Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
September 1, 2008
Photos By: Dave Young
Even you can build your own engine. But will it run? There's only one way to find out. Do your homework, and don't forget to install new freeze plugs in the block. You'll be hating life if you install your new bullet and have it spring a leak a little while later. Though the plugs may look good on the outside, once you remove them, the backside will show you why you're replacing them.

It Would be great if we all had 700-rwhp GT500s or 800-rwhp turbocharged, Windsor-powered coupes, but the reality is, most of us don't because we can't afford them. At the other end of the spectrum is the middle-to-lower-income enthusiast-the working stiff who has to save up for months to buy one single speed part. Most of us have been-or currently reside-in this situation, and with the escalating cost of fuel, among other necessities, money may be tight to spend on extravagant engine builds. That being said, we have a recession special designed for the average guy. It's a little more than stock, but not by much, and it won't break the bank-or your credit score.

Our subject vehicle for this build is the author's '90 5.0L, five-speed coupe. Purchased for a mere $1,500, it was in need of serious attention. With money so tight these days, this Pony has received more used and borrowed parts than anything else. It needed a set of head gaskets and an ignition module just to get it running properly, followed by a heater core/evaporator replacement and new front brakes. None of these items are exactly inspiring to an automotive enthusiast, but they were necessary if we wanted to be tooling around in a V-8-powered notchback. We scored some great deals on these replacement parts, and at present, have about $1,800 invested. It has proven to be quite reliable for the last six months, enduring an 84-mile round-trip commute each day.

Over the last two months, though, the car developed a slight knock in the bottom end, which is probably the result of the fresh head gaskets holding in the cylinder pressure better and forcing the stress towards the 169,000-mile crank bearings. We feel that the fuel mileage is rather weak at around 18 mpg, most of which is spent driving on the interstate at a leisurely 2,000 rpm. These cars were rated closer to 24 on the highway, so we think that the high-mileage missile suffers from inefficient tolerances, and we hope to pick up a bit more fuel mileage as well as power.

Things being as they are, your author doesn't have the bank to go out and buy a fresh short-block for this Pony, so we decided to throw in some new bearings, perform a quick hone on the cylinders, and fit some new rings to the factory-forged slugs. While the motor is down and out, we'll pick a mild and relatively inexpensive camshaft to liven things up a bit. We also hooked up with Thumper Performance of Orange Park, Florida, which offers some reasonably priced stock cylinder heads that, from what we've seen, are some potent performers once the die grinder has been set down.

The idea is to freshen the long-block to bring back that factory-fresh cylinder sealing. We'll do this by restoring the ring-to-cylinder-wall sealing, as well as the valve seal, the performance of the oiling system, as well as improving the induction (and the horsepower) on the cheap, all while showing you how to get the job done yourself. We'll top it off with a Cobra intake manifold, and we should end up with a powerplant that works with our 3.08 gears and makes nice power with our lint-ridden wallets. Of course, you could substitute a larger cam and aluminum heads for more power, but that will be up to you.

To minimize the amount of downtime that this commuter special endures, we opted to utilize a short-block that we already had lying around. The 5.0 mill is, oddly enough, of '90 vintage, as it came directly from the fenderwells of our former MM&FF project car ProCharged Pony. The bottom end did have 143,000 miles on it, but when it was pulled from the supercharged Mustang GT, it was in fine health with lots of oil pressure and making 473 hp to the wheels. Knowing its history and the fact that it was in good shape was all the impetus we needed to start with it rather than the knocking mill in the commuter.