Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords
Building 400hp Into A 5.0L Small-Block Engine - Down-Low 5.0
How To Make (Almost) 400 HP For (Almost) $1,000.
After checking out the major components, it is time to look specifically at the motor to ascertain its health and viability as a candidate for the project. For starters, check the coolant, oil and spark plugs. The oil and coolant have likely been drained, but check inside the radiator cap or even in one of the radiator hoses for signs of antifreeze. Fresh antifreeze is a good sign; a rusty radiator or thermostat housing is not. If the oil has been drained, smell the dipstick (does it smell like burnt oil?), and even go to the trouble of removing the drain plug on the oil pan. Does the residual oil resemble sludge or is it clean? Don't confuse high mileage for abuse, as dark oil can mean that the motor simply needed an oil change and not a bearing change. Don't be afraid to yank a valve cover to verify the condition of the engine, as going through all the trouble of pulling a motor only to find out that it is a junker is huge waste of time and energy.
Check the spark plugs for signs that the engine was burning oil. Avoid engines with oil-contaminated plugs, but don't assume fresh plugs are the ultimate sign of a well-preserved motor either. If the oil and plugs pass inspection, try spinning the engine over with a ratchet on the crank pulley. If it spins freely with no binding, chances are the bearings are in good shape. If you are allowed to bring a battery in to crank the engine over, by all means perform a compression check.
With tool chest in hand, we headed off to the wrecking yard in search of the perfect specimen for our Down-Low 5.0. Our trip was very successful, though the wrecking yard was packed with patrons on this particular sale weekend. On our first recon trip, we even purchased a pre-sale ticket that allowed us to get in early ahead of the crowd. Special thanks goes to Big Ernie at Westech for actually yanking the motor.
Not surprisingly, 5.0L Fords weren't hard to come by. There were trucks, T-birds, and more than a few 5.0L Mustangs in the wrecking yard. All we had to do was locate a suitable candidate that we hoped was in good running condition. After removing the valve covers and plugs of a few different motors, we located a good choice in the form of a 5.0L H.O. from a T-bird. The motor spun freely and seemed healthy.
After unbolting the motor mounts, fan shroud, and trans bolts, the 5.0L was free. Before paying for the motor, we took the liberty of replacing the factory TFI distributor with a Duraspark unit from a carbureted 302. We had more than enough 5.0L fuelie distributors back at home, and needed the carbureted distributor since we planned on ditching the injection system.
As the owner of an original '88 5.0L LX, I find it amazing that you can go down to the wrecking yard and pick up a complete 5.0L motor for the paltry sum of $100 (on sale day). The iron-headed 5.0L motor was quite a find, as it ensured we had a hydraulic roller cam, decent compression ratio, and a short-block that would easily run to 6,500 rpm. The factory E7TE iron heads were to be replaced with low-buck aluminum castings. That's right-an aluminum-headed, 400hp 5.0L for $1,000.
The wrecking yard actually offered us a warranty (for an extra $12) that allows us to return the motor for a replacement if it is internally damaged and unusable. As it turned out, the warranty money would have been wasted since our motor was a healthy customer. If offered, the warranty is still cheap insurance. Sure, you'd have to pull another motor, but you wouldn't be out the $200 ($100 on sale day) if you found a spun bearing or some other malady that might keep you from using the motor immediately.
The final test was to check oil pressure. A new oil pump was not on the budget, and we were hoping to get by with the stock pump. After filling the pan with Lucas synthetic 5W30 and spinning the oil-pump drive shaft with an electric drill, we were rewarded with nearly 60 psi of cold oil pressure. It looked like our Down-Low 5.0 was in business.