Dale Amy
June 1, 2009
Want to impress your friends? How about a Roush stroker small-block with eight-stack electronic fuel injection? This is but one of an array of small- and big-block custom crate engines from Roush Performance that can be ordered with a matching, modern overdrive automatic tranny, electronically calibrated to the buyer's shift preferences.

"Ford in a Ford." This phrase is something of a mantra to the crew at Roush Performance, people who firmly believe that something like a '32 Ford hotrod or Cobra replica shouldn't be hobbled with a Brand X powertrain. They also feel that someone wanting to liven up the drivetrain on pretty much any classic Ford should be able to buy a carefully matched engine and transmission duo that will not only slip right in, but fire right up and drive away without any compatibility or driveability issues, or the need for further small-parts shopping. A tall order? Maybe, but from what we saw and heard during a recent visit to Roush, your project's ideal pairing of potent Ford V-8 and four-speed overdrive automatic may only be a phone call away.

Roush is hardly new to crate engines; it has been offering them for some time and was one of the first to offer a complete engine, ready to run right out of the shipping container. And, by the way, though it's most efficient for us to refer to these simply as "crate" engines, they're really more like "custom crate" engines, as buyers have plenty of choices in the purchase process, right down to the color the block is painted. In fact, buyers have a multitude of options, when it comes to dressing up their engines. Using Roush's most popular crate engine, the 351-based, 525hp 427SR, as an example, buyers can choose between complete or partial polish; custom finishes including paint, anodize, and powder coat options; eight different custom valve cover designs; and two air cleaner options.

OK, so the crate engines are plentiful, but in recent months, the Roush focus has been on matching these hardy powerplants with a modern, electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission--specifically the 4R70W--upgraded to handle the specific engine's output, and tuned to suit the purchaser's particular application and desired shift characteristics. The 4R70W (otherwise known as the wide-ratio AODE) was chosen both for packaging purposes, as it's small enough to fit nearly any application, and because it has been well proven to be capable of handling massive power once suitably modified. Each Roush 4R70W will be built to spec by renowned auto trans specialist, Mark Bowler. Being electronically controlled (rather than by throttle valve) the package's 4R70W has its own powertrain control processor, and will communicate clearly with the upstream engine--no matter whether it is carbureted or fuel-injected.

Another development mule is this '67 Mustang convertible--originally an S-code 390--with a 468ci Roush crate FE variant wearing dual quads and Cobra Jet-style valve covers. Of course, an introverted person could always make a Roush 468 or 511 look just like a factory 390.

Overseeing the project is Bob Corn who, before joining Roush, spent the majority of his 19-year career at Ford Motor Company in engine engineering. Bob joined FoMoCo in 1962, right at the start of the Total Performance era, and was deeply involved in the FE engine family and other V-8s. To say he knows Blue Oval powertrains is understatement at its finest. Though Roush offers a huge palette of crate engines based on everything from the 302 small-block to the 385-series big-block, most of the initial batch of packaged powertrains will have their stroker roots in either 351W or 427FE architecture, with the small-blocks displacing 427 cubes and the FEs being of either 468 or 511 cubic inches. Roush crate engines are fully dressed from air breather to oil pan, including a selection of roughly a half-dozen available front-end accessory drive (FEAD) options.

The whole concept is to make these various engines (and powertrain combos) as application-specific and user-friendly as possible. For instance, Roush performance engine marketing manager, Todd Andrews, talks about the units made specifically for the Superformance MKIII Roadster, Daytona Coupe, and GT40: "We know that when a guy orders a Superformance rolling chassis, in whatever configuration he has chosen, there's a [Roush] part number that will fit into that car--correct oil pan, fuel pump clocked so it fits between the framerails, the right accessory drive on it, and so on."

Its top and bottom air breather plates are billet, and custom-machined to sit as low as possible for hood clearance while still drawing a deep breath. Even the K&N filter is custom-sized at 2.5 inches (K&N's production oval filter elements are either 2 or 3 inches high.) It's all about attention to detail.

The point here is that much thought, engineering experience, and expertise have gone into these engines and engine/tranny packages, a statement backed up by the 2 year/24,000 mile warranty. "We actually perform oil consumption testing, transmission durability testing, and more on our packages," Todd explained. Time spent in one of Roush's powertrain-development cars, Bob Corn's '63 Galaxie XL ragtop, wowed us not just with king-of-the-hill power and instantaneous torque, but also with the refinement and utter driveability of its powertrain. It's the sort of musclecar that could comfortably be driven daily because it is simultaneously potent and well-mannered. And that modern driveability is a primary focus of this whole package idea. If this sounds interesting, our photos and captions will tell more of the story, but your best bet is to call the folks at Roush Performance and discuss the specifics of your project or wish list. Odds are they'll have something you can plug in and play with--and live with every day.


The World's Nicest R&D Mule
The whole idea of the Roush combos is to provide kit builders, hot rodders, and classic Ford owners a means of buying a powertrain that fits the first time, needs no further tuning or tweaking, and is powerful, tough, and utterly driveable and reliable, right out of the crate. Roush chose to put the theory into practice on this Galaxie. We drove this black classic, and can report that it personifies the "Velvet Brute" tagline that Ford once used to describe the full-size R-code cars. It idles in Drive with just the right amount of bumpstick attitude, but at a ridiculously low and even rpm, and then responds as you might expect 575 lb-ft of torque to respond: with grin-inducing alacrity and the squeal of overwhelmed rear tires. The transmission shifts according to throttle input; gently and early when demand is light, and firmly, but never harshly, when the right foot gets anxious. This XL has racked up plenty of development miles, and Bob Corn reports that it returns a frugal 15 highway mpg thanks, in part, to its overdrive automatic allowing a peaceful 2,300 rpm at 70 mph.

The Galaxie was the first of the Roush powertrain project cars, and behind the mighty FE it has a 4R100, a stout but physically imposing truck trans. The effort, and clearancing, involved in fitting it into even something as large as the Galaxie was part of the reason why the much smaller 4R70W has since become the transmission of choice--with suitable internal, external, and programming upgrades, of course.