You’ve seen American Iron races before. They’re huge fun to witness. The standing starts. The thunder of ground-pounding American V8s. The classic Detroit rivalry.
However, there is one American Iron car that emits a decidedly different exhaust note, one of a higher pitch — more of a wail, actually —and punctuated by the “pssssshhhhh” of a blow-off valve in between gear changes.
|Weight:||2,900 lbs. w/o driver|
|Engine/Horsepower:||3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, 318 hp/ 322 torque|
|Transmission:||MT-82 from a 2011 V6 Mustang|
|Suspension: Front:||Maximum Motorsports setup with Koni single-adjustables|
|Suspension: Rear:||Maximum Motorsports setup with Koni single-adjustables|
|Tires: Front:||Toyo Proxes RR 275-40-17|
|Tires: Rear:||Toyo Proxes RR 275-40-17|
|Brakes: Rear:||OEM Cobra|
|Data system:||AiM Solo DL|
|Sponsors:||RHR Performance (formerly AJ Hartman Racing), Maximum Motorsports, Wicked Motorsports|
It’s an anomaly in American Iron, a Mustang powered by a twin-turbocharged V6, but it’s every bit as American as its counterparts in this class. NASA Northeast racer A.J. Hartman took the 4.6-liter SOHC V8 out of his 1999 Mustang GT and replaced it with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 from a Ford F-150 pickup.
When he performed the swap back in 2016, he achieved a number of firsts with this car. Naturally, it’s the first American Iron car with the EcoBoost engine. In fact, it was one of the first times the EcoBoost engine was swapped into another car and, aside from Ford’s factory racing efforts, the first privateer car to be road-raced.
Hartman also was one of, if not the, first guys to perform the swap using the new control pack from Ford Performance, which greatly simplified the process.
“You can get a control pack where you basically run a handful of wires and it runs the engine and you’re good to go. So that made it really simple,” Hartman said. “It comes with a throttle, the computer, a wiring harness that runs up to any gauges you want to add, wires for the fuel pump and a handful of other things, some auxiliary wires in case you wanted to run a fan or whatever. You do need the engine-side harness, but the Ford control pack harness plugs right into the engine harness, and that’s it. I probably spent a few hours running wires to start the car, and that’s it.
“I know one person who tried doing it by rewiring an entire F-150 (harness) to get the EcoBoost to work, and he was just running into issues and problems,” he continued.
Hartman knew Ford Performance was developing the control packs because he had spoken to a Ford rep at the Performance Racing Industry show in 2014 and 2015. In fact, as a result of that meeting, Ford sent it to Hartman at no charge, which saved him around $2,000. He had a friend who owned a salvage yard who found him an EcoBoost engine with all its accessories like a starter and alternator for $4,000.
“I said, ‘Hey, if you get an F-150 between the years 2013 and 2015, let me know if it has a good engine it.’ So, he called me up and said he got one,” Hartman said. “The engine only had 12,000 miles. I said, ‘Sweet, I’ll take it.’ The engine is literally how it comes out of an F-150 from the throttle body to the oil pan, exactly how it comes out, so that makes it kind of easy, if I, knock on wood, if I need another one. How many F-150s did they make in that time frame? So, finding another engine shouldn’t be an issue.”
Hartman owns a racecar fabrication business, so he custom made engine mounts and a crossmember for the six-speed transmission, which came out of a 2011 Mustang with the naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6.
One challenge was locating the engine properly. He got it to work in his Mustang by making custom exhaust bits, but the factory manifolds and a lack of availability of custom headers to facilitate moving the driver-side turbo might present steering-shaft clearance issues in other applications.
Other challenges included the amount of power the engine made on the factory Ford Performance control pack tune. At 360 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque, the car exceeded the power-to-weight ratio allowed by American Iron rules, so he had it detuned at Wicked Motorsports with remote input from HP Tuners, another first.
Then, of course, there were suspension bits to be sorted out because of the difference in the weights of the engines. But because he had installed so many aerodynamic aids from his company RHR Performance, he needed stiffer springs due to all the downforce.
He also had to accommodate all the sensors that come with the Ford Performance control pack. Ford sends a full complement of sensors that all need to be placed and wired properly for the EcoBoost engine to run. However, with all the post-radiator ducting and intercooler plumbing Hartman wanted to run, one of the trickier aspects of the motor swap was fabricating the bungs that all those sensors screw into.
“I ended up getting the stock tubing and making a cast of that sensor bung, which was then my mold to then cast my own sensor bungs to bond into my own carbon fiber tubes,” he said. “Those blue pieces are my own cast sensor bungs that you can bond to any kind of tubing you want. I spent hours making those things. That was probably the trickiest bit, because if it doesn’t meter correctly, the whole thing won’t run correctly. That was my biggest hurdle.”
Once he got the car dialed in, Hartman started racing — and breaking track records. Last year, he went to six tracks and set six lap records, one of which he broke the following day. With this engine swap, maybe Hartman has proven you don’t need a ground-pounding V8 to compete in American Iron.
“With the control pack and a little fab skill,” he said, “it’s like you can swap one into just about anything you want as long as the room is there.”