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Home > LATEST STORIES > Godzilla Rising—Your next Blue Oval racer might be powered by a 7.3-liter engine—and the man who championed it is leading the charge

Godzilla Rising—Your next Blue Oval racer might be powered by a 7.3-liter engine—and the man who championed it is leading the charge

As you might expect, a Fox Mustang was one of the first vehicles that Brian Wolfe test-fit his race-spec Ford 7.3-liter engine in. He plans to race this combination in Ultra Street and other similar classes, like NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street, if the stock heads can support enough power.

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.

While the factory rates the stock 7.3-liter engine in the Super Duty at 430 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque, Wolfe’s initial testing found it makes about 500 horsepower at the flywheel (with a standard correction factor) when freed from the factory controls and exhaust while utilizing 93-octane pump fuel, an electric water pump, no air filter and good exhaust. With just a few mods, it should be a powerful, rugged engine option for the Ford crowd. “I think the most basic guy would be probably just an intake in an oil pan and fit in a Mustang,” he said. “I think with what I’ve done on the dyno you’re going to have 540 to 550 lb-ft of torque and 500 horsepower from 5,000 to 6,000 rpm. So that’s going to be pretty stout and you’re gonna have a super-reliable truck motor your car.”

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.

Working with Visner Engine Development on cylinder head porting and induction, Wolfe is developing several performance configurations for the 7.3-liter engine. This is the boosted engine configured with an appropriate Militia Racing Products camshaft and 12.5:1 compression courtesy of custom Wiseco pistons swinging on MGP aluminum connecting rods. He rounded it out with a VED billet intake and Team Z dyno headers to run in the combo on the engine dyno.

“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.

“I have a Dailey oil pan with their dry-sump system, I run the belt drive for the oil pump off the back of the damper. So it’s between the Innovators West damper and the front cover.  They have a standard damper off the shelf, without the pulley, and I believe they will be offering this as a standard item as well.” While Wolfe will run a dry-sump oiling system on his race engine, the depth of the stock oil pan is one hurdle to overcome in making this a mainstream swap engine. He hopes to come up with a shorter pan to facilitate wet-sump setups.

“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.

Callies is already grinding camshafts for this engine family, and Wolfe expects to offers mild hydraulic rollers for street machines that deliver 30 to 50 more horsepower than stock. For his all-out racing engine, he turned to Charlie Wescott at Militia Racing Products for a custom grind.

“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.

For the intense racing environment this engine will see, VED turned to Manton for rocker arms and Wolfe chose local Michigan company Trend for push rods to withstand the mega-lift in this application.

“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.

Thanks to a race port job from Visner Engine Development, these factory cylinder head castings yielded nearly 400 cfm at .900-inch lift. That rivals some of the flow numbers Wolfe saw from his prior aftermarket race castings.

“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.

Surely someone is devising swap headers for this engine, but Wolfe’s racing combo will bark out through custom zoomies designed and constructed by Dave Zimmerman at Team Z Motorsports.

“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.”

Given its efficacy in classes like NMCA Holley EFI Factory Super Cars, the Whipple Gen 5 3.0-liter supercharger should really give this Godzilla engine plenty of extra firepower. It also makes it easy for Wolfe to fit the combo in the rules of his desired classes. “The reason we are running the Whipple is that I’ve had a long relationship with them, and I think they make a great product…” he said. “…I think they can make the power with the Whipple. The other thing is Xtreme Street/ Ultra Street rules require you to use a cast-aluminum intake. You can’t run a sheetmetal intake.”

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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