By Steve Turner
Photography courtesy of Brian Wolfe
It is quite common for aftermarket companies to jump on a new engine platform to cement their status as the experts in that platform. Such development can yield dividends for years to come. It is unheard of, however, that someone who helped create a factory engine would shift gears to become its aftermarket champion. That is case with Ford’s new 7.3-liter pushrod gas engine. An engine with considerable displacement, it carries nickname “Godzilla,” and Brian Wolfe was on the inside making sure it was ready to breathe fire in the Super Duty pickup. In fact, he saw its potential while it was still in development.
“When I told the manager that was in charge of the systems engineering over our program, I teased him. I said, ‘Your performance review will be based on how many of these trucks are stolen to get the engine for other uses,’” Wolfe laughed.
We definitely get that energy, and it comes from a familiar place. If you have been in the game for a long time, you might remember that Wolfe was one of the pioneers of the original 5.0-liter Mustang movement. He competed in Pro 5.0 with his red, four-eye Fox while working as an engineer. Eventually, he would lead the Ford Racing (nee Ford Performance) division and spearhead the rebirth of the Mustang Cobra Jet before returning to mainstream Ford.
“So you may know when I retired from Ford at the end of ’17, I was the director of Global Engine Engineering, which means I was accountable for the design and development of all engines that Ford produced globally; so everything in the USA, Europe, India, China, South America,” Wolfe explained. “I had about 1,300 engineers, technicians, and scientists working in my organization. It was a great job; my dream come true. When I got there, we had a plan in place to replace the 6.8-liter engine because we needed to improve the fuel efficiency.”
While many people might have been surprised that Ford developed an all-new, big-cube V-8 with a push rod valvetrain, it wasn’t that far removed from its other truck engines. The Super Duty diesel engines have push rods, so it wasn’t of much of a stretch that the new gas engine would too.
“When we were going through getting the program approved, there were some questions around that, but the bottom line is because this is a truck engine and not real high-rpm, in today’s terms anyways, there wasn’t a clear performance, torque, fuel economy, disadvantage of using a push rod for a Two-Valve,” Wolfe said. “I always follow the data. I have strong opinions, but I always respond to what the data is telling you; because there was a guy I worked for, Jim Clarke, and he had a famous saying: ‘Without data, you’re just another opinion.’ I truly believe that.”
The data showed that a big, old-school gas engine would fit the bill for an affordable, durable pickup powerplant. It also turns out that many of the attributes that make it work in that environment will translate to hot rodders.
“We had to use analytical tools and get this done quick. Some of the things are really, really good for aftermarket. The cylinder head design—I’m really happy with the flow. I think the bore/stroke ratio is really good,” Wolfe said. “Of course, hydraulic rollers are good because as you know they’re an off-the-shelf item today, to improve fuel economy and performance. On the other hand, one of the things that made it really good for the truck customer, makes it a little hard for retrofit in passenger cars and that is the oil pan/oil pump system.”
Certainly those things can be overcome, and a challenge like that was just what he was looking for in a post-retirement quest. While the speed-minded engineer certainly could have gone after an existing engine platform, there was something alluring about this new powerplant.
“When I retired, you know, I’ve always loved engines. They were my first love. There were already so many really good people already building Coyotes, and I was very familiar with the push rod stuff…” he said. “…So I had a longing to work with stock parts again and that’s what we’re doing. I’m focusing on stock blocks, stock cylinder heads, and even stock cranks to start with. I do want to turn this into an Ultra Street motor if I can make enough power. I just don’t know if I can with the stock head castings. It’s unproven to me; I got a stock block, stock deck thickness, stock thickness on the cylinder heads, so we’ll have to see how that goes, but that is part of the fun of being one of the first guys doing it.”
It certainly might have been easier to follow the path that so many other Ford fans have by deploying a Coyote engine. Those engines have proven themselves in classes as different as NMRA Richmond Gear Factory Stock and NMCA VP Racing Lubricants Xtreme Pro Mod. While Wolfe is definitely a fan of that engine, the idea of pioneering a new option was irresistible.
“I firmly believe that the Coyote is probably the best engine Ford ever made. I would tend to say it’s the best engine produced by any domestic manufacturer because that engine makes near 100 horsepower per liter, and the only maintenance is an oil change every 10,000 miles,” Wolfe added. “Show me another naturally aspirated engine not made by Ford that does that. I’m a huge Coyote fan. The reason I state that is some of the stuff I’ve seen on the Internet says the Coyote is better. Yeah, you’re not ever going to see me dog a Coyote. I just think it’s great that Ford enthusiasts have two very different, current-production options to choose from, not to mention the historical small- and big-block Ford stuff.”
At the time of this writing, Wolfe juggled the development of several 7.3-liter configurations ranging from really mild mods to all-out racing engines. He hopes to create engine packages for a wide range of applications ranging from a nearly stock swap to bolt-ons to race engines.
“The first step would be a stock port with just a camshaft and maybe an intake swap”. Wolfe said. “I’m hoping I can make it clear the stock piston so I don’t have to swap pistons.”
While even the stock engine will offer around 500 horsepower at the flywheel, which should be plenty for many applications, the more aggressive combinations should yield much higher numbers, especially when a power adder joins the party.
“There are kind of, if you will, three variants, maybe even four. What we’re doing is kind of like what would work with the fully stock motor with minimum modifications that would be attractive. Then there’s a ported stock head, which would be something that we take a stock head, knock guides out, CNC-port the intake and the exhaust, hopefully pick up 10- to 15-percent flow, put it back together with stock valves, different springs, a bigger hydraulic-roller camshaft that’d be kind of Stage Two,” Wolfe explained. “Stage Three would be the heads like I’ve got on the race car, but without the shaft-mounted rockers and with a set of stainless valves in them. That would be a further step up, something that flows in the 370-380cfm range. And then these titanium valve, shaft-mounted-rocker, all-out race motors that would be pretty pricey.”
While developing these combos, he is building up an aggressive combination for his Fox Mustang race car. That engine receives boost from a Whipple Gen 5 twin-screw blower and barks out through custom zoomie headers designed and built by Dave Zimmerman at Team Z Motorsports. His goal is the run in NMCA Edebrock Xtreme Street and Ultra Street at other events.
It will certainly be interesting what the evolution of the Godzilla 7.3-liter engine brings in the future, but for now, know that the early development work is in the hands of a man who definitely knew the engine before it unleashed its full potential.
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