The Truth About Cars » 5.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:19:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 5.0 Piston Slap: You’ve Got to be All Mine…Foxy Lady! Mon, 31 Mar 2014 11:50:13 +0000  

Mark VII

TTAC Commentator Thunderjet writes:

Hello Sajeev,

Last year I picked up a ’91 Lincoln Mark VII LSC for $800. It’s in decent shape for being a Chicago area car and having 153K on the clock. The body has no major rust issues except for the front fenders, which have rust holes due to the sunroof drains, so the car will eventually need new fenders. The under body and frame are rust free and very clean. The car sat for several years before I purchased it and over the last year I have put about $500 into the car replacing various wear/tune up items (water pump, hoses, belt, cap, rotor, plug wires, spark plugs, and the starter). The car runs well and I’ve always wanted one, being that I have been a Fox Body nut since I started driving.

I would like to keep the car as I enjoy driving it. My daily driver is a 2011 Ford Focus SE bought new. It currently has about 28K on it and I’m hoping to keep it another 10 years or more. The Mark VII needs several things to make it more presentable including a paint job and the replacement of some of the leather panels on the front seats. In addition I would like to replace some wear items on the car such as the air springs so I won’t have to worry about failure in the future. I can do the repairs as time/budget allow and probably get a pretty nice car in the end.


The issue I’m having a problem with is that I already have a fun car that I tinker with: a 1988 Ford Thunderbird LX. It’s a factory 5.0 car with Edelbrock aluminum heads, a GT40 intake, .533 lift Comp roller cam, AOD with 2800 stall converter, and a 3:73 Traction-Lok differential. It’s a fun car and it’s the first car I ever bought. It’s not going away as the improvements I’ve made to the Thunderbird in the last 12 years I’ve owned the car make it too fun to part with. Also being my first car the Thunderbird is special to me.

I’m wondering if it makes sense for me to have two project/fun cars or if it’s overkill? A little background on me: I’m in my late 20’s and I’ll be getting married later this year. My fiancé doesn’t mind cars and in fact likes them as her daily driver is a 2012 Mustang V6 in Grabber Blue. I own my own house outright and I only have two sources of debt: about $15K I’m paying off in student loans for my master’s degree and the other two years on the loan for my Focus. I bought a new car as a daily driver as the dealer offered me 0% for 60 months. Who am I to say no to free money from Ford Credit? I am saving for retirement and put 15% of my yearly salary towards that. I make in the mid to upper five figures so I’m not poor but I’m not rich. As of right now having the Mark VII is only costing me about $300 a year in insurance. Does it make sense for a late 20 something to have two fun cars or should I ditch the Mark VII and just keep the Thunderbird?

Sajeev answers:

Before I go completely bonkers over a Fox Body question, a question back: do you have adequate parking for everyone’s cars???

Thunderjet writes:

The parking situation is good with the extra fox. The Thunderbird and my fiance’s Mustang reside in the garage while the Focus sits in the driveway. I usually keep the Mark in the driveway as well but if weather is bad my parents have let me drop it off at their house. They have space in their garage they are not using.

I should also note that I purchased the AOD floor shifter from your 1988 Cougar XR-7 on foxtbirdcougarforums several years ago. I think you sold it to me for ten bucks. I still have it if I ever get the desire to remove the column shifter from my Thunderbird. And yes the graphic EQ in my Thunderbird still works. It’s wired through a JVC head unit and the factory amp.

Sajeev answers:

Since normal people won’t understand this graphic EQ hack, a photo from my Cougar to clarify:

Not only is the Fox one of the most customizable vehicles on the planet, the truly insane among us convert the Ford EQ’s wiring into RCA connections; making it work with any aftermarket stereo. And it sounds kinda great, too!

What a small world it is: you knew me back when I was a Fox UBB forum fiend!  Times change, but multiple housebound projects are doable for these reasons:

  1. Your intelligent and enviable debt-to-equity ratio.
  2. Ownership of a new vehicle as a daily driver.
  3. Enough space at your residence for cars, without pissing off your significant other.
  4. Intimate knowledge of the vehicles in question, with a great track record for success.
  5. Readily available parts and low-cost of ownership inherent in Fox Body (resto?) modification.
  6. A strong internet community to help you when needed. And a sympathetic resto-mod Cougar owning schmuck on TTAC too, if that helps.

You are one lucky duck. How do I know? This is kinda how I co-exist with my old Fords. BAM SON!

A final note: since you showed me yours, here’s mine. Getting rid of my shifter opened up room in the Cougar for a manual gearbox. Thanks for that. And best of luck with the LSC, I am jealous.


I really, really want an cherry 88-89 LSC, just not with Porno Red leather. One of these Foxes is enough.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Escalading on Thin Ice? Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:58:52 +0000
William (no longer TTAC’s tiburon_guy) writes:
Hey Buddy, I am no longer tiburon_guy since we sold it (sad face – SM) but I do have a question that a friend asked me about. He has a 2002 Escalade EXT he bought new (demo actually, 300 miles on it) now it’s at 60k and overall no major issues. He’s attached to the truck and rightfully so, as in my opinion it’s the best model Escalade created by GM.

His question is with it getting up in age (11 years) he’s worried about what to expect trouble wise down the road and if he should part with it soon or keep hold of it due to the low mileage (and garage kept since day one) so it looks pristine. The resell on this truck is pitiful but he also doesn’t want to be stranded. Have you heard any bad things about the 2002 model year of Escalade EXT? I’ve done a little digging but haven’t come up with much.

Additionally, my 2010 Ranger XLT is still kicking ass and taking names, but I wanted to know if you had heard any more of the 5.0L engine swap for our Ranger?

Sajeev answers:

Aside from the well documented piston slap problem on LS-based Vortec truck engines, there’s really nothing to worry about.  Yes, it’s an older vehicle and things will always go wrong, but the old Chevy Tahoe underneath the Escalade EXT isn’t exactly striking fear into my heart. Even piston slap isn’t a deal breaker, it’s more of an annoyance that a local engine builder can fix whenever your friend wants a fresh engine…which will be a long, loooong time from now.

So what’s left?  A lot of eyeballing and preventative maintenance: fluid changes, rubber product changes (vac lines, belts, hoses, etc) and other wear items that people tend to forget.  If that hyperlink scares him off, he either needs a replacement vehicle or a second vehicle to ease the burden.  Both can be fun and affordable if done correctly.

Now about the fantabulousness that is the Ford Ranger: the 5.0 Windsor swap’s been done many times before and this link is helpful.  I especially like the job done by this guy, the attention to detail is quite excellent. Check out the interior swap from a Ford Explorer Limited, complete with all the buttons on the steering wheel, automatic HVAC and the fancy trip computer!

WOW, what a luxury truck!!!

Now were you talking about the 5.0 Coyote swap?  Looks like that famously swapped Coyote Ranger has been dead in the water since the initial media buzz.  Which is sad, but maybe they worked out the wiring, induction, chassis upgrades, transmission change, driveline change, drivability, accessories, HVAC plumbing, etc…or perhaps not.

And maybe you have $20,000-30,000 lying around.  But if you did, you’d keep the Ranger, get an 5.0 windsor Explorer Limited for that swap, and use the remaining cash for a new 5.0 Coyote Mustang down payment.  Because no matter what, you’ll need a better daily driver than a project truck.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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Piston Slap: Deffo Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile! (Part II) Mon, 09 Sep 2013 12:32:31 +0000 CapturePaul writes:

Hello Sajeev,

This is my second time writing in about my Oldsmobile. I solved the cooling problem with a mechanical fan, however now I am having another problem. As you may recall I swapped in a ZZ4 GM Performance 350 CI motor, and now it will “diesel” for awhile after I shut it off. It only does this after it has had a chance to warm up. Do you have any ideas for fixing this?


Sajeev answers:

Dieseling is a common problem with carburetor equipped vehicles from yesteryear.  If you’ve owned a vehicle with one of these glorified toilet bowls for an extended period of time, odds are you’ve experienced this.  I did before, and I have again: our Ford Sierra project car and it’s 2BBL carb just dieseled last week!

Honestly, the five well-written causes for dieseling in the Wikipedia article (first sentence, paragraph above) does a pretty fantastic job addressing the issues.  I assume your Olds, like most not-totally-complete project cars, isn’t driven on a daily basis: meaning that carbon build up isn’t a concern. Perhaps the idle speed is too high. Since the ZZ4 has a fairly mild cam profile, keep it around 800rpm. Wikipedia also mentioned timing: make sure that ZZ4 is set to the correct specs (10 degree BTDC @ 800 rpm 32 degree total), but I doubt that’s the problem here.

The remaining problems are my concern, and they all point to the condition/tune of the carb.  How is the accelerator pump doing? Are its seals in tip-top shape?  Is the carb tuned too lean and still running a bit too hot? Fatten up the mixture a little and address any more cooling issues.  I hope you still don’t have cooling issues!

If the carb is some old pile you had lying around (or got for cheap) perhaps this is a good time to consider a stand-alone EFI swap.  Man, they are dirt cheap these days, and would really add the element of modern luxury to one of the nicer luxury rides of all time.  Of all time?

Don’t believe me?  Just go sit in a 9th generation Olds 98 Regency (or Buick Electra/Park Avenue cousin) and get back to me.  Plenty of old world Detroit luxury with a bit of modern production values stemming from the 1977 downsizing of these monsters. And introduction of gee-whiz tech goodies in the 1980s, natch.  These are just as nice as a Caddy without being ostentatious, and leagues ahead of any Panther. Oh yeah, I just said that: 1980s C-body for the win.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: One of “Those People…” Wed, 17 Apr 2013 10:00:49 +0000 TTAC Commentator MNM4EVER writes:

A mechanic friend of mine has a 1993 LX 5.0 w/AOD in slightly rough condition he is looking to get rid of. I can pick it up now, complete but not running, for $1800. If I do not buy it, he plans to get it running but otherwise not fix it up and sell it for $3k or so.

My goal for my potential Mustang is to resto-mod it… 4.6L Cobra motor, track suspension, Cobra disc brakes all around, restore the interior but replace the seats, maybe even swap in a later 94-2004 dash, etc. Since I am looking to replace much of the major components of the car, a rough project car is a definite option for me.

But this rough car needs a lot of other things replaced too… all of the exterior moldings are weathered and degrading thanks to sitting in the Florida sun, the interior is trashed all around, paint is very bad, the body has dings and cracked plastic bumpers, surface rust has set in on many places and a little rust appears on the hatch edges, etc. I am guessing I would need to strip it completely and spend around $2k on bodywork to get it fixed, but then it would be showroom new. But the idea of replacing all those moldings and interior parts scares me… sh!t adds up fast.

So my long drawn out question: Is this a good buy at $1800? Or should I keep looking for a closer to mint Mustang for $5-7k that only needs minor restoration and mechanical upgrades as I see fit?

Sajeev answers:

So basically NOTHING on this Fox Mustang is up to your standards.  Honestly, it’s a horrible example of Fox-aliciousness for anyone at $1800. Even if it had a T-5 (stick), this is a $1000 Fox as it sits…on a good day. $1800 if it was complete and fully assembled? Somewhat likely.

You are one of “those people” that demands a nice car and will pay big money to make it right. For you people (what do you mean YOU people?) there’s no substitute for buying the cleanest, most pristine example you can afford. $5000 or more for a clean Fox Mustang isn’t unreasonable, and that’s right for you.

Once more: buy the cleanest, most pristine example you can afford.

And when you do, you better not put the later model dash in there…that’s just wrong for the rest of the body and a complete waste of a nice car.

MNM4EVER writes:

Well, since I consider you the expert on Fox bodies (too bad 5.0 Mustangs are lamesauce and Fox Lincolns/Cougars/Granadas/etc. rule – SM) , I figured there was no one better to help with my decision. I have been considering picking up a 90-93 Mustang hatch, preferably an LX 5.0 with a stick. I don’t want a convertible, I don’t like the GT look, and I don’t want a notchback. I remember back in the day the notch was considered super rare and therefore more desirable, but today it seems like they are everywhere. I know they are lighter, I don’t care, I like the hatchback look.

This will be a long term project/driver, and will definitely get upgraded suspension and brakes, wheels, seats, and I want 300-350hp. The dilemma is that nice LX 5.0 hatches are hard to find, especially in the condition I want it. I want a nice clean interior, I don’t want a beat on drag car or a rusted banged up body, in the end I want this car to be better than new and bodywork is very expensive. I can do most mechanical and all interior work myself, but I can’t paint or fix rust and dents. Down here in Florida it seems to be easier to find mint condition 4-cyl Mustangs, many owned by elderly people with low miles, and definitely never beat on. And since they are not V8s, they are CHEAP, much less than the V8s I see for sale.

So how hard is it to do an engine and trans swap into a 4-cyl Fox body and build it up the way I want it, compared to starting with a 5.0 platform? I don’t know how many differences there are in the chassis between them. I know even 5.0 cars need chassis bracing, I am going to change out the suspension and brakes anyway, etc. And no, I don’t want to turbo the 4-cyl, I want a V8 this time. To compare, I found a pretty nice all original LX 5.0 hatch with an auto and 68k miles for $7k, but I also found a just as nice, newer 4cyl LX hatch with 48k miles for $3k.

Any advice would be appreciated!

Sajeev concludes:

When it comes to Fox bodies, always remember the first rule of modification: chassis bracing uber alles. That means subframe connectors (get the ones that bolt to the seat bottoms, weld to the subframes) a G-load brace for the front subframe and a 3-point strut tower brace.  Not much extra weight, and it changes the car for the better. You will notice the difference behind the wheel in a matter of FEET, not miles.

If you only want less than 400hp (at the wheels), stick with the stock small block Ford (SBF) and upgrade the heads/cam/intake to make that up. For a street car, I’d recommend a power adder (Whipplecharger) and the appropriate camshaft to make it sing. And apparently Mr. John Kasse is finally making a set of heads that will put the 5.0 V8 a little closer to your garden variety LSX motor.** If you buy your parts wisely, the SBF will be a good fit for your needs and not be a huge money pit. If you plan on paying someone for the motor work, save yourself the expense of a non-SBF motor swap and build a good SBF that will drop right in with zero drama.

Now about the 4-cyl to 5.0 swap: it’s a huge pain in the butt because the wiring harness must be changed (alternator, interior stuff, etc.). Not fun. But if you have the two Mustangs side-by-side and a long weekend ahead of you, you can do it.  And be miserable…in the short term.

Good luck in your hunt.  But take heed to my parting shot, son:


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

**Obviously the all-aluminum LSX-FTW swap is the ideal answer, but sometimes its cheaper (parts and labor) to accomplish almost the same thing with the factory correct engine block.  I am always torn between a 5.0 or an LS in a Fox Body, in cases where less than 400 horses is needed on a reasonable budget. The stock SBF is still a good motor in certain applications, and I am pretty sure this is one of those cases. This ain’t no wheezy four-banger or a gutless V6. And the SBF sounds better than any LSX, so there’s that.

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Super Piston Slap: The Life and Death of a Proper LeMons Car Mon, 25 Mar 2013 10:00:02 +0000 Sajeev writes:

One of the more (in)famous vehicles in junk car racing recently visited the big boneyard in the sky. It’s particularly sad for me, as this vehicle helped me back into the driver’s seat when I needed all the help I could get. The tenacious handling, phenomenal power complete with a BULLITT-worthy soundtrack in a brown station wagon; it was all positively insane. A sad tale indeed, but worth sharing from start to finish. So here’s Mr. Brian Pollock, owner of this brutally competitive Ford Fairmont Wagon, to tell the tale.

Brian writes:

It started by accident: I was killing time browsing a local Mustang forum and saw a post titled “The 24 hours of LeMons is coming to Texas”. I confirmed the information and called my friend Dave, who bluntly told me, “I won’t let you not do this.” Next call was to another friend, Marty, because he’d been autocrossing before and we needed a guy who had some idea how to make a car turn. We applied for the race and started talking about potential cars. We settled on the world’s rattiest fox Mustang. The car was terrible in every way, but it finished the race in a remarkable 35th place and we were hooked.

By the end of the second race we had figured out how to make the car stop and turn and were talking about building a second car instead of a V8 swap in the Mustang. The hunt was on for a cheap, unusual Fox body. I really had my heart set on either a fox LTD, a Fairmont sedan, or the holy grail of oddball foxes, the 1980-82 fox-box Thunderbird. I ignored the guy who contacted me with the wagon while I waited for something else, but time, the lack of a better (worse?) option and the wagon’s steadily lowering price convinced me otherwise. One trip to Waco and $150 made it mine.

Click here to view the embedded video.

(Start the video at 2:15 for maximum effect.)

Now we needed parts, lots of them. How do you build a fast LeMons car on anything resembling a $500 budget? You do research, lots of it. You figure out what parts from what depreciated wrecks will make your depreciated wreck better. You figure out who the nearest car crusher is and you follow the fluctuating price of scrap steel. You live on Craigslist. You buy cars from sketchy tweekers so you can get the right master cylinder. Then you list that car on Craigslist so his buddies can buy a fender, or window, or something, so when it makes its final trip across the scales you get back in the black. You do that a lot. I stopped counting, but my running guess is we’ve been through somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 parts cars to build three LeMons cars.

Sometimes you’ll be forced to buy used car parts instead of used parts cars. Try to avoid this. If you can’t, buy in bulk. I needed a set of pistons and found what I was looking for in a damaged short block. I bought the whole short block, two aluminum intakes, a pair of wheels, a nitrous system, and a Mustang. After selling what I didn’t need, I got what I wanted for free and turned a profit.

Now you have to figure out how to assemble these bits into a car. Learn to weld. You’ll need piles of metallic detritus. Our seat brackets are made from frame sections from a wrecked trailer. Rear spring locators are old header collectors. The sheet metal covering the fuel cell is a ’69 Camaro hood. The access door has been a tool box, a fruitcake pan, and a metal box from a nut and bolt assortment. Another team covers their cell with the top of an old dryer. License plates are invaluable, we use them for everything, including the switch panel.

Your labor is free. Use it: we put around four-hundred man hours a year maintaining the car when we’re not racing.

We debuted the Fairmont wagon in October of 2009. We blew up the motor in practice Friday. We worked all night assembling another and getting it in the car. It blew up mid-day. By Sunday morning we had a borrowed car repaired and through tech, but I was too tired to drive. We won the LeMons “I Got Screwed” award.

For what seemed like forever, the Fairmont spent more time with the engine out than it did on track. It took until November of the following year to finish a race. When it did, our 22nd place finish came with the top prize in LeMons, “The Index of Effluency” and a check for $1501.

2011 Racing Season: it started with a series of unpredictable oil pressure issues. In three races we had one oil pump seize, one break, and we mysteriously lost oil pressure on the track but got it back while putting the car on the trailer. By June we had the Fairmont in pretty good shape but our “Arrive and Drive” drivers were lacking. By the end of the year we had our act somewhat together. We finished the year with a class “B” win and 11th overall.

2012 Racing Season: the year we almost made it. At Texas World Speedway (TWS) in February we led for the first four hours and had two laps on the field when a rear shock broke. One driver spun, and a control arm bolt broke. We finished 4th and won class B again this time with a $500 check. In March, we were in 2nd place in Chumpcar on the first day (Saturday) when we burned through the brakes: we finished 7th overall. We were leading day two’s (Sunday) race when another weird oil pressure issue popped up. We parked the Fairmont and found a cracked pick up screen swinging in the pan.

May brought LeMons to Eagle’s Canyon Raceway (ECR). We did an emergency re-ring job instead of practice, and had driver issues. I never looked at the final results. September in Houston had rain. I should mention that a heavy, stiffly sprung station wagon is undriveable in the rain. In the wet we were fighting to stay in the low 20s, when it dried up we dragged up to 8th place. Chumpcar came back to TWS in December. We just weren’t competitive there with that series: Saturday 12th place, Sunday DNF with a broken T-5 transmission.

Which brings us to the end of the line: Lap 2 of the 24 Hours of LeMons season ender at ECR. After a minor in-and-out penalty for going 2 wheels off, we were in 3rd place and about to lap the leader. We came up on him fast and spooked the driver into missing his turn in point.

Click here to view the embedded video.

He went wide and looked like he was giving up the inside line. He lost control and came across the track in to the Fairmont’s left rear tire. The crash did extensive damage to the rear end and rear suspension mounts. We limped the car around the track until mid-day Sunday when it finally became undriveable.

In the end it wasn’t the crash that took out the wagon. The 1978 Fairmont was Ford’s clean sheet design during a fuel crisis, and the nationwide 55 mph speed limit. I doubt the fox chassis was intended to peg its 85 mph speedometer, certainly not to come down the steep banking at Texas World Speedway at a stomping 135 miles per hour.

Three years of racing just wore out the car. Everything from the cage forward bent, shifted, and sagged. The car droops when it goes on the lift and collapses when it comes down. It’s just not safe to drive anymore. Marty summed it up best while disassembling it:

“I’ve had more fun with this car than anything else in my life.”

We built the car, not as a joke, per se, but to be preposterous. We knew we could make it fast, and we knew we didn’t want another Mustang. There were 11 Mustangs in our Mustang’s last race. From the beginning we set out to have a winning car, but mechanical issues held us back for a long time. We prided ourselves on being able to out run the sports cars.

Loaded with junk, the last remnants of the Fairmont wagon went over the scales for $200, $50 more than I paid for it.

One of my favorite moments was coming up on a pack of three 944s and two Miatas just before a multi-turn complex at ECR. It took me two corners to pass 4 of the cars and one more to get the 5th. I don’t consider myself to be anything more than a competent driver, so I loved being able to get off line and pass cars that have some business being on a race track.

People generally loved the car…but some hated it.

We were even accused of cheating! Ratted out for our roller rockers when the motor was disassembled on the trailer, in a race where we didn’t complete more than 25 laps, of all things! We had the fox body’s historical successor, the Taurus SHO teams vote us for “The People’s Curse,” which Jay Lamm quickly, logically ignored.

I guess people couldn’t understand how a station wagon could out handle a Porsche.

They didn’t figure the hundreds of hours we put into the car in a year and our creative ways of solving problems, they assumed we were throwing money at it.

We did get a lot of positive comments on the car. At every race we would meet new people who wanted to introduce themselves and talk about the car.  (including myself – SM) I heard a number of people laugh as it rolled out on the track, only to be amazed once they saw it run. We got word from strangers all over the country who loved the car and wanted to drive it someday.

The comments from friends who heard of its demise meant a lot to me.

Todd Nelson: This is a sad day indeed…for you. For the rest of us, we will no longer have to live with the image of being overtaken – often rapidly – by an old, brown, beat-up relic from yesteryear…with tremendous horsepower. I’ll pour one out with ya at the next race.

Douglas Narby: I remember the first time I saw the wagon (from our 240SX) I said on the radio “I am going to pass this wagon”. A more experienced teammate came back with something along the lines of “good luck with that”. He was right. Great job while it lasted, y’all!

Mark Da Silva: The wagon was amazing! You guys know the huge amount of time that damn boat made our BMW E30 work overtime just to keep up! I had the privilege to drive it at ECR too, so it’s a shame to put the car into retirement!


 Good bye, Fairmont Wagon.  We’ll miss you. – SM

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Piston Slap: Putting the HO in your Colony’s 5.0! Thu, 06 Sep 2012 12:01:51 +0000


Joe writes:

Dear Sajeev,

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.



Sajeev answers:

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!

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Review: 2012 Ford F-150 Platinum 5.0L V8 Fri, 06 Jan 2012 17:15:59 +0000 I live in the country, well outside city limits in the septic tank/well/propane tank kind of area. Like many that live out where the blacktop ends, we have some farm animals, over a mile of fencing and a pasture in need of TLC. Since I’m a DINK and have a day job that has nothing to do with my animal husbandry, I’m apparently the perfect demographic for a luxury pickup. True to form, the last 5 times I shopped, I wanted a pickup truck. Badly. Every time it came time to put money down however, I ended up with a sedan, station wagon or SUV. Still, I’m not ashamed to admit my loins burn for a “cowboy Cadillac”, and now that my GMC Envoy has 140,000 miles on the clock it’s time for a 6,000lb tow-capable replacement. Since the HD pickup trucks are honestly overkill for the majority of us, I hit Ford up for an F-150 Platinum to see if I should take the plunge.

The F-150 has been Ford’s best-selling nameplate and the best-selling vehicle for 30 years and the best-selling truck for 35 years. If you wonder how the F-150 manages to be all things to so many buyers, you have to look at the F-150 as if it were several different vehicles that share the same name. With 10 different models ranging from the $22,990 no-frills XL to a nearly $56,000 Platinum model, few other vehicles have a price spread like the F-150. Adding to your shopping dilemma is a line-up with four different engines, three cab sizes, four bed sizes and more axle options than you can shake a stick at. For our review we were given the high end F-150 Platinum 4×4 with the 5.0L V8.

In 2009 Ford released the 12th generation F-150 which was bigger in almost every way compared to the 2008 model, adding a taller hood, bigger cabs and a nifty tailgate spoiler. In typical Ford fashion, the powertrains were largely carried over and we had to wait until 2011 to get the full picture of the “completely new” F-150. Let’s shake up the typical review format by talking engines first: the 2009 and 2010 F-150s were V8-only trucks, with the old 4.6L or 5.4L V8 under the hood. 2011 brought not one but four new engines to the F-150; two V6 options and two hefty V8s. All engines for 2011, including the base V6, are mated to Ford’s six-speed automatic transmission and optional 4WD.

Platinum F-150s come with a standard “Coyote” 5.0L V8 (as our model was equipped) which delivers a healthy 360HP and 380lb-ft at 5500 and 4250 RPM. Our 4×4 equipped tester delivered a 6.75-second sprint to 60. If you have displacement envy, you can jump up to the 411HP and 434lb-ft 6.2L V8 for an extra $2755, but the ringer in the group is the 3.5L Ecoboost V6 model which delivers 365HP at 5000RPM and a whopping 420lb-ft of twist at a diesel like 2500RPM for only $895 more than the base 5.0L V8. If the bang-for-the-buck doesn’t pique your interest, the EPA numbers on the 4×4 models might: 14/19 for the 5.0, 12/16 for the 6.2 and 15/21 for the Ecoboost (eco is a relative term apparently). While the 6.2L V8 sounds incredible, a short towing demo I had in an Ecoboost V6 (and the larger payload capacity of the Ecoboost model) made me doubt whether anyone would be better off with the big-daddy V8. The only downside we noticed: slight turbo lag at the stoplights.

On the outside, Platinum models are distinguished with a revised grille that attempts to soften the bold lines worn by its blue-collar brethren with perforated bars. Unique wheels and an enormous brushed-aluminum panel on the tailgate tagged with “PLATINUM” complete the “I run the company” image. While the badging is more subtle than an Escalade, it still lets other F-150 drivers know how you roll.

GM’s pickups feature your choice of a “work-truck” interior, or a car-like dashboard borrowed from GM’s full-size SUVs while Dodge’s mantra seems to just be “cheap plastic”. Instead of taking either approach, Ford uses one interior theme for all models but as you climb the price-ladder, bits and pieces are swapped out for swankier duds. The base XL gets a rubbery steering wheel, mono-tone dashboard and a durable black plastic center console while top-end F-150s can be had with two-tone dashes, a stitched pleather gauge hood, and faux-wood trim or acres of brushed aluminum. Unlike some of GM’s attempts at “tarting-up” their work trucks, the F-150 feels comfortable all-dressed up.

Joining the new engines for 2011 is a tweaked instrument cluster which now sports a 4.2-inch LCD between the speedo and tach (not offered on the F-150 XL, optional on XLT and standard on other F-150s). The screen is used for the usual trip computer and vehicles settings as well as displaying off-road information like vehicle pitch and yaw. Joining the snazzy in-dash LCD on the Platinum model is a revised steering wheel, standard backup camera, ambient lighting, power-lowering running boards, integrated trailer brake controller, remote start, 110V power outlet, power folding mirrors, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, backup sensors, heated and cooled seats, and dual-zone climate control. If you don’t plan on adding a lumber rack, an optional sunroof is available, as is Ford’s SYNC navigation. MyTouch critics will be pleased to note that the updates SYNC system hasn’t made its way to the F-150 just yet. The up-side is improved reliability and a snappier interface, the downside is the loss of WiFi connectivity and the second USB port, a small price to pay in my mind. While the build quality isn’t up to Audi levels, entry level luxury shoppers will find just about every creature comfort they could ask for.

The Platinum can only be had with the four-door “SuperCrew” cab and as a result, the payload suffers somewhat starting at 1,800lbs with the 5.0L V8 and 2WD, jumping to 2,000 with the Ecoboost V6, dropping sharply to 1,680lbs due to the added weight of the 6.2L V8. These are some serious hauling numbers that required a ¾ ton pickup truck to achieve not too long ago. Thisare a hair shy of the 3100lb payload capacity mentioned in some F-150 ads, possible in only two of the 57 axle/cab/engine combinations.  Compared to the Ram and Chevy, the Ford offers consistently higher payload capacities but more configuration options to wade through, so be sure to check the configuration and the door labels on your truck before you add a pallet of concrete to your weekend.

For the trailer-loving truck-buyer, the endless battle between the big-three for top-dog towing numbers has resulted in some impressive figures. Depending on your axle ratio and drive (2WD or 4WD) choice, towing tops out at a whopping 11,300lbs for the Ecoboost, 11,200 for the 6.2L V8 and a notably lower but still substantial 9,500lbs with the base 5.0L V8. Making towing easier, Ford includes an integrated trailer brake controller standard on the Platinum and a few other F-150 models. If you tow regularly and care about maintenance on your rig, there’s now an app for that. While Ford obviously ripped Apple with their “Truck App” name, it does provide some handy features like keeping track of the mileage on 10 different trailers and remembering the brake gain for each trailer. In order to keep your “distance to empty” figures more accurate, it also recalculates the averages when you have a trailer connected.

If you’re looking at the Platinum, you’d better have deep pockets Then again, if you’re the weekend warrior type, it’s cheaper than your comparable BMW X5. Our tester started with a sticker of $44,325 on top of which was added a $470 electronic locking axle, 6-1/2-foot bed, $325 folding side-steps and a $2,465 option package which included a sunroof and navigation system taking our tester to the nose-bleed section at $52,405. If that price frightens you, $27,670 buys you my personal favorite: the F-150 XL with the Ecoboost V6, 8-foot bed, 3.55:1 locking rear axle, cloth seats, power accessories, CD player and cruise control. Configured in this way the F-150 delivers 3060lbs of payload capacity and 9,800lbs of towing ability.

At the end of the week I found myself more in love with trucks than when I started. There was just one problem. The F-150 is huge. As with most vehicles these days the F-150 has been growing like the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man. While I used to feel like a man when I was in college out muddin’ in my buddy’s F-150, the 2011 Ford makes me feel small, and adult-Alex has at least 40lbs on his former college self. With the CUV craze killing off SUV towing capacity, the day for me to finally take the truck plunge is rapidly approaching. The four-door luxury pickup truck may be the right truck for an Austin professional with a ranchette in the burbs, but I can’t shake the feeling that I would be best served lusting for the new Ford Ranger from afar and buying a diesel Touareg. I’d still dream pickup dreams in my sleep however.


Ford provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Statistics as tested

0-30: 2.514 Seconds

0-60: 6.75 Seconds

Fuel Economy: over 555 miles, 17.0MPG

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Review: 2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec Take Two Tue, 13 Dec 2011 20:13:52 +0000 The Japanese are always worried about what the North Koreans have up their sleeve, but if the writing on the wall were legible, they would be more concerned about what’s going on in the south. If the 2009 Hyundai Genesis was a shot across the bow of Lexus and Infiniti, then the Genesis 5.0 R-spec may be a torpedo hit below the water, and speaking of which, even the Germans should take notice. Of course, we heard this before with the likes of the VW Phaeton, however that model tanked, so is the top-line Genesis biting off more than it can chew? Lets find out.

In my mind, the Phaeton was doomed to failure when VW decided to equip their new full-on luxury sedan with a full-sized price tag. Instead of following the same model, Hyundai stayed true to their value roots and created a luxury sedan with a Hyundai-sized price tag with the Genesis 3.8 and 4.6. What could be next from the boffins in Korea? The Genesis 5.0 R-Spec, a value-priced performance luxury sedan of course.

From the outside, the Genesis (in all trims) strikes most of the right cords with luxury shoppers that prefer flowing lines to sharp creases. While previous products from Korea have been more imitation than innovation, the Genesis both deviates from the theme yet clearly draws inspiration from Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Unlike some Kias we could mention, the overall look is distinctive enough (in my mind) that nobody would confuse it for anything else on the road. Neither however, would the casual observer ever confuse it for a Hyundai if it didn’t have the stylized H logo on the trunk. Styling mission accomplished (but like many buyers, I might remove that H badge when I got it home).

Of course, we’re here to talk about the performance part of the equation. The 5.0 R-Spec is an all-new trim in the Genesis family. AMG and M have little to worry about however as the Genesis 5.0 as Hyundai has no intention at present to compete head on with the balls-out performance sedans from Germany. So what is an “R-Spec”? Think Audi S rather than RS. While there is little outside to differentiate the 5.0 from its lesser models, a closer look reveals unique wheels, lower profile rubber, and upgraded brakes. Also new for 2012 are some new headlamps with a distinctive LED accent strip, new bumpers with integrated exhaust (ala the LS460) and new power-folding mirrors. The real change however, is under the hood where an all-new 429HP 376 lb-ft 5.0L direct injection V8 is mated to an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission. While that sentence sounds right at home in a review about a new Mercedes E550 or BMW 550i, the novelty in the room is that we’re talking about a Hyundai. This new engine and new transmission (the rest of the Genesis line-up also receives the 8-speed transmission for 2012) shows just how serious Hyundai is about playing with the big boys. Readers will probably recall Hyundai recently designed an all-new 6-speed transmission, now circular-filed in favor of this new octo-cog-swapper. That’s some serious R&D spending. For those who enjoy gear counting, note that this makes the 5.0 R-Spec one cog ahead of Mercedes.

If we digress for a moment, an open question to our readers from me: how much does the price tag change your perception of a car, all things being the same? Sound out in the comment section below.

On the inside, the Genesis R-Spec wears the same duds as the other Genesis models except that the color selection boils down to black or black: black-on-black dash, black faux wood and black seats with black carpet. The overall monochromatic theme struck me as an odd choice as I found it cheaper looking to my eye than the Genesis 3.8/4.6 models with the two-tone burgundy interior. Cost being a factor, the stitched pleather goodness found carefully sprinkled throughout the interior doesn’t extend to the dashboard top which looks a touch cheap when put right next to the stitched trim. Fortunately the fake wood is kept to a fair minimum and in some ways I don’t know if I mind too much as there are plenty of $100,000 luxury sedans sporting wood stained so dark it looks like plastic.

For 2012 the Genesis receives a new 3.8L V6, this time with direct-injection added to the variable valve train party. The new V6 cranks out a very respectable 333HP and 292lb-ft of twist at 6400RPM and 5100RPM respectively. The 4.6L Tau V8 is left unchanged for 2012, which seems like something of a pity since it still doesn’t benefit from direct injection. Of course the big reason for testing the mildly re-worked Genesis for 2012 is because of the new 5.0 R-Spec model, so let’s dive under that hood. The 5.0L V8 serves up 429HP at 6400RPM and 376lb-ft at 5000RPM, very healthy numbers considering it is tuned to run on regular 87 octane gasoline. Joining the new V8 is a sport tuned suspension and lower profile tires on 19-inch wheels. (The observant will note they are not any wider than the 4.6L V8’s rubbers)

Gadgets are an important part of any luxury sedan, and this is one area where Hyundai has left a few gizmos out to keep costs down. Compared to iDrive and Infiniti’s fairly slick touch screen system, Hyundai’s infotainment offering is a touch less functional and less intuitive. When pitted against Mercedes Command or Lexus’ aging system however, the Hyundai infotainment software scores highly for look and feel. Hyundai convinced Lexicon (purveyor of sound systems to Rolls Royce) to create the 528-watt, 17-speaker, 5.1-surround audio system. The stereo sounds great and the subwoofer certainly makes watching movies on the nav screen strangely entertaining, but it is a notch behind the maximum capabilities of the 1,000+ watt systems in the European competition.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Infiniti’s M can be had with more nannies than a pack of trust fund babies at the park, this is another area where the Genesis’ price point causes some compromises. The Genesis has lane departure warning but no lane departure prevention, radar cruise control but no blind spot warning system and of course it won’t park itself. Still, the gizmos Hyundai did select are a good balance in my mind. My only complaint about the cruise control system Hyundai used is that it will take you to a crawl but unlike the competition it won’t stop you or hold you at a stop. The integrated collision warning system is also a near miss for me, it’s not adjustable and by default it warns you so late by the time it beeps (faintly) and puts a small red logo in the instrument cluster (where it’s hard to see), it’s too late to do anything about the emergency.  Also on the cutting room floor sits a cooled front passenger seat, heated steering wheel, and auto up/down windows for the rear. While these omissions bothered my esteemed co-worker Michael in his first take, I actually don’t mind as most people drive solo anyway and if I’m buying the car, I care about the driver most (me) and the bargain second. Option packages are a great way to drive up costs, so Hyundai decided to leave well enough alone making the R-Spec come only fully-loaded and in truth 98% of what luxury car buyers usually buy is there, and that’s saying something.

Out on the road the Genesis 5.0’s sport tuned active suspension (by SACHS) provides a ride that is noticeably firmer than the Genesis 4.6 yet is still on the softer side of the Euro competition. If you prefer floating on a cloud, you should opt for the softer riding Genesis 4.6 (or LS460) instead. If however you like corner carving, the BMW 550i is obviously your choice. Yet strangely enough the Genesis provides a good balance between the 550i and the LS460 with impressive BMW-like thrust and grip that’s somewhere between the two and fairly on par with the M56. The Hyundai 8-speed automatic is not as smooth as the ZF 8-speed Audi and BMW employ, but it is fairly similar in feel to the Lexus unit. Yet again the need to keep costs down and options non-existent means unlike the competition there is no AWD Genesis available. Driving purists will of course scoff at my love of four-wheel propulsion, but in the wet the Genesis has trouble applying all 429 ponies.

A comparably equipped Lexus LS460 Sport or Mercedes E550 easily crest $70,000, in this light the Hyundai is a screaming deal and gives up little for the $20,000+ delta in price (other than brand). The fact that you can even mention Hyundai, Lexus, Mercedes, Audi, Infiniti and BMW in the same sentence is something to behold. Saying that the Genesis 5.0 is better than the gaggle of luxury people-schlepers is something I just can’t say, but in many areas it is quite possibly just as good and yet I find myself saying a rare thing as I handed the Genesis back: this is a car I would buy myself. And that is where it departs from the VW Phaeton in my mind; the Phaeton is just too expensive for the badge, even for me.

The question we can’t answer here at TTAC is: can Hyundai convince luxury car buyers that they can get most of the same goodies on a $46K Hyundai as a $70K German or Japanese sedan? Even if that hurdle can be jumped, will the brand whores think twice? To those adventurous car shoppers who manage to look beyond brand perception however, they will find a car maker with the best warranty in the industry making reliable cars with a smidgen of style and a ‘whole lotta’ value. What kind of buyer are you? Are you buying that LS460 because it carries a $70,000 price tag, or because you like the way it coddles you? Are you buying the BMW for the roundel or for the 0-60 time? I would posit the Hyundai does all the above minus the badge.


 Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Statistics as tested

0-60: 4.9 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.4 Seconds @ 106 MPH

Fuel Economy: 22.4 MPG over 689 miles

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New or Used: Kill the Yuppies Edition? Thu, 13 Oct 2011 15:42:02 +0000  

American Badass?

Anonymous writes:

Dear Sajeev and Steve,

I have the misfortune of working with a bunch of aspiring Yuppies. You know the types. The ones who believe that all American car companies make crap and the only true luxury cars come from Germany and Japan. Never mind the $1300 maintenance charge on their Audi or the fact that the Lexus ES is about as exciting as wilted corn flakes.
Long story short, I am sick and tired of hearing their crap. I want to buy the type of American car that will take these pompous, sniveling wussy boys and blow their stuck-upityness right out of their ass.
My choices are the following…
1) Corvette – preferably one with a muffler package that sounds like a roving gang of Hell’s Angels ready to roll.
2) Silverado – One with all the options. Throw in some Bigfoot tires so that I can roll over those little prissy scootmobiles.
3) Hummer H2 – Instead of a horn I would get four bullhorns and have them blare out lines from Ah-nold’s movies and Jesse Ventura’s speeches with every beep. Maybe a few fart noises too.
4) Chevette – I’m thinking if I go in dressed like this guy one day, and buy a few accessories along the way, I should be all set.
5) Adams Probe 16 – One of only three made. But built for a good purpose.
OK, I’m exaggerating with all this. But really. I want to get a luxury car that is All-American and the absolute best in it’s class. Price limit $40k. New, used, doesn’t matter. What do you recommend?
Steve Answers: Custom. Get a ride that is a true representation of all you enjoy.
As for yours truly… I would start with a 1992 Buick Roadmaster Limited. Nothing quite says ‘Imports suck!’ quite like Grandpa’s car did back in the day. Besides I happen to have one at the moment. You want it?
Modify the 350 engine to your hearts content and then throw in a nice high end Magnaflow. Spend a couple grand on upgrading the sound system and suspension. A little subtle tint in the windows. Wheels that come from a vintage Buick as well as a serious tire upgrade. Maybe also throw in some vintage aftermarket effects to accentuate your love of all things American.
My vote would be for an airbrush of a scantily clad Marilyn Monroe blowing a kiss on one side. A few images of our troops through the ages on the other side… and a collage of famous Americans (real and fictional) on the hood and rear. Oh, don’t forget a Class 3 hitch, a multi-sound horn, and a loudspeaker that will allow you to share your tunes with all of your anti-Detroit friends. Country, Western (they are two different types you know), Elvis, TV tunes… anything that is truly American through and through.
Total cost? Maybe about 10 grand and a few long-term friendships.
With the money you save, let your office mates know of all the wonderful places you plan on going for the next few years while they’re ‘paying off the note’. Think Fiji… or Belize… or maybe Greece when the next round of austerity measures are introduced.
Good luck!
Sajeev Answers: Oh yes!  I am sick and tired of hearing their crap too!  Nothing says “I hate you and everything you stand for” like a Hummer, especially one in Alpha trimmings.  Screw them! Who the hell do they think they are anyway?
Here’s my short list:Mustang GT 5.0: because of that evil live axle that the fanbois love to hate on!
Pontiac G8 GXP: cuz those jerks probably hate Outback Steakhouses too!
Corvette Z06 (C6): kicking everyone’s ass while saying “LS7-FTW!” to piss off those haters!
Last-Gen Cadillac CTS-V: see above, change to “LS6-FTW” instead.
Dodge Ram SRT-10: don’t you wish your girlfriend could oversteer like me?But honestly your best bet is a decommissioned Panther from the Bob Bondurant School, back when they ran with Ford: Cobra powertrain, big brakes, console, racing seats, roll cage and a subtle (almost-Euro like) body kit just to really burn their croissants.    You’ll scare the living shit out of them on the freeway with that Police-a-like style and really burn them because they will never catch up to you after the realize they’ve been had by an imposter!
Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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Review: 2011 Ford F-150 (3.7 vs 5.0 vs 6.2 vs Ecoboost) Mon, 04 Oct 2010 17:56:23 +0000

While my invitation to the media burnout fest musta been lost in the mail, I attended a regional ride/drive event to cover the four new engines in the 2011 Ford F-150 as compared to some of its domestic competition. The afternoon included a fairly-lame autocross, a (short) drag strip and real world tests, unladen and towing. The product specialist made a point to ask everyone to tell their friends about this event. Luckily for Ford, I got a lot of people to tell.

Chevy Silverado Z71 (5.3L, 6AT): The Z71 Chevy used to be a serious 4WD off-road package, but now it can be a knobby tired, softly sprung PreRunner rig. Which shows the Blue Oval Boys stacking the cards in their favor, earning a wag of my finger. The Z71 was terrible on the autocross, but I brake torqued my way (3.73 gears?) to a dead heat with an EcoBoost at the drag strip. Irrelevant, as the drag strip was short and sweet, though I preferred the throttle tip in of the Chevy from a standstill in our mini-road course. Lose the Z71, add a little more Z06 under the hood and FoMoCo could be in trouble.

Dodge Ram 1500 (5.7L, 5AT): The “Big Horn” edition Ram was perfectly respectable in every performance metric, with more midrange V8 lust than the 5.3L Chevy and feeling similar to the 5.0L Ford. But I suspect, in the real world, the impressive horsepower isn’t up to par when stuck with Dodge’s 5-speed automatic. It’s still a nice truck, but here’s proof that continuous improvement isn’t just for cars.

Ford F-150 V6 (3.7L, 6AT): this six-banger is the reincarnation of the powerful, efficient and legendary Ford straight-six. I noticed the rumbly exhaust at first, then the 7000rpm tach with no redline markings. The new motor’s lusty midrange was expected with variable valve timing, but the tach ran through its full range of motion. That’s right, an $18,000-ish truck can rev to 7000rpm and bring a smile to one’s face. The lightweight cammer Ford was (obviously) soft on the bottom end, has the lowest tow ratings, but is far and away the most exciting truck I’ve experienced in years. Maybe its because Paul and I both love I-6 Fords (his small-six from 1966, my 1994 big-six), but the vast majority of TTAC readers want this mill in their rig.

F-150 5.0L (6AT): the last 5.0 was a joke compared to it’s faster/stronger/cheaper 4.9L straight-six brother, but this is a respectable mid-range motor, more grunt than the 3.7L with a great sound for not much extra coin. And compared to the outgoing 4.6L trucks, Dearborn gave us a reason to believe that multi-cam V8s have a place in big trucks: depending on the EPA’s final judgment, the HEMI and 5.3L Chevy have their work cut out for them. Safe!

F-150 6.2L (6AT): Though a top option with BOSS 429-esque valve covers, a macho engine note and impressive grunt that sounds like da bomb, an overweight (iron) 6.2L big block motor has no business in a nimble, streetwise F-150. Crotch-rocket aficionados say the same about Harley Davidson’s V-twin in modern bikes, which explains why this motor is standard in the Harley-fettled F-150. That said, I adore this BOSS-wannabe, and eagerly await my first test in a workhorse F-250: the Powerstroke diesel’s premium might be in trouble. But the F-150? Not so much.

F-150 EcoBoost (3.5L, 6AT): The “Eco-Brick” certainly appeals to urban cowboys and status seekers in the flyover states. Gutsy move, but the numbers don’t lie: there’s plenty of low end grunt with a gentle turbo whistle, taking much needed weight off the nose for the best autocross performance of the bunch. And while our mini-drag race test wasn’t a slam-dunk win, the EcoBoost mill would destroy the competition if it ran through more than one gear.

But truck users whose actions create America’s collective pickup forklore might be unimpressed: over load/under maintain the beast and I see a well worn, multiple owner, Eco-Brick F-150 eating turbos in less than 200,000 miles. Respectable for the sludge-factories from VW and Audi, but that might as well be pickup brand management suicide.

Conclusions: I’d buy Ford’s base V6, XLT trimmings, start praying for a MidBox option and research how to use a sawzall/welder to lower the bed rails to a usable height. Then again, there’s no good “bed” on the market, so I doubt I’d even consider a comparable Chevy or Dodge.

And while a ride and drive is no substitute for real seat time, Ford eclipsed the competition with upscale interiors stocked with full color gauge displays and great ICE systems, decent suspensions, 6-speed transmissions across the board for respectable fuel economy (or so they promise) and a blizzard of configurations.

More to the point, this is a slam-dunk of a mid-cycle refresh. If only we could peer into the future, checking out Texas’ Craigslist ads from the year 2025: if a fully depreciated Ford sells for more than a Chevy counterpart, the circle shall be complete.

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Review: 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Take Two Fri, 03 Sep 2010 18:38:19 +0000

After driving the Chevrolet Camaro SS for a couple of days, and enjoying the experience much less than I expected to, I began to question my expectations. Perhaps having the Lexus IS-F for a week had unfairly put the Chevrolet in a bad light? After all, the IS-F was twice the price and a Lexus, so of course the Detroit Oshawa, Ontario iron seemed coarse in comparison. The obvious test: a 2011 Mustang GT 5.0.

Back in the early 1980s, when my pre-license self lusted after both cars, the Mustang wasn’t as sexy as the Camaro. And it still isn’t. The Ford has never been as low to the ground or as sleek, and even after the 2010 nip-tuck excessive rear overhang mucks up the car’s proportions. But even if the car isn’t beautiful, it’s handsome, and it’s clearly a Mustang. Which cuts both ways. As with a Harley-Davidson, you either want one or you don’t.

The 2010 refresh did take the Mustang’s interior up a notch or two. Though still not “premium” (despite the trim level), there are enough soft-touch bits assembled with sufficient precision to not seem far beneath the mid-thirties price tag. Perhaps to enforce one of Baruth’s rules, the steering wheel’s thick plastic spokes continue all the way to the outer edge of the rim. You won’t be resting a thumb. But neither will you be comfortably gripping the wheel at 9 and 3.

Another consistent difference since at least the early 1980s: you sit much higher relative to the instrument panel in the Mustang. Perhaps even a little too high—I’m far from tall, but would never use the power height adjustment in this car. This driving position detracts from the car’s perceived sportiness, but greatly aids forward visibility and shrinks the car’s perceived size. In the past the Mustang has sometimes had a more usable rear seat than the Camaro. This time around they’re about equally useless. The Ford’s trunk is a little larger, though, and its opening isn’t constricted.

For at least the last quarter-century the Mustang has always been about its engine, with the rest of the car just along for the ride. The big news for 2011 is of course the return of the 5.0-liter V8. Which is actually 5.0 liters (and not 4.942) this time around. I remember the first 5.0. I actually came close to buying that 5.0 in the mid-80s (but couldn’t have lived with the handling). This is not that 5.0—it’s so much better. I remember salivating when Ford extracted 200 horsepower from the old engine; I even had my father buy a Lincoln Mark VII LSC with one under the hood. The new 5.0 is good for 412.

I frankly don’t care which car is quickest in the quarter. I care about how the powertrain sounds and feels when driven as aggressively as public roads permit. Because that’s where I drive. I cringed when taking the Camaro near the redline. In contrast, runs to 7,000 rpm in the 2011 Mustang GT are pure joy. Though the engine retains some of the traditional American V8 rumble and roar—for the consituency—it’s a thoroughly up-to-date DOHC design, and when opened up it sounds and feels like one. As Baruth attested, big buck German V8s have little or nothing on this powerplant. It’s thrillingly powerful, surprisingly smooth, and the noise you hear you want to hear. And when you don’t want to hear it, it’s quieter.

Ford designed the variable intake and valvetrain for a broad powerband. Compared to the Camaro, the rush starts lower and runs higher—there are nearly another 1,000 rpm between the torque peak and the power peak. The dyno charts might suggest otherwise, but the Ford V8 feels punchier at low rpm. The Mustang’s lower curb weight—3,605 vs. 3,860 lbs.—contributes.

Though still not among the best, the Mustang’s shifter (finally attached to a six-speed manual) is considerably slicker than that in the Camaro. Smooth shifts occur by default. Instead, the drivetrain’s weak link is at the far end. In a severe challenge to logic, Ford has installed a first-rate variable-everything DOHC V8 into a car with a live rear axle. Ford claims they ditched the independent rear suspension with which the platform was originally endowed (in Lincoln LS form) for cost reasons. But this is a $35,000+ car. Mustang buyers are apparently willing and able to spend $495 for shiny wheels. They wouldn’t spend a similar amount for a rear suspension capable of keeping cool under duress? Perhaps $500 would be a deal killer for those buying the base V6 with nothing else. But Ford has offered IRS as an alternative in the past, and on a platform not originally designed for one.

There are no shortage of apologists for the live rear axle. I don’t doubt that it comports itself just fine on the track. But, as I said, I don’t do my driving on a track. I drive on Michigan roads. I can dodge the potholes, but the lumpiness is all over. Lay the power down on wavy pavement, and the rear end wants to go every direction but straight and level. The sensation is not unlike that in an overpowered front-wheel-drive car, just with the drunken dancing happening at the other end. The untoward motions aren’t hard to control, but confidence is not inspired. In contrast, the Camaro’s far more balanced and composed chassis feels like it could handle another few hundred horsepower without breaking a sweat.

One caveat: I drove a Mustang with the base, 18-inch wheels (and yet also with the optional 3.73 rear end). Order the 19s and Ford throws in a front strut tower brace. The two together no doubt improve the handling and steering feel, but likely do little or nothing to chill out the rear end. The standard brakes are sufficient for off-track driving in the flatlands. For the track or the hills, or just to know it’s there, get the Baruth-inspired (but not Baruth-approved) Brembo Package.

Even with the live axle, the Mustang does have some clear advantages over the Camaro in the handling department. Its steering is a little more communicative and feels much more responsive and agile. It’s a slightly smaller car, and between the driving position and this steering feels like a much smaller car. It’s more lively—in good ways as well as bad. To put things in the simplest terms—and I flat out forgot this word when writing my Camaro review—the Mustang is more fun.

The Mustang doesn’t ride as smoothly as the Camaro, but it’s still far from punishing. Detroit has figured out how to improve handling without killing the ride. Now it’s the turn of some Asian manufacturers.

Delving a bit further into my past, my friends and I watched Gilligan’s Island nearly every day after school. I’ve never seen the appeal of Ginger. It’s always been Mary Ann for me. If you lean the same way, then you’ll prefer the Mustang over the Camaro. It doesn’t have the flashy concept car looks, but it comes across as a much better fit for real life, while still being attractive. It’s also more fun. Remember Ginger smiling? I don’t either. Bonus: aside from the rear suspension, the Mustang is also much more refined. For once the usual trade-off between refinement and driving enjoyment doesn’t apply.

Yes, Sajeev advised people to wait until Ford adds direct injection, which should add 20-30 horsepower, bump the EPA ratings a digit or two, and quicken responses. But compared to the differences between last year’s 4.6-liter V8 and the new 5.0, these are hardly worth mentioning, much less waiting for. An independent rear suspension would be a different story, but none is even rumored. The time to tell people to wait was last year.

Frank Cianciolo, an excellent salesperson at Avis Ford in Southfield, MI, provided the car for this review. Frank can be reached at 248-226-2555.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Track Test: 2011 Mustang V8 w/Brembo Brakes Mon, 17 May 2010 23:43:54 +0000

As I exit Turn Eleven at Summit Point Raceway’s twisty, concrete-lined “Shenandoah” course, I’m confronted with a rare opportunity to put my money where my mouth has been. In a review of the 2011 Mustang GT 5.0, I perhaps foolishly opined that “C5 Z06 pilots will need to find a twisty road lest they be run nose-to-tail down long freeway sprints.” Now I’ve found myself fifty feet behind an enthusiastically-driven C5 Z06, and it’s squatting with full throttle up Shenandoah’s Bridge Straight. This will be a straight drag race, and for extra irony it’s going to occur on a road course. Four tires chirp. Sixteen cylinders sing. Forty to one hundred and ten miles per hour. Up a hill. Was I wrong? Can the mighty five-point-oh hunt for Corvettes?

Yes. It can. At least when said five-point-oh is equipped with the optional 3.73 axle ratio that, along with a pricey set of Brembo front brakes, makes up the entire list of options on our $32,800 test vehicle. No measurable gap appeared between the two cars before both went briefly airborne at the end of the sharply peaked Bridge Straight. Once we landed, the Z06 driver did the sensible thing and signaled for us to pass before the entrance to the Nurburgring-replica Karussell which is Shenandoah’s trademark feature.

The skeptical among you will point out that it’s not perfectly fair for your humble author, a victor of such exalted automotive events as the 2007 24 Hours of LeMons at Flat Rock, to go picking on advanced-group trackday drivers. You may be correct. Still, I think it’s worth noting that I ran a very similar 2010 Mustang GT 4.6 in essentially the same group of drivers last year and found myself Corvette chow every time the track went straight. This five-liter is a different animal: strong from idle to redline and NASCAR-frantic as the needle swings ’round the tach. It’s very nearly the perfect normally-aspirated trackday engine; no surprise, given its close-cousin status to the Ford “Cammer” Daytona Prototype mill.

The rest of the Mustang is, of course, a little less race-ready. The control surfaces in our no-frills model didn’t really please me. Everybody says they want a low-content Mustang GT, the same way that everybody claims to be holding cash in hand for a six-speed biodiesel-powered rear-wheel-drive sport wagon, but the folks who actually buy Mustang GTs buy them with plenty of options. That’s a good idea. Check every box on the form except the fabulous glass roof, since it adds a lot of weight in a very bad place for road-course handling.

The 5.0 was the subject of much trackside discussion this past weekend, most of it focusing on the optional Brembo front brakes. Here’s the best way to think about them: Go look at a Porsche 911 GT3. Evaluate the size of the brakes on that car. Now come back and look at these optional Brembos. Then consider that the Mustang outweighs the GT3 by a few hundred pounds. Get the idea? These aren’t the be-all and end-all of optional brake setups. True racing Mustangs use massive calipers front and rear. These brakes, which are identical to the GT500 stoppers and probably very similar to the items found on the Camaro SS and Challenger SRT-8, aren’t even close to what’s required for heavy-duty track use.

That caveat aside, these aren’t necessarily cosmetic items. Unlike the standard sliding-caliper Mustang front setup, the Brembos will take a genuinely hard lap or two before requiring some rest, and they never cook the brake fluid the way last year’s “Track Pack” pad option did. I added fifty feet of breathing room to my desired braking zones throughout the weekend and never completely ran out of stopping power. That’s good enough for most people, and those of us who want more have many aftermarket options.

The various chassis and aerodynamic improvements Ford touts for 2011 are not easily detected without a back-to-back drive in identical conditions, but the car as I experienced it was more than satisfactory for track rats of all experience levels. The P Zero tires aren’t super-grippy but they communicate honestly. Axle hop under wheelspin is minimal and it’s rare that one is forcibly reminded of the Mustang’s suspension layout. It takes a solid hit to a curb with steering already (mis)dialed-in to really experience the pop-and-slide motion so familiar to CMC racers everywhere.

The AdvanceTrac system has an “intermediate” mode where wheelspin is allowed and some degree of lateral motion can occur before intervention. It’s a pretty good compromise for trackdays. Disabling the whole system, as I did on the second day I drove Shenandoah, reveals a stable yet tossable big car that can be thrown around without fear.

I provided Mustang rides to a wide variety of people over the course of the weekend — attorneys, racers, even a TTAC reader. I believe that all of them stepped out of the car with a healthy respect for what Ford’s accomplished here. Even if you haven’t tracked a Camaro or Challenger and been unimpressed by those cars’ lumbering on-track demeanor, this 5.0 is likely to make a believer out of you. Just don’t brag too much ahead of time to your ‘Vette pals; it’s better to show than it is to tell.

Ford provided the vehicle and insurance for this test. TrackDAZE provided the space on the track and a rather decent lunch for two days. The author is a TrackDAZE instructor and can be requested by novice and intermediate-level drivers at any 2010-season TrackDAZE event.

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