Mark Houlahan
Brand Manager, Mustang Monthly
April 20, 2011

Ford’s modular engine family has taken a while to catch on with engine swap folks in our classic Fords. Part of it is the engine’s sheer size (some wider than an FE big-block!), not to mention the intricacies of the modular’s engine management, fuel system, and other needs to get it up and running in your typical classic Mustang or Ford. While the modular is certainly gaining respect and becoming more en vogue these daysmainly thanks to easy DIY wiring kits from Ford Racing and other aftermarket companies, plus the big suspension companies out there figuring out how to fit the wide engine into our classic platformsthere’s been one person who’s been swapping Ford’s modular engines into classic Fords from day one. His name is Richard Brandl of Superior Custom Classics in Hudson, Florida [www.superiorcustomclassics.com" (727) 697-2951].

We’ve known Richard and his work since featuring Don Lett’s ’49 Mercury convertible (with a Lincoln Mark VIII drivetrain swap) in Super Ford magazine back in the early ’90s. Since then Richard has built numerous modular-powered classics for both customers and himself alike. His last masterpiece, you might remember from the Feb. ’06 issue of magazine, was his ’55 Regal Thunderbird replica (A Regal Ride), powered by an ’01 Mustang Cobra modular drivetrain. To say Richard knows the ins and outs of Ford’s modular engine is an understatement, and he can darn near shoehorn it into anything. So when we spotted this ’71 Ranchero at the NPD Silver Springs Mustang & Ford Roundup a couple of years back (displayed mid-build) with a four-cam 4.6L modular under the hood, we knew Richard couldn’t be too far away.

When we finally caught up with Richard, the Ranchero had been through several iterations, all with a Ford Racing Aluminator crate engine between the rails. At one point, the mod motor had a stack injection system on it feeding through a custom airbox that was married to the Shaker scoop, making the Shaker functional. Richard also dabbled in hydrogen fuel cell technology for the modular as well. The photos you see here are of a stock 4.6L Cobra-style intake with the Shaker affixed to the hood itself. Richard removed the stacks from the engine simply because he was toying with the idea of selling the car and the stacks put the price of entry a bit too steep for most tire kickers. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here in our story.

Two of Richard’s sons, Clinton and David (Ritchie Jr. works at Dad’s shop), were contemplating getting more into Dad’s business and wanted to learn paint and bodywork, mechanical, fabrication, and so forth. At the time, Richard was looking for a ’58-’60 Thunderbird project when he stumbled upon this Ranchero via an ad on eBay Motors, and it wasn’t more than a mile from his house. It was sitting in a man’s driveway as an unfinished project. The body was straight with no rust, so from a bodywork standpoint it wasn’t the worst thing Clinton and David could have started with to learn paint and body. While Clinton and David were working on smoothing the long flanks of the Ranchero for several coats of unforgiving deep gloss black paint, Richard started contemplating another modular engine swap.

Unlike early Mustangs that need a strut frontend or a Mustang II-style setup to fit the big modular, the Ranchero’s engine bay was already huge (big-blocks were an option in ’71). So fitting the 4.6L 32-Valve engine simply required fabricating engine mounts/adapters and an oil pan for the engine that would clear the Ranchero’s crossmember. Richard grabbed his Ford Racing catalog and ordered up the baddest modular crate engine available at the time, the Ford Racing Aluminator. The Aluminator is a hand-built aluminum block and heads modular offering with the best forged internals. It makes a great foundation for any car build and can easily be used naturally aspirated or in a forced-induction setup.

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Backing the Aluminator is a Ford 4R70W four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The 4R70W is commonly found behind the SN-95 Mustang’s engine (’96 and up modulars), and was a perfect match for the driving style of the Ranchero. Best of all, the large transmission tunnel made the 4R70W an easy fit with no cutting or sheetmetal surgery to get the transmission in place. Once the drivetrain was figured out, Richard pulled an ACCEL Gen 7 EFI system off the shelf (he’s a dealer and tuner for ACCEL) to run the engine, while a Retro-Tech transmission controller and push-button shifter made nice with the transmission once it was freshened up by A Tex Transmissions in Port Richey, Florida.

Richard made sure the Ranchero looked good by bolting up a set of Boyd Coddington 17-inch billet hoops, and if you look carefully between the spokes, you can catch a glimpse of the four-wheel disc setup from Stainless Steel Brakes. While the majority of the suspension is stock replacement (it is, after all, a cruiser and not a corner carver), Richard did set up the Ranchero with a four-corner RideTech air suspension system to control the stance and look of the Ranchero.

Besides Richard’s fascination with Ford’s modular engine platform, he’s an interior man by trade, and has been building custom interiors for 30-plus years. We’ve seen everything from Fox Mustang fold-down rear seats in vintage Cougars to custom one-off street rod interiors. For the Ranchero, Richard kept it all-Ford by using ’05 Mustang bucket seats and ’05 Thunderbird door panelsall covered in supple leather. Custom dash billet panels hold the gauges, RideTech controls, push-button trans controls, and more, while a custom center console hides some of the electronics and gives Richard a place to rest his right arm while cruising the boulevard.

All in all, the end result worked out better than Richard imagined, and he now has the whole family involved in the day-to-day shop work at Superior Custom Classics. So if you’re looking to build your own high-tech hauler, now you know who to talk to.

The Details

Richard Brandl’s ’71 Ranchero

Engine

  • Ford Racing Aluminator 4.6L DOHC
  • 3.552-inch bore
  • 3.543-inch stroke
  • Eagle forged steel H-beam rods
  • Manley forged pistons
  • Forged steel eight-bolt Cobra crankshaft
  • ’03 Cobra Mustang cylinder heads and camshafts
  • ’99 Cobra intake manifold
  • Custom-built oil pan
  • ACCEL Gen 7 engine management

Transmission

  • Ford 4R70W four-speed automatic overdrive
  • Built by A Tex Transmissions, Port Richey, FL
  • Retro-Tech push-button shifter and electronic controls

Rearend

  • Ford 8.8-inch axle housing
  • Traction-Lok differential
  • 3.73 gears

Exhaust

  • Stock 4.6L manifolds
  • Mello Tone mufflers
  • 2-inch aluminized dual exhaust

Suspension

  • Front: Stock with AirRide Shockwave shocks
  • Rear: Stock with AirRide air springs, QA1 adjustable shocks

Brakes

  • Front: Stainless Steel Brakes disc, 12-inch rotors, four-piston calipers
  • Rear: Stainless Steel Brakes disc, 11-inch rotors, single piston calipers

Wheels

  • Front: Boyd Coddington Timeless 5, polished, 17x8
  • Rear: Boyd Coddington Timeless 5, polished, 17x9

Tires

  • Front: BFGoodrich g-Force Sport, P235/45R17
  • Rear: BFGoodrich g-Force Sport, P255/45R17

Interior

  • Custom interior by Superior Custom Classics in black and gray snakeskin leather, ’05 Mus- tang GT seats, Auto Custom Carpets black Daytona carpeting, Flaming River stainless steel tilt column, Flaming River D-Wheel, Classic Instruments All American gauges, New Relics power windows, ’05 Thunderbird door panels, custom-built console, custom billet dash panels for shifter controls, switches, gauges, AirRide, stereo, and climate controls