TTAC Project Car: The Deeper You Go…

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Most of this dialogue happened:

Brian: “My wife and kids are going on vacation somewhere I’d never go (Disney World) so that’s a good time to drive up to Dallas and work on the Sierra.”

Me: “Your family just had to pick the hottest week of the year to dump you on me, didn’t they?”

Brian: “Shut up, Sanjeev! Get over here and work on your stupid brown car!”

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as our last installment had the Sierra waiting for a (not bashed) front subframe and a higher performance 2.3-liter “Lima” accessory drive to get to the next phase. Luckily the good used subframe from Merkur Midwest dropped in perfectly, with no issues regarding the right-hand drive steering rack/shaft!

And, as previously mentioned, I went to my local LKQ Pull a Part and found the holy grail: the modular 1992-1994 Ford Ranger 2.3L serpentine assembly setup. I grabbed the alternator bits, the crank and water pump pullies, noting this also includes Ford’s 3G alternator ( big upgrade) to boot: this ensures the inclusion of an electric fan and maybe an Infinity Bass-link subwoofer (that I have lying around) in the future without repercussions.

This setup is completely modular: adding options (power steering and A/C) without changing anything but the length of the serpentine belt! None of that V-belt nonsense because you wanted power steering!

You’ll see why I wasted all this time/spilled so much digital ink with the next photo.

The low to the earth demeanor lowers the Sierra’s center of gravity (by 20-ish lbs) but, more importantly, streamlines the turbo plumbing’s path. More on that later.

The system truly shines (so to speak) after adding a remanufactured alternator and cleaning every nook in that fancy aluminum casting (after years of oil from a valve cover leak and dirt accumulation).

Once the motor bolted to its Merkur subframe, the valve cover didn’t clear the outer cowl. This motor is pushed significantly rearward in this modest body, and the Ford’s turbo-bespoke aluminum valve cover isn’t exactly slender.

And this outer cowl is a unique part for right-hand-drive designs, so the Merkur parts car was no help!

Luckily, a 1-2mm bend in the cowl had it sorted: body shaping hand tools provided the requisite clearance. But look how close the camshaft sits relative to the HVAC blower motor!

With the motor in and (mostly) assembled, it’s time to get the intake/turbo plumbing laid out.

That silver 90-degree elbow (left, sourced from a Merkur Facebook group) is the turbo’s outlet, implying this is no ordinary Ford 2.3 Turbo: the air’s now going to a front-mounted intercooler.

I quite love the finished product in this Steve Schlodes ported lower intake; pretty enough to necessitate a good trim to the manifold gasket!

The silver “elbow” was the ported upper intake from our Thunderbird Turbo (from an earlier update) whose previous owner ground down the cosmetic ribbing (and EFI lettering) for a look that blends nicely with the Ford Motorsport cam cover. A visit to Merkur Depot for a 90-degree rotation (including shortening to clear the hood) and an EGR delete completed the task: this rotation is possible because of the aforementioned Ranger alternator, ensuring air leaves the intercooler and enters the engine as efficiently as possible.

Repeat after me: Bends are not your Friends!

While I wanted to keep all factory emissions equipment, the EGR valve was another layer of complication in this croissant of automotive madness. I’m still doing the most important bit: adding a high-flow catalytic converter to the exhaust (eventually).

With the front of the motor sorted, it’s time to discuss the transmission. The Sierra came with Ford’s not terrible (for 1983) C3 automatic, but it’s clearly not what this high horsepower project demands. Neither was the Merkur’s sloppy, weak-kneed T-9: only a proper Borg Warner T-5, found in the Sierra Cosworth/Mustang SVO/Thunderbird Turbo, had the capacity to handle our custom cammed 2.3 Turbo.

Oh, and thanks again to fellow autojourno Zach Bowman for donating this clutch and flywheel after his Ugly Horse went full Ford Ecoboost.

Here you see the T-5 bellhousing installed, but what you can’t see is how tightly formed the 1982-84 (1985?) Sierra’s transmission tunnel is compared to later versions. The T-5 fits, but bolting to the body isn’t nearly as straightforward as Merkur T-5 google searches suggest.

Because nothing looks like what we had to make:

The end result may not be beautiful, but it’s a work of art. Within minutes, Brian made this bespoke transmission crossmember from metal scraps!

And I grabbed an SN-95 Mustang transmission mount for it.

Rubber is being used everywhere possible for factory levels of NVH control. Plastic based bushings aren’t my style, Houston’s roads are far too unforgiving, and I don’t need to feel every vibration from this ‘box.

Sometimes it pays to have friends that can see a problem, imagine the stuff in their shop coming together, and just make it happen out of sheer brilliance. That, and a lot of measuring.

It’s far from complete, but there’s another installment coming soon on TTAC’s Ford Sierra.

[Images:© 2019 Sajeev Mehta]

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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4 of 23 comments
  • JMII JMII on Aug 30, 2019

    Painting the brace red helped, you gained 10 HP right there.

  • Snakebit Snakebit on Aug 31, 2019

    I happen to like the T-9 five speed that came with my two XR4Ti's, but I wasn't doing what you're doing-I was just driving them as they came 'in the box', with no powertrain mods. And for those guys with a attitude towards XR4Ti's, drive one before you rag on them. If nothing else, they had the best front seats I've had in any FoMoCo ride. Last thing, one of my buddies races a Caterham 7 with a Focus SVT motor and T-9 transmission, and has had no problems with either motor or trans.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.