Over the summer we teased the idea of a budget build-off between two of the key motivators in the modern musclecar era – the GM 6.2-liter LS3 V8 and Ford’s 5.0-liter Coyote V8, and the response from you, the readers, made it clear that this was a concept that needed to see the light of day.
The Bowtie and Blue Oval rivalry that’s been going on for decades has never been more heated than it is now, and for good reason – even the garden-variety versions of these modern mills offer more performance right out of the box than just about anything that came out of the Big Three’s factories during the original golden era of performance. And with factory-backed performance parts and a healthy aftermarket supporting both teams, there’s no shortage of ways to improve upon these powerplants.
But rather than throwing parts at each engine willy-nilly, we’re setting some ground rules for the build-off in the interest of effectively assessing the strengths and weaknesses of both engines.
If we were to pick the two powerplants that have been instrumental in the modern musclecar resurgence, it would have to be Ford’s overhead-cam modular small-block V8, particularly in its most recent 5.0-liter iteration, and GM’s ubiquitous Chevy small-block, which is especially tasty (and yet financially accessible) in LS3 configuration. The concept was to build hopped up versions of both engines while not getting too extreme; something you can install into a daily driver for 50,000+ miles without issue. The block, heads, and intake manifolds needed to be OEM counterparts but from there it was up to us to build it with the best parts for under ten-grand.
Both of these engines make plenty of horsepower and torque right out of the box; with boatloads of these already produced not only for use in cars like the Camaro, Corvette, and Mustang, but also for the full-size pickups and SUVs produced that wear the Bowtie or the Blue Oval as well, these powerplants are quickly becoming engine swap favorites.
In case you missed our preview of the shootout, here’s a brief overview of the ground rules:
- $9,999 or less parts budget
- Naturally aspirated
- Stock displacement
- Near 11:1 compression
- Run a production style intake manifold
- Street car friendly – no wild cams
- Hydraulic roller camshafts
- Factory PCMs
- 91 octane and VP unleaded race gas
That budget essentially covers raw materials to put these engines together – additional costs for machining, assembly, external components and so on aren’t going to be included. Both power plants will be of the all-aluminum variety, and both were put together on the same day at local engine builder L&R Engines. From there we took the pair to Westech Performance for dyno testing – the results of which you’ll be seeing very shortly.
You can check out the details of the LS3 build here, but today we’re focused on the Ford mill. While the LS3 and the Coyote make similar power out of the box, how they accomplish it is substantially different.
Ford’s Modular Engines
The first entry in Ford’s mod motor family might have rolled off the assembly line back in 1990, but compared to the LS3’s old school cam-in-block design, the Blue Oval’s approach is a notably more modern take on how to produce small-block V8 power.
Ford’s overhead cam V8 got its Modular moniker not because of interchangeability of components among the different engines in the family, but rather because of the manufacturing plant protocols that allowed tooling at the factory to be swapped out easily in order to build various versions of these engines.
Ford’s modular small-block has come a long way since its debut in the Mustang GT in 1996; the Coyote is the latest variation on the architecture and outputs more than twice the horsepower than the first 4.6-liter single overhead-cam version. The transition from the original 4.6-liter flavor to the Coyote 5.0 in 2011 was a particularly big one for Ford, as the automaker knew it would need to make some significant updates to the engine in order to keep up with GM’s LS3 and Chrysler’s newest Hemi powerplants.
Keeping with the original game plan of the modular engine, the Coyote needed to remain dimensionally similar to the outgoing 4.6-liter and share other specifications with it, such as bore spacing, deck height, bell housing bolt pattern, and so on in order for the new engine to work within the existing modular manufacturing processes.
As a result, the Coyote small-block generates similar power to its GM and Mopar counterparts, but does so with significantly less displacement. Yet that distinction comes with its own set of drawbacks.
The Coyote 5.0 is Ford’s first implementation of its twin independent variable cam timing (Ti-VCT) in a V8 engine. It’s a technology that allows the PCM to advance and retard intake and exhaust cam timing independently of one another, and the resulting efficiency yields more power, increased fuel economy and reduced emissions. That’s all great stuff of course, but as you’ll see below, it does come at a price.
Making The Math Work
Modernity and complexity rarely equate to performance bargains, and the hard truth is that a brand new, performance-oriented Coyote engine can’t be put together within our $10,000 shootout budget criteria. And while a Ford Racing stock Coyote 5.0 or an Aluminator crate engine would have been ideal starting points, the expense of either would have severely limited our options for subsequent modifications.
Ultimately, the solution we landed on was to salvage a 5.0-liter long block out of a wrecked 2012 F150 pick-up and start from there. While that might sound like starting the battle uphill, it offered a considerable cost advantage – we nabbed the F150 motor for $3,000, which is significantly cheaper than one we would have obtained from a Mustang GT.
Moreover, the components that distinguish the F150’s engine from the Mustang’s – the pistons, rods, camshaft profiles, and valve springs – are all parts that we would be replacing with aftermarket pieces during the build anyway, so in this case the Mustang’s pricier internals served no advantage here.
This Coyote’s factory-installed crank is a fairly stout piece – the same forged 3.649-inch-stroke (92.7 mm) crankshaft used in the Mustang GT and F-150 – so we opted to use it for this build. Hooked to it are a set of Manley Performance connecting rods (PN 14042R-8, available at Jegs) and forged pistons (PN 598010-C), the latter of which measure 3.640 inches (92.45 mm) in diameter. That’s a slight overbore versus the stock piston diameter (3.629-inch/92.2 mm), which allows for the used Coyote block’s cylinders to be properly honed before installing the pistons.
Along with the decking the block, the machining treatments resulted in a slight increase in compression (11:1:1) as well as a small bump in displacement (1.84 cubic inches). Considering that the LS3 ended up with an 11:3:1 compression ratio, these minor alterations more or less even each other out with respect to maintaining an even playing field between the two engines and both have a negligible effect on output.
As we mentioned in the LS3 build article, while the old adage that you get what you pay for applies to nearly every component used in a high performance build, it’s especially important advice to consider in regards to pistons. Made from 2618 forged aluminum alloy, these Manley pistons are one of the key components in our mission to significantly increase the longevity and durability of this motor while simultaneously building power.
They’re designed to handle just about anything you can throw at them. The fastest GT-Rs in the world are running these components in motors hitting 10,000+ rpm. – Tom Razzano, Manley Performance
And if anyone knows how to build a reliable piston for high performance Ford modular engines, it’s Manley. The company was among the first out of the gate in regards to aftermarket piston development for this engine family, and with scores of 1,000-plus horsepower builds currently using these pistons, we have no doubt they’ll stand up to the abuse. “In a nutshell, we build the best pistons we can possibly make,” says Tom Razzano of Manley Performance. “They’re designed to handle just about anything you can throw at them. The fastest GT-Rs in the world are running these components in motors hitting 10,000+ rpm.”
The same goes for Manley’s H-Beam connecting rods – the company served as one of Ford’s suppliers for years, providing rods for the engine in the GT supercar as well as the 2003-04 Terminator Cobra and other high performance OEM applications. While the durability of the Coyote’s OEM connecting rods can be called into question when adding substantial power, these rods – which are built from forged 4340 steel – offer far more than enough strength to handle the job.
Since the stock Coyote cylinder heads are already pretty solid performers right out of the box, we turned our focus toward upgrading the valvetrain in preparation for the new camshafts we would be installing.
- Duration: 236 intake / 239 exhaust at .050″
- Lift: .492 intake / .453 exhaust
- Lobe Separation: 126 degrees
Accordingly, we installed a Comp Cams valve spring kit (PN 26113CY-KIT), an upgrade that will beef up the valvetrain to handle more lift and the increased spring pressure that the new cam profiles will deliver. These springs offer improved harmonics versus the stock springs, so they should see improved longevity as well. We didn’t have to perform this upgrade, but we didn’t want to take a chance with the used F150 springs – it’s not one of those jobs you want to do after the fact!
“When you can improve harmonics, it translates to less vibration being transferred to valvetrain, which allows the motor to retain more power,” says Bryan Pitcher of Comp Cams. “It also increases the number of cycles the valve spring can deliver, which means it will last longer than the OEM springs.”
When you’re moving to more aggressive camshaft profiles than stock, upgrading the valvetrain is typically a good idea, if not a necessity. The Comp Cams Stage 3 XFI NSR Coyote camshafts we selected (PN 191160) are designed to work with or without a valve spring upgrade – hence the NSR or “No Springs Required” moniker – but we expect to see bigger performance gains with the new springs installed. Durability is also a top priority here, and with the original springs’ history being an unknown with this used block, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Like the camshaft we used in the LS3, the new profile for the Coyote will provide more lift and duration, which results in a widened power band and improved mid-range and top-end power – the 5,500-7,200 rpm rev range should see the biggest benefit. While these cams do not require valve springs, they do require phaser limiters and custom tuning, and it’s worth noting that they’re sold as a set of four, meaning the cost of the upgrade is substantially more than that of their single-camshaft counterpart in the LS3.
Tying everything together is an assortment of ARP fasteners, including main studs (PN 1565803), head studs (PN 2564702), camshaft phaser fasteners (PN 2561003), cam tower fasteners (1561004), balancer bolt (PN 1562502), and flywheel bolts (PN 1562801).
“With a good tune, these would work on motors making 3000 horsepower,” says Chris Raschke of ARP. And beyond the enhanced strength, ARP bolts have the added benefit of being design to be reusable, unlike the factory pieces. “When you’re unloading and loading a fastener it puts fatigue on it,” Raschke added. “Since the factory bolts are designed for one-time use, you’re rolling the dice if you choose to put a motor back together with them.”
We also sourced a collection of parts from Ford Performance, the Blue Oval’s performance arm which oversees both its motorsports efforts and aftermarket parts offerings. Boss 302 head gaskets (PN M-6067-M50BR11) serve as the connective tissue between the block and the cylinder heads, while Boss 302 timing chain tensioners (PN M-6266-M50B), which were originally developed for the Cobra Jet engine program, bring enhanced durability for high-RPM builds like ours.
Ford Racing Control Pack
If you’re planning on installing a Coyote motor in anything that didn’t originally come with one, you’ll need a way to talk to it, which is where the Ford Racing Control Pack comes in. This control pack harness (PN M-6017-A504VA) replaces the stock body harness and is designed to work with either an automatic or manual transmission in any vehicle that didn’t originally come with the Coyote 5.0 installed. It includes the following:
- OBD-II Diagnostic Port
- Electronic Throttle Control Accelerator Pedal
- PCM with Ford Racing Calibration
- HEGO Sensors
- MAF Sensor with Bolts
- Downsized Power Distribution Module
- Air Box
- Inlet Tube
- Speedometer Adjuster Speed-Dial Wiring
Also developed for the Boss 302 engine is the intake manifold we’ve chosen (PN M-9424-M50BR). These intake manifolds feature a huge plenum coupled with the long, straight runners, allowing for increased airflow at upper RPM levels without sacrificing low-end torque. And because they’ve gone through of Ford’s rigorous testing to become assembly line parts for the Boss 302 Mustang, there’s no concern about fitment issues or reliability.
Paired with the factory injectors are a set of Aeromotive billet fuel rails (PN 14130). These rails have a flow rate that’s capable of supporting 2,000-plus horsepower race engines, so we have little doubt they’ll be up to the task of providing an adequate flow rate to our naturally aspirated Coyote. And like the F.A.S.T. fuel rails we used on the LS3, the Aeromotive pieces also sport a sharp looking red anodized finish that prevents corrosion while adding a visual aesthetic bump to the top of the motor.
We plan to use an SCT X4 flash tuner to get the Coyote running where we want it. The X4 comes loaded with tested and proven tune files, allowing storage of up to 10 custom tunes. It also allows the user to track real time data. With a simple 0-5 volt source you can keep an eye on EGTs, A/F ratios or any other 0-5 volt signal. The X4 doubles as a diagnostic tool along with tuning and data logging, allowing the user to read and clear diagnostic trouble codes. When this engine eventually sees a car, the X4 will allow us to control features like convertor lock-up, traction control, tire size and other useful parameters.
With both engines assembled, we headed off to Westech Performance to put each of them on the dyno to see how things would shake out.
While the Coyote might have an inherent disadvantage being more than a liter down on displacement versus the LS3, the Coyote’s overhead cam design might yield some surprising results, and if nothing else, it’ll likely earn some points on the on the power-per-cubic-inch front.
Ultimately, the dyno sessions will provide the lion’s share of bench racing fire power for each camp – but the story certainly doesn’t end there. Keep an eye out for those dyno results coming your way very soon.