Taming The Predator: VMP Performance Goes Big With GT500 Engine Swap

Earlier this year, the new GT500 proved its worth both on the street and at the track, and now the new top-dog Shelby Mustang is finally getting into the hands of enthusiasts and tuners. Ford’s latest supercharged pony car is undoubtedly the most capable and technologically sophisticated road-going Mustang that’s ever been put into production, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

And that’s something the folks at VMP Performance know a thing or two about. For more than two decades the New Smyrna Beach, Florida-based speed shop has been hard at work dialing up the performance in a steady succession of late-model Mustangs and F-150 pickups. Over the years, the company began to expand beyond tuning, eventually producing their own supercharger kits along with other go-fast hardware. Their latest project is this: the TA500, a Predator-swapped 2017 Mustang GT that was a potent machine even before its recent heart transplant.

VMP Performance’s Track Attack build first made waves at the 2016 SEMA show, where it debuted the company’s Gen 2R TVS blower as part of VMP’s Stage 3 supercharger kit. All in and backed by Dynatech exhaust system components as well as a custom ECU tune, the combination dished out 851 horsepower and 703 lb-ft of torque. The car’s look is low and mean courtesy of a Roush three-way adjustable coilover setup, and borrows visual cues from USAF fighter jets with aero components from Cervini.

While that alone is enough to make headlines, it’s also the world’s first Predator swap into a Mustang GT with three pedals. That’s right, VMP has created the magic combination that Ford wouldn’t – a Mustang with supercharged 5.2-liter power and a manual transmission – and we recently caught up with VMP Performance’s Chuck Harter to find out how it all came together.

Hot Rodding A Hot Rod

The TA500’s origin story dates back to SEMA 2016 and VMP Performance’s Track Attack build. Drawing aesthetic inspiration from the F-18 Hornet and other combat aircraft, the 2017 Mustang GT belted out 851 horsepower and 703 lb-ft of torque with the help of a VMP Stage 3 supercharger kit and supporting hardware, while the chassis received a host of upgrades to handle the pace that the pony was now capable of. The finishing touch was a custom hood that was outfitted with a polycarbonate window to provide a visual showcase of VMP’s supercharged handiwork.

“The idea behind the Track Attack build was to create an all-around performer,” Harter says. “It made good power, it had a full suspension setup, and all the Cervini aero.”

The VMP Performance team later set the Gen 2 Coyote world record for stock-block horsepower with the Track Attack build, dialing the grunt up to an eye-watering 1,140 rear-wheel horsepower. “Eventually we decided to do a built motor, but we had some issues with it, and while that built motor was out of the car being rebuilt, we got our Predator engine in from Ford.”

While the GT500’s 5.2-liter mill shares its displacement and basic architecture with the Voodoo powerplant in the Mustang Shelby GT350 and GT350R, there are some important distinctions. Perhaps the biggest difference is a switch from the Voodoo’s exotic flat-plane crankshaft, which helps that naturally aspirated V-8 to rev all the way to 8,250 rpm, to a conventional cross-plane piece. While that change does bring some compromise in terms of the Predator’s willingness to spin to the moon, the engine is much better suited to take on significant amounts of boost, in turn creating a great platform to build a seriously potent forced induction combination.

Interestingly enough, a GT500 engine swap wasn’t actually part of the team’s original plan. “We had a GT500 on order for research and development purposes, but because of the delays that Ford has had in building those cars, it was taking too long for us to get ours,” Harter tells us. “We made a few calls and found out that there were three full long-blocks available in the United States, so we purchased one of them so we could get started on the engine R&D we needed to do – making different intercoolers, pulleys, and things like that. We never had any intention of putting that engine into a car.”

But when the blown mod motor was delivered to the shop in fall of 2019, it didn’t take long for the gears to start turning. “We got the long-block in, put the car up on the lift, looked at the motor and said to ourselves, ‘you know, it’d be pretty cool to see that Shelby snake through the glass window on that hood.’”

httpsv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sr-18dpCrTo

Harter says that while getting the new engine to play nice with the rest of the drivetrain did offer a few challenges, the installation was pretty straight-forward. “Fitment is identical to the Coyote, so the motor bolted right up to the stock motor mounts and locations.”

But unlike GT500s of the past, the S550 iteration isn’t available with a traditional manual gearbox from the factory. Instead it is exclusively paired with a Tremec seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the first DCT ever equipped to a factory-produced, road-going Mustang.

That meant VMP would need to hash out how to make the Predator V-8 work with the GT’s Getrag MT82 six-speed, along with tying up other loose ends in the software. “The crank pickup wheel was different from what our Gen 2 ECU could read, so we had to swap crank pickup wheels with a Gen 2 so that the computer would be able to read the crank position,” Harter explains.

Any way you slice it, the new GT500 is the quickest and, when equipped with the Carbon Fiber Track Package, the most track-capable production Mustang to ever roll out of Ford's Flat Rock assembly plant. But in order to deliver the impressive numbers that it puts down, Ford decided to ditch the three-pedal setup found on all previous iterations of the GT500 in favor of a new seven-speed Tremec dual-clutch automatic. While it shifts quicker than any hot shoe driver on the planet could, it's missing some of the visceral involvement of its predecessors, and VMP's TA500 build addresses that by bringing together the best of both worlds. A Mantic triple-disc clutch helps the MT82 handle the quadruple-digit power. 

“And because the car uses a Gen 2 processor while the Predator V-8 is a Gen 3 design, the cams needed to be changed as well – the reluctor wheels on the camshafts for the Predator engine can’t be read by a Gen 2 processor. We originally got the car to run with the Gen 3 cams, but we had no variable cam timing because of that. To solve the issue, we ended up swapping cams out for a set from Ford Performance that have the same cam profile as the factory Predator cams, but use a Gen 2 reluctor wheel, so they’re compatible with the Gen 2 processor.”

He adds that a lot of the tuning needed to be changed because of how the engine handled load and torque with the factory software, which was designed only for use with that DCT. So we put hours and hours into getting that setup dialed in to make it drive like a factory-stock car.”

We got the long block in, put the car up on the lift, looked at the motor and said to ourselves, ‘You know, it’d be pretty cool to see that Shelby snake through the glass window on that hood.’ – Chuck Harter, VMP Performance

Going Above And Beyond

The Predator’s factory power rating of 760hp and 625 lb-ft might be more than enough for most folks, but that’s not how VMP Performance rolls, so the team decided to ratchet things up while the car was going under the knife. “It’s now got a VMP 20% lower overdrive pulley, a GripTec 2.75″ upper pulley, a VMP-upgraded 68mm intercooler core, a VMP 105mm throttle body, a VMP custom tune, and a VMP return-style fuel system,” Harter notes.

The factory supercharger has also been ported by Jokerz Performance and Late Model Throttle for more airflow, while a JLT cold air intake replaces the factory setup for better fitment, and a set of Dynatech long-tube headers further improve engine breathing. Fed a steady diet of E85 fuel and running on 21 pounds of boost, the hopped up Predator now sends 1,010 horsepower to the wheels. But Harter says they’re not done yet.

A thousand horsepower from the Predator is just the start – VMP is already on the hunt for more, and that means a blower swap probably isn't too far off. 

“We’re always on the quest for more horsepower – we’re going to keep developing parts that will continue to push the limits of what’s possible with that setup, so there’s a possibility of a blower swap in the future.”

We can’t wait to see what the VMP Performance team does with Track Attack next. But in the meantime, this Predator-powered and manually shifted low-slung Mustang – and the thousand horsepower it’s cranking out – certainly bode well for the future.

You can stay updated on this Predator-swapped Mustang via VMP Performance’s YouTube channel.

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About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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