The Coyote Swap Guide Part 1: Birth Of The Modern 5.0

It’s safe to assume that if you are interested in swapping a Coyote powerplant into your vehicle, then you obviously have heard about or have some idea of what the modern 5.0-liter engine is. Now, if you’ve seen it in competition or just saw it while perusing the Ford Performance’s site for its latest V8 offerings, is a different story. However, in either case it should not be shocking that you are interested in this engine as the new heartbeat of your hot rod, as the Coyote has quickly become one of the more noted Ford engines since the original 427 cubic-inch small-block was in production.

That might be a bold statement, but by comparison, no other modern engine from Ford Motor Company has drawn the kind of attention the Coyote has, nor has any had such high horsepower in stock form. To truly respect and understand the Coyote engine, it’s important to understand the history and the changes Ford made to produce such a highly revered engine to start with. We talked with Mike Harrison, who was appointed the position of Engine Systems Manager for the V8 engine program when the Coyote was still in its germinal stage, to inform us of the history of our beloved modern 5.0.

Debating Displacement

While it’s been rumored before, the original concept of a 5.0-liter engine for the 2011 Mustang was not the first, nor the second choice on the drawing boards of Ford Motor Company in 2007. It turns out, Harrison and his crew had bigger displacement plans, and the Mustang almost received a 5.8-liter engine. 

“We were considering whether to do a low-deck version of the 6.2-liter BOSS engine that was going into the F-150 Raptor,” Harrison says. “Eventually, it was decided that the iron block 6.2-liter destroked to a 5.8 was going to be too heavy.”


A destroked version of the 6.2-liter BOSS platform was considered as a potential Mustang engine. The 5.8-liter idea was dropped when the additional weight of the iron block was taken into consideration.

The Mustang image was to pair high performance with a lightweight setup, and by 2007 technology had surpassed the need for an iron block from the factory. However, an engine was still needed and for a brief moment the team had looked into a V8 from a company Ford acquired in 1999 by the name of Jaguar. “We were seeing if we could duplicate the design and do a Ford version of that engine for that Mustang,” Harrison details. “We decided we have manufacturing facilities in America with a lot of investment there, and we could reuse that manufacturing equipment instead”

Enter The Essex

As manufacturing options were being weighed early in 2007, it was decided to leverage the facilities at Essex Engine Plant that had been used to build the 5.4-liter three-valve Triton Modular Engine for a period of time, until that production was permanently moved to the Windsor Engine Plant.

Instead of allowing Essex Engine Plant to remain idle it could prove to be the perfect starting point for producing the new Coyote engine.

We had some internal conversations on a pushrod option, but after deciding it was going to be based on the Modular tooling, the overhead camshaft was the only option. —Mike Harrison, Ford Motor Company

“The Essex engine plant, where we had built versions of the Modular engine, is where we decided to do an all-new version of the Modular engine by using the existing plant that we already had facilities,” Harrison tells. “It proved to be a lower-cost investment for the engine and allowed us to have it as lightweight as possible, while making as much power as possible.”

Arriving At Five

When Ford announced the 2011 Mustang was going to sport a 5.0-liter engine, it took most enthusiasts by surprise. The 1996 and newer Mustangs had all run a 4.6-liter with bore spacing so narrow that punching out the cylinders to a 3.700-inch bore was cause for concern. Even the engine blocks offered by Ford Performance had to be revised to allow the increase in cubic inches. However, a return to the historic and beloved engine displacement was welcomed by many.

One of the most iconic badges that Ford had made for the Mustang community was now able to revived in a modern era with the Coyote engine coming on 2011 to present Mustangs.

“Once we arrived at 5.0-liters, which obviously had a lot of naming ties to the old 302 small-block Ford, we wanted to get the 5.0 badge on the engine,” Harrison explains. “However, given the horsepower targets and its size — it’s a fairly square engine in terms of bore and stroke at 3.63-inch bore and 3.65-inch stroke—it really needed to be a four-valve per-cylinder engine in order to achieve that horsepower at that displacement.” 

The end result of the Coyote platform was an overhead camshaft engine equipped with four-valves per cylinder, four camshafts, and a twin independent variable cam timing system known as Ti-VCT.  The first Gen-1 Coyote engine made 412 horsepower, before making 420 the next model year.

Constrained and Confined

Something that makes the Coyote engine special is the fact that it was built specifically for the Mustang program. This was not a truck engine retrofitted into the Pony car, but instead an engine that was designed around the Mustang chassis from the start. While being the first Mustang-specific engine is something to be proud of, it wouldn’t come without its own set of difficulties.

“We had some real challenges. One hurdle that most people will face when swapping a Coyote in is the width of the engine,” Harrison says. “But the real difficulty was designing the headers to where it would have enough clearance to get installed on the dress line, and be able to deck the engine into the chassis. That was the biggest challenge for us.”

To do this, the team had to design it so a multi-spindle rundown tool could access the fasteners. The tool is used to run all the fasteners down simultaneously and before coming in straight for final torquing. However, fitment wasn’t the only concern, as the headers also had to meet the performance metrics required by Ford without creating emissions complications. “The whole design process for manifolds was really quite involved,” Harrison tells.

Built for boost

Much like its elder 5.0-liter counterpart, the Coyote engine was accepted quickly by the market. The engine’s ability to accept boost and make great power doing it brought back memories of the late 1980s when the Fox Body came equipped with a fuel-injected engine and quickly became the go-to for gearheads and enthusiasts. While one might not associate gearheads with engineers, the group under Harrisons control was just that.


The Coyote engine handles boost well, but before it ever entered the engine bay of the S197, the gearhead engineers already planned for boost.

“All the guys working on the program were a bunch of gearheads and hot rodders —‘performance enthusiasts,’ if you will,” Harrison explains. “We really wanted to build something that would stand the test of time, take some abuse, and be an engine that we would want to fit into a Mustang or be used in a swap. We built it with a lot of care and attention in future-proofing the architecture.”

“When we were first doing the concept for the 5.0-liter, we knew we wanted to build it strong and allow it to be supercharged,” Harrison explains. “During development we worked with the Australian Ford Performance Vehicles team and partnered with Prodrive to make a factory supercharged Coyote that went into the Falcon FPV.” (Editor’s note: FPV is the Australian equivalent to SVT in America)

Keep The Swaps Coming

Sometimes it seems like there can be a disconnect between Ford employees and the enthusiast market, but Harrison likes to keep a pulse on the engine that he helped bring to fruition. “I’m a member of a Coyote swap group on Facebook, and really enjoy understanding what people are doing,” he says. “They are very innovative and there’s a lot of stuff I wouldn’t have thought of with the combination of hardware and challenges to overcome. These people are very passionate and get a warm glow when I’m reading through what these people are swapping these engines into.” 

With the history lesson out of the way, stick around as the next step in our Coyote swap guide will be learning the differences between the various engines and which Coyote or variant might be most beneficial to your build.

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About the author

James Elkins

Born into a household of motorsport lovers, James learned that wrenching takes priority over broken skin and damaged nerves. Passions include fixing previous owners’ mistakes, writing, and driving.
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