Eric English
February 17, 2010

To our knowledge, it was 1978 when Ford first began using the European-style 5.0L nomenclature on its venerable 302ci V-8. Unfortunately those were the dark ages for performance cars, and the 5.0L didn't have any positive connotation until 1982, when a High Output (HO) version accompanied the return of the Mustang GT. Improved almost yearly for the next several years, the 5.0L HO moved from a two-barrel carb to four-barrel Holley, picked up factory headers, a roller camshaft, and finally in 1986, EFI across the board.

Funny that in hindsight we'd consider the EFI 5.0L HO to be one of Ford's most significant engines, for at the time, performance junkies thought the world had come to an end. It wasn't that the new computer controlled engine was a disappointing drive, for it had throttle response that the Holley-equipped 5.0 could only dream of. It's just that this seemed to be as good as it would get. The carburetor had gone the way of the dodo bird, and its electronic replacement was deemed unfriendly almost before we got a chance to say hello. In truth, it was the beginning of a brave new world, one that would soon support a performance aftermarket that some have likened to that of the small-block Chevy. That's high praise folks, and we're here to praise the EFI 5.0L HO as well.

As built, the '86-'93 5.0Ls didn't quite stack up on paper compared to the muscle era engines of yore. They represented small displacement, were rated at 225 horsepower for most of the era, and even had iron truck cylinder heads. There was no deep breathing, no high rpm rush, and no exotica to be found. But teamed as they were in the lightweight Fox body Mustang-often with five-speed sticks, 5.0L HOs ran with most of the heavy hitters from days gone by. Add rock solid reliability, grocery getter idle characteristics, and legitimate 24 mpg highway capability, and it was a compelling combination-or in some eyes, just a starting point. That's really what the EFI 5.0L is all about, a starting point. Bring in the aftermarket, and this engine turned into a legitimate game changer.

Ford GT 5.4L
Ever hear of having champagne taste on a beer budget? Well, we've got it here with the supercharged 5.4L modular engine from the '05-'06 Ford GT supercar. This is the highest horsepower production Ford V-8 of all time, and no doubt the most expensive. Those with a taste for suds may enjoy the closely related Mustang Shelby G.T. 500 5.4L for far less money, but the supercar powerplant is just a bit more super. Consider the power numbers of 550 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. Consider the design specifications of all aluminum construction, 32 valves, dual overhead cams, twin fuel injectors per cylinder, and dry sump oiling. This engine is truly in a class by itself, as is fitting for the powerplant of Ford's highest performing street car of all time.

A few more bits and pieces will tickle the fancy of any hot rodder. The GT's 330 cubic inches featured Manley H-beam rods, Mahle forged pistons, billet main bearing caps, and an intercooled Eaton 2.3L twin-screw supercharger pullied for 12psi of boost. The crazy thing is that this isn't a super low production effort that stretches the definition of "production" (i.e. the '64 427 HR), rather more than 4,000 of these were hand-built on the Romeo niche assembly line. Yeah, we're suckers for this one.

4.6L Three-Valve
We know some of you are scratching your heads right now, while others are totally on board with this most modern V-8. C'mon, the 4.6L Three-Valve? Remember our selection criterion was not based purely on performance, though there's little to complain about with the now 315-horse SOHC motor. It's enough to have the '10 Mustang running in the high 13s, and let's be honest about how many earlier Fords could do that-few.

A major reason we've selected the Three-Valve is due to its connection to the '05-current Mustang. Much like the original '65 Pony was greatly complemented by the 289, we know the newest Mustang wouldn't be the success it is if not for a truly competent engine. Sure, we'd all have loved a few more cubes (cough, 302, cough) but the truth of the matter is that the platform/engine pairing has made for a terrific combination. Even with the recent debuts of Challenger, Camaro, and their more powerful V-8s, magazine tests have universally found the Mustang to be holding its own; some giving it an edge. The contribution of the 4.6L Three-Valve to this is undeniable. Sewing machine smooth, accommodating of significant power adder boost, and four-time winner of a Wards "10 Best Engines" award (2005-2008), we feel the 4.6L Three-Valve stands tall. Besides, you wouldn't expect a top ten list to be without controversy!