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Family Vacation—Kevin Schweizer’s Godzilla-powered Mercury Zephyr can run sevens and haul his family

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Family Vacation—Kevin Schweizer’s Godzilla-powered Mercury Zephyr can run sevens and haul his family
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Evan J. Smith and the FSC Staff
Racing in drag-and-drive events has been a longtime goal for Kevin Schweizer, but he knew he needed a vehicle that could also comfortably carry his wife and daughter. Instead of a traditional coupe or sedan, Schweizer instead selected a spacious station wagon with plenty of room for the entire family — and he crammed a massive Godzilla engine under his 1980 Mercury Zephyr’s hood to ensure it could pack plenty of power as well as plenty of luggage.
Schweizer, now 46 and handling industrial maintenance at a power plant for a living nearby, had raced when he was younger. “I blame my dad, Larry, for financially burdening me with this hobby,” he joked good-naturedly. Schweizer’s father passed away in 2020, but he had been a lifelong racer and spent more than four decades working as an announcer at tracks all around Indiana. “I started going with him to Greater Evansville Raceway in 1985. I spent many summers handing out timeslips while my brother, Keith, ran the computer in the tower.”
Schweizer met his high school sweetheart — who was to become his future wife — Jaime, while was racing and she was “all in” on his passion; After college, Jaime even began working at the track as a timing system computer operator.
In 2000, Schweizer got his hands on a 1966 Pontiac GTO and raced in the Pro ET category until 2003 when he stepped up to a rear-engine dragster for Super Pro. As so often happens, Schweizer ultimately stepped away from drag racing to focus on his family. The couple had a daughter, Lynnsie, and she became the center of their world. “I sold my dragster in late 2003 and bought a Harley,” added the man. “Before I knew it, 20 years had gone by.”
When drag-and-drive events started getting more and more attention, Schweizer took notice. “I attended several with friends to spectate or help out. I talked with my wife about whether or not I should build another car,” said Schweizer, thankful that Jaime was supportive of his desire to get back into drag racing. “I wanted to build something fast that could fit all three of us.”
Originally, Schweizer wanted to build a Ford Mustang, as he had always coveted the model, but he knew the car couldn’t accommodate his wife and daughter and wasn’t practical. Instead, he thought it would be cool to build a station wagon. In February of 2019, after several months of patiently searching, Schweizer saw a sales posting in a Facebook group for a 1980 Mercury Zephyr not too far from his home in Rockport, Indiana.
“I showed my wife and she asked what we were doing today… I said ‘nothing’ and she said ‘Well, let’s go look at it!’” he shared. After looking over the rust-free relic, the husband and wife purchased the Mercury that same day and returned a week later to pick up their newest possession. 
Right away, Schweizer consulted with his friend, drag-and-drive expert and multi-time NMRA True Street winner, Mike Jovanis, on how to best set up the big boat’s suspension. After sorting through a workable setup for the front end, which utilized as many UPR Products components as they could get their hands including control arms, steering rack, and more along with Racecraft front spindles, Jovanis spec’d out a special set of Baer brakes to slow the behemoth to safety after every run.
Once those key components were sorted, Schweizer stripped the station wagon’s interior and sent the Zephyr off to Eric Yost’s Customs by Bigun. “Eric did the 8.50-cert roll cage, and while I had the car at his place, I was going to put a small block Ford engine in but decided to do the Godzilla instead,” recalled the racer.
While the car was in his care, Yost built the 9-inch Ford rearend housing to hold the Strange Engineering aluminum center section; he also custom-built all the rear suspension links, added the Strangle 40-spline gun-drilled axles and the Strange driveshaft, AFCO shocks from Eric Saffell at every corner, incorporated the Merillat Racing upper and lower torque boxes, and even mini-tubbed the Mercury
Once the Zephyr returned to Indiana, Schweizer began gathering the parts and pieces necessary to fit a massive 7.3-liter Ford V8 truck engine between the frame rails of his ‘80s-era wagon. “I had Derek Bivins from Bivins Race Cars put the motor in, and we had to make modifications to get it to fit, but the UPR Outlaw K-member was critical in positioning it low enough to make it work,” Schweizer noted. “Mike [Jovanis] was a huge help throughout the entire build spec’ing parts and sharing his understanding of what works.”
Custom engine mounts, custom mounts for the rack, and more were all fabricated as well as Schweizer’s ultimate goal was to keep his newly minted “ZephZilla” looking as unassuming as possible so he could maintain a sleeper appearance. 
The 445-cubic-inch engine, which Bivins tucked neatly under the factory hood, was also heavily modified by Mike Curcio Race Products before installation. The stock bore and stock stroke block was fortified with Callies Ultra connecting rods, 10:1 compression Diamond pistons, and a COMP Tool Steel camshaft spec’d by Brian “Freezy” Friedentag, but the OEM crank was left in place.
MCRP ported the Ford Godzilla heads, then massaged them with some light touches including a set of Johnson lifters and stock rockers with CHE Precision’s trunnion upgrade kit. Additionally, Schweizer lucked out by being one of the first to score a new, double-roller timing chain from Paul’s High Performance and added a Brian Tooley Racing intake manifold to complete his Godzilla build.
Bivins also took the point on building the custom turbo kit, designed intentionally as unobtrusive as possible. Working around two 72mm Forced Inductions turbochargers, carefully selected by John Bewley of Full Proof Performance, was no easy task but the men were able to make it happen. 
“I wanted to mount the turbos up front for better weight distribution, especially since the wagon was going to run on radials and I didn’t want to do wheelies,” Schweizer explained. “We didn’t have much room to work with, so they wound up in the fender behind the headlights.” Ultimately, the location worked perfectly to maintain a stealthy appearance, although astute onlookers will quickly notice the Shearer Fab front-mount intercooler built around a Garrett core and the wastegate dump pipes peeking out in front of the fenders.
Schweizer ordered his Holley Dominator EFI system from Brian “Freezy” Friedentag and selected the man to take point on tuning the combination, too. “He does a hell of a job,” affirmed Schweizer, who also integrated a Jolt Systems engine wiring harness. “I did most of the wiring on the car myself, but I hadn’t done a Holley yet so Brandon Herrington wired the system for me.”
With the power production end of the project squared away, Bivins moved on to installing the automatic transmission: a Powerglide with a 1.80 gearset built by Larry Roedel and a Jovanis-mandated Circle D Specialties Pro Series 252mm billet bolt-together torque converter.
Finally, Schweizer turned his attention to the finishing touches. “I wanted to keep it somewhat hospitable for drag-and-drive,” he teased, “so I put in new carpet and insulation along with Kirkey seats for the driver and front passenger.” Bivins installed a small set of air bags to help smooth out the ride by supporting the wagon’s rear when it was loaded down with passengers, parts, and equipment, and also worked his magic getting the stock back seat to fit in between the mini tubs.
Schweizer left the stock paint on the exterior body panels untouched to further bolster the car’s sleeper street credibility, and also so he wouldn’t have to worry about incurring any dings or rock chip. “I wanted something I wasn’t afraid to put miles on,” he shared. Schweizer did upgrade the Mercury’s wheels and tires, though, with a set of RC Components Exile S rollers wrapped in Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial Pro 275 rubber.
Running on E85 fuel (Renegade for the track and pump for the street) supplied via dual systems composed of Aeromotive components, Fragola PTFE lines and fittings from Race Part Solutions, and Fuel Injector Development 2,200cc injectors, Schweizer’s amazing Freezy-tuned Mercury “ZephZilla” put down 1,151 horsepower to its rear wheels on the dyno with an estimated 1,500-1,600 horsepower available at the crankshaft. “We’ve turned it up since then, though,” added Schweizer mischievously. 
Although Schweizer’s first inclination was to run his Zephyr in drag-and-drive competition, he was instrumental in assisting Leticia Hughes write the rules for the burgeoning NMRA SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race category and his interest there was too strong to resist. “I thought the class would be fun, so I figured I’d run there, too,” he added. “And thank you to William Lujan for his help spec’ing and supplying some things for me!”
With nearly five years invested in his build, Schweizer’s family hauler was finally ready to make its inaugural shakedown runs during the first weekend in September of 2023 at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
“I went to get my license that weekend, and I knew I had to run quicker than 9.90 to do so, so I told Freezy to put in a tune up for 9.80 or 9.70,” laughed Schweizer, who ended up running in the quarter-mile in the 8.90 second zone instead.
Having made six passes on Saturday and two on Sunday, Schweizer was confident in both his driving skill and his Mercury’s ability. On September 23, he attended an event at Beacon Dragway in Paducah, Kentucky, and went to the finals in the eighth-mile 5.30 index category. “It wasn’t a bad way to sort out a new car!” he proclaimed. Even though Schweizer ended the night as the runner-up, he and the other driver had agreed to split the purse before the finals were run, so his bank account was a winner regardless. 
The following weekend, the Schweizer family loaded up their beloved behemoth and headed back to Beech Bend for the NMRA World Finals Featuring the Holley Intergalactic Ford Festival. Armed with his fresh competition license, the driver made his big debut in NMRA SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race and qualified quite well in a competitive field. 
Weighing in at 3,500 pounds (with driver), Schweizer’s Mercury ran 8.48 seconds at first — too quick for the class — so Freezy turned down the chaos; Schweizer later ran 8.669 at 159.02 mph to qualify respectably in thirteenth for the 22-car field.
Round one of eliminations began on Saturday evening of the event, and Schweizer was overjoyed when the win light turned on in his lane. Incredibly, he had run dead-on the 8.60-second target and picked up a timeslip showing his 8.600 at 148.04 mph pass to commemorate the occasion.
In round two on Sunday, however, Lady Luck turned the tables. Schweizer’s carpel tunnel was acting up, and his hand was numb to the point where he was having trouble holding the transbrake. “Casey Shotwell treed me. I had to use my scramble button and I broke out with an 8.588 at 162.47 mph trip, but he [Casey] went dead-on anyway,” recalled Schweizer, who had fun despite the defeat. “A huge thanks to Brian Friedentag for tuning the car. This combination just works and never fails to impress me.”
Not long after the event, Schweizer let Freezy get a little spicy with ZephZilla’s tune-up and pushed the Godzilla up to accommodate 26 pounds of boost. At an undisclosed location, the car and driver set a new quarter-mile personal best of 8.024 seconds at 169.83 mph while hitting the rev limiter at the 1,000-foot mark. “On the run after that, I ran 8.06 but the car didn’t shift and I had to manually shift which slowed me down,” he continued.
Knowing his cage is only competition legal to 8.50 seconds and that he would likely get his hand slapped, Schweizer still had his heart set on claiming a 7-second time slip… so, with plenty of power still on the table, he committed to making it happen – at least once. On October 28, he took advantage of the cool, dry, autumn air and with less than 9 pounds of boost utilized leaving the starting line, was able to easily earn the accolade with a massive 7.898 at 175.78 mph hit.
Now that he’s done the deed, Schweizer will happily return to the upper echelons of the 8-second zone so he can fill his 2024 schedule with plenty of events. On his calendar are four NMRA events so he can keep enjoying the SunCoast Performance 8.60 Street Race category, Tom Bailey’s Sick Week, and some 5.30 index racing with Outlaw Street Car Association.
“My favorite thing about this car is that the three of us — myself, Jaime, and Lynnsie — can all ride together. It’s a dream come true to have a car the family can cruise around with and then run hard at the track,” concluded the man, happy to have made his lifelong drag-and-drive aspirations come true with his Godzilla-powered 1980 Mercury Zephyr wagon. “My ultimate goal is to get my 15-year-old daughter in the car so she’s the one racing it one day.”
The Details
Owner: Kevin and Jaime Schweizer        
Driver: Kevin Schweizer (hopefully Lynnsie Schweizer someday)
Hometown: Rockport, IN
Occupation: Industrial Maintenance
Class: 8.60 Street Race
Crew: Jaime and Lynnsie Schweizer
Phone Number: 812-457-0127
Email: [email protected]
Car Year/Make/Model: 1980 Mercury Zephyr Wagon (ZephZilla)
Engine: 7.3-liter Godzilla
Engine builder: MCRP (Mike Curcio)
Displacement: 445 cubic inches
Block: Stock
Bore: 4.220 inches
Stroke: 3.976 inches
Crank: Stock
Rods: Callies Ultra
Pistons: Diamond 10:1 
Heads: Stock Heads Ported by MCRP
Valvetrain: Johnston LS Lifters, Stock Rockers with CHE Trunnion Upgrade
Cam type: Tool Steel COMP Cams spec’d by Brian Friedentag (Freezy), Paul’s High Performance double-roller timing chain
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley Dominator with Jolt Systems Engine Wiring Harness tuned by Brian Friedentag (Freezy Tuned)
Power-adder: Twin 72mm Turbos by Forced Inductions Solutions spec’d by Full Proof Performance (John Bewley)
Fuel brand and type: Renegade E85 on track and pump E85 on the street.
Headers and exhaust: Stock manifolds swapped side to side and V-bands welded to them.
Transmission: Powerglide with 1.80 gear set
Transmission Builder: Larry Roedel
Clutch/shifter/torque converter:  Motion Raceworks Operator Shifter and Circle D Converter Bolt Together
Rearend: 9-inch Ford with Strange Aluminum Center Section, 3.50 gear and 40-Spline gun-drilled axles 
Fuel System: Aeromotive 5.0 GPM Pump, Fragola PTFE Lines and Fittings, Fuel Injector Development 2,200 Injectors
Body and/or chassis builder: Customs by Bigun and Bivins Race Cars 
Suspension (Front): UPR Outlaw K Member and Control Arms with AFCO Struts
Suspension (Rear): Marty Merillat Upper and Lower Torque Boxes, 9-inch rearend fabricated by Customs by Bigun
Brakes (Front): Baer Brakes spec’d by Mike Jovanis
Brakes (Rear): Baer Brakes spec’d by Mike Jovanis
Wheels (front): RC Components – Exile-S
Wheels (Rear): RC Components – Exile-S
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson – Sportsman S/R: 26-6-17
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson – ET Street Radial Pro: 275-60-15 
Aftermarket body modifications: Mini Tubbed
Safety equipment: 8.50 Roll Cage, Kirkey Front Seats, Red Tide Driving Suit – SFI 20, Race Quip Helmet and Seatbelts, Simpson Hybrid (Hans Device), Sparco Gloves and Shoes – SFI 20
Vehicle weight: 3,500 pounds
Quickest ET: 7.878 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.253 seconds
Fastest mph: 175.78
Special thanks to:  Mike Jovanis, Brian Friedentag (Tuner), Willy Lujan, Derek Bivins (Bivins Race Cars), Paul Svinicki (Paul’s High Performance), Eric Saffell (AFCO), Brandon Herrington (wired Holley system), Wade at Race Part Solutions, and Mike Curcio for taking on the engine build.

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