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High-Performance Crate Engine Buyer's Guide
Plan to order a high-performance crate engine? Here's what you need to know to do it right.
Huff makes a great point about dealing with a Ford-specific shop, as this can help you achieve the level of performance and driveability you desire on the first try. And it can save you months worth of time, as it's generally quicker to get a crate engine than to wait for your engine to be torn down and rebuilt. Not that your local builder is incapable of building a good mill, and doing so in a reasonable amount of time, but we've seen some real horror stories where people have waited months while the builder waits for parts or works on other projects.
Aside from the simple fact that you may just need a new engine, one reason for the popularity of crate engines is that many suppliers offer an array of stroker kits. A stroker kit increases the cubic-inch displacement by lengthening the stroke of the crankshaft arm, which extends the distance, or stroke, of the pistons in the cylinders. While boring an engine 0.030-inch may add two or four cubes, replacing the 3.00-inch stroke factory crank with a 3.40-inch stroke crank can add 40 ci. And it's awfully hard to beat those extra cubic inches.
But you should also beware of those cubes. Many Mustang owners like the idea of a Windsor-based 392 or 408, but they don't realize that when swapping from a 302 with an 8.200-inch-deck block to a 351 (with a taller 9.2- or 9.5-inch deck-height block), it requires different headers, a new distributor and intake, and often a new hood. If making those changes is an issue, a better option may be a 347, which gives you extra cubes, yet dimensionally, it's like a 302.
Fortunately, there are enough Ford-smart shops in the crate-engine market, and they can set you up with everything from a stock-type 302 to a wild 5.4, four-cam killer.
One of the leaders is Roush Engines, which has a strong line of street and race powerplants. "I don't look at what we do as crate engines, per se," says Todd Andrews of Roush. "It's like having a custom engine that we've scienced out for you. We hand-build each engine and use many of our own parts, right down to the timing pointer. Everything is brand-new, and every engine comes with a two-year/24,000-mile warranty. We're never going to be the cheapest, and we're not always shooting for the highest horsepower. We're going after a big linear torque curve because with our packages it's all about driveability."
Many of the Roush packages come complete, right down to the front engine dress, a serialized placard that can be affixed to the vehicle, and all the build information.
We also spoke with Joe Amato of Downs Ford Motorsport, which sells both Ford Racing's motors and Downs' own line of crate powerplants. "We offer budget-minded 306 short-blocks built to our own specs," he says. "The blocks are stock production roller blocks that are hot-tanked, Magnafluxed, torque plate-honed, and bored 0.030-over. Decks are squared and equalized. The blocks are also chamfered, align-honed, and cleaned. We use forged pistons with valve relief cuts and moly rings. The rods are stock, but we have them reconditioned. They are also hot-tanked, Magnafluxed, shot-peened, and resized, and we use ARP Wavelock rod bolts.
"The stock cranks are hot-tanked, Magnafluxed, shot peened, chamfered, and ground 0.010 inch under. The whole assembly is computerized balance to +/- 0.5g, and we use ARP main bolts. The assembly does not come with a cam or chain. They run $1,595 and will handle up to 475 hp, but the power is limited only by the stock block.
"To make a long-block, we use a GT-40X heads with ARP bolts, Fel-Pro Graphite head gaskets, an E303 cam, new lifters, a new double-roller timing chain, lifter hold downs, FRPP pushrods and 1.6 rockers, and custom Downs Ford valve covers. These run $3,995 and are rated at 350 hp."
By now, you may have gathered there are quite a few crate motor builders--some with pretty impressive stuff. So, if you're in the market, do the research and come up with a combination that will provide the necessary power. But don't discount the need for driveability, as that's what will make your ride fun to drive.