We added this chapter because we began thinking about what happens whenever we build a powerful engine for a vehicle that isn’t up to the job. Building a powerful engine for a vehicle that isn’t up to the task is downright dangerous. It can get you killed. Whenever you are building a powerful stroker small block, thought must be given to the vehicle for which it is intended. You know the old saying about power in the hands of a few. Power is only effective when it is handled responsibly, be it a politician or a ‘66 Fairlane hardtop.
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The proper planning of a stroker vehicle begins before the engine is built. How much power do you intend to build? What condition is the vehicle in? Evaluation begins at the foundation – the vehicle’s body and chassis. If you have floor pans and frame rails that are rusted out, the vehicle isn’t safe for a stock engine, much less one producing 400-500 horsepower. Perhaps your vehicle is a front or rear clip car that has been in an accident and repaired. If this is the case, then it is not a body/chassis combination that is sound enough for serious increases in power. Examine the body and chassis structural integrity before you even plan the engine.Given we have a solid foundation on which to build, we can then look at what the foundation needs to be adequate for the power planned. Even the most solid vehicle needs added support structurally if we’re going to throw a lot of power at it. Convertibles, for example, need subframe connectors when power rises above 400 horsepower. Hardtops need the same kind of support. If your Fox-body Mustang has a T-top, it needs subframe connectors and reinforcement plates in order to remain solid during huge bursts of power.
Chassis stiffening kits vary quite a bit. Many of them are available out there for Fox-body (1979-1995) Mustangs. Classic Mustangs and Falcons also enjoy the availability of a good chassis-stiffening kit from Mustangs Plus in Stockton, California. This kit builds strength into your vintage Mustang, Falcon, or Comet. When kits aren’t available for your type of Ford, you may use raw steel stock that is cut to fit in your application. This requires fabrication experience.
CHASSIS & BRAKES
Horsepower management takes common sense. Building a 400-horse small block is great when you have the chassis (and driving skill) to handle it safely. When we have a solid platform going for us, the next thought should be suspension, brakes, and tires. If you own a vintage Ford with four-wheel drum brakes and a single hydraulic system, your first effort needs to be brakes. At the least, you need front disc brakes with a dual-reservoir braking system. A dual-reservoir braking system covers the bases if we have a hydraulic failure in the front or rear system. If we lose rear brakes, then we still have front brakes to get us stopped, and vice versa. If we lose front brakes, extreme caution must be used to get us stopped safely.
Factory disc brakes do a good job in everyday driving, they just aren’t always the solution when power and speed increase. If your driving is going to include road racing, even on weekends only, you’re going to need greater than a factory disc brake. You’re going to need the kind of stopping power we find in large aftermarket disc brakes with the right pads and rotor size.
With stroker power comes the need for brakes that are just as powerful. If you do opt for larger aftermarket disc brakes, remember to consider wheel size issues before you buy. Not all factory wheels will clear the rotors and calipers of aftermarket disc brakes. Don’t forget the master cylinder in your planning. You’re going to need a master cylinder that will handle large disc brake calipers. If you install rear disc brakes, keep braking pressure in mind. You don’t want the rear brakes applying before the front brakes, which can cause loss of control. This calls for the use of a proportioning valve for the rear brakes, which controls application, and keeps pressure focused more on the front brakes. Having front disc brakes and rear drum brakes without a rear brake proportioning valve is foolish, and certainly dangerous.
If your budget doesn’t allow for larger aftermarket disc brakes, then consider slotted brake rotors and racing pads for improved stopping efficiency. Slotted rotors help heat and gas pressure to escape without brake fade. This allows us to improve the stock disc brake, without the expense of an aftermarket brake.
Rear drum brakes need help, too, if disc brakes are beyond your budget. You need to opt for the largest rear drum brake possible, along with semimetallic brake linings. Drums need to be at like-new specs. The wider the drum and lining, the better. If you’re building a Mustang, Falcon, or Fairlane, look for the widest station wagon rear drum brakes, which will stop better than your smaller units.
We are often asked the question – what about silicone brake fluid? What is the right brake fluid for your stroker vehicle? Before we go any further on brake fluid, lets talk about what it does. Brake fluid carries pressure from the master cylinder to each of the brake cylinders at the wheels. When we step on the brake pedal, we are not compressing the fluid, because you cannot compress any fluid. We are simply moving the fluid through lines to wheel cylinders or brake calipers.
Brake fluid gets into trouble whenever it becomes too hot, or absorbs moisture and other contaminates. Whenever brake fluid becomes contaminated, it doesn’t perform well. Moisture in brake fluid will boil under hard braking, generating gasses in the fluid, which makes the brake pedal spongy. Mineralbased brake fluids (DOT 3) can withstand high temperatures and still continue to perform normally. Because water has a boiling point of 212 degrees F, moisture in the brake fluid will boil at approximately 212 degrees, adversely affecting braking effectiveness.
Silicone brake fluid (DOT 5) does not absorb moisture, which keeps it stable under some of the most grueling braking conditions. Because it has a boiling point of higher than 700 degrees F, there’s little chance of instability in hard braking. One of the nicer aspects of silicone brake fluid, is never having to worry if you spill it on your Ford’s paint. It will not harm paint.
The down side to silicone brake fluid is its spongy feel. It gives you the feeling of a spongy brake pedal. Few people care for this aspect of silicone brake fluid. If a spongy pedal isn’t to your liking, go with a mineral-based fluid while keeping some important issues in mind.
Take extra care when servicing your brake system with DOT 3 mineralbased fluid. Guard your Ford’s paint. Always store DOT 3 brake fluid in a sealed can. Never leave the can open, not even for a minute. Mineral-based brake fluid acts like a sponge. It loves drawing moisture out of the air. The longer you leave the can open, the more moisture it will absorb from the air. If you accidentally leave a can open, properly dispose of it through your local hazardous waste unit or recycler.
Mineral-based brake fluid needs to be changed periodically, just like your engine’s oil. It gets contaminated from pressure and heat. It absorbs moisture through your Ford’s steel brakes lines, seals, and the like. Every time you do a brake job, bleed your brake system and flush out all of the old fluid. It will keep your braking system safe and serviceable. If your Ford is going to sit a lot, bleed and flush the brake system every year.
Although most of us like to overlook this one, make sure your Ford’s parking brake mechanism works. Not enough of them do. The transmission’s parking pawl, or your engine’s compression, isn’t enough to hold the vehicle on a hill. Make sure you have a working parking brake.
When we have a safe and effective braking system, our next effort should be handling. Steering and handling can get us out of trouble when brakes won’t. When our stroker Ford won’t stop in time to avoid a collision, being able to steer out of harm’s way is the next best answer. To effectively and safely steer out of trouble, you need tight, precise steering. You also need handling. To get both, you need a cohesive package of steering and handling working together.
Older Fords, like Fairlanes, Falcons, and Mustangs need a fresh steering gear, with a comfortable mesh between worm and sector. This is an integral part of the system that will steer you out of trouble. And this applies to manual and power steering gears alike. As steering gears are used, they develop excessive wear internally. Most older Fords, if they have never had a steering gear rebuild or replacement, suffer from really sloppy steering. This is where a new steering gear from Flaming River pays off in terms of safety.
With precise steering at our fingertips, we’re ready to look at the steering linkage. Inner and outer tie-rod ends, idler arm, and pitman arms must be tight and secure. Any play in these components doesn’t bode well for safe handling. If your power steering suffers from leakage and sloppy performance, replacement is in order. Replacement may cost money, but so does a serious accident that happens as a result of you not being able to safely steer out of trouble.
Good handling comes from tight upper and lower control arms, stiffer springs, gas shocks, and properly packaged front and rear sway bars. When we say properly packaged, we mean sway bars that are sized right, with the right complimentary bushings and links. If you desire tight handling and don’t mind suspension noise, opt for urethane bushings at the sway bar and strut rods. Polyurethane bushings are quieter, offering you more flexibility, as well as a better ride. Graphite-impregnated urethane bushings provide the stiffness of urethane without the noise.
Good brakes and suspension are pointless if you lack sufficient tire contact patch with the pavement. Powerful engines need good pavement adhesion. They need it to hook up when the accelerator is pressed. They also need adhesion at speed, when it keeps the vehicle safely glued to the pavement. If you have a fully-restored, concours-level show car with those skinny biased-ply tires, there’s no point in building a powerful stroker V-8 that will burn the original tires off the rims. If your intent is to make the most of a stroker V-8, fit your Ford with the right kind of tires and wheels for the job.
Tire and wheel selection depends on the kind of driving you will do. Drag racers need minimal drag in front, which calls for skinny tires and narrow wheels. In back, drag racers need wheels offering a wide footprint, with tires that will hook up and make the most of the available power. The key to lower elapsed times at the drag strip is good traction coming out of the hole. While you’re thinking about tires, you should be thinking of ways to keep the rear axle stable when the throttle is pinned. Traction bars are one choice, but there are others, such as using staggered rear shocks.
If you’re going road racing, having a uniform tire size at all four corners is important. Having a wide footprint means having solid adhesion at all four corners. In this area, you have choices. Soft rubber offers good pavement adhesion, but you lose tire service life in the process. Harder rubber compounds offer you longer service life, but they don’t hold the road as well. Anyway you slice it, tire selection is a series of compromises. You cannot have it all.
THE TEAM APPROACH
A good percentage of this chapter has focused on your Ford’s foundation – the chassis, body, brakes, suspension, and tires. But there’s more. When you spend thousands of dollars on a powerful stroker engine, the last thing you want is failure. Yet, we ask for failure whenever we don’t compliment a new engine with the right support system. For example, how many of us build a new engine and drop it into an old engine compartment with a sluggish radiator, dinky header tubes, old water pump, contaminated fuel system, and a host of other adversities?
New engines need clean radiators. They need radiator tubes without restrictions. And they need a high-flow water pump and a new thermostat. Older Fords need a 180-degree thermostat. Newer Fords (1986-up) need a 192-195- degree thermostat. In the interest of safety and security, new hoses need to be installed all around, along with heater hoses and a new radiator. You should also consider new fuel-line hoses (where equipped). Power steering and automatic transmission cooler hoses/lines should be replaced as necessary. If you are asking us what power steering and automatic transmission hoses have to do with your engine, the answer is plenty. When power steering and automatic transmission cooler hoses rupture, they can start a fire, not to mention cause loss of vehicle control.
Today’s automotive fuels and additives are hard on fuel systems. This is why we suggest hard-lining your fuel system from the tank to the carburetor. Where fuel is under pressure, like between the pump and carburetor, there should be hard lines, void of rubber hoses. MTBE, a powerful fuel additive, can attack rubber fuel hose and cause them to burst, starting a fire. When it comes to your Ford’s fuel system, cut no corners. Use steel lines 100-percent of the way, wherever they are possible. Otherwise, use a heavy-duty, reinforced fuel hose designed for harsh additives.
There are other items included in your engine support system include. Let’s begin with the driveline. What condition is your transmission in? All the power in the world is useless if it can’t get to the driveshaft and rear axle. A worn out C4 won’t help you at all if its clutches and bands are shot. Ditto for a Top Loader with a bad clutch. Your driveline must be up to the job of transmitting power.
If your Ford has a manual transmission, consider the condition of your clutch and flywheel. The transmission must be up to the task mastering a powerful stroker V-8. For example, if you have an early 1980s T-5 transmission, a 347ci stroker will rip it to pieces in short order. Even a World Class T-5 will struggle to take on the power a 347 can deliver. This is where a Tremec fivespeed is better suited to the job.
If your Ford needs a clutch and flywheel, we can’t think of a better name than Centerforce, the most user-friendly clutch on the planet. The folks at Midway Industries, which makes Centerforce clutches, took the diaphragm clutch design and made it better. A typical diaphragm clutch is easy to operate, but they sometimes stick in the disengaged position, leading to abundant frustration. The Centerforce Dual-Friction clutch takes the diaphragm clutch design and gives it flyweights, which are forced outward by centrifugal force as engine speed increases. These flyweights put pressure on the diaphragm, which gives the Centerforce clutch greater holding power at high revs. A meaty dual-friction clutch disc is the other half of this team, also providing greater holding power. When you marry this clutch to a precision-machined Centerforce flywheel, it means never having to worry about the reliable transmission of power.
Older AOD transmissions are not well suited to powerful strokers, which is why you need to consider building one that is. LenTech is a good source for durable AODs, as is Art Carr Transmissions. AOD transmissions need the most current components available, including the Lincoln overdrive drum and band. This comes at a significant cost. Figure on spending at least $1,000 on the parts necessary to make your AOD stronger. These are off-the-shelf parts from Ford. The AOD and AODE need heavy-duty components that can handle the torque a stroker produces. These transmissions can take up to roughly 400 horsepower. After that, you need to seek alternatives.
If the AOD or AODE doesn’t work for you, a C4 or small-block C6 may be viable alternatives. If you desire overdrive, with the durability of an older C4 or C6, Gear Vendors in San Diego, California, can help with an overdrive unit that will spline right into your vintage Ford transmission. The Gear Vendors overdrive costs approximately $2,500.00.
While you are evaluating the transmission, don’t forget the driveshaft. You need a driveshaft and universal joints sized appropriately for your mission. Chances are, the stock driveshaft isn’t sized properly for the amount of power your stroker engine will produce. Inline Empire Driveline can help there with a custom driveshaft, priced under $400,00. Opt for an aluminum shaft and save weight. Always use universal joints designed for an aluminum driveshaft. They’re coated to protect the aluminum from dissimilar metal corrosion, which can cause driveshaft failure.
Rear axles tend to be a more complex decision. Should you go with an 8- inch or 9-inch? What about the FOX-body Mustang’s 8.8-inch rear axle, which is lighter, and offers less parasitic losses internally? What may surprise you is the 8.8-inch differential’s ability to withstand the same kind of punishment as the venerable 9-inch. Yet, it does it with less weight and drag.
Axle ratio can be yet another challenging decision, but we can help. If you are running overdrive, opt for 3.55:1 or 3.70:1, which will keep the revs down at freeway speeds. If you are running straight drive and do a lot of driving, opt for 3.00:1 or 3.25:1. If you’re building a weekend racer, the field is wide open, with axle ratios ranging from 3.50:1 to 5.30:1. Much depends on the type of racing you will do. The objective with axle ratio is simple. In racing, you need an axle ratio that will put your engine in its peak torque RPM range at speed. You want to blast through the traps in drag racing with engine rpm in the peak horsepower range. If that is 450 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, then you want an axle ratio that will get it there.
Road racers will vary a lot in terms of axle ratio. Much depends on the track. Some shorter tracks will call for a high axle ratio, like 4.11:1 and higher. Longer tracks will call for lower axle ratios. It all depends on the dynamics of the track. You will probably have to experience a track a time or two to get a handle on the best axle ratio. Not all stroker vehicles will need Traction-Lok or Limited-Slip, although we recommend it in all cases for maximum hook-up.
Help For Cooling Systems
Just imagine a cooling system without water. Just imagine… Evans Cooling System brings all of us a breakthrough in cooling system protection called a nonaqueous cooling system solution. But it doesn’t come cheap. Priced at around $30 a gallon, the Evans non-aqueous coolant is something you run all by itself. No water. No additives. Just Evans coolant. To use Evans, you need to completely drain your cooling system and allow it to dry out, which is what makes it perfect for new engines. Fill your system completely with Evans, allow all air to burp through the upper hoses and ports. Then, let Evans do its work. Because Evans transfers heat better than the water/antifreeze mixture we’ve long been accustomed to, engines run cooler. On top of that, because Evans works alone, without water, cooling system corrosion will never be an issue again. Look for Evans on-line or at your favorite auto parts store.
Written by George Reid and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks