Project 666: Dart 427ci equals 9 seconds and a NHRA license

There has been a lot of knuckle-busting in the shop on Project 666 recently – some good and some bad.  We have been preparing the car to compete in a few PSCA races this season.  Getting our Fox ready has been a blast, but there has been a little cocktail of drama and headaches involved as well. This is our tear-jerking story of our hunt for the 9’s.

Our Mustang started out last year with a 408ci that made about 575 hp to the crank. With the Windsor in place of our tired 302, we were able to muster mid 10-second quarter mile times with stout 1.46 60-foot times. This is not nearly fast enough to be competitive in the PSCA, let alone get us an NHRA license for the season. Thus, we realized it was time to install our hidden-bullet: a Dart all-aluminum 427.

We started by pulling our Dart 427 out of the storage room where it has sat for nearly two years. Just in case you don’t remember this one, the block is Dart’s lightweight aluminum 9.500 deck small block Ford.  It utilizes a Lunati Pro Series crank, Lunati 4340 Superlight rods, and JE custom 4.125 bore dome pistons for a total compression ratio of 13:1.

The short block was capped off with a set of Trick Flow’s bad ass CNC heads that flowed 333 cfm intake and 255 cfm on the exhaust. The heads came with 58cc chambers, bronze valve guides, interlocking ductile iron seats, and huge 225cc intake runners. These heads are completely assembled with 2.080” and 1.600” stainless steel valves and 1.560” roller springs with 240lbs of seat pressure and 600lbs open pressure which is perfect for the custom Comp Cam sitting in the block. Speaking of valvetrain, we completed the assembly with Comp Cams’ Ultra Gold aluminum rocker arms in a 1.6 ratio that was supported by a 5/16″ one piece chrome moly push rod.

To learn more about the short block click here.
To learn more about the long block click here.

Before installing the engine and transmission in 666, we needed to change our TCI flexplate. The 408 was an externally balanced crankshaft and the new 427 was internal balance.TCI's #529615 flexplate is SFI 29.1 approved and built with extra-thick welds on both sides of the ring gear.

We had a fully race ported Wilson 9.500 deck Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold from an older project. Though destined for use as a fuel injected application, we needed to make home made injector bung plugs. These consisted of machined down bolts with o-rings and flat bar stock to secure them

So this should be a direct swap from one Windsor to another, right?  Well, our 408ci motor utilized a post 1971 block, matching the 9.500 deck height of our Dart block, but due to the slightly raised runners featured on our TFS Street Heat heads, this made for more work than we anticipated. Project 666 was starting to live up to its name.

The first task was to finish assembling the motor, which went relatively smooth until we realized that our Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold was built for fuel injection and has the injector ports. Now we could change intakes, but this intake has been meticulously CNC ported by induction gurus Wilson Manifolds. Though this was an easy fix with a couple of new bolts from the bin. Next, the header flanges had to be ported to match the shape of our Trick Flow heads to insure maximum exhaust flow on the hot-side of the motor.

The headers were hitting the transmission's bell housing. The exhaust ports on these awesome Trick Flow heads are a touch higher then on our previous heads. A little grinding later and we are all set to go.

One of the new pieces we put on our 427 is Canton’s 351W Fox Body Drag Power Pan.  Designed to be used in two or four bolt main configuration, it also accepts a 164 or 157 tooth flywheel.  It has a massive 9-inch deep sump that will accept seven quarts of oil.  The large recovery pouch requires that the right side mounting bolts to be accessed through plugs in the bottom of the pan.  We simply applied a little Teflon tape to each of these plugs to ensure a leak-free seal. This is one of the most popular Ford drag racing pans on the market.

Canton 13-672SV 351W Drag Pan

• Pro Style Oil Recovery Pouch
• Slosh Baffle
• Provision For Our Pan Mounted Dipstick
• Magnetic Drain Plug
• Seven Quart Capacity

In addition to the Canton oil pan, we turned to Optima for a fresh Red Top battery.  The Red Tops are some of the most well known performance batteries used for automobiles.  They can live up to twice as long as a typical battery and can pack up to 15x more vibration resistance as well.  Vibration resistance is critical in race cars that don’t feature the same soft bushings that typically dampen that vibration in a normal street car.  Another great aspect is that they are completely spill proof, so if your race car ends up on the roof, leaky battery acid will be the least of your concerns.

After fitting the headers on the motor to ensure their fitment, we were ready to install the engine. That is until we realized the new Canton drag race oil pan is too wide to fit in between our motor mount plates on our K-member. So we needed to move both the lower points of the motor mount plates an inch on each side.  Next, the headers were hitting the transmission’s bell housing. Our dreams (nightmares..?) came back to bite us as we started to realize we had to fabricate two new header tubes.  Welcome to race cars – right?

With the motor in, we fill it with fluids in preparation to fire it. Red Line recommends using their break in additive with conventional oil for a few hundred miles

A final check of the valve lash was among the last things to do on our check list. Also on top is Pro Systems 4150 carburetor.

666’s Milk Shake Brings Tears to the Dyno

Needless to say that a fair amount of the office was excited to see Project 666 on the dyno to see if it could get close to its power goals that marked its naming. But it wouldn’t even get through a run on the dyno before our AutoMeter oil pressure gauge dropped to zero.  Immediately we pulled out the dipstick to see what was going on and we were greeted with a beautiful shade of frothy brown – an unwanted interaction between oil and water. Yes, oil and water; this is never a good sign with a new setup, but it brings up the point that every possible aspect of failure must be examined before pulling out one’s hair in frustration.

At the sight of the Starbucks foo-foo coffee drink colored liquid the first thought that comes to mind is the head gaskets. Like any normal person the logical first step to methodically disassemble the engine and look for clues that led to the source of the problem.  Starting with the intake manifold, we saw what could be a problem with the gasket sealing between the water jackets, lifter valley, and intake ports.

With oil in the intake runners, we very well could have found our problem. This gasket problem could very easily be causing a sealing problem around the water jacket as well.

To save you a lot of reading and condense three days worth of work, we tried resealing the intake manifold two different times with no success.  There was even the thought that the manifold might have been milled for its previous designated engine combination, so we purchased a virgin Super Victor manifold and still the milk shake was there.

After removing the cylinder heads, further oil was observed in places where it should not be found.  With the visual evidence, the head gaskets seemed the likely culprit; but upon further investigation the head gaskets were not the source of the attempts at blending oil and water. As the tear down process continued, it became routine to question every possible component that could have been the cause of this issue.

Once the engine was disassembled the problem became apparent; like the Titanic the cylinders sleeves had sunk in the aluminum block. Not a dramatic James Cameron way, but just enough to wreak oily-watery havoc. Even the miniscule amount that the sleeves had sunk was enough to be problematic. This is nothing Dart did; but it was something that probably happened during engine block machining and prep. You are supposed to fully seat the sleeves prior to machining. Our 427’s sleeves just weren’t fully seated. Basically, the uneven surface was the cause of the mess and resulted in multiple head gasket changes.

If you look at the top edge of where the sleeve meets the block, you can easily see the block sits slightly higher.

With the mystery solved, the uneven surface had to be dealt with or proper sealing would never be achieved. When looking at the picture of the piston, it is hard not to notice the oil build up and the slight gap between the face of the block and the sleeves, which prevented the gasket to do its job in a proper fashion. It is virtually impossible for the gasket to perform corrected while it is being sucked into the combustion chamber, which explains how the water managed to sneak it’s way into the mix.

Being mentally exhausted from the 427 debacle and wanting a second opinion on the matter, we shipped our zero mile old 427 up to L&R Automotive for a rebuild.  There were a couple of parts we knew we were going to want changed out to elevate any potential problems – new gaskets from Fel-Pro, PermaTorque MLS Head Gaskets (PN #1134) which are .041-inch thick and have a stainless steel armor ring – perfect for our high compression 427. Also, we utilized a Fel Pro Front Cover Gasket and Rear Main Seal gasket. New rings from Total Seal got the call because we pulled the pistons as part of our rebuild.

We also needed a new Mellings Pump, but we needed a new pump not related to a direct failure, but in an unknown instance, the adjustable pressure screw had been tightened down so tight that it bottomed out on the relief, forcing the pump to relieve the pressure it was trying to produce. So it was time for a new Melling pump.

Additionally, we did not have a failure with the Comp Cams Endure-X lifters in the motor, however L&R discovered that simply the wrong height lifters were installed.  This was causing some of our oil pressure issues. You see, Dart’s blocks feature .300-inch taller lifter bosses that allow a wider range of camshaft lift applications and we simply had the standard height lifters in the motor and were bottoming out and not being properly oiled.

Rebuilding our Brand New Engine at L&R Automotive

We chose Total Seal "CML Premium Rings" which are part number CML-9010-5; which are 4.125-inch bore, .043-inch top and second ring, and 3mm oil rings. They are a ductile iron top ring which is great for our race application.

L&R installed new Comp Cams Endure-X Solid Roller Lifters (PN 838-16) because the lifters we had previously were too short for the Dart block's raised lifter bores. These have a custom link bar assembly that combines the benefits of a removable link bar with the safety of a captured link bar. They are .300-inch taller for Dart Ford blocks.

A final lash adjustment and the resealing of the Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold completed our engine build. Now it was time to get the motor back into the Mustang and hit the dyno.

Reinstalling the 427ci into 666

With everything squared away in the engine bay from the previous installation attempt, 666’s 427 slid back onto the engine mounts with ease.  Fingers were crossed as Sean fired the car up for the first time.  We let the Mustang idle for about 15 minutes straight, and we were greeted with stable oil pressure.  A close inspection of the engine’s oil and all was well.  It was time to get 666 on the Dynojet rollers and tune up our Pro Systems 4150 carburetor.

With our new engine... freshly rebuilt... we were eager to get it reinstalled and onto the dyno.

While the engine was being over hauled, we also installed a new Crane ignition system. The gear we are using inside our devilish project car includes the Crane Cams #1000-1612 Race Billet distributor, Crane 8.5mm Sleeved Fire Wire spark plug cables part number 295-2426, Crane HI-6DSR Box part number 6000-6424, and the Crane FireBall LX-92 coil part number 730-0892.

The 408 lived just fine on a stock-style starter, but due to the 427's high compression setup, we needed to beef up our starting capacity. The Powermaster XS Torque features 200 lb/ft of torque of starting power. It weighs in at 8.5 pounds, clears our headers and oil pan, plus work with engines up to 18:1 compression!

After about a dozen hits on the dyno we were able to get the motor flat lined at a stable 12.7:1 air/fuel ratio. Even equipped with VP's C14 high octane leaded race fuel, we kept the ignition timing conservative at 34 degrees total, leaving plenty more horsepower to be had. Click on the graph for a larger version.

When we first dynoed 666 we didn’t have any proper wheels for it.  We had just upgraded our tire size from a 26×10 to a 28×10.5 and we had fender rubbing issues that we needed to deal with. Not wanting to what any longer to see what the new 427 was going to put out for power numbers, we found a spare set of our old dirt track car’s wheels and tires that fit perfectly onto the Mustang.  While it might have all fit properly, traction wasn’t all that great and we could watch the tires smoke on the dyno at the end of the run while only producing about 515hp.  With the rubbing fixed and the slicks in place for a few test pulls (it’s not a good idea to make a bunch of runs with slicks on a dyno) we managed to make 549 hp and 447 lb/ft of torque, which made us happy campers.

Even though Project 666 is old enough to drink, it still needs to have a diaper to capture any potential escaping (engine pieces) fluids...and so we don't angry fellow competitors by oiling down the track during a run. To be PSCA legal we needed an engine diaper.

DJ Safety manufacturers NHRA approved SFI 7.2 diapers for most Fox body block/oil pan configurations, including modular blocks. These high quality units offer superb fit and feature header bolt mounted straps with cam buckles for easy installation and removal. This particular unit utilizes Kevlar construction with an aluminized outer cover for improved heat resistance. Other upgrades include Kevlar straps for further improved heat resistance and rear strap to tighten the unit around pan that helps with tight clearances and provides a better fit.

Off the Dyno and to the Track

Our mission with taking Project 666 to the track was two-fold. First, just to get the darn Mustang to make some sub 10-seecond laps without the satanic 5-liter Fox exploding, catching fire, losing oil pressure, or shooting parts in the air. Second, we wanted to get driver James Lawrence his NHRA license that he had desired since he first starting drag racing 15 years ago. We traveled to the PSCA event at California Speedway in order to put all of this together! It was hot – scorching hot – to the tune of 100 degrees and high humidity. Since 666’s 427 makes about 675-700 horsepower when fully tuned up, unfortuntely we knew that we were barely going to make the 9-second range in those conditions. But that didn’t stop us.

We set up at Fontana with two goals: 9 second runs and an NHRA license.

When you are getting your NHRA license, the process includes making 6 runs.. 2 “moderate runs” – 2 “half runs” and 2 “full runs”. The full runs must be 9.99 or faster. We started out the day on Friday with the desire to make all 6 hits; get our NHRA license, and be merry. On our first few passes, we were golden. We set the 2-step at about 4,000 RPM; and made 2 60-foot runs and moderate passes; and then 1 half track pass. The half-track run was in the low 10s (10.20 to be exact). Then it was time for run 4. As we pulled up, we saw some fluid leaking from the bottom of 666. We were hoping… praying… (probably a bad idea with a car named 666).. that it was a simple fluid leak.

But that wasn’t to be. After our first 3 runs, we managed to damage the C4 transmission when a gasket failed in the transmission. Honestly – it was probably.. and likely.. our fault; we had an engine vibration issue and had run the car on the dyno about 10 times with that vibration. Most likely, the vibration in the engine caused the gasket failure. But it meant a trip back to the shop to take apart and R&R the transmission. We were tired, it was 7 PM, and it was brutally hot, but it was time to get busy. This is when your hard work pays off. We wanted the 9s, and we wanted our license.

We didn't exactly have the transmission stand we needed to replace the pump gasket. No problem. A bucket and wood, and a couple of straps will work just fine in the heat of the moment!

Changing the pump gasket on our C4. You can see how the gasket broke. According to C4 experts, this area of the C4 is pretty vulnerable. We probably broke ours when we had some engine vibration problems that we ignored for far too long. Not where we wanted to be, but the good news was that we found a small transmission shop with the C4 pump gasket we needed; and we had an awesome crew. Big props to Sean and Dean for thrashing the gasket and C4 in and out in miserable conditions.

Back to the Track, Saturday

We rolled back in California Speedway exhausted but energized. We were lacking of sleep, but high on enthusiasm. We were confident the C4 problem was resolved; and we knew what we needed to do to get that NHRA license and put the Project 666 Mustang into the record-books as a real 9-second player. There aren’t a lot of 9-second built project cars in magazine land, so we wanted to add that to our resume. On the first run, our plan was to take it easy, with a part throttle launch just to make sure the transmission gasket was going to work ok and not soil itself. A 1.59 60-foot and 10.45 were the result of the easy run, and the great news was everything was dry – no ATF on the ground and it seemed our problems were fixed.

Now we just had to take care of business – two 9-second runs – and magazine glory and an NHRA license would be our reward.

James before the first run on Saturday. That's what a lack of sleep looks like on a race driver. The first pass would prove to be an easy shake down in the 10.40s.

Before the final two runs, we needed a top off of VP C14. That's our fuel of choice for Project 666 and all of the powerTV project cars. We've had a ton of success with VP and run it exclusively on our dyno. Works great with our 13.5:1 compression 427

It was a little past noon when it became time to line up for our first “would-be” 9-second run. It was freakishly hot, about 101 degrees right before we pulled out on the track. To say there weren’t doubters – that would be a lie. Quite a few of the crew doubted 666 would lay down a 9-second run in these oppressive conditions, especially with a rookie driver. Working in our favor was the track seemed to be hooking quite well. After a very healthy burnout, James pulled to the line. We had raised the launch RPM to 5,200 RPM so we were expecting an improvement in 60-foot. James engaged the 2-step, put the throttle to the wood, and got his hand ready on the TCI shifter to slam second gear right past the 60-foot marks.

666 left the line wheels skying in the air – we’re talking it carried the wheels for a good 50 feet, and tripped the 60-foot beams with a stunning 1.38 60-foot. James shifted crisply through 3 gears, and the scoreboard showed the results. 9.94 at 134 mph. Boo-ya. One in the books, one to go.

The Run

We knew we had to run the number. At least 9.99. 15 years of waiting, and a 9-second magazine project car title lay in the wings. And something conspired against us. Somehow, the temperature kept creeping up. The trailer said 106 degrees. Our hearts fell. 9.94 was barely making it. Another 5 degrees of temperature, and a slightly more sloppy race track meant one thing. Tire spin, and bad, nasty muggy air for the Dart 427. We saw images of 10.01 dancing in our heads. The decision was made to raise the shift RPM to 7,200. The engine would go 7,500, but never had taken it past 7000 on the dyno. So 7,200 it was. Hopefully it was enough.

James pulled 666 to the line with our crew in tow. A crisp burnout followed. On the chip, the anticipation was priceless.

The scoreboard said it better than we ever could.

9.97. 136.

Mission accomplished.

Run #5 - a 9.94 at 134. Hanging the hoops high in the air, the Team Z-suspension equipped 666 ran a 1.38 60-foot. There's more to be had.

Click on the image for a larger version of the slips

About the author

Mark Gearhart

In 1995 Mark started photographing drag races at his once local track, Bradenton Motorsports Park. He became hooked and shot virtually every series at the track until 2007 until he moved to California and began working as a writer for Power Automedia. He was the founding editor for its first online magazines, and transitioned into the role of editorial director role in 2014. Retiring from the company in 2016, Mark continues to expand his career as a car builder, automotive enthusiast, and freelance journalist to provide featured content and technical expertise.
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