Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
May 30, 2012

The Coyote 5.0 engine was the shot heard 'round the performance world. From the streets to the tracks, Ford's TiVCT-equipped V-8 has jumped to the forefront of modern performance. When it comes to the ultra-competitive world of the National Hot Rod Association, it was Ford Racing's modern version of the Cobra Jet that made the same kind of noise on the dragstrips of America.

Till this point, the '08-'12 Cobra Jets ruled the 1,320 with a powerplant based on the Shelby GT500's 5.4-liter engines. Variants boosted by both the familiar 2.3-liter TVS supercharger and the massive 4.0-liter Whipple supercharger have propelled the modern-day CJ's to great success in the NHRA's Sportsman ranks.

Fast-forward and the 5.4 is looking a bit weathered, as the Coyote 5.0 and new Trinity 5.8 set the modern standards for street performance. It certainly seems like it's time to make a change under the hood of the '13 CJ, and that's just what Ford Racing has done. Eschewing the proven 5.4 powerplant, Ford Racing engineer's steeled the modern-day 5.0 for the rigors of quarter-mile combat. Rather than beginning with the base 5.0, these engineers springboarded off the best that the mainstream engineers had to offer--the RoadRunner engine from the Boss 302.

And, why not? The 302ci engine from the Boss 302 already features CNC-ported heads, a high-revving manifold, and rugged internals. It seemed the natural jumping-off point for a racing engine program. So as a baseline, the Ford Racing crew started with a 12:1-compression version of this engine, and opened it up on both ends with its own 90mm throttle body and American Racing Headers long-tube headers. This combination was used to baseline the power level so they could iterate modifications to see what worked and what didn't.

Initially, some of the common hot-rodding tricks just didn't deliver. An electric water pump allowed cylinder head temperatures to rise enough that the Copperhead PCM started reeling in the timing. The same could be said of restricting water flow. Likewise, Ford Racing and several of its partners tried to best the performance of the stock RoadRunner cylinder heads--to no avail.

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"We did our own CNC head. We actually got unported Boss heads. We were going to develop a Ford Racing head. Basically, from interfacing with the mainstream guys, we knew it would be difficult to get more power without putting bigger valves in it," said Robert Denewith, Powertrain Engineering supervisor at Ford Racing.

As it turned out, the mainstream guys were right; several companies tried to better the head via porting and didn't. The move to larger valves was deemed cost-prohibitive, but on the cam side of things, the work was already done on the Boss.

"We tested some camshafts. The original Boss program had a 13mm-lift intake cam. That was pulled out of the program and they went back to a 12mm, so it's a common intake cam. We kept the original Boss intake cam in the Cobra Jet and we're going to offer it for sale in the catalog. We're using the stock Boss 260-duration intake cam, and then we are using a 290-duration exhaust cam that we developed with the mainstream guys. We're selling that cam as well," Robert explained. "All the acceleration, ramps, and loads on the valvetrain meet our 150,000-mile durability. That's how all our cams are today."

It's obvious the mainstream engineers were really pushing the development envelope on the production parts. They also had some more radical ideas floating around that didn't quite make it to the assembly line.

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"Dave Borne was the 5.0 intake engineer. He did the Boss intake. Early on they had looked at a dual-bore throttle body versus the 80mm stock throttle body. They wanted originally to do a 90 on the program, but for cost reasons it never made it in, and it's only worth 2 or 3 horsepower," Robert explained. "Dave had engineered a manifold that used the dual-bore GT500 throttle body; we tested it with the dual 65s that we sell, and then the monoblade. Each time there was a power improvement. To get that power improvement, we used the 123mm mass air meter that we used on the original '08-'12 Cobra Jets."

Besides the intake and long-tube headers, other mods--like the deeper sump oil pan and larger bore--were worth chunks of power. Sleeving the block for a bigger bore offered the benefits of increased displacement and unshrouding of the valves. However, only the naturally aspirated version of the Cobra Jet receives the bigger bore, as this process could be a weak link when subjected to big boost.

Where the NA version is sleeved to a 94mm bore with sleeves handed down from the T50 Cammer program, the supercharged version is based on Ford Racing's supercharger-friendly Aluminator crate engine (PN M-6007-A50SC). The NA engines are sleeved at Livernois, but both engines are assembled at Ford's crate-engine assembly partner.

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Both combos have undergone rigorous testing and tuning on Ford Racing's in-house engine dyno, which serves to prove out the calibration and verify the durability of the combination. "We did a bunch of development on locking the VCT out. If you sweep the cam and find the optimal location and pretend you don't have a phaser, you give up a huge amount of torque," Robert explained. "For a drag race car, it's probably not significant because that loss is below 4,500 rpm. You could argue that on a drag car you'd never be there anyway, but why give up all that torque and add cost? Now you have to eliminate the phasers. The only motivation for doing that is if you were using an engine controller that was not capable of controlling the VCT."

"When we calibrate the Cobra Jet, we sweep it at every 500-rpm increment all the way up to 8,000," Rob added. "We sweep the exhaust cam and find the optimum spot, and we sweep the intake cam to find the optimum spot. Sweep the spark timing and optimize that, then sweep the fuel and optimize that."

It's not too often that a racer can benefit from this level of testing and purchase it in a turnkey combination. Ford Racing takes it right down to tuning it for a specific fuel, which in this case is VP C14 for the naturally aspirated combination and C16 for the supercharged version. That way the team can better troubleshoot issues that racers have in the field.

"We strive for continual improvement in the Cobra Jet brand, and the 2013 is no exception. Every aspect of the car--from steering, to chassis, and especially engine--has been improved. The engine is critical--probably 40 percent of the equation in drag racing--and our dealers and racers said they wanted the 5.0," explained Ford Racing's Jesse Kershaw. "The 5.0 has been an ideal choice, allowing us to develop performance parts and debunk some conventional drag racing myths. We're not just building a race car--we're engineering a Cobra Jet. "

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That product is available under a single part number, M-FR500-CJ, and retails for $85,490 for the naturally aspirated version and $92,990 for the supercharged version. Of course, many of the individual parts, like the Cobra Jet intake manifold, will be available for sale via the Ford Racing Performance Parts catalog. If you weren't able to buy one of the '13 CJs, odds are this program will continue, and it may even expand to see a Trinity 5.8 join the 5.0 under the hood.

"In competition, the Cobra Jet will see more heads-up action. There is excitement around the Cobra Jet and the Brand X competitors, such that we're reliving the enthusiasm of the late '60s with production racing!" Jesse added. "For development, our goal is to continue to offer a competitive vehicle at a price that makes it a value. We do this through continued refinement of the Cobra Jet to meet customer demand and promote the performance attributes of the Mustang. And, despite it's immense popularity and continual back-orders, we plan to continue to limit production to only 50 units annually.

"It's more than a Mustang with bolt-on parts--it's a Cobra Jet." 5.0

Horse Sense: Ford Racing will offer the naturally aspirated Cobra Jet intake as an individual part and it looks to provide a significant horsepower gain over even the vaunted Boss 302 intake manifold.

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Ford Racing first experimented with Tri-Y long-tubes designed by Coyote engineer Adam Christian. They worked well but would have been expensive to produce. The team found similar performance and easier packaging in American Racing Headers off-the-shelf 1-7/8-inch long-tubes. In the car, those headers are run wide-open out these short dumps, so restriction is minimal.