Video: Revisiting Ford’s Venerable and Squandered Triton V10 Engine

People hear the words “V10 engine,” and they suddenly get all antsy in their pants. Mental images of European exotics spitting fireballs from their tailpipes accompanied by the scream of naturally aspirated goodness are all there in abundance.

Well, take those thoughts and put them away for later, because today we’re talking about the most heavily produced V10 ever sold in America. An unassuming workhorse commonly referred to as the “Ford Triton.”

You Get a V10! You Get a V10! Everyone in the Audience Gets a V10!

Contrary to common public misconception, V10 motors aren’t nearly as rare as one might expect, and for that, we have Ford to thank. While no one really knows precisely how many Triton V10 engines were produced from 1997 to 2021, the general consensus is that the Blue Oval likely churned out over a million of these beasts.

Marketed as a potent gasoline alternative to diesel power, Ford saw success in outfitting both 3/4- and 1-ton pickup truck segments with its Triton V10. Naturally, Ford’s largest SUV received its own allotment as well (primarily during the early 2000s), with many 2000-2005 Ford Excursion owners opting for the V10 over the 30-percent heavier 7.3-liter diesel and the base-grade 5.4-liter V8.

Ford Triton V10

Spark plug thread blowout issues became apparent in 2002, with many of them either backing out, or seizing within the block of the Triton V10. Photo Credit: VisioRacer/YouTube

But Ford’s primary target market for the Triton engine was America’s workforce. And thus, the naturally aspirated 6.8-liter V10 was plopped in everything from dedicated commercial work trucks to large box vans, tow rigs, cutaways, and Ford’s extensive line of E-Series vans.

And then there were the heavy hitters. Vehicles that genuinely needed as much torque as possible, without all of the headaches associated with a diesel engine design.

During its peak, the now-defunct cornerstone of Ford’s Modular empire powered everything from RV land yachts to public transit vehicles. Hell, they even converted the damn thing so that it could run on propane and power the popular line of Blue Bird Vision school buses at one point.

Ford Triton V10

Photo Credit: VisioRacer/Ron Hentschel/YouTube

Love… Hate… It Still Beats an Old 5.4L Ford V8

As the recent synopsis video from VisioRacer clearly illustrates, the reliability of the Triton V10 and its performance perks were quite good overall. But that was just a portion of the V-shaped pie. To remain competitive, Ford knew that it desperately needed to find a replacement for its line of overhead-cam V8 motors.

But with budget and assembly line constraints in place, scrapping the entire V8 assembly line was completely out of the question. This leads us to the reasoning behind the whole “Modular Engine” nomenclature. Sharing cast-iron blocks, SOHC aluminum heads, and more, Ford’s 4.6-liter engine and 5.4-liter V8 proved that mixing and matching was indeed a solid business decision.

But the 5.4-liter V8 proved to be softer than Danny Devito’s abdomen when slapped into a heavier chassis like an Excursion, with towing figures being equally unimpressive.

And so the Triton V10 was released in 1997, with 275 horsepower and 425 pound-feet of torque on tap. These figures were later bumped to 310 horses in 2000, thanks in part to updated internal designs both up top and down below. Not only did this 10-cylinder powerhouse pack a profuse amount of power for the era in which it emerged, but the V10 Triton engine’s capacity for lubricants and fluids was of equally impressive proportions.

Another big change came in 2005 when the old 2-valve design was ditched for a far more free-flowing 3-valve setup. This would boost output to 362 horsepower, with torque hitting a respectable 460 pounds of twist. It was this version that would go on to grace countless work vehicles up until the motor’s retirement in 2021.

Ford Triton V10

The Ford Triton V10 is controlled by a duo of ECUs, as the automaker did not have an ECU that could handle a V10’s oddball firing order and specific fueling and ignition needs. Photo Credit: VisioRacer/YouTube

Finding a Way, The Ford Way

But before there could be any redesigns or upgrades, Ford’s engineers had to give birth to the Triton V10. It was the mid-1990s, and Ford desperately needed a new engine to replace its dated 460-inch big-block V8.

However, Ford’s Modular block at the time could not accommodate oversized cylinder bores, so Ford’s engineers went back to the drawing table once more. Construction of a new block was completely out of the question, as was assembling the new design on a separate line.

They needed a replacement for displacement, and so instead of bumping up the internal outputs of a Modular V8 engine, Ford decided to throw two more pistons at the problem. A close look at the 6.8-liter V10 proves that it is really little more than a Modular 5.4-liter Ford V8, but with two extra cylinders slapped on.

Ford Triton V10

Ford’s engineers found that by adding specialized split crankpins to the forged crankshaft, vibration issues within the Triton V10 could be easily negated. Photo Credit: VisioRacer/YouTube

Granted, issues with uneven piston counts generating excessive amounts of vibration were an immediate concern. With five cylinders per side working against them, the development (and refinement) of the Triton V10 proved to be a royal pain in the patella for the Ford team.

Factor in the additional length required for those extra cylinders, and the act of shoehorning it into various chassis types, and you can see why so much head-scratching and salty language was going on up in Dearborn during that time.

Ford Triton V10

Ford’s Modular engines were marketed under the Triton name until 2010. Photo Credit: VisioRacer/YouTube

The Triton V10 Engine Today

But eventually, perseverance and creativity overcame, Ford launched its Triton V10 engine in 1997, and immediately set to finding ways to make the V10 work in tandem with the Ford GT supercar it had been developing. Everyone from Carroll Shelby to Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) leader, John Coletti, apparently got in on the action.

 Unfortunately, not much came from this high-performance push, as even the all-aluminum version of the Triton V10 intended for the Mustang was eventually shelved. This 5.8-liter engine in particular would have been quite the contender if it had ever come to fruition. A design that featured quad cams from the Cobra R, and a short-stroked 4.6-liter block for clearance purposes. Lead Ford R&D mastermind, Kevin Byrd, reportedly even went as far as developing a 7.0-liter BOSS version to prove that they could compete with Chrysler’s Viper engine.

But alas, budget and time constraints proved to be too much for Ford’s V10 performance project plans. And thus the proverbial final nail was rammed into the V10 engine’s coffin with Ford’s decision to plop a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 into the 2005 GT supercar.

 And what did that leave us? Propane-powered school buses and piss-poor fuel economy averages in an armada of aging Ford Excursions and F-250s with oil consumption issues. Le sigh…

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Micah Wright

Raised on LEGOs by grandfathers who insisted on fixing everything themselves, Micah has been a petrolhead in training since age four. His favorite past times include craft beer, strong cigars, fast cars, and culinary creativity in all of its forms.
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