Any interrogator worth his salt knows you can't break a man with cruelty alone. Hope is more compelling than any blade. Ugly Horse knows this. I'm
beginning to suspect the car was built with recycled steel from Cold War prison bars.
The saints at agreed to design a custom K-member to mount the EcoBoost 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine in the nose of my ancient
Fox body. While the company has engineering data on the engine and a 3D scan of the Mustang's engine bay, there's no substitute for having the actual parts
in hand. With my engine on the other side of the continent, Maximum was left to do some educated guesswork.
The result was a gorgeous piece. Maximum opted to modify the company's popular tubular K-member for engine swaps. The design is 40 lbs lighter than the
stock piece and offers substantially greater rigidity. The plan was to send me a mock-up in raw steel. I would then test fit the driveline and suspension
components, verify that everything looked rosy, and send the whole shebang back for final welding and powdercoating.
In my pantheon of Awesome Days, there is my wedding, the Christmas I received a windshield for my '71 Lincoln, and the afternoon these parts showed up. Two
massive, hernia-inducing cardboard boxes sat outside the garage, stuffed with three months' worth of anticipation. Bilstein coilovers, tubular A-arms with
delrin bushings, a crossmember brace, a 15:1 manual steering rack with spherical tie-rod ends, camber/caster plates, a solid steering shaft, and of course,
that gorgeous K-member. In the eternal words of Bad Boys II, shit just got real.
The crew at Maximum Motorsports is made up of legitimate engineers. Everything's modeled and executed with more precision than Ford gave the Fox to begin
with, and Maximum expects its customers to be able to do more than spin a wrench. Installing the new engine cradle wasn't as simple as running a few bolts
into the existing holes.
Dad came down to help shove all the bits into the car. You have to actually square the K-member with the body, a process that requires plumb bobs,
repeated measuring, ample cursing, and more math than I've forgotten since high school.
My dad and I are cut from the same flawed cloth. We're both mule-stubborn and overly confident in our convictions. At one point, with him staring up from
the floor of the garage and me looking down through the open engine bay, I sternly insisted that the cradle needed to move left. Just as sternly, he
insisted the cradle needed to move right. We were pointing in the same direction.
That there? That's a metaphor for my entire adult relationship with my father: saying the same thing with different words and then getting pissed about it.
After the fifth time we locked horns, we realized that the Mustang suffered a hit to the nose some time in the last 25 years. The bump was just enough to
tweak the frame rail 1/8th of an inch to the left and cause our measurements to come up skewed. We split the difference and bolted everything in
place. May the car gods have mercy on our souls, or, if they're feeling generous, my alignment.
With the K-member in place, the suspension went in quickly enough. The car was on its feet for the first time in months. Progress.
The engine itself required some tweaking. I knew that the stock oil pan had to go in order for the engine to sit low enough to be able to shut the hood. I
had two options: a Ford Ranger pan and oil pickup, or bits from a Miata. The EcoBoost 2.0-liter four shares a block with those two vehicles, so parts
swapping wasn't out of the question. Between eBay and the helpful goons at Flyin' Miata, I was able to scavenge parts from both the truck and the roadster.
The Miata pan had the obvious advantage of internal baffling, something that's necessary for track abuse. Baffles help keep the oil from frothing, reducing
the risk that the system will suck up an air bubble and end a lap to the tune of your $8000 engine mulching itself. I'm told that's important.
The Ranger pan is considerably lighter. It's also lower at the front of the engine, which would allow Maximum to build a K-member that would give the car
the lowest possible center of gravity and allow the engine to be pushed as far back against the firewall as possible.
The goal is to have a front-mid-engine four-cylinder Fox body. Two years in, I can almost say that with a straight face.
I drained the break-in oil from the EcoBoost and pulled the pan, only to find myself staring at a large and unidentifiable hunk of cast iron dangling from
beneath the crankshaft. With it in place, there was no way either oil pan was going to work.
The process for identifying underhood mysteries typically goes something like this: find a part number, shove it into Google, and hope the results turn up
something that looks like what you have. Once you have the part's name, you have infinite power over it. You can figure out what it does and whether or not
you can throw it out.
Ford made this process even easier by printing a QR code directly on the part. Scan the code, get a number. Welcome to the future.
My mystery piece turned out to be a counter-balance shaft assembly. It weighs 18 lbs. It does nothing more than reduce vibration so people like me won't
write things like, "The EcoBoost 2.0 is a great engine, if it weren't for the fact that it has all the refinement of a hooker with the DTs." The first
Google result yielded not the part itself, but a "counter-balance shaft delete kit." At last, I have found my people.
I ordered the kit, which is little more than an oil-passage block-off plate and a bolt, and removed the assembly. Ditching the weight means the EcoBoost is
getting dangerously close to the 1 hp-per-pound mark.
The Miata oil pan was simply too tall to work with my new engine mounts, which left me with the Ranger piece. The pan bolted to the block like it grew
there, and the engine was ready to go into its new home. Putting an engine into a car never gets old. It's that tangible shift to wholeness, the climax to
a long hike out of the valley of dereliction. Throw in a couple years of hard-worn uncertainty that comes along with not knowing if this engine will fit
in this car, and you get the moment I lowered the EcoBoost into the Horse. It was acute, and it's not something I'll forget anytime soon.
READ MORE: Tales of Project Ugly Horse with Episode X
But I'm a long way from rolling. For now, I spend my spare minutes standing in the garage, staring at the gorgeous, unlikely engine in my grimy Mustang. I'll let you know when it starts to
Project Ugly Horse is an ongoing saga. Need to catch up? Check out the build .