang II (1974 through 1978)--but for the most part, the pony has maintained integrity. Especially lately. Stock Mustang GTs and SVT Cobras are now fully capable of whupping ass out of the box. A visit to Apex Motorsports in Santa Clara for a few after-market gizmos will seal the deal. An '03 Cobra, with minor adjustments, will shame a Corvette Z06 (unless the bow-tie guy has been to Apex as well, then all bets are off).

Bill Kaiser opened Apex Motorsports on Jan 1, 1997, and his business has become the premier performance shop for late-model Mustangs in the Bay Area. Ominous and exotic Vipers and Qvale Mangustas roar into Apex from time to time, to be rendered even more powerful, but Mustangs are the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes. Apex requires no advertising, and Bill explains why: "Other than our website (www.apexmotorsports.com), it's all word of mouth." William Meade, who howls around town in an onyx-black '96 Cobra, and is a major dealer in Beanie Babies, is how I found out about Apex. Word of mouth.

I wanted to howl, too, so I took my '03 Cobra to 2555 Lafayette St. in Santa Clara and asked Bill Kaiser to unleash his technicians. Bill got a grumpy look on his face when I first called his employees "mechanics." "We call them 'technicians,' not 'mechanics,'" he gently corrected me. And he added a common plaint: "It is very hard to find qualified technicians in the area, because most of them can't afford to live here." Vince "Fingers" Rosengren, Ed Killingsworth and Mike Baughman commenced their magic, first ripping out my exhaust system, pulley cable, air intake to the supercharger and shifter, before replacing the perfectly good, brand-new pieces with more potent versions. And for dessert: an Autologic piggy-back chip plugged into the computer. At this point, it was time to be dynoed.

One of the amusing aspects of Apex is that customers are allowed to mill about the garage--to some extent, to watch the transmogrification of their 'Stang. Every Saturday will find a small crowd of mostly young men with a common bond of hedonistically powerful muscle cars. I stood with these fine gents close to the Apex Dynojet chassis dyno as car after car was raised and revved, each emitting shrieks of raw power that had most of us covering our ears. It was quite wonderful. Byron Reynolds of Race Systems tuned my Cobra as it underwent the process, yielding 432 hp at the rear wheels (more than 500 at the flywheel).

I asked Bill if he had many female customers. "We do occasionally, six or seven since we opened--seven years ago." One female a year is not a lot of business. Bill speculates that most women are happy with their stock Mustang and do not see a need to purchase after-market performance parts. Women are indeed mysterious creatures. Bill and I shook our heads and pondered the strangeness of it all. I broke the reverie by asking Bill what was the most difficult job he ever had. He didn't have to think long: "Changing the spark plugs on a Z28 with headers. It was horrendous, horrible. Half the motor is under the dashboard!" I could tell Bill has not "moved on" from that experience. One point Bill wanted to make, and a point he makes with his customers, is to be wary of the flood of after-market parts advertised in Mustang magazines--page after page of geegaws promising enhanced speed. Bill explained, "People get confused because there are so many choices. A lot of that stuff is junk, badly made, or it makes your car worse than it was before." Bill is a straight shooter, and I give Apex Motorsports the highest Underbelly rating: Five Underbellies.

Final Note: A tip o' the hat to Jamie Lewis, owner of a modified '89 Mustang GT LX race car, for info about Apex. And thank you, Madeleine Gleason, for the big smile.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the September 25-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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