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Typically when you see engine build-up projects in magazine, they are aiming for one thing -performance. And up until now, we've been just as guilty as the others, by focussing all of our projects towards a goal of running some set ET or making 'x' amount of horsepower.

Well we realize that many of our readers have other, perhaps more important, criteria when it comes to building or rebuilding their engines. What could be more important then sheer horsepower you ask? Well reliability, fuel economy, and the ability to pass emissions testing are a few examples.

Many of you may own Fords that serve double duty, as daily drivers and weekend warriors. Perhaps your 5.0L Falcon wagon hauls the kids to school in the morning, and then hits the Thursday night bracket races. Whatever the case may be, we decided to take the challenge and see if we could build the all-around perfect motor.

We choose a 5.0L fuel-injected powerplant as the test case simply because it offers more complexity, in terms of rebuilding and proper parts selection, compared to a carbed engine. It also happens to be the engine in our '88 Mustang LX project vehicle -which has been burning more oil than a Iraqi oil field. (More on this later.)

So here is what we set for our goals with this project, at the end of this series of articles we'll come back to these and evaluate how we fared:

  • Reliability: Daily driver, 100,000 mile capable engine
  • Economy: 20 mpg (freeway) or greater
  • Performance: 260-275 RWHP, Mid-High 12's on sticky tires, full weight '88LX
  • Streetabilty: Near stock "feel and manners", must pass California emmissions

So settle in and get ready to take some notes. In typical FORDMUSCLE fashion, we're going to get into every detail regarding building up a 5.0L EFI motor.

To rebuild or not to rebuild?
First off, you've got two options when it comes to the short block. You can have a machine shop do the basic block work, then assemble the rotating assembly yourself. Or, purchase a ready-to-go new or rebuilt shortblock.

While we are big fans of do-it-yourself assembly, let's face it, for an engine that needs to get you to and from work or school, everyday, you probably want a professional to put it together- even if for the sole reason that you need someone to blame and yell at if the thing blows up!

So for this project we opted to go with a pre-assembled shortblock. Due to the large number of production vehicles that utilized the 5.0L engine, availability is no problem. You've got the choice of pulling your engine and rebuilding it, however this would mean some downtime for the vehicle, something we could not afford with our sole mode of transportation. You also could find a local engine rebuilder and buy a rebuilt 5.0L, and once the swap is done, take the old motor back for a core deposit refund. Another option is to buy a brand new production 5.0L shortblock from Ford Racing. (You can also buy a new longblock, but we won't get into that here, since we have specific plans for the top end of the motor -details in part II.)


Ford Production 5.0L Shortblock
(M-6009-B50) We decided not to go with this new Explorer engine.

So which option is best? We spent a great deal of time comparing and contrasting a rebuild versus the new Ford production short block. While initially it may seem obvious that the new FRPP 5.0L shortblock (M6009B50) from Ford is the best bet, we found that there were several reasons not to go this route. First and foremost is cost. A new production 5.0L shortblock (meaning an assembled new block with new crank, rods, pistons, rings, bearings, cam and timing chain) costs $1299 from most large Ford Racing dealers. Add in $150 for freight, and you are at about $1450. Of course you could by it from a local dealer and avoid freight, but then the tax hits you...so it's a wash either way.

However there is more to why we didn't select the new 5.0L option. Upon further research, we found that many dealers are mis-advertising this shortblock as a "Cobra" shortblock. (Look at any of the ads in the print mags, you'll see the above part number listed as a "Cobra" shortblock.) This makes no sense. The Cobra shortblock has not been in production since 1995, the last year of the 5.0L Cobra Mustang. The only 5.0L engines in production over the past 5 years has been the Explorer engine. So what this means is your shortblock comes with an Explorer timing belt and gears and low-duration camshaft. These are not huge issues, especially since we'd be replacing the cam anyway, nevertheless it was a negative in our book.

Perhaps the strongest temptation for going with the FRPP shortblock would be reliability. Ford 5.0's are built rugged, and can easily run up to 150,000 without a glitch. However, as we saw with our Project 460, you can always get a dud that breaks on the first trip around the block. This brings us to our final point - we don't like the idea of having to ship a block back across the country (assuming you don't live in Dearborn) in order to have a warranty repair. (By the way, Ford Racing offers no warranty on their engines - another point to consider.) It's much easier in our opinon to deal with a local machine shop that built the engine. Besides, most will offer some sort of warranty, such as thirty-days after installation or similar.

Engine Rebuilders
When it comes to having a short-block rebuilt, you can spend as little as $600 (ala the national autoparts chains) or in the several thousands or dollars, as you've seen advertise in the major magazines. Naturally a good deal of the cost is due to the quality of parts being used, but also to the attention to detail. While the $600 Kragan engines seem like a steal, we've found assembly to be shoddy and their overall life expectancy is short.

Due to the nature of our project, we're going to focus on the middle-ground - the local rebuild and exhange shops. An engine rebuild and exhange shop is one that builds engines day-in and day-out. They are typically not performance oriented, but rather production oriented, and probably supply engines, import and domestic, to most of the repair shops in their local area. We feel that for a stock, or close to stock, short block, these shops offer a great value with a high level of quality, and typically with a warranty.

Having a engine rebuilder put together a short block for you offers many advantages. As we mentioned above, the biggest advantage is that they are local. Most rebuilders offer some sort of warranty, so if there is a problem, you don't have to travel far, or make a bunch of long distance calls, to get the problem solved. However don't be lulled into thinking this simply requires writing a check and hauling the motor home. If you want a shortblock done correctly, you need to be on top of every little detail regarding the machine work and parts, otherwise the shop will build the engine according to their standard practice. We ran into some classic problems with our rebuilder, and fortunately they were willing to resolve everything without much of a hassle.

First and foremost, find a reputable shop to do the work. Talk to fellow enthusiasts in your area (the local drag strip is a great place for references, as are local clubs), and always visit the shop to talk to a builder or owner. As you all know, a dirty and unorganized m shop, or a machinist that doesn't seem to listen to your requests, is sign to go elsewhere

We went with Diablo Engine (located in Dublin, CA) a local engine rebuild and exchange shop that has a good reputation, knowledgable staff, and more importantly we've had a engine built by them before. They quoted us $795 for a rebuilt 5.0L roller short block, with exchange of our old engine. This may sound like a great price, but read on...you'll find out just how many cost cutting measures are involved in a production rebuild.

(More shortblock assembly.)
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