By on August 30, 2019

Sierra Lima 2.3 motor swap, Image: 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. 1992 Ford Ranger low mount alternator for Ford 2.3, Image: Sajeev MehtaThis 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.

Ford turbo 2.3 low hanging alternator and motorsport valve cover, Image: Sajeev Mehta

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).1983 Ford Sierra Lima 2.3 swap, Image: Sajeev MehtaOnce 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!  Lima 2.3 engine swap Ford Sierra, Image: Sajeev Mehta

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. Ford turbo 2.3 90 degree elbow, Image: Sajeev MehtaThat 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.Ford turbo 2.3 ported lower intake, Image: Sajeev MehtaI quite love the finished product in this Steve Schlodes ported lower intake; pretty enough to necessitate a good trim to the manifold gasket!  Ford turbo 2.3 90 degree rotated intake, Image: Sajeev MehtaThe 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).Ford Sierra T-5 swap , Image: Sajeev MehtaWith 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: 1982 Ford Sierra T-5 swap bracket, Image: Sajeev MehtaThe end result may not be beautiful, but it’s a work of art. Within minutes, Brian made this bespoke transmission crossmember from metal scraps!T5 1983 Ford Sierra swap, Image: Sajeev Mehta

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]

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23 Comments on “TTAC Project Car: The Deeper You Go…...”

  • avatar

    Gee, and I was working up a head of steam to just wash and wax my car this weekend

  • avatar

    Way cool!

  • avatar

    A most excellent article, you’re showing the gritty details of essential classic Hot Rodding and I’m enjoying every moment of following this .

    The serpentine belt setup is clean, simple and good looking .

    I’m wondering if Brian couldn’t find some tubing and cobble up at stronger tranny cross member with no 90 degree bends in it .

    Having a craftsman like him is a wonderful thing .


    • 0 avatar

      Thank you for your kind words, Nate. I feel the same way, except it’s with a very bizarre subject!

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think Hot Rodding is bizzare at all Sajeev .

        It’s the essence of mechanical love : the interest & ability in making it go better……

        I’m a cruiser although I *do* like to Motorvate rapidly, I don’t ever spin the tires etc. .

        I think I missed the original thread where you explained acquiring a R.H.D. to tinker with….


  • avatar

    Very cool, this is perhaps the best content on TTAC in weeks!

    The Lima was instantly recognizable to me from my two Rangers (’94 and ’97). I’ve definitely got a junkyard turbo Ranger on my bucket list of project cars.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    This is motivating me to build the car I actually want…an 87-88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe powered via a 3.5 Ecoboost. It seems most parts exist, its just a question of writing some sizable checks.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s already happening, and it looks awesome:

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Oh my…We need a writeup. I had seen crossmembers were available for Fox bodies and the control pack for the 3.5 finally came out. I doubt the T5 would be up to the task though so I foresee some “reshaping” of the trans tunnel to fit something beefier, though it did accept an AOD stock in v8 form which wasn’t small so who knows. Not sure if you will need to relocate the Turbos though.

        My big problem is it needs to feel factory. No dash warning lights, no Autometer Gauges shoehorned in to a janky dash opening, no non-working accessories and bone stock looking unless the hood goes up. That is typically in my experience where these swaps start to spiral cost wise. That and for every dollar you spend on an LS swap you seem to need to spend about 5 for anything Coyote/Ecoboost.

        • 0 avatar

          Why would you ditch such a killer engine?? I’ve seen the 2.3 turbo put into everything from Porsche 911s to sand rails. Yeah the obvious Pintos, Mustangs, and Rangers, but 240zs, BMW 2002s, T-bucket hot rods, the list goes on.

          It was way overbuilt, as it was Ford’s first attempt at turbocharging, and real easy to upgrade to big power, reliable and streetable.

          • 0 avatar

            Sounds like a Tempo. That would be enough for me to want to get rid of it.

            A 3.5 EB Turbo Coupe done right sounds awesome.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            I love the 2.3 Lima Turbo, but they are from the old era of turbos. I can remember tooling around in them and the power delivery was very much like nothing…nothing…nothing…oh look, somebody installed a Small Block Chevy. I like that but the 3.5 EB will push 400 in stock configurations. The Lima 2.3 Can do that, and probably more but it will be in a very 80’s turbo style with mucho lag. And when you do get bored the 3.5 EB has a higher ceiling. Not taking anything from those cars as they sit, but for a daily driver I can’t imagine a better combo than the swap.

          • 0 avatar

            Simple tuning will eliminate turbo lag if that’s your concern, and add huge power, safe/reliably if that’s a goal.

            Engine swaps are good too. It’s your deal, but it seems a bit extreme for the fix. And note the weight of the 3.5 EB is slightly more than the Coyote V8 and just as big/wide.

            The Coyote (into Fox body) swap is very popular an there’s probably plug-n-play kits available.

  • avatar

    Nice work!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That’s looking good!

  • avatar

    If I was going to expend this much effort, I’d want to wind up with a V8 under the hood. I’ve seen small block Fords in cars like this, and of course a small block Chevy LS would be perfect.

    Id also want an automatic transmission, too.

    What about the air conditioning? Is that in the plan?

    • 0 avatar

      Long time no chat!

      I have enough V8s already and I’d rather have something more, well, Cosworth like. No, I’m not going to do a 16V Volvo head swap (rather go full ecoboost before that)

      I would never punish a Ford Sierra with 200+hp with an automatic gearbox.

      No air conditioning, as it didn’t come with it. I don’t want to add it, as I have plenty of A/C equipped cars…FYI my Mark is running strong with 190k on the clock.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar

    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.

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