Owning a replica of one of Carroll Shelby's immensely popular 427 Cobras is about as close as most Ford enthusiasts will ever get to the real thing. With original examples going for high six-figures to well over a couple of million with race history, it is easy to see why a $40,000-$80,000 replica is so palatable to the Blue Oval fan. There are several ways to scratch the Cobra itch, too. From DIY kits like the Factory Five Racing Mk 4, starting at around $13,000, to complete "turnkey minus" examples like Backdraft and others (where the car is complete minus drivetrain and a local dealer finishes the car for you), options abound. ERA Replica Automobiles offers the best of both worlds with a kit option and a turn-key complete car option (through its parent company).
David Wade's ERA build is currently at the point where a decision has to be made about what is going to motivate his replica. While many owners power their replicas with small-block Fords and even the new modular engines found in the current Mustang, for some people a replica just isn't "right" without an FE big-block cinched down on the mounts—and this is David's thinking as well. However, David wasn't going to settle for a base 390ci FE with some dress-up parts to look the part of the famed 427. No, he wants his replica to be able to walk the walk and look right doing it. Enter Brent Lykins and his Lykins Motorsports (formerly B2 Motorsports) shop in Kentucky. Brent is well known in FE circles for building some stout power plants and David asked Brent to put together a package that would put the fear of God in anyone crazy enough to get in the passenger seat.
Building an FE with more than 600 lb-ft of torque for a 2,400-pound car with a 90-inch wheelbase sounds like a recipe for disaster, but having driven similar setups (and owning a Factory Five with more than 500 lb-ft of torque ourselves), we know firsthand that these replicas can put the power down with the right suspension and tires. Plus, we must admit it's also a bit of bragging rights, too, as there's nothing like climbing out of one of these replicas and answering the age old question of how much horsepower and watching the jaw of the person who queried us hit the floor.
David's goal was a period-look engine, so Brent was instructed to keep chrome and billet to a minimum and use a traditional V-belt accessory drive. Furthermore, even though David wanted a lot of horsepower, he wanted streetability above all. Cobra replicas are often used for parade and homecoming duties and low-speed driveability was paramount to the project. This is all easily handled by the large displacement Brent had planned. A big-block with 600 horsepower can easily make power down low, whereas a small-block, even a stroker small-block, needs a lot more rpm to make the same power. Let's take a look at David's FE as it comes to life at Lykins Motorsports.
1 The base of the project is a Robert Pond Motorsports (RPM) aluminum 427 block. The Pond blocks are works of art and utilize all Ford mounting points and exterior dimensions for a period look. The aluminum block was chosen over the iron offering for weight savings (the Pond aluminum block weighs in at 120 pounds, versus 195 for the OE Ford iron block).
2 A second look at the profile of the Pond block shows the tell-tale cross-bolt, deep skirt design of the FE along with Pond’s aluminum screw-in core plugs (utilizing O-ring seals). The Pond aluminum block features spun ductile iron sleeves and priority main oiling.
3a Brent is a fan of the Pond block, but also cautions us that the Pond block does require some final machining steps and isn’t ready out of the box like some blocks. He likens the process to a “do it your way” or a “racer’s block” in that you can set your own deck height, cylinder bore size, and more. One area he always double checks is this oil gallery plug for the lifters. In some cases, the hole needs to be tapped deeper to clear the distributor body; the before and after depth of the plug is shown here.
4 The Pond block utilizes a stock oil dipstick location, but due to the fact that Brent is planning an aftermarket oil pan, the hole needs to be plugged. Instead of simply pressing a small core plug into the hole, Brent opted to drill and tap the location for a pipe plug.
5 The Pond block’s main oiling feed holes required a light bit of dressing with a rotary file to ensure trouble free oiling by aligning the feed holes with the feed holes in the King main bearings.
6 With block prep/machine work completed by Brent’s machinist, Dale Meers of Dale Meers Racing Engines, and the block clean and ready for assembly, Brent began with the installation of the 010-inch under size King main bearings that work with the stroker crank.
7 The rear main seal design for the Pond block is the original two-piece affair. While many builders off-set the rear main seal halves Brent does not, seating them flush with the block and main cap. He’s never had a leak!
8 The RPM forged-steel stroker crank features a 4.375-inch stroke, the max for the Pond block architecture. Brent had the crank internally balanced by Todd Yaden at Shively Speed Machine. The block’s 4.270-inch bore and 6.700-inch rods combine with the stroker crank to stuff 501 cubic-inches into the Pond 427 block.
9 Before moving on to the reciprocating assembly, Brent carefully seats the custom Crane billet hydraulic roller cam into the block. The cam’s specs sound huge, but remember, this is a big big-block, so it’s very streetable. The roller grind features 0.655-inch of valve lift at 0.050-inch with a duration of 254/260. The intake center line is 107 with a lobe separation angle of 112.
10 Brent lays the RPM forged crank into its new home in the Pond block. Also note here that Brent has installed the oil gallery plugs for the block’s side gallery and installed a billet oil filter adapter.
11 Once Brent has installed and torqued the billet steel main caps into place, the rear main cap skirt seals need to be installed. Brent starts installation of the seal with a light coating of RTV silicone on the seal and then carefully pushes it down into place between the main cap and the block.
12a The skirt seals are pushed toward the block for better sealing by inserting the provided seal pins behind the seal as shown, and driving them in just below the oil pan gasket surface.
13 Lastly, Brent adds more RTV silicone over the end of the skirt seals and pins to maximize sealing and prevent oil leaks. Later, once the RTV silicone has had time to set up, Brent will go over the area with a razor blade to remove any excess sealer.
14 It’s almost a shame to put these beauties inside the engine! These are custom Race-Tec slugs featuring a 4.270-inch diameter with a 26cc dish and ample valve reliefs. The ring grooves are 1⁄16, 1⁄16, 3⁄16-inch and utilizes Total Seal rings. Compression ratio is calculated at 10.3:1.
15 Connecting those fancy forged slugs to the RPM stroker crank is the job of these sweet pieces of steel—Scat H-beam rods with ARP fasteners. The rod-to-crank marriage is made with a set of ACL rod bearings; 0.010-inch undersize just like the main bearings.
16 Brent dropped in the number one piston and rod assembly after bolting up the Ford Racing timing set so that the Crane billet roller can be degreed in.
17 Once Brent has the camshaft degreed to his satisfaction, the remaining step before final assembly of the reciprocating parts is to check piston-to-valve clearance. We’ve shown these steps numerous times before so we won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty. Brent ended up with 0.280/0.300-inch clearance using a Cometic 0.050-inch head gasket.
18 With the piston-to-valve clearance verified, Brent was free to install the remaining piston and rod assemblies to wrap up the short-block portion of the build.
19 As mentioned a few captions back, Brent used Cometic MLS head gaskets for David’s FE build. The Cometic gaskets measure 0.050-inches thick and feature a 4.400-inch bore diameter.
20 Moving on to the top end of the FE, Brent assembled a killer set of Edelbrock aluminum Performer FE heads. Port work netted flow rates of 323-cfm intake and 230-cfm exhaust at 0.650-inch lift. The spring package includes Comp Cams springs, locators, and locks with Manley retainers. Valves are custom Ferrea, sized 2.150 on the intake and 1.730 on the exhaust.
21 Brent restricts oil flow to the rocker shafts by installing a 0.070-inch restrictor in the main oil feed gallery found in the cylinder heads for the rocker shafts.
22 The heads were installed with ARP studs and Brent dropped in the Crane retrofit link-bar roller lifters at this time too.
23 How’s this for a nifty trick! Since Brent port-matched the Edelbrock dual-plane intake to the heads and intake gaskets, he uses a boroscope to verify port-to-port alignment and marks the head, gasket, and intake on each side with a discreet hash mark to ensure the ports are aligned with the gasket when the intake is bolted down for the last time.
24 Valvetrain bits include T&D “street” rockers and Trend 5⁄16-inch diameter/0.105-inch wall thickness custom length pushrods.
25 An original Ford FE timing cover was sourced for the build and hit with a fresh coat of paint and new stainless mounting hardware. Just poking out of the bottom of the block is the Melling high-volume oil pump and pickup tube.
26 A Moroso 8-quart capacity wet-sump street/strip oil pan is employed to keep the 10W30 oil cool no matter what type of driving David has in mind.
27 To wrap the engine build Brent finished off the 501ci FE big-block with a MSD Pro Billet distributor and Edelbrock aluminum water pump. Brent swapped to a black distributor cap and added MSD’s 8.5mm Super Conductor wires in black for a retro-look. Up top sits a Quick Fuel Technologies Q-950 carb, custom built by Brent’s regular carb guy, Scott Perkins. On the dyno at Dale Meers Racing Engines, the stroked FE pumped out 580 hp at 6,000 rpm and 615 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm.