Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
January 1, 2000
Photos By: The 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords Archives

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138_22z 1989_ford_mustang_gt Right_front_view
One of the first true 5.0 Mustangs to break into the 7-second zone, Bill Devine’s ’89 GT did so with a 347ci stroker, Trick Flow Street Heat heads, and Turbonetics twin turbos. Before taking over as the driver of Jon Yates’ wild 7.70 single-turbo racer, Devine had switched to a Yates-headed combination and a single turbo on his car and ran 7s again—a testament to the power of good turbo combination.
138_23z Ford_mustang Intercooler
While it’s a myth that turbochargers create a hotter intake charge because of their exhaust-driven nature, compressing air with any mechanical means creates friction and heat, thus an intercooler is critical to restore air density and reduce the chances for detonation. As such, intercooling is one area where bigger really is better according to Job Spetter of Turbo People. George Spears of Spearco agrees, saying a bigger cooler offers more surface area to reject heat and offers less restriction. Larger intercoolers can contribute to turbo lag, but Spears says you always run out of room under the car before you make one too big.
138_26z Ford_mustang Turbocharged_engine_view
While Spears and most turbo tuners recommend a simple and effective air-to-air intercooler for street and street/strip cars, a pure race car can benefit from an air-to-water intercooler, or aftercooler in Vortech speak. Because racers can dope the liquid running through the coolers with ice, they can reduce air-charge temperatures significantly, allowing for increased timing and more power. This aftercooler was freshly installed on Tom Moore’s mid-8-second Street Outlaw racer. Driver/tuner Dennis Lugo is making the move from a traditional intercooler to the liquid cooler in the hopes of running the low-8s necessary to win in the 10.5-inch–tire freak show next season.
138_24z Ford_mustang Wastegate_view
Lugo says the Turbonetics Racegate pictured here flows as much air as a stock Mustang engine uses. Wastegates bleed off boost to limit the maximum boost level. Most wastegates are adjustable, which is wonderful for owners of street/strip cars. They can turn up the boost with race gas at the track and turn it down with pump gas on the street. Not pictured here but worth mentioning is bypass valve, which recirculates boost back to the inlet when the throttle closes. These are all-but-required on a blower, but most turbos do without them. They are not a bad idea, however, on a street turbo system seeing a lot of open and closed throttling.
138_25z Ford_mustang Cylinder_head
Whether you’re building a street turbo car or a full-out racer, a good cylinder head like this Trick Flow Twisted Wedge will help, but it needn’t be wildly ported. A number of racers have run in the 7s with old Street Heat heads, and Devine said even his Yates heads had the mildest port job, so any quality aftermarket head should work great. Just look for something with a thick deck if you plan to hit it with a ton of boost.
138_27z Ford_mustang Cam_shaft
For a blast of a street car, you can stick with the stock stick. Those who must have more, or just about everyone reading this story, can step up to an after- market camshaft for even more power. According to Lugo, a turbo cam is totally different from a blower cam due to the turbo’s reliance on exhaust flow. This means a turbo can have no overlap between the intake and exhaust valve events. Such overlap would kill boost. As such, turbos do well with small cams, making them extremely streetable. In fact, Moore’s 169-mph Outlaw racer still pulls 10 inches of vacuum.
138_28z Ford_mustang Interior_view
Of course, the usual boost and fuel pressure gauges are critical with any supercharged or turbocharged car, but for turbo race cars with automatic transmissions a transmission cooler gauge is essential, as the transmission tends to heat up while you’re spooling up the turbo on the line. Lugo says every second on the transbrake equals a 30-degree increase in transmission fluid temperature. He adds that turbos are simply rough on transmissions in a drag-racing environment, but built C6s tend to withstand the abuse.
138_29z Ford_mustang Transmission_cooler
Because turbo cars are so rough on the transmission, an automatic transmission cooler is an absolute requirement. Devine highly recommends running an electric fan on the cooler, like this Perma-Cool package, to keep the tranny temperature in check. Lugo says once the gauge reaches 250 degrees—after a few extra seconds on the transbrake—you’re in trouble.
138_30z Ford_mustang Turbocharged_engine_view
Choosing a transmission for a turbo car really depends on where you plan to run the vehicle. Because a turbo works well building boost against the load of a low-stall converter, an automatic transmission is most associated with turbo cars, however the current trend is strapping a stout five-speed behind megapowered turbo engines. John Gullet’s 1,600-plus-horsepower Duttweiler monster (pictured here) is backed by a stout Liberty five-speed, which hastens spool time, offers increased durability, and puts on quite a show when Gullet slams it into gear and the front tires grab air.
138_31z Ford_mustang Fuel_pump
According to Lugo, turbos require a top-shelf fuel system because turbos load the engine longer than centrifugal superchargers. You can get away with a high-flow, in-tank pump and larger injectors for a typical street car. As you get to more aggressive street/strip duty, you might consider something like this Paxton Kamikaze pump. Once you start exceeding 15 or so pounds of boost, it’s time to step up with a full-on fuel system with pumping from Aeromotive, Cartech, Paxton, or Weldon.
Like any engine combination, a turbo combo can benefit from the tuning available via programmable engine management, like DFI, PMS, EPEC, Motec, SpeedBrain, or Speed-Pro. Lugo, whose weapon of choice is ACCEL DFI, says turbo cars require distinct fuel and timing maps. Where centrifugal blowers and naturally aspirated engines can use a lot of timing right off the bat to help them make power down low, turbos hit with boost so soon they need lots of fuel and moderate timing across their long, fat powerband; this torquey powerband also allows running moderate rear gearing.

They are the voodoo child of aftermarket power adders. Shrouded by secrecy and shunned by many racers and street enthusiasts, turbochargers have long been the most misunderstood, yet feared, power adders on the performance planet. According to Job Spetter, president of Turbo People, turbochargers have gone from laughing stock, to lucky strike, to unfair advantage over the last 25 years, but to him turbos are just another way to go fast.

Using the black art of recycling exhaust energy into intake efficiency, some would say turbos could turn your engine into a perpetual energy machine--if only you could understand how to set them up. After chatting with a few respected turbo tuners, we've learned the real secret about turbos.

Turbos really aren't the freak wallflower of the performance dance. In fact, turbos need the same things many of the more popular power adders need. When it comes to turbos, the usual piecing together of a combination and detail tuning make or break them just like any other method of unnatural aspiration.

The only real trick with turbos is you simply can't swap pulleys or jets to step up the performance, nor is it always simple to change turbos, as the exhaust system and turbo are critically linked. As such, it's exceedingly important to get the turbo system setup from the get-go. For street cars, going with a production turbo kit from one of the companies listed in "The Latest Power Craze" story on page 30 is the easiest way to go.

More aggressive, and well-heeled, street/strip and race turbo fans may wish to go with a custom turbo kit. This means going to an expert and doing it right the first time. "There are different turbos, which will satisfy different needs," Spetter says. "Anybody with some turbo background can do that for you. It's not terribly difficult. It's just like a blower or nitrous. You can't put a 500-shot on a stock motor." The choice depends on "how much fuel system they have, how much computer, how much injector, and so on," he adds.

Building The Host
What goes under all the turbo hardware is at least as important as the turbo system itself. Once you decide on your performance goals, think about the big picture. Turbo combinations tend to be easier on equipment, according to Bill Devine of Downs Ford Motorsport, who drives Jon Yates' 7-second turbocharged Pro 5.0 car and his own turbo Pro car, one of the first in the 7s. However, as Dennis Lugo, driver of Tom Moore's mid-8-second Street Outlaw and proprietor of Lugo Performance Automotive explains, a turbo loads the whole engine--not just the crankshaft, like a blower.

Because any power adder can be rough on the engine, you don't want to put a ton of boost or nitrous to your 200,000-mile short-block. That's not to say you can't do well putting streetable boost to a stock engine. However, if you want to step it up like most speed addicts, you'll likely be leaning on the equipment. "It's a smoother torque curve. I would think the load is probably easier on the engine when it's done correctly," Spetter said. "When it's not, it looks just like your worst nightmare' like somebody got in there with a plasma cutter."

As such, Spetter approaches the engine as a workhorse and the turbo as the thoroughbred. "The theory being the motor is the host and whatever you put on it needs to do the work, whether it's nitrous, a belt-driven supercharger, or a turbo," he says. "The host needs to be strong. Not overly fancy. Not crazy. And we let whatever we put on it do the work. When you have both of them doing a lot of work, it doesn't usually work out so well."

Though a turbo engine need be strong, it need not be complicated. Any good set of aftermarket cylinder heads should work just fine. Porting is better, especially on the exhaust side, but as Devine says, you reach the point of diminishing airflow returns because the turbo is forcing air through the engine. Any quality aftermarket intake should also be fine with a turbo, but they do lean toward intakes with more plenum volume--that's typical of superchargers, too.

The one area where turbos really stand out from the crowd is camming. While any naturally aspirated engine needs overlap between the closing of the intake valve and the opening of the exhaust valve to promote scavenging--where the evacuating exhaust actually helps fill the cylinder--racier supercharger applications also get away with a bit of overlap as any boost loss is usually overcome. Turbos, however, are reliant on exhaust flow for motivation, so the intake and exhaust events must be quite distinct.

This makes the camming different from most performance applications, as you actually want to run a "small" cam for better performance, which is a boon to those running turbos on the street. In fact, many installers of street turbo kits stick with the stock camshaft to provide great performance with impeccable driveability. Those wanting more are best suited to approach a turbo tuner for a proven cam grind.

Carrying the Load
As with any power adder, the ancillary systems like fuel and ignition are critical, but no more so with a turbo. "They need to be properly sized," Spetter reiterates. "If you set up a car to shoot 600 horse of nitrous or put a double X on it, and you don't have enough fuel system or a good enough computer to control it, you're going to break it. It's, again, a matter of sizing it properly."

According to Lugo, sizing a turbo fuel system properly means leaning toward more capacity. Because turbos provide such a long, flat torque curve, the engines are under load for a longer period of time than, say, a supercharger. Turbo engines simply make a lot of torque, which requires a lot of fuel. As for the ignition system, turbos need a high-output system, just like any forced-induction application, as the increased cylinder pressure means the mixture is more difficult to ignite.

The real trick with an aggressive turbo setup is the engine management. While you can get away with using the stock computer and 36-pound injectors, according to Devine, anything more means some kind of programmable engine management.

Of course this is right up Spetter's keyboard. "Power is power. No matter how you make it, the tuneup is everything. The right combination of parts, of course, and then the tuneup is everything. When you are off with that you could have the best of everything and it just doesn't work," he says. "Being able to choreograph it in the end and put it all together is what separates one from the other."

Naturally, you can use just about any electronic engine management to maximize your turbo application, but be sure to select one your tuner of choice is familiar with.

Getting it Right
In today's Mustang racing environment, there is a shift toward turbocharging because of their efficiency in producing power. The real trick is that thus far turbos have been a rarity in the drag-racing ranks, so there are few tuners familiar with their quirks. Even though a turbo runs quite well when set up correctly, you may have to pay for that setup at the hands of an expert. "The word is that turbos have this huge advantage and it's just not true. There are no free lunches," Spetter says. I've been doing this for 25 years and certainly have had my shed full of broken engines and camshafts that didn't work. Using a turbo doesn't buy immunity from any of the other things that break race cars."

Turbos are also making more 5.0 race cars fly, and we suspect many of you running street Mustangs may soon follow suit. So long as you follow some common-sense guidelines, the only problem you'll have is paying for all those new rear tires.

Horse Sense:
Twin turbos have the reputation for spooling up quicker and putting up less back pressure, but, on a 5.0, they also have only four cylinders to spin each turbo, so they have less energy on tap than a single turbo driven by all eight cylinders.