It was a mild winter here in Minnesota, so it promises to be an early spring. And with spring comes the promise of new automotive projects. Right now we are in the pre-spring thinking and planning stages. Attached is a photo of my possible project. Some background would be helpful.
The car is a 1991 Mercury Colony Park. I purchased it in February of 2002 for the bargain price of $4,500. At the time it had 51,000 pampered miles. It had been rustproofed when new, and sat in a garage during every Minnesota winter. Not a hint of rust anywhere when I bought, and almost none at this time. It was purchased to pull a folding camper trailer. A $4,500 panther was a bargain compared to the cost of an SUV or other “modern” vehicle, and far more eye catching and unique. It ended up doing more than pulling a camper. It has been to Disney World 3 times, was displayed at Ford’s 2003 centennial celebration in Detroit, and has moved 2 kids off to college, along with countless camping trips and miscellaneous chores. As such, it has become a family heirloom and my wife and three daughters will not allow me to sell it.
It has 105,000 miles and remains quite stock except for the Keystone Klassics, some Bilstein shocks, and an aftermarket rear sway bar. Given its unique nature, and the fact that so few remain on the road in this type of exceptional condition, I want to keep the car looking and behaving as stock as possible, with the exception of the wheels and some more power. It needs some help under the hood. The stock 5.0 is what it is. The same basic engine could be found in a Mustang GT producing loads more fun. What would be your suggestion for extracting maximum fun from the basic platform that is here, while preserving the character of this final model year station wagon without spending boat loads of dollars and doing the work as a DIY project?
Despite my day job, I have very good mechanical skills. I have replaced head gaskets on a 3.8 litre 1993 Thunderbird, intakes on a 1996 Thunderbird, have completely refurbished the suspension, exhaust and external mechanicals on a 1979 Mazda RX-7 among many other projects.
It seems to me that a starting point would be cylinder heads and exhaust manifolds. What Mustang GT 5.0 litre bits will bolt onto the base 5.0? What about the engine control modules, something I have zero experience with, and what about transmission shift patterns.
Ultimately, I am looking for something that will never be raced, is not out to impress anyone but myself, but when I slide behind the wheel and put my foot into the throttle, it produces a kick in the backside like a 5.0 has the potential to provide.
Any thoughts on where to begin would be most helpful so that the spring planning session can get off the ground.
Thanks for your entertaining letter, Joe. And sorry for the delay in writing back, such is the way this Piston Slap thing works. But I love the Keystones on the Colony Park!
On the plus side, your query is very quick to answer. On the minus side, you’re making me feel very, very old. Because I (patting myself on the back) wrote one of the best 5.0HO (i.e. High Output) swap articles for Panthers. It didn’t feel like this article is 8 years old until I googled it…and formally present it to you all right here.
The “regular” 5.0 in the Panthers (and my favorite Fox bodies) are pretty sluggish by today’s standards. Plenty of off-the-line bump, and fuel economy better than most carb’d machines to boot. But converting to a 5.0HO from a 1987-93 Ford Mustang makes these 5.0s somewhat more appealing with no real downside. And, to your point, the HO swap is a period correct upgrade that anyone will appreciate. So just do it.
When the stock 5.0HO’s 225 horsepower isn’t cutting it, slap on a set of aftermarket aluminum heads (watch for piston to valve clearance) and the biggest 5.0 Whipplecharger kit you can find. It will make your Panther fast enough for damn near anyone.
For the record, I did the 5.0HO swap over ten years ago to the vehicle that’s currently my TTAC avatar: a 1988 Cougar XR-7. It’s still running strong. Ish. But everyone (and I mean everyone) loves the sound of this 5.0HO coming up the street. It will do…until I find a deal on those aforementioned heads and supercharger. Evil. Grin. ON!
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