Big Horsepower Stroker EcoBoost Build With DeadHook Motorsports

This unassuming four-cylinder powerplant cranks out eight-cylinder power with ease, thanks to the talents of Russell Culver and DeadHook Motorsports.

This unassuming four-cylinder powerplant cranks out eight-cylinder power with ease, thanks to the talents of Russell Culver and DeadHook Motorsports.

When you cut your teeth learning the motorsports business through employment with companies like Comp Cams and at the feet of legendary engine builder Mike Moran of Moran Motorsports, you’re bound to pick up a few horsepower-making tricks along the way. Such is the case of one Russell Culver of DeadHook Motorsports in Troy, Michigan. Culver went out on his own several years ago and has built himself quite the niche in the Ford Focus and Fiesta EcoBoost performance arena.

This particular stroker engine is the shop’s development mule and started life as a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine that was installed in Culver’s own daily-driven 2013 Ford Focus.

“We take the EcoBoost engine from the 2013-16 Focus and put a 2.3-liter Mustang/Focus RS forged crankshaft into it, use a Manley I-beam Turbo Tuff connecting rod, and our proprietary Wiseco piston that we’ve developed in conjunction with Nick D’Agostino of Wiseco,” says Culver. “The factory 2.0-liter crankshaft is cast; over 470 horsepower, we’ve seen the rods break and the crankshaft shatter. The stronger 2.3-liter crankshaft offers an additional .431-inches of stroke over the 2.0-liter crank, which helps provide a lot more bottom-end torque.”

In these applications, there is no need to bore the engine’s cylinders out; Culver sticks with .020-inch overbore, as the factory cast-in sleeves aren’t super-thick.

“We haven’t pushed any engines hard enough yet to need a new sleeve. The block has a fairly strong closed-deck design so we think that the engines will be pretty stout through the horsepower ranges we’ll be running,” says Culver.

The stout bottom end makes use of a mixture of factory and aftermarket components. As with any high-power engine build, accuracy is critical when torquing fasteners and setting bearing clearances.

Interestingly, Culver says that the engine is heavily based upon the turbocharged 2.3-liter engine from the Mazdaspeed 3; Ford didn’t change any of the internal or external dimensions of the block, which permits the use of the long-arm crankshaft with no issues. The EcoBoost development has been heavily centered around the direct injection and cylinder head architecture, including the built-in exhaust manifold that’s part of the head casting.

Final bore size checks in at 3.462-inch with the new piston. Through the use of a taller compression height built into the piston, the new compression ratio is 10.54:1 versus the 9.54:1 compression ratio with the stock 2.0-liter piston.

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The DeadHook Motorsports/Wiseco pistons are designed to be lightweight and robust enough to handle big boost. Direct injection bowls mimic the factory configuration for efficiency. Culver previously contracted with another company and performed development work on DI components; he says the placement and configuration of this portion of the piston is so critical that it will make or break performance with the slightest change.

In order to develop the company’s piston design, Culver and D’Agostino worked together to analyze the engine’s capabilities and came up with a final design, which offers a number of changes from the stock-style piston forging.

“I wanted to see piston weights that were reasonable close to the factory piston — ours are only 20 grams heavier than the stock 2.0-liter piston. From the factory, the engines break the ring lands quite often, so using the 2618 material helps to keep the pistons stable. The top ring is 1.0 mm, with the second ring set at 1.2 mm thickness with a 3.0 mm oil ring,” says Culver.

In this case, the top ring land is .225-inch thick, the second land is .215-inch thick, and the third land is .091-inch thick. Valve pocket sizes are 1 mm thicker and 1 mm deeper to allow valve clearance with high-lift camshafts, and the piston has a flat top (with the exception of the direct injection bowl) to help tighten up the quench areas for better flame propagation.

(Left) The factory forged 2.3-liter EcoBoost crankshaft has had the balance shaft gear-drive removed. It is crankshaft-driven by a gear that sits on the full-round section seen in the middle of the crankshaft. (Right) Manley Turbo Tuff connecting rods swing the Wiseco pistons round.

The alloy piston has also been 3D-milled by Wiseco to help with weight reduction without compromising strength; by removing material in low-stress areas, they are able to counteract the extra meat required for the larger bore and more robust construction throughout.

Culver says that the cylinder bore must be honed and checked with a torque plate on top, as the distortion is heavy enough to present false out-of-round readings in the neighborhood of .0015-inch, which is far too much for consistency. With the plate on top, this number can be dropped to less than .0005-inch.

This is the factory balance shaft that DHM removes from their stroke engines. The gear is poking out of the case, seen at bottom.

This is the factory balance shaft that DHM removes from their stroke engines. The gear is poking out of the case, seen at bottom.

The additional stroke means that the connecting rod dimensions need to be sized appropriately for the rotating assembly to fit properly within the engine. The stock connecting rod is 6.135-inches long, and the Manley forging is 5.875-inches long. Although this affects rod ratio to the negative side compared to the stock 2.0-liter engine, the final ratio with the shorter rod and longer crank arm checks in at 1.58:1, which is better than a stroked 383 small-block Chevy (1.52:1) and equivalent to a stroker 347 small-block Ford at 1.58:1. This keeps the side load on the thrust side of the piston well within accepted norms.

“The engine also has a big balance shaft from the factory; it bolts to the bottom of the block underneath the main caps and is driven by a gear that’s pressed onto the crankshaft at the factory. We remove that as it’s not needed in this application,” says Culver. “When you remove it, you have to put a baffle into the oil pan, as the balance shaft acts as a baffle in the factory configuration.”

Camshaft management strategy is similar to the 5.0-liter Coyote engine. Each camshaft has variable cam control. There are phasers on each, and the timing system also drives the standalone oil pump that’s located at the bottom of the block. The layout is cam-and-bucket; there are no lifters or hydraulic followers. Camshaft actuation is direct and immediate — as the lobe presses on the bucket, the valves open and close. Different bucket sizes and thicknesses are used to set the valve lash, as each cylinder head must be mocked up to check these dimensions.

The cylinder heads are worked in-house at DeadHook Motorsports, although there is no porting performed on this particular casting, as Culver has plans to dyno-test the stock casting versus one of his hand-ported units in the near future.

(Left) The EcoBoost block is extremely sensitive to torque plate honing; Culver says the readings can be as much as a thousandth and a half off when the plate is not used. (Right) The valvetrain: note the lack of any soft of roller folower, as the valvetrain uses direct-acting buckets for actuation.

The EcoBoost’s engine’s management system is hard-coded to prevent RPM levels above 7,700, the engine is limited to that parameter, and the only way to increase performance is with more boost, not more RPM. In this instance, the engine is tuned with an Accessport system and software from COBB Tuning.

The engine currently wears a Garrett GTX 2871R 54mm turbocharger, but Culver has plans to move to a GTW 3884R, which uses a 64mm inducer. He’s expecting to see somewhere on the order of an additional 175-plus horsepower to the tire with the new turbo, taking this front-wheel-drive fireball well over the 600 fwhp mark. The powerplant is backed up by a Stage 3 clutch with aluminum flywheel from SPEC.

The stock Focus ST makes 252 horsepower at the crankshaft; this boosted bullet turns in over 440 to the tires, and there's plenty more on tap as DeadHook Motorsports continues to develop the platform with a better cylinder head, more camshaft, and more boost.

The stock Focus ST makes 252 horsepower at the crankshaft; this boosted bullet turns in over 440 to the tires, and there’s plenty more on tap as DeadHook Motorsports continues to develop the platform with a better cylinder head, more camshaft, and more boost.

One thing to note about this engine configuration — it’s reliable and in a true daily-driven vehicle that has nearly 5,000 miles on it to date. Culver says he has plans to head from Michigan to Florida shortly with the car to drop off a customer’s engine on his way to vacation. There’s a trailer hitch on the back, and he’s not afraid to use it.

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About the author

Jason Reiss

Jason draws on over 15 years of experience in the automotive publishing industry, and collaborates with many of the industry's movers and shakers to create compelling technical articles and high-quality race coverage.
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