Tom Wilson
June 1, 2013

It’s tough to think of anything that says “hot rod” more than an engine swap. Since the very beginning, guys have yanked out old, slow engines and replaced them with the newer and faster variants. It’s an activity that is almost guaranteed to give more speed and personality to the home-brewed vehicle.

Today the impetus to swap engines remains the same. The Coyote V-8 in particular is the popular kid in school. Like slipping Kate Upton into anything from a mud puddle to your hot tub, it has the near magical ability to make almost any Mustang better.

As we’ll belabor in a minute, engine swaps are a lot of work, and can offer more than their share of Excedrin moments, so before getting bogged down in warnings we should say there’s nothing quite like building your own beast. An engine swap has the ability to change the entire personality of a car that may have grown stale or been beaten out by new technology.

But most of all, an engine swap is a really cool way of getting down with a car and making it yours. Such a fundamental change as a different engine means you can really get creative in how you want the car to look and feel. This is especially true with the time-honored tradition of adding cubic inches, such as a 351W in a Fox or a 5.4 in an SN-95. With more displacement comes an inherent torque hit that’s satisfying to drive. There’s little better than putting the pedal down on some serious cubes—stuff happens right now, with no waiting for rpm or boost.

Approaching nearly double the horsepower of the venerable push-rod 5.0, along with an extra 90 lb-ft of torque, the Coyote 5.0 is transformational in the light Fox chassis. The Coyote/Fox combo, along with its SN-95 brother, is a natural for any Mustang performance application and a ripping fast ride.
Put a Coyote in a Fox or SN-95, hang a 351W in a Fox or update a V-6 to a V-8

It’s fun going the other way, too. Moving from a slow-turning pushrod engine to a modern revver like the Coyote can be like getting off the tractor and into a sports car. The new engines have a ripping urge that’s a real giggle to tickle, especially when backed up by a little more rear axle gearing. And as an ego stroke, engine swaps are instant credibility wherever car people hang, too. It’s a definite step up from bolt-ons because you earn your technical stripes with a swap.

In the end, we think the lure of an engine swap is putting a different feel or personality into your car. Sometimes it’s all about the performance, but at least as often you can go as fast with a blower or nitrous for much less money and effort. But lots of people have bolted on blowers; you can end up with something completely different with an engine swap. And later on you can add a blower.

So, swaps are cool stuff, but they can be big work. To avoid getting in over your cylinder heads, stick to the beaten path of common engine swaps. This is especially true if you’re a first-time engine swapper. Put a Coyote in a Fox or SN-95, hang a 351W in a Fox or update a V-6 to a V-8. This will give you the guidance and parts you need without sending you too far out into custom car purgatory where every bracket is handmade and all wiring custom.

Be careful when considering the more involved and physically larger engines. The Terminator 4.6s and GT500 5.4s are good examples of fabulous engines with numerous complex systems and heat rejection issues to contend with. Ford had a tough enough time getting all the radiators and coolers in the GT500, and you aren’t going to have it any easier trying to stuff them into the much smaller Fox (We’ve done it and we know). The end results of such big-engine/small-car marriages are stupendous, but they are far too complex and expensive for the neophyte.

If you aren’t a serious enthusiast with a barn full of tools, time, and social lubricant, then at the least consult thoroughly with the shop you will be working with before writing checks or cutting metal. Listen to advice and note that the smart way might be adding a power adder to the car you already have, or possibly even selling your current project for a different car. It may seem more expensive at first, but we’ll bet it isn’t once all the bills are paid.

If you’re intrigued by a swap, have done you homework, and it looks like it will work out, then go for it. There will be a few stumbles along the way, but you’ll learn a lot, and in the end, that’s the best part—oh, and you’ll go faster and have a cool car, too.