The All-Female ‘High Gear’ Build

Oct 23, 2012

Like so many projects in the performance aftermarket/racing world, the “SEMA Mustang Build Powered by Women” was conceived by a group of like-minded gearheads.

Except this time, the idea came from a group of female gearheads, the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN).

The concept for the project began in 2010, after SBN Select Committee member JoAnn Bortles participated in an all-women motorcycle build.

“When JoAnn approached me with the idea of a project vehicle built by women, I immediately thought it was a great way to underscore how passionate and involved women are in the automotive industry,” said Marla Moore, SBN chairperson. “Others (Ford, Source Interlink Media and the SEMA Scholarship Committee) immediately agreed and quickly joined forces to launch the first-ever SEMA project vehicle build powered by women.”

Under the direction of the SBN and built entirely by SBN members, the SEMA Mustang Build Powered by Women is a project that’s designed to shine the light on women working in the automotive aftermarket and encourage more women to pursue careers in the industry.

With support from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Source Interlink and Ford as the title sponsor, the team of women had less than two months to transform the 2013 Ford Mustang GT into the design chosen by Source Interlink readers.

Three design concepts, created by leading female designers, were posted on the Hot Rod,AutomobileMuscle Mustangs & Fast Fords andMustang Monthly websites, where voting took place from May 23 through June 3. The readers’ votes were tabulated and the design was announced on June 5.

The winning concept, known as High Gear, was designed by Jennifer Seely of Ford Motor Co. and inspired by international products in categories such as jewelry, couture clothing and architecture.

The concept is meant to stimulate the senses by fusing luxury and power. Highlights include Rosegold chrome accents throughout the exterior and interior, a satin black body, plush quilted suede seats and a leather-wrapped interior. The engine, undercarriage, drive train and sound system were also modified.

Work to Do

With the goal of unveiling the Mustang on the first day of the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, design concept in hand and over $43,000 worth of aftermarket products to install, the build commenced on July 9 in the beautifully equipped garage of the Source Interlink headquarters in El Segundo, Calif.

The pressure was on, as the finished vehicle was to be sold on eBay with proceeds going to the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund, an organization dedicated to fostering the next generation of automotive aftermarket leaders and innovators.

First on the list were the powertrain improvements, starting with the installation of the Edelbrock E-Force Supercharger. SBN members JoAnn Bortles, Susan Carpenter, Kellie Colf, Camee Edelbrock, Stephanie Justice, Dr. Karen Salvaggio and Samantha Whitfield worked together to get the job done.

It was especially challenging, as the SBN team was the first to install an Edelbrock supercharger on a 2013 model. However, the detailed instructions, along with solid advice from Edelbrock engineer Jon-Eric Gonzales allowed the installation to be completed in two days.

On Wednesday, the team received the brand-new calibration from Edelbrock and the Mustang, now rated at 559 hp, started on the very first attempt.

Before the hood was replaced, the all-girl team, with new members Julia Johnson, Raquel Rangel and Kristen Stone, installed new gas strut hood lifts from California Pony Cars.

Week two focused on the undercarriage with Carpenter, Colf, Mollie Lewis, Kelly Martin and Rebecca Olavarrieta. Magnaflow representatives Coelette Chenier and Laurie Paolone kicked the week into high-gear with the install of a Magnaflow exhaust system. They completed the task in just 20 minutes, setting a new record for themselves.

“The moment I found out I was to be a part of the SEMA SBN Mustang Build, I was thrilled,” Chenier says. “I have always looked up to the women of SBN and was ecstatic for the chance to work alongside them and even more, get to do it under a car. After the initial excitement, my happiness was replaced with terror. I kept thinking, ‘How in the world am I going to install a complete exhaust system? I work in marketing-I know my way around a desk, not a machine!'”

After training at the MagnaFlow Tech Center and with the support of her teammates, however, she passed with flying colors.

“Not only was I able to successfully install the exhaust with my team member, Laurie Paolone, but I learned how to install several other aftermarket products,” Chenier adds. “This project meant a great deal to me. Not only did it give me the confidence that I can do anything, it gave me the drive to one day buy an old muscle car and begin the restoration process on my own. I want to thank all of the sponsors for showing the world that women can be gearheads, too.”

Suspension, Interior & More

Undercarriage work continued with Jared Chavez from Whiteline USA bringing a full lineup of suspension components including front and rear sway bars, chassis brace, upper/lower control bars and a Panhard rod.

Lewis led the team as they installed these quality components, along with an H&R coilover system, front and rear disc brakes from Wilwood and axles/bearings from Moser.

Vic and Camee Edelbrock stopped by during the week to check in on the progress. Vic autographed the supercharger and shared great stories from the history of his company, his longstanding relationship with SEMA and the Ford Motor Co., as well as his respect for the concepts behind the all-women build.

A chassis dynamometer test, courtesy of the folks at Edelbrock in Torrance, Calif., revealed that the power to the wheels was now a whopping 489 hp and 424 foot-pounds of torque.

Week three was reserved for the Interior Team, which consisted of team leader Kristin Cline of Cie Studios, Rachel DeBarros of Purple Star Media, Liza Sheen of Kizuna Kustoms, Moore of Hypertech, Colf of Colf Creative Resources, Jessi Combs of Precious Metals, Bortles of Crazy Horse Custom Paint, and Michelle Perez and Genevieve Saxton, both auto tech students at Skyline College and Heart Wrenchers Car Club members.

Their first step was to pull out all the seats and carpet in order to install the DEI sound deadening material in preparation for the Kicker stereo installation, then on to the Wilwood brake installation.

“I was especially impressed with Missy Perez and Genevieve Saxton, the two students from Skyline College and the Heart Wrenchers Club,” Moore says. “Not only was their enthusiasm infectious, but seeing these young college women’s passion helps all of us see that tomorrow’s industry leadership is alive and well.”

Lisa Kubo of K&N installed a billet oil filter and air filter. Other visits included new SEMA Hall of Fame inductee Mark Heffington of Hypertech, and former SEMA Board of Directors Chair Corky Coker, as well as the news media.

“What an incredible week we had,” Colf notes. “Not only did we get the work done, but also had the privilege of being interviewed by both CBS and the local Fox News station as this historic women’s build unfolds. We were truly honored that these newsmakers recognize the significance of our first all-women’s vehicle build, and the precedence it sets for this industry.”

Week four saw “High Gear” move back to L&G Enterprises for final paint preparation. Team members included team leader Theresa Contreras of L&G, and Addi Van Osdel and Sara Morosan of L&G Enterprises’ Custom Truck Shop Division, with assistance from Lisa McCarley of Chicago Pneumatic, who provided the air tools to disassemble the vehicle.

Once in the staging area, all exterior and interior parts were removed, holes were welded and bodywork and prep intensified. With prep complete, the team began the arduous task of masking up the vehicle, and finally by week’s end, the spraying had begun.

Stop by the Ford Motor Co. booth at the SEMA Show to see the finished product.