During the first energy crisis, pundits predicted the death of the American V8. In those dark days (as opposed to these dark days), Detroit was desperate to supply an alternative to the gas-gargling engines they'd planted under the hood anything that moved. They developed a few dogs promising V8 performance with the economy of a cylindrically-challenged motor, with much talk of mechanical miracles to follow. History repeats itself; Ford is once again trying their luck with EcoBoost turbo-four technology. Once again, they could be barking up the wrong tree.
As TTAC's Best and Brightest know, Ford's first attempts at smaller high-performance engines were shitcans. Slapping a turbocharger on a Pinto-derived, carbureted 2.3-liter in-line four with a thin shellacking of electronic sensors was an all-around nightmare. Finding a mechanic dumb smart enough to repair a
hair dryer slapped on a toilet bowl draw-through turbocharged engine was not for the faint of heart. As for the V8 promise, this quirky mechanical mutt was dog slow and pig inefficient. Missed it by that much!
But that was the late ‘70s. By 1983, Ford leapfrogged the competition with a multi-point fuel injection system run by the biggest brain in the industry. It's name was EEC-IV, and it performed a quarter million commands every second. Even with a meager 128 bytes of read/write memory, EEC-IV played well with an AiResearch turbocharger feeding the four-pot Ford. The result was a "V8-ish" 145hp in the import-minded, Neidermeyer-approved, Thunderbird Turbo Coupe.
With newfound power and drivability, the American V8 faced a credible treat from within. Ford, the near-bankrupt automaker, coined a marketing phrase for their efforts: "Power on Demand." The return of gas on demand (for peanuts) put paid to that process.
Still, in the middle of the 1984 model year, The Blue Oval Boyz' skunkworks produced something quite EcoBoost-ish: the turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder Mustang SVO. With a bevy of braking, suspension and cosmetic improvements, this top-dollar Pony Car courted BMW 3-series buyers with more performance for less bread. Of course, such badge snobbery requires a premium over a V8 motivated Mustang. To the tune of $6k. Ouch.
The extra clams bought you a full 175hp, equaling the Mustang GT's carbureted V8. Come 1985, this ‘riod-infused Pinto added thirty ponies and boasted better mileage than the V8. The four-pot Mustang delivered on all those early promises of cake-and-eat-it-too power and fuel economy combo. Sort of.
In reality, the SVO was a cobbled-up wannabe, still sporting that cheap fox-body Fairmont dashboard. The dynamic improvements simply didn't cut it for an upper-crust offering. In typical Detroit fashion, factory rebates countered the SVO's sticker shock and eventually moved the metal. But it wasn't exactly what you'd call breakthrough engineering.
By 1986, the four-pot Mustang SVO was dead– and not just because gas was cheap (and, of course, available). The V8 alternative– a fuel-injected, 200hp, 5.0-liter Mustang– sold for just $10k. Once these new fuel-injected V8 ‘Stangs hit the ground, even a Blue Oval bureaucrat could predict the SVO's demise.
Ford's "new" era of the small block V8s was EEC-IV powered, with a long runner intake and eight sequentially firing fuel injectors. In Mustang terms, the finale was a (1987) Pony Car with a robust 225hp and a jaw-dropping 300lb-ft of torque. With tall gearing, the V8 was one or two MPG thirstier than the turbo-four AND it ran on regular gas. It was cheaper, smoother and didn't know the meaning of heat soak or turbo lag.
Today, Ford's putting its remaining eggs into an "EcoBoost" shaped basket: a line of turbocharged motors promoted as more efficient than "larger displacement engines." In fact, the autoblogosphere is buzzing over a rumored comeback of the mighty SVO, in EcoBoosted form. It appears that only the player's names changed.
Given today's Energy Crisis 3.0, Dearborn's quest for the last possible mile per gallon is understandable. And the small cars that the Blue Oval's rushing to market require small yet powerful engines. But compared to normally aspirated engines, turbo powerplants are relatively expensive and more complex. And that means they're more expensive to maintain and repair.
If Ford stands for one thing– which it should– it's simple, robust and affordable vehicles and powertrains. In the rush to satisfy federal fuel economy regulations, Ford would do well to remember history, and not overlook the modern, efficient V8's appeal to their core audience.
Hang on; while Ford PR is promoting EcoBoost like there's no tomorrow (which may well be true), the Blue Oval's boffins have been busy developing their next generation 5.0-liter V8. The new engine leapfrogs the 1980s upgrades with a cutting-edge direct injection system (similar to its EcoBoost siblings). The new 5.0 will be faster, cheaper to produce and easier to repair. It's an "honest" component delivered in the true spirit of the Ford brand.