Pete Epple Technical Editor
March 8, 2010
Photos By: Jim McIlvaine

Imagine hearing the familiar rumble of a modified 5.0L Mustang, and when you turn around expecting to see a wild street/strip coupe or nasty-looking hatchback, a Ford Focus ZX3 is there to greet you.

When you see a custom Focus, you may expect the usual array of sport-compact bolt-on performance parts. Maybe the owner has added a supercharger or a turbo setup, and of course the annoying, albeit obligatory, fart can. What you wouldn't expect is a thumping V-8 and rear-wheel-drive conversion.

Brandon Bussard is the owner of Bussard Automotive & Performance Specialties in Warsaw, Indiana. When a customer came in asking if they could put a V-8 in his Jeep, Brandon thought it was a silly idea. After some discussion though, they decided to do a V-8 conversion, but not in a Jeep. Instead, they set out to do the V-8 conversion in a Focus.

Once the decision was made to move forward with the project, Brandon searched the Internet for the perfect base vehicle. An ad on eBay Motors yielded an '02 Ford Focus ZX3 for $2,500. "The car was only 16 months old when I bought it," Brandon explains. "The high mileage and a hurt transmission were the reason for the low price, but I knew we weren't going to reuse the drivetrain."

When it came time for the transformation, Brandon started with a Focus V-8 conversion kit from Kugel Komponents in La Habra, California. Since the early '00s, Jerry Kugel has designed and sold kits to convert the Focus to a V-8, rear-wheel drive configuration. "Converting a Focus to V-8 is pretty simple," explains Jerry Kugel. "The engine cradle and 8.8 rearend kits are really the only parts necessary to do the conversion. Everything else we sell is ala cart parts to make the conversion easier."

The heart of this build is a 331ci Ford, which is shoehorned between the Focus' fenders. The D.S.S. short-block started life as a stock 5.0L casting and is now fortified with the forged goodies to support big power. A forged D.S.S. crankshaft uses a set of forged connecting rods to raise and lower the forged piston inside the bores. Combustion occurs beneath a set of Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads, prepped by Bussard, and the compression ratio checks in at a healthy 10.0:1. The stainless steel valves are manipulated by a Comp Cams camshaft, which measures 0.565/0.574-inch lift and 232/240-degrees of duration respectively.

The air is delivered by way of a Ford Racing Performance Parts (FRPP) GT-40 intake manifold, which has been port-matched to the cylinder heads. Fuel is added by a set of FRPP 24-lb/hr injectors, with an SCT 2400 MAF meter keeping everything in check. Exhaust gasses exit through custom 13/4-inch headers, with 21/2-inch exhaust exiting before the rear tires. As if this Focus didn't already grab your attention, Brandon added a set of electric exhaust cutouts to let you know this isn't your run-of-the-mill ZX3.

Mounted to the back of the 331 bullet is a FRPP King Cobra clutch that transfers power to the Tremec TKO 500 transmission. As would be expected, during the installation Brandon needed to make a few modifications in order to make it all fit well. First, most of the stock transmission tunnel was cut away to make room for the new gearbox. The larger opening was covered with a custom sheetmetal floorpan, giving the interior a factory look as well as all the needed room for the transmission. The gearbox connects to a custom "short" driveshaft, which turns the 3.55 gears that are bolted to an Auburn differential. The posi unit spins a set of FRPP axles, which transfers power to the Motegi M7 wheels wrapped in Dunlop rubber.

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But the engine and transmission aren't the only major changes to the ZX3. The entire rear suspension was scrapped; an 8.8-inch live axle now takes its place. The kit adds bolt-in frame brackets for a factory-style four-link suspension design, along with a bolt-in upper crossmember for coilover shocks and lower shock brackets. The rearend housing is kept in place with custom double-adjustable upper and lower control arms, with QA1 coilovers cushioning the ride. In addition to the suspension swap, a few changes were made to reinforce the rear subfloor to ensure it was strong enough to support the added power. Brandon also added a fuel cell and moved the battery to the trunk, along with a custom 1-inch rear sway bar to help eliminate excess bodyroll. Up front, the stock struts, springs, and brakes were bolted back in the stock location.

With all of the extra power he would need and a drivetrain to back it up, it was time to focus (pun intended) on the paint. An aggressive look was needed, so Brandon enlisted the help of Travis Carpenter of Gerald's Body Shop in New Paris, Indiana, to make this sport compact stand out. Carpenter laid down the yellow hue to brighten things up a bit, then he added the silver stripe with airbrushed rivets to produce a slick sheetmetal effect.

As the build came to a close, an awesome and unique show car had evolved from a once-lame little machine. Sealing the deal was a trip down the dragstrip. With the car in full street trim and 400 ponies on tap, Brandon piloted the Focus to a best quarter-mile time of 12.23 at over 116 mph. "The car is primarily a show car," adds Brandon. "It gets a ton of attention and it's a blast to drive!"

With great power, slick custom paint, and that classis 5.0L growl, this is truly the Focus Ford should have built.