Team Z Suspension: Project 666 is Rolling

Monday, January 11th, 2010
The Fox-Body Ford Mustang is one of the most popular chassis choices in history for drag racing. Light weight – and with a suspension system that leads itself to quickly “HOOK” on the 1320, the Fox is as good as it gets. Heck, as we all know, highly modified Mustangs with stock-type suspension have even eclipsed the 6-second mark at over 200 mph.

That being said, the factory Fox components are flimsy, non-adjustable, and in need of some geometry changes to produce optimum 60-foot times. You’ll remember our Project 666 from the last few months of updates — a 1986 coupe that will do a little dirty work on the street but mainly thrive on the track. It was time to build 666 a suspension system that could easily run low 10s but also give us a foundation to go faster if we choose to. And as we’ve found out – we always choose to.

To give our Fox some hook – we went to one of the top suspension drag doctors in the country: Dave Zimmerman’s Team Z Motorsports. Follow along as we not only install a complete Team Z system front and rear – but also give you some key insider setup times from Dave Z. himself.

Team Z… from A to Z

If you’re a fan of Mustang Drag Racing, you know Team Z. You’ll know that racers know and trust Team Z to help them get the maximum performance on track at their horsepower level. Simply put — these components are not built by a chop shop welding team in China. “Our parts are built for racers, by racers,” explained Zimmerman, Team Z’s founder, and the “Z” in Team Z. “What shows through is more than just the quality of the welds. We’ve tested our designs over and over, and it’s backed by our hands-on experience with some of the fastest NMRA racers and Mustangs in the country, in each class.”

Racers like Bob Kurgan run Team Z front and rear suspension on their way to 7-second runs on Drag Radials.

When we talked to Dave Z, we said ‘we need the works’. That means complete Team Z front and rear suspension, caster/camber plates, anti-roll bar…and more. Like a big ball park hot dog, with all of the ‘fixings, Team Z set us with a monster gift box of Drag suspension goodness. We told Dave we had a “strip car” that will see some street driving. We wanted to get a solid suspension system that can rip low 10s with ease, but also provide a foundation to run faster..

Here’s what came in the box:

  • Team Z Chrome Moly Tubular K-Member With Ford Motor Mounts; Part Number: TZM-KM-MM
  • Team Z Tubular Adjustable Short Front Lower Control Arms; Part Number: ADJ-AARM
  • Team Z Tubular Adjustable Rear Upper and Lower Control Arms; Part Numbers: TZM-RS-2
  • Team Z Anti Roll Bar; Part Number: TZM-ARB-XT
  • Team Z Caster-Camber Plates; Part Number: TZMCC-1

Lets get started with the install – where we will review each component. Skip to the end of the article if you want to read Dave’s Top 10 Stock Suspension Setup Tips!

Front Suspension:

666 was already residing on the two post lift where it had been under the knife for some time. The engine, transmission and suspension was already removed, so we moved right into the install of the Team Z front suspension.

The main part of the front suspension on the Fox Body Mustangs is the K-Member. Team Z provided us with a light weight Chromoly K-member that is more than 25 lbs lighter than the stock K-Member. It provides additional header and starter clearance, and also features slightly modified geometry to optimum straight line handling, but is also acceptable for “street/strip” use.

Team Z has plenty of options available, and we chose a few:

  • Powder Coating – you can order your Team Z K-member powder coated or raw chrome moly. We opted for a nice grey.
  • Tow Hooks – Dave can add Tow Hooks to the front of your K-member to make strapping down your Fox a cake job. We did.
  • Material – Team Z offers both mild steel and chromoly. We chose the lighter chromoly but it’s slightly more expensive.
  • Steering Rack – We chose the stock steering rack system, but you can convert to a Pinto-style rack which can be better for a pure drag car. Team Z can also raise or lower the rack per your direction.

We lifted the K-Member into the bottom of the engine bay and bolted it down with the brand new bolts supplied in the kit. There is nothing to adjust in the K-member as any tweaks or changes you wish to have can be made at the time you order your K-Member. This step was a complete bolt in as the Team Z component retains all of the factory mounting holes, but that doesn’t mean the same dimensions were kept. Team Z lowers the steering rack one inch lower to the ground to improve the steering angle.

Next up was the Team Z lower control arms. We asked Team Z to shorten the length of the control arms one inch which brings in our skinnies the same amount. If you are not looking to change the length of the A-Arm, keep in mind that this is an option and not standard. Standard length A-Arms are available.

In terms of the lower control arm options, you have some similar choices as the K-Member.

  • Material: Your choice of chrome moly or mild steel. We chose the CM.
  • Rod Ends or Bushings – Team Z offers the control arms with standard “Poly” bushings, or with adjustable rod ends. Even though we were driving our Mustang on the street, we went with the rod ends so we can lay the foundation for future quicker e.t.’s. We were willing to deal with the increase in road noise.

We kept with the Strange adjustable drag struts we had already installed, but added the Team Z coil over springs.

Back under the hood of the car, we installed a set of Team Z’s caster/camber plates. These pieces bolted right in using existing holes on the chassis and the bolts supplied in the kit. They are made from an alloy steel that is zinc plated for long-life. Camber/caster plates are a requirement at this level to get maximum caster for drag racing stability.

To cap off our install we slapped a Flaming River Steering Rack onto the new K-member and bolted it down.

The Team Z kit came with a Bumpsteer kit, with new rod-ends for the steering rack. These not only are more precise than the stock ones, but have a greater range of motion, less friction, and best off all, look way the heck better. Can you say RACE CAR LOOK?

If you’ve never installed a bump steer kit, you can easily screw all of these spacers. The purpose of the spacers is so that at ride height you can set the correct height of the steering links to minimize bump steer. See our tips below or call Team Z for specific recommendations.

Here is a nice shot of all of the Team Z goodies installed on the front of the car, ready to go! It really opens up the engine bay. We should have no problem fitting in our big nasty Kooks Headers now along with our 9.5 deck 351.

Team Z Rear Suspension: Getting Busy with It

The rear suspension installation was simple, quick, and easy. That’s the magic three, right. We’ve got upper and lower Team Z control arms, and a Team Z Anti-roll bar. We already welded up the torque boxes, installed subframe connectors, and even installed a torque box reinforcement kit. So we were ready to go…

The Team Z upper controls were the first thing we attacked. Team Z’s control arms are beefy enough to handle 1,500-plus horsepower, so our 666 horsepower was literally a “laughing matter”. These are double adjustable – specifically that there are two rod ends, together with a hex adjuster in the middle. Basically – we can adjust there ON THE CAR without removing them. First, we set up them to stock length (matching the stock arms) and then tightened them down for an initial setup.

Installing the Team Z chrome moly uppers is a bolt-and-go deal. You’ll see in our Moser rear end, we already had a custom spherical bearing installed. Team Z also offers these bearings for stock-type 8.8 and 9-inch housings. For the Moser, we had to get a set made that fit this aftermarket rear end. You’ll see here that we’ve already welded up the torque boxes.

Unlike the Team Z uppers, the lower control arms are only single adjustable. That’s not a big deal because once you set the length correctly, you’ll never touch this adjustment again, as all of your adjustments will come from the upper arms. These are chrome moly with a solid end on one side, and with a rod end up front allowing us to center the wheels in the wheel well.

Here you can see the completed Team Z upper and lower control arms bolted in. You can also see our extensive work on the lower torque boxes. These have been welded and gusseted to take a serious pounding.

The last thing we started was the install of the Team Z Anti-Roll bar. As per Dave’s instructions, we welded this in between the frame rails just in front of the rear end. Essentially – you shove the anti-roll bar as far forward as possible and make sure that’s square and level to the chassis. Then, you weld the anti-roll bar in place, and then drop the end links down to the rear end, and weld the end-link brackets in place between the rear end and the anti-roll bar.

That’s it. Now all was left was setup. Although we’ve been around setting up drag cars for years, it’s always better to have an expert tell you. We spoke to Dave Zimmerman, the owner of Team Z Motorsports, to get the crash course into setting up our Fox Body suspension. But before we go, a special thanks to Team Z and Dave for helping us get 666 rolling with some of the best parts in the business. We’ll keep you in the loop with the next segment, as we get our 351W in the car and get wired up and racing!

TEAM Z: Top Drag Suspension Setup Tips & Tricks

Find the Center line of the Car

According to Dave, “Finding the center-line of the car is very important, so when you are in the shop and find it, mark it somewhere on the car.” This makes any last minute adjustments a snap at the racetrack as you won’t have to spend the time to find this measurement each time you want to play with moving the rear end around in the car. Remember, the only way to find the true center-line is to hang some plumb bobs on the side of the car, and measure halfway between them. That will be your reference point for setting up your rear suspension.

Race Weight: Fully Loaded?

Make all your suspension adjustments at race weight. “Many people are smart enough to make sure someone is sitting in the driver seat, or place some kind of weight in the seat in place of a driver sitting there, but many forget about things such as nitrous bottles, intercooler water and even the fuel cell,” says Zimmerman.

Remember all of those things add not only to your total weight, but your side to side and back to front weight as well. Which is why it is important that all the weight is on board before messing with the suspension. A perfect set up can become the wrong setup with 20 lbs of fuel and two 10 lb nitrous bottles added in after.

Anti-Roll Bar: Neutral is Best

“Many people like to cheat on their setup by doing what is known as pre-loading the suspension. This does nothing but compensate for a poorly setup rear suspension. With no load on the suspension, the anti-roll bar should be neutral,” according to Dave.

Not everyone agrees on this, but Dave Z has some serious credentials to back up his setup tips.

Lay Thy Front Struts Back

If you car is set up with adjustable caster/camber plates, you’ll want to lay those front struts back as far as you can for maximum caster. “By laying the struts back, the car is going to naturally want to go straight and that is a good thing in drag racing,” Dave proclaimed. With a Fox-body, you can go for maximum caster with your alignment, and drive the car all day long there for street and strip duty.

Slamming a Stock-Suspension Drag Fox Car: Playing with Fire

Everyone want to slam the frame down near the ground and tuck the tire under the fender. “The problem with lowering your car, is that is greatly affects your suspension setup,” says Team Z. Remember suspension is all about angles and geometry. When you lower or raise your car you change those factors, including your Instant Center. There are a few ways to get your stock suspension car low, but you should call Team Z to discuss. It requires some serious thought and some modified geometry with the suspension pointing points.

One Adjustment At A Time

“Many times someone will change five or ten things on their car in hopes of making it work better. While it may work, it may not. The problem is they have no clue what adjustment made the most difference, or even if they all helped,” explained Dave. It might be a long process, but if you hope to master the art of suspension setup it is a critical step. One adjustment at a time.

And take notes.


Team Z Motorsports
Phone: 1-866-243-0649

666: Installing the TKO Tremec & SPEC Clutch

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010
Project 666 Mustang is moving along, with the hairy goal of putting down 666 horsepower and running 10s. With power comes great responsibility, and we knew the tired old T-5 stock transmission and wimpy clutch just wouldn’t be up for the job. So after 25 years of service, it was removed from our mighty four-eyed ’86 Mustang to make room for a fresh, durable TKO-600 transmission from Tremec and a fresh SPEC clutch.

To achieve that numerically demonic level of power without any forced induction or nitrous, we needed a big-inch, king of engines. We have a choice of a 408 or 427 Windsor, but rest assured, both make plenty of ponies, starting at 600, and going up to about 750 hp with a small nitrous shot. To handle (corral) that level of power, Tremec’s TKO-600 got the call, conservatively rated to handle 600 HP.

Tremec’s famed TKO-600 five-speed transmission

Tremec is an acronym, standing for “Transmissions and Mechanical Engineering”. Tremec first gained popularity in the early 90’s when Fox-body Mustang enthusiasts began breaking their T-5 transmissions in the pursuit of high power and a popular swap was the TR-3550

As Fox-bodies surged in popularity thanks to their low cost of purchase and modification, so did the line and popularity of the Tremec transmission upgrade. According to Nate Tovey of Tremec, “Tremec offers a line of five and six-speed manual transmissions for most every application, and since they are so easily adaptable, our transmissions have also become popular with the muscle car and resto-mod crowd, too.”

Tremec is a long-time player in the transmission game, having been in business since 1964, the very beginning of the muscle car movement. “We manufacturer transmissions for a wide range of products beyond just cars, even providing transmissions for John Deere tractors!” explained Tovey. “Tremec transmissions also found their way into many performance production cars today. The T-56 six-speed can be found in Vipers, ‘Vettes, Shelbys, and even the outgoing Pontiac G8 GXP.”

666 Gets TKO’d

Since Project 666 is getting 351W small-block stroker engine, we need a transmission that can handle gobs of power. Although an automatic is an easy choice, for our street/strip car, we knew we wanted to have three pedals. The goal if Project 666 is 666 flywheel horsepower and an equal amount of torque. Thus, we turned to Tremec and their world renowned line of TKO transmissions.

351W stroker small block meets Tremec’s TKO-600

Tovey filled us in a little more on the TKO-600: “The TKO is just one series of manual transmissions Tremec offers. The TKO comes in two flavors; the TKO-500, and the TKO-600. The TKO has an impressive lineage, dating all the way back to the legendary 4-speed “Top Loader” transmission found in Ford performance vehicles, including big blocks for the day.” Nate explained that the Top Loader evolved into the TR-3550, which eventually became the TKO.

For even more information on the TKO, we turned to Kevin Ryan, a Product Engineer at Tremec. Since we are going to be making in excess of 600 ft-lbs of torque, we opted for the TKO-600 and its 600 ft-lb torque capacity. The TKO-500 meanwhile, only has a 450 ft-lb torque capacity (which dwarfs the T-5’s 300 ft-lb capability). But what are the differences, beyond (metal) skin deep?

According to Kevin Ryan, “the main difference between the TKO-500 and 600 are the gear sets. The 500 utilizes a 3.27 gear set with a 0.68 overdrive 5th gear, while the 600 uses a 2.87 gear set with either a 0.64 or 0.82 overdrive gear set. “In general, the deeper the gear ratio set (higher numerical value) the lower the torque capacity.” The gears are made from SAE grade 4620, 8620, and 4615M carbon steel, and Tremec has several different tactics for improving strength of the gears to handle so much torque.

“A balance of base material and gear cutting design will dictate the torque capacity. We also use modern gear processes to optimize strength,” says Kevin. He goes on to explain that all of Tremec’s forward gears are helical (like a helix) in order to provide a balance of strength and gear noise. Straight-cut gears are stronger and easier to make, but result in a great deal more gear meshing noise. “It has always been an aftermarket transmission and, as such, a major design focus was to fill as many applications as practical,” Kevin explains. This is why you will find TKO transmissions in everything from classic Camaros to 5.0 Mustangs. It also explains why Tremec’s popular T-56 transmission can be found in high performance vehicles across all three domestic brands.

Other things were done to ensure the versatility of the TKO too. The 31 tooth spine input shaft was chosen because it is a very popular and proven strong design. Since the TKO was bound to wind up in different length vehicles, the shifter needed to be able to work from different positions on the transmission. Using the back of the engine block as a reference point, the shifter can be located at 19, 23, or 25 inches. A half-foot is enough variety for most applications, but Kevin says they are always working on expanding available shifter positions, including side-to-side

Tremec tests the strength of every area in their entire line of transmissions, because versatility would be worthless without durability. Gears and shafts are tested for long-term durability using strength-over-time measurements. The syncros and shift linkage are tested using shifts at different speeds over time. To test overall impact strength, the gear castings and linkages are shock loaded under extreme conditions to verify they represent a good value to the customer.

SPEC Clutch.. to the Rescue

All of this durability within the transmission would be of little use if the clutch isn’t up to snuff. Like the T-5 transmission, the stock clutch wouldn’t last long behind 666 horsepower. When it comes to manual transmissions, the clutch often gets more thought than the transmission itself, but you want to ensure both products are on par with each other. Thus, we went and asked our friends over at SPEC clutches to hook us up with a clutch package that would take all of the power that we dished out, and more so for the future.

SPEC’s single-disc Stage 2+ clutch kit with a steel flywheel

When we told them how much power we planned on making, they sent us their Stage 2+ clutch kit with a steel flywheel. The Stage 2+ clutch bridges the horsepower gap between the streetability of the Stage 2 and the higher torque capacity of the Stage 3. The Stage 2+ has a 15-20% higher torque capacity than the Stage 2 but maintains streetable manners.

We’ve used the Stage 2+, and there is no fighting this clutch to the floor to find a gear. The clutch is made from a hybrid Kevlar and Carbon-graphite friction material and comes with a high-clamp pressure plate, and has a flywheel torque capacity of 635 ft-lbs. It has a double sprung hub, too. It is a perfect match for the TKO-600.

Shacking up Tremec and SPEC with Project 666

As we have previously written about, the old engine and transmission have already been removed and discarded. But before we could install the 351W Windsor stroker crate engine, the SPEC flywheel, clutch disc, pressure plate, and throwout bearing had to be installed first. The benefit of a fully-equipped shop is there is no crawling under the car to do all this work, so we got right to work installing the parts.

Torque down the SPEC flywheel to 80 ft-lbs max

First goes the SPEC flywheel, which installs to the back of the crank shaft with six nuts. They must be torqued down to 80 max ft-lbs. Our SPEC steel flywheel is a stout piece, completely machined on CNC equipment, and with a removable facing so that we can re-use the flywheel for the life of the engine and vehicle.

The SPEC clutch disc comes next, and it has to be perfectly aligned to work properly. Thus we use a disembodied input shaft tool stuck into the crank shaft to ensure the right alignment. There is no room for mistakes here, and you can use the input shaft from your own transmission to make sure everything lines up; this is just easier… And we like easy.

The assembled SPEC 2+ clutch kit, lookin’ sharp. Too bad we don’t get to see it in action.

Finally, the SPEC pressure plate needs to be attached to the flywheel. When the pressure plate clamps down on the clutch, it engages and thus turns the wheels to the tune of 666 horsepower (minus drive train loss, natch). The SPEC pressure plate should only be torqued down to 28 max ft-lbs. Since this is a 351-based stroker and the engine was already put together, the throwout bearing was already installed — now it is merely a matter of mating engine with transmission.

With the SPEC clutch and pressure plate system installed, we could finally hook the TKO-600 transmission up to our engine. With both the engine and tranny out of the car, this is about as simple a procedure as it gets. Just torque down the bolts on the bellhousing, and get ready to hoist the engine up and in.

But wait! The 351W Windsor features a deck height that was 1.3 inches taller than the 302. This could create clearance issues with the stock hood. How do we remedy such a situation?

The easiest way is to drop the engine with motor mounts. Thus we used Holcomb Motorsports 351W Drop Mounts for better hood clearance. Zinc plated for appearance and protected from corrosion, these mounts made putting the engine in a pie. We just dropped the engine and attached transmission in and they slid into place with ease. The cross-member was cushioned with energy suspension polyurethane bushings, as was the transmission mount ensuring a smooth snug fit without too much bouncing for our engine.

Finally, we installed a Hays clutch quadrant and cable kit to connect the transmission and clutch together with our pedal. Hays Products adjustable clutch cable is designed to increase leverage and makes adjusting our upgraded clutch much easier. The Hays clutch cable also comes with a heavy-duty low friction cable, made from stranded steel. It has durable metal fittings with an adjustable fork end for exact adjustment of clutch release and pedal free play.. all in all, it helps us get that right feel in the pedal.

That was it – we were wrapped up and ready to go. We should be starting up 666 any day now, and we’ll bring you full test results before you know it.

Hay’s Clutch cable and quadrant, fully adjustable.


TREMEC Transmissions
Phone: 1-800-401-9866

SPEC Clutches and Flywheels
Phone: 1-800-828-4379

Holcomb Motorsports
Phone: 800-475-7223

Hays Clutches
Phone: 216-688-8300

Cervini’s Hood Install on Project 666

Monday, September 28th, 2009
When it comes to shoehorning a new, bigger engine into the frame rails of a Fox Body Mustang, the stock hood becomes as useful as Superman without his superhuman strength and ability to fly. The simple solution is to find an aftermarket hood that will accommodate the increase in engine size. However, finding a company that not only makes a hood big enough for your car, but also offers a product that will fit your car correctly, can be a difficult process.

We found a company that could meet all of our demands, and that company is Cervini’s Auto Design.

Cervini’s makes hoods for many popular applications, including our favorite – the Fox Body Mustang. They have a total of four different hood options for the Fox, depending on what you are looking for. These include a Ram Air Hood,

the Stormin’ Norman Hood, a 2.5-inch cowl, and the one we went with – the 4-inch cowl.

We spoke with Jim Frie of Cervini’s Auto Design and asked him to tell us about their hoods. “Every hood we sell is 100% hand-laid fiberglass,” explained Frie. “This allows us to control things such as weight and design much better.”

Our hood measured out to thirty-one inches at the base of the cowl and twenty-seven inches at the top. This is going to give us plenty of room to fit the 427 cubic inch engine that we have lined up for this car (and any other monster size engine that we could dream of). It even has two large screen air vents in the back, which allow air to pass through, but keep external objects out of the engine compartment.

With all of this, the hood still only weighs about twenty-four pounds. Additionally, under hood temperatures have been known to drop when swapping out the stock hood with a cowl induction. As the heat rises, it can be flushed out the back of the hood, leaving the cold air to be picked up by the engine.

“We pride ourselves on making a product that is lighter and stronger than the OE version, but will fit just as well,” says Frie. Cervini’s designs their hoods to use the OE hood latch and arms, so you can still retain the hinged operation of your stock hood. However, you can special order a lift-off version (just like the type that racers use) that drops the weight down to eight pounds.

While Cervini’s hoods work with the OE latch system, we wanted to run hood pins on the front of our car. Therefore, we drilled two holes in the hood and welded two posts to the front of the chassis where the hood came down – it was very simple. We then lowered the hood one more time to check our fitment and it was still spot on.

All of Cervini’s hoods come 100% finished on the outside, but our car isn’t white so we needed a paint job. To that end, we turned to local paint and repair shop 1st Class Collision, in Murrieta, CA. They handled the job of scuffing, prepping and painting our car’s hood.

The team at 1st Class started out by lightly scuffing the surface of the hood. After only a few minutes, they were loading the hood up onto a hood stand and rolling it into the paint room.

It took two coats of primer, followed by three coats of paint, to get the job done.

One of the reasons we went with 1st Class is the fact that they are one of the first shops in California to adopt the new “waterborne” paint laws here in the state. While it may not seem like a big deal, some painters are struggling to adapt to the new paint and we didn’t want to have this hood painted twice.

Once the hood had dried, it was a quick drive back to the PowerTV garage where Project 666 eagerly awaited the arrival of its new hood. We attached the arms in the rear of the hood and lowered it down.

That’s it! Cervini’s hoods do not require any cutting or trimming in order to fit correctly. This is a major plus, as it saved us time while keeping the quality of the hood intact.

You can check out all of the different hoods that Cervini’s offers for the Fox Body Mustang (or any other car) by visiting their website,

For naturally aspirated power it is hard to beat cubic inches. Sure, you can slap on a blower or turbo and get great boosts in torque and horsepower, however doing it with raw compressed air is much more challenging. The challenge for Project 666 was to build a power plant that could not only make 675 plus horsepower, but also be able to hold together at redline through every shift and every quarter-mile trek. Getting this kind of power out of a small block Ford based engine means you need to have big displacement, good compression, and the right list of matched components to make it all happen smoothly and reliably.

Here at Pro Power, we specialize in putting together the right combination of components to meet our customers’ goals, so it was no surprise that the crew working on Project 666 contacted us right away with their needs. My years of experience working with a wide variety of small block Ford engines have given me an opportunity to peruse the aftermarket parts and choose each component specifically for any given application. For this project, we were looking to strike a good balance between displacement, RPM range, longevity, and the right horsepower and torque.

The complete engine build is going to be covered right here, so you can see every detail of the 427 build. Part one will consist of the short block build (block, crank, rods, pistons…etc.), part two will cover all of the top end parts and completion of the long block, and part three will go over the results of the chassis dyno after the engine is bolted in our Project 666 Mustang. So, let’s get started with the short block and everything I did to start our monster 427 Windsor engine!

Aluminum Dart Hits the Target

The basis for any engine project starts with the main component – the engine block. There are a lot of choices out there for blocks, but the list shortens when you are looking for good power and reliability. Dart Machinery has been manufacturing racing engine components for many years, and their line of Ford blocks is top notch. After reviewing our needs, I decided to go with their Virgin 355-T61 Aluminum block for this build.

We started with the Dart aluminum 9.500” deck bare bones block mounted on the engine stand. Specialties Machining had previously done all of the machine work, thoroughly checked the block, and removed the billet steel main caps, so it was ready for assembly. Note the Chrome-Moly main studs that come standard, as well as the threaded freeze plug holes.

The Dart block allows us to go up to 4.165” in bore and up to 4.250” in stroke, and this is important because are looking for 427 inches. Additionally, the Dart block has billet steel four-bolt caps on all five mains, which are dowel pinned and registered with the desirable 351 SVO Cleveland size of 2.750” for less friction and bearing heat. The Dart is available in 9.200” and 9.500” deck heights, to fit many different applications. With additional features such as pressed in dry sleeves, upgraded true priority main oiling, threaded freeze plugs, and coated main bearings, choosing the ultra light 93 pound block for the center of our project was virtually a no-brainer.

The Dart Aluminum block uses four-bolt billet steel caps on all five main cap positions. They are doweled for a precision alignment and held in place with studs (included from Dart), which are a great improvement over standard bolts. Ronnie noted that the mains were perfectly machined right out of the box from Dart.

I wanted to ensure that we not only had a good block for our engine project, but that it could fit the parameters of our requirements. With a naturally aspirated engine, you have to try to get the engine to breathe as easily as possible, since you aren’t forcing the air in. That means you have to think about bore size. Dart offers their blocks in two configurations for bore: 4.000” and 4.125”. This is a critical choice that must be made based on what you are trying to do with the engine. We weren’t trying to fit into any rules or keep the cubic inches low, so the 4.125” was definitely the way to go. Not only does it add cubic inches, but the large bore allows the heads to flow more air. How? Well, with a smaller bore, large valves, and a lot of lift, the edges of the valves end up very close to the cylinder wall when they are fully open. This blocks air from flowing around the valve on that side and restricts air flow. By using the larger bore, the air can move all the way around the valve head, and you can typically see about ten percent more air flow through the same head and valves with the larger bore size.

Crank it Up

Having chosen the block, I moved on to the crankshaft. I had to look at what we were doing with the engine and pick out a stroke and a crank that would work flawlessly. I have used numerous Lunati Pro Series crankshafts over the years, and I thought it would be a perfect fit for our naturally aspirated engine.

The Lunati Pro Series crank is a superior part in every way. Not only do all four rod journals have one angle lightening holes, the mains come center gun drilled. Additionally, the counterweights have Lunati’s exclusive contoured wing design to direct oil around the crank at high RPM.

The Lunati cranks are forged from the highest quality 4340 steel alloy, and have been successfully used in 1500+ horsepower engines without failure. They are made right here in the USA, and are micro-finished on the journals with extra wide radii for ultimate strength. The Pro Series crank is a perfect fit for high horsepower and/or high revving engines, and really can’t be beat for finish and quality. They also feature lightening holes in all of the rod throws, so they can easily spin up to maximum RPM.

Lunati offers these cranks in several choices of stroke: 3.500”, 3.625”, 3.750”, 3.900”, and 4.000”.

After looking over the choices, I decided that the big boy, four inches of stroke, was best suited for this project. With the 9.500” deck height and a reasonable rod length, there was plenty of room to fit a reasonable piston compression height that would not be too unstable at high RPM. That put our cubic inches right at 427, which was perfect.

The crankshaft is designed with the matching 2.750” Cleveland sized main journals, and uses typical industry standard 2.100” large journal Chevy throws, giving us a lot of options for connecting rods.

The Lunati crank is also designed to be internally balanced, which is perfect for a high horsepower engine. OEM Ford engines are designed to be externally balanced from the factory – that’s where all of the counterweights are on the balancer and flywheel. However, it’s not really a good idea in a higher performance environment, as the weights are way out at the ends of the crank, adding extra flex and wear on the front snout and rear journal. The Lunati crank has all of the extra material built into the counterweights, so the weight is distributed evenly throughout. This helps stability in the crank and provides for better bearing durability.

Making the Right Connection

The rods were next on the agenda. I wanted to make sure that we could design the pistons to work correctly within the deck height and utilize the 4.000” stroke, so I had to run some calculations. I needed to see what piston we would come up with so I could pick a rod length based on all of the numbers.

First, I had to consider the crankshaft itself. Most cranks are designed with counterweights to clear a specific minimum rod length, and the Lunati crank was set up to clear a minimum length of 6.125”. That meant I could use any Small Block Chevy rods in popular lengths 6.125” or longer, including: 6.200”, 6.250”, or 6.300”.

Next, I had to consider the piston and think of all the variables: valve relief depth, skirt length, room for rings, etc.. I have learned from previous experience that a compression height around 1.350” typically works best for big cams and ring room. I calculated that on a 9.500” deck height, with 4.000” stroke and a 1.350” height for pistons, a 6.125” rod would work beautifully.

For maximum naturally aspirated power and less rotating mass, we used this really trick set of Lunati 4340 Fully Machined Superlight rods. They weigh in at a very light 609 grams and have small block Chevy dimensions to fit our Lunati crank. These rods resist pulling apart because Lunati uses 7/16″ ARP2000 material rod bolts, instead of the 8740 bolts typically found in most aftermarket rods.

So, now I knew that we were looking for a 6.125” Chevy connecting rod for a street driven, naturally aspirated, high revving, high compression engine. Again, I looked no further than Lunati and their 4340 Superlight I-Beam connecting rods. The rods are great for power, since they are forged and machined here in the USA from aircraft grade 4340 steel. They are shot peened, individually magnafluxed, and bolted together with extremely strong ARP cap screws. Since we were going to drive this car on the street, we had to stay away from aluminum rods, yet we needed a rod that could hold up to the RPM and horsepower of our nasty 427. Plus, these rods barely tipped the scales at 609 grams, which meant less weight our crank had to spin at 7500 RPM’s.

Slugging it Out

I always prefer to have the exact piston for the job. This means that I can’t simply open up a catalog and pick one out, especially when looking for compression, low drag, and durability. Therefore, custom pistons are the way to go. I know a lot of people are afraid of custom pistons, but I am here to tell you they are not scary at all. In fact, I think just about every engine should have custom pistons. It just makes more sense, because each engine is unique in its application and uses, and should be optimized for power. Custom pistons allow you to tailor the piston to your needs and they typically take only a few weeks to make.

For high quality pistons, I turned to none other than the legendary JE Pistons. JE offers custom pistons, just what we needed for our 427, so I went over the specs with them to build the best piston possible. They offer pistons in any dome, dish, or valve relief configuration, you just need to have all of the information handy when you are ready to place your order. Quite often, these specs will be provided by the engine builder, or in this case, the engine designer.

Fortunately, when you need a specific piston for a special engine, you can turn to JE Pistons for a custom forged 2618 piston made exactly how you need it. These pistons have the small .070″ dome for our desired compression ratio, in addition to a lot of unique features. The ring grooves were machined for our low tension 1.2mm top, 1.2mm second, and 3mm oil JE rings, and we had them add in lateral gas ports to allow more pressure to help seal the top rings. The valve pockets were machined to our cam and head specs, and with weight in mind, these came in at a very light 470 grams.

Because I had already done all of the legwork, I had the information needed to give JE the proper numbers to build our special pistons. We needed a 4.125” bore. The compression height of our piston would come out to 1.365”, which puts our piston .010” in the hole. Although a max effort engine would probably be zero deck, I prefer a little cushion when building custom pistons. That way, if we need to deck the block, the pistons are still usable. The Lunati rods use the standard .927” pin, so I chose the 52 series JE pins, and because we had a big bore, went with the 2.750” length for better pin engagement. These would be held in the piston with the standard double spirolox.

Our JE pistons are equipped with double spirolox, to retain the pins in the pin bores for a full floating piston and rod arrangement. After sliding the pin through the rod and the piston, the clips are installed. Ronnie showed us that the trick to putting these in, is to stretch them out and then wind them into the grooves slowly and carefully.

As far as compression ratio goes, I knew we needed to be around 13.5:1. We wanted this engine to be able to rev and breathe at high RPM’s, so that meant we needed some compression. With the Trickflow heads we would be using, JE calculated that we needed a small dome, about .070” tall. Giving them cam specs and valve sizes also allowed them to put the proper valve reliefs in the pistons, so we wouldn’t have an issue. At this point, I had not picked out a cam, but I had a general idea of the specs, and I typically guess larger when giving specs for valve reliefs. I knew that we would be somewhere around 270 @ .050” and .700” lift, so I told JE we would be using a cam 285 @ .050” with .770” lift. This is something I always do on custom pistons, to ensure that the valve reliefs are not only deep enough, but can also accommodate a larger camshaft down the road.

The pistons were then designed for our naturally aspirated engine by the JE engineers. That meant that the ring lands were a little tighter and higher than a boosted engine, with the top land coming out at .200”, the second at .150”, and the third with a thickness of .080”. The pistons also came out pretty light, weighing in at 470 grams, and were clearanced at .005” on the skirts.

Sealing the Deal

Rings would be a very important issue in this engine. I wanted to make sure we had rings that would hold in the compression and reduce drag, so I picked out a trick set of rings from JE that I have used in the past. The rings are thin for less weight and lower resistance at 1.2mm width top, 1.2mm second, and 3mm oil. The top ring is a steel chrome that has great sealing and wear. That, coupled with the latest 3mm oil ring design, would maximize our power for the Windsor.

For bolting everything together in our engine, we simply pulled out our ARP catalog. ARP makes a wide variety of fasteners for most common engine builds. Our 427 is held together with ARP oil pump bolts, timing cover bolts, cam bolt, oil pan bolts, and they even make a heavy duty oil pump shaft.

Some Assembly Required

At this point, I contacted Ronnie Wilson at Specialties Machining in Pompano Beach, Florida about screwing our package together. Ronnie has been building engines for over twenty years and is very familiar with high horsepower Fords. You may recognize his name from all of the Fun Ford Weekend Championships that he has collected over the years, racing his Ford powered Mustang.

Ronnie was excited about the project, and Specialties Machining has all of the equipment necessary for getting the job done correctly. They have the machines for boring and honing, measuring tools, and Ronnie hand assembles each engine that leaves the shop. They also do all of their own balancing in-house, and have plenty of experience working with aluminum blocks like the Dart that we were using for this engine.

Ronnie got the Dart aluminum block and was impressed with its finish and quality. After setting the sleeves according to Dart’s instructions, he checked all of the block’s dimensions and found them to be perfect. The line hone was on the money, the lifter bores were properly sized – all that he needed to do was finish hone the sleeves to 4.125” with the proper stones for our steel rings.

Designing the Perfect Beastly Cam

While Ronnie was working on machining the block, I got to my computer and started designing the camshaft. This is a crucial decision and should not be left to an amateur. Typically, if you are using a blower or turbocharger, the camshaft design can be a little forgiving. The boost tends to make up any slight errors you may have made in design. However, since our goal is to make a lot of power naturally aspirated, the camshaft has to be perfect in every way.

Many factors came into play in choosing the camshaft. We were originally thinking hydraulic roller, but after looking at the complete engine, a mechanical roller would be the better choice without too many down sides. The solid lifter would allow us to rev the engine up to 7500 RPM’s and make more torque and horsepower throughout the usable RPM range.

This is what a big Comp Cams mechanical roller camshaft looks like. The lobes are aggressive and rounded for maximum “area under the curve.” The roller lifters allow the lobes to open the valves and reach higher lifts faster, moving more air in and out of the engine. A nice feature on the Comp Cams billet cores is the pre-drilled dual dowel holes. These are really necessary when you are running extreme spring pressure and don’t want the timing set to try to break the weaker single dowel pin. The best part? This cam was custom made right in the Comp Cams factory in just a few days.

Cylinder pressure plays a big role in deciding the cam specs, so with 13.5:1 compression, I could choose some pretty good sized lobes to reach our RPM goal, without losing too much pressure in the bores. Also, the heads we would be using, (Trickflow high ports that will be covered in part two), would flow air up to .700” lift, so I wanted to make sure that we had a good amount of lift to use all of the available airflow.

Comp Cams has an extensive list of lobe designs to choose from and an excellent history of providing custom cams in a timely fashion. After studying their lobe list, I settled on the designs we would need for this engine. The intake lobe would come out with 272 degrees of duration at .050” lift with a .435” lobe lift. The exhaust lobe would be slightly larger, at 279 degrees at .050” with a lobe lift number of .420”. That would give us a net lift with a 1.6 rocker ratio of .696” intake and .672” on the exhaust. The lobe separation would be put right at 112, to give us a little broader RPM range and flat torque curve. The cam would be ground on a billet blank right at Comp on standard sized journals, as the Dart block was set up to use regular sized cam bearings. This cam would work well with our intended stick shift setup and give us peak power at the desired 7500 RPM range.

The roller thrust plate from Comp Cams is what we use for all higher RPM roller cammed engines. The needle bearing rollers reduce friction, and it is a more durable upgrade from the cast piece that Ford uses.

Bearing the Load

With the cam in hand, Ronnie Wilson was able to dry assemble the engine and check all of the clearances. I provided him with our preferred bearings of choice, which were made by King. King manufactures high performance bearings made from Alecular, which I have found to be a superior choice over familiar tri-metal bearings. The Alecular material is embeddable, holds up to higher heat, and they are precision matched for clearance.

Ronnie snapped the King bearings into the block and then carefully dropped in the crank. He then assembled the pistons and rods to slip them into the block. It turns out that the rod and main bearing clearances were perfect on the Lunati crank with standard bearings, even though King offers a variety of extra clearance and tighter bearings on the shelf.

Ronnie has installed all of the rings. After assembling all eight connecting rods onto the JE pistons, Ronnie sets them up on his bench and gets them ready to go into the short block. Here, he has already snapped the King High Performance bearings into place in the rod and cap, and indexed the dome on the pistons to align correctly with the chamfer on the rods. (The chamfered side goes toward the radius of the crank journal.)

Highest Level of Clearance

With the pistons and rods loosely in the bores, Ronnie went ahead and checked for interference with the block, piston to crank, and oil pump assembly. Some minor grinding was required to clearance the block and the oil pump, then Ronnie could move on to checking the valve reliefs and dome fitment.

Even though we aren’t covering the top end in this story, the heads were required for finishing up the short block. Ronnie slipped the heads into place with the timing set and cam in the block. Before getting too far, Ronnie noticed that the heads were hitting on the domes a little, so he marked the heads and the domes in order to modify them prior to balancing.

Before Ronnie was ready to assemble, all clearances and specs were triple-checked. Ronnie laid the main bearings in the bare block and rested the crank into place. It is a good idea to “dry assemble” an engine before you do any final balancing or assembly. A whole list of necessary modifications may come up: Switching bearings for less or more clearance, polishing the crankshaft, machining the counterweights or pistons for clearance, dome modifications, oil pump clearance, block clearance, etc.. By doing a dry assemble, you make the changes before you balance the rotating assembly. Fortunately for Ronnie, this engine only needed minor clearancing.

Ronnie then mocked up the lifter, pushrod, and rocker assembly to check piston to valve clearance. JE and I had done a good job with the valve reliefs, because Ronnie noted that we had “miles” of clearance. This is a good thing, in case we ever want to up the rocker ratio or go to a larger camshaft. If the valves had not had enough clearance, Ronnie would have had to flycut the pistons for minimum clearance – that’s why you do the dry mock up before assembly and balancing. However, in this case, Ronnie could just move on with minimal clearancing on the pistons.

After checking all of the clearances and modifying everything, the rotating assembly was chucked up into Specialties Machining’s balancing machine. Ronnie was happy to report that the crank internally balanced beautifully, with no major work required.

The Right to Assemble

With the block honed and clearanced, the oil pump machined, and the domes of the pistons massaged, Ronnie could now start assembling the engine. The rings were oversized by about .002” and Ronnie went ahead and filed them to the proper end gaps for our naturally aspirated engine. With the crank back in place and torqued, he went ahead and laid the engine on its side (which he prefers) to start dropping in the pistons and rods.

The rings are squeezed by a ring compressor for installation into the bores, then the rod caps are torqued to spec around the crank journals. Note that the Lunati rods use a stronger 7/16” diameter ARP2000 material cap screw design, rather than the OEM style bolt and nut assembly. Following the manufacturer’s torquing instructions with a high quality torque wrench and proper lubricant is mandatory for this step.

After tightening all of the cap screws on our Lunati rods, Ronnie slid the camshaft in and retained it in the Dart aluminum block with a Comp Cams roller thrust plate. The timing chain was then slipped on so Ronnie could degree the camshaft into place. The cam was pretty close right out of the box, so Ronnie was able to quickly dial it into proper phasing. In order to do this, he used a deck bridge and dial indicators to note the opening and closing events on the cam lobes. It is always critical for your engine builder to have the right tools when building a high performance street or racing engine.

At this stage, the 427 is starting to look nasty! The JE domes are filling the holes in the block and the camshaft and crankshaft are in time with each other. There are only a few more items left to bolt on before the short block is complete. Then it’s on to the upper end air flow items in part two!

Now that the cam was degreed, Ronnie bolted on our brand new timing cover with the timing cover gaskets and seal already pressed in. The TCI balancer could now be installed onto the snout of the crankshaft. We chose the TCI Rattler to get the ultimate in dampening quality for this project, and it was designed for our internally balanced rotating assembly. TCI also makes a precision billet timing pointer that we bolted onto the front cover so we could time the engine accurately.

Next, we bolted the Melling Select High Volume Oil Pump onto the main cap. The Melling Select pump is very popular here at Pro Power for wet sump applications. It features a geroter set assembled to an extended drive shaft, allowing for additional support in the cover for high RPM engines. The housing and cover are fully CNC machined here in the USA and the pump is phosphate coated for corrosion resistance. The best part about the Melling Select pump is the adjustable pressure relief valve that allows the engine builder to adjust the pressure to where it needs to be.

A Melling Select high performance oil pump will keep the lubrication flowing around the 427. This is the best choice for a wet sump application because the pump has all the improvements for high rpm and severe environments. The pump also includes an adjustable bypass so you can set the pressure where you need it. ARP bolts hold it firmly to the block and to make sure we don’t twist the shaft we dropped in a heavy duty ARP unit.

We used ARP fasteners throughout the short block to bolt everything together. ARP makes bolts for the oil pump, camshaft, balancer, and timing cover. Additionally, we used their heavy duty oil pump drive shaft on the Melling pump to ensure that no twisting would occur under high loads and RPM.

Pro Power’s shelves are stocked with the best gaskets, so sealing everything together was easy. We have a special Viton one-piece rear seal that was installed in the back of the engine, and a Felpro timing cover gasket set was used on the front.

Keeping the crankshaft vibration down is a big job, but not for the TCI Rattler. It was designed for high RPM and racing duty like our 427 will see, and will be perfectly timed with TCI’s billet timing pointer made just for Fords. The TCI billet pointer came with all of the correct spacers and bolts to mount up to our aluminum timing cover. It looks nice, too!

That’s it! The short block was now complete and we were ready to start getting the top end and valvetrain installed to complete the engine. Look for part two of this story to cover the Trickflow heads, Comp Cams valvetrain, as well as the intake that will all supply the air to feed the 427 cubic inches. When we get it all together and back to the Power TV shop, the engine will be completely tuned on the chassis dyno to see how we did. We’ll write that up in part three of Project 666’s engine build up.

It is finally complete! Since we had all of the right parts, the short block was really fairly easy to put together. Because we had not yet decided on an oil pan, we left it for when the engine gets installed into project 666. Look for part two of the 427 build to see the TrickFlow heads and valvetrain parts finish out the long block.

For our short block parts list, with part numbers please refer to the list below:

  • Dart Aluminum Block – 31345235
  • Lunati Crankshaft – IOC11EN
  • Lunati Connecting Rods – 6125FML
  • JE Custom Pistons – CUSTOM
  • JE Piston Pins – 927-2750-15-52S
  • JE Spirolox – 927-042-CS
  • JE Rings – JG3308-4125-2
  • King Rod Bearings – CR848HP – STD
  • King Main Bearings – MB5169HP – STD
  • Comp Cams Custom Camshaft – FW4137/4049 SR112
  • Comp Cams Timing Set – 7138
  • Comp Cams Thrust Plate – 3120TB
  • TCI Balancer – 870010
  • TCI Timing Pointer – 871007
  • Pro Power Timing Cover – TC351E
  • Felpro Timing Cover Gaskets – TCS45449
  • Pro Power Rear Seal – RMS-351WL
  • ARP Oil Pump Shaft – 154-7901
  • ARP Camshaft Bolt – 255-1001
  • ARP Oil Pump Bolts – 150-6902
  • Melling Oil Pump – 10833


Phone: 800.826.3045

Comp Cams
Phone: 800.999.0853

Dart Machinery
Phone: 248.362.1188

JE Pistons
Phone: 714.898.9764

King Bearings
Phone: 973.857.0705

Phone: 662.892.1500

ProPower Performance Parts
Phone: 954.491.6988

Specialties Machining
Phone: 954.942.5202

TCI Automotive
Phone: 662.224.8972


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: