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Want to know what the all-time favourite engines for dropping into classic Fords are? Here are your top 10 engine swaps.

10. SR20DET

top 10 engine swaps

Pros: Cheaper than a Cosworth YB

Cons: Not as easy to fit

In a lot of ways, the SR20DET is Nissan’s version of the mighty Cosworth YB. A turbocharged twin-cam, 16-valve 2-litre with an iron block and alloy head (though with chain-driven rather than belt-driven cams), it’s strong and easy to tune, though features slightly less exotic bottom end components. It’s got a lot going for it — engines are cheaper to source than the YB and routes to more power are well-known and proven. On the downside, you’ll need to use a Nissan gearbox and mounting one either involves hanging it off the chassis rails or making up your own set of mounts.

Capacity: 1998cc

Found in: Nissan 180SX, 200SX, Pulsar GTI-R, Silvia

9. C20XE

top 10 engine swaps

Pros: Strong, easy to tune

Cons: That GM thing…

Yep, it’s not Ford but it is excellent — but then, what do you expect from a Cosworth KBA? The earlier Coscast engine is ideal — it comes with forged pistons, while tuning potential is almost instant. Swap the induction, cams and exhaust and 200 bhp isn’t that far away. Or convert to SBD Motorsport’s complete taper throttle body system and that power is near bolt-on. Turning to rear drive is pretty easy too, with either Manta components (sump and five-speed ‘box), or a Yukspeed sump and one of SBD’s two types of bellhousing for a Type-9 conversion. Simple.

Capacity:  1998cc

Found in:  Vauxhall Mk2 Astra GTE (Opel Kadett E GSi/GTE), Mk3 Cavalier GSi/SRi, Calibra 16v and Mk3 Astra GSi

8. Lotus twin-cam

top 10 engine swaps

Pros: Looks the part

Cons: Expensive

Ford’s first foray into a production twincam engine, the Lotus-designed eight valver was based on the Cortina’s 1500 Pre-Crossflow bottom end, but with a cast alloy head. Blocks were bored to 82.5 mm from the standard 80.96 mm, and like the  BDA there have been many derivatives so you need to know your stuff. For instance, the Mk2 versions having a thicker casting to more reliably carry the increased capacity that allowed 1558cc. These later engines also had square mains caps — the same as 711M-block Crossflow’s, proper oil seals as opposed to the Mk1’s fiddly rope-type, and stronger 125E conrods.

Capacity: 1558cc

Found in: Lotus Cortina, Escort Twin Cam, Lotus Elan and Europa

7. 1600 Crossflow

top 10 engine swaps

Pros: Easy to tune

Cons: Only a 1600

The Crossflow was introduced in the Series 2, Mk2 Cortina in late 1967, then revised in 1970 into the infamous 711M, sporting a flat-face head, larger followers, thicker block amongst other traits. Tuning potential is massive — a typical road-spec of around 130 bhp using a driveable 234-type cam; meaning plenty of mid-range torque compared to the old Cosworth A-series cams. The road topper is the 244, giving about 140 bhp with twin 40s. It’s not tricky swap material, but the opposite-side carb location can be a head-scratcher. Even then, it’s only master cylinder and battery clearance causing the worry. Crossflows forever!

Capacity: 1599cc

Found in: Most late ’60s to late ’70s European Fords

6. Small-block Ford V8

Pros: Massive range of tuning parts

Cons: Weight, fuel-consumption

Big? Well, it’s not that large. In fact, it’s smaller than a Rover and only a tad longer than a V6. And heavy — yes, in standard form, but replace most of the components with aftermarket alloy and it drops like a stone. And to be honest you can’t get much more classic Ford than a small block — Mustang, Cobra and Le Mans friendly, they’ll give you stupid power from standard, mental with mods and torque to rip out your lungs…

Its roots go back to the 1962 Fairlane, which introduced the Windsor V8, named after the engine plant in Windsor, Ontario. The famous ones are the 289 and the 302, latterly called the 5.0. And there’s more available to tune them than the chip shop’s got chips.

To fit one into your classic (British) Ford you’ll need fairly extensive fabrication skills — apart from the Capri where, if you take care to choose the right parts, they virtually fall in.

Capacity: 221 cu.in, 260 cu,in, 289 cu.in, 302 cu.in, 351 cu.in

Found in: Most US Fords from ’60s onwards

5. Cosworth 24-valve V6

Pros: Good looks, good sound

Cons: Tricky to tune

The 24-valve was of course ‘made’ by Cosworth; developing lovely alloy twin-cam heads in much the same way as they did for the fabulous GAA Essex-based engine.

However, in this case it is for the road – although you’ll only find one in a late Granada. And with an automatic to boot! But then they put out lots of power from standard, are easily tuneable and virtually bolt in where a 2.9 did. They’re not too pricey either.

It all seems too good to be true, and the only tricky bit’s finding a gearbox with decent ratios to stand up to the grunt — a hybrid MT75’s the only true answer

Capacity: 2935cc 

Found in: Mk3 Granada Scorpio, Scorpio

4. Duratec HE

Pros: Modern, light and clever design

Cons: Zetecs are cheaper to buy and fit

Ford’s Mazda-derived, all-aluminium engine introduced in the 2001 Mondeo is now the one to fit, albeit at a cost. You won’t pick one up as cheaply as a Zetec but they’re good for 200 bhp without taking the head off! Even then, it’s 220 bhp before you need to swap the rods, crank and pistons for something a touch less ‘production.’ Weigh it all up and that power level’s pretty cost effective too. The life of this engine is in no way over — the 2.3 is obtainable over here, but more common in the US, while a 2.5-litre’s become available there. Its swap potential’s a touch more tricky — you need a conversion bellhousing for a non-Mazda transmission and a strong gearbox. Plus there’s induction and a water rail to consider as well — not cheap, but oh so worth it!

Capacities: 1999cc, 2261cc, 2488cc

Found in: Mk3-on Mondeo, Mk2-on Focus

3. 2-litre Pinto

Pros: Easy to tune

Cons: Getting harder to find

Probably Ford’s first ‘World’ engine, the Pinto is named after the small US car that introduced it in 1970, then we got it too in the new Mk3 Cortina. The 2-litre’s the most desirable engine, but even then, it’s really only the Sierra injection 205 block that’s the current viable base for a performance plant. These mainly have unleaded heads, although the valve seats need properly checking – they can fall out! Tuning potential is huge — 130 bhp is easy with a cam and induction change, while 180 bhp isn’t that far away either. A big-valve head, twin 48s, high-lift cam and high compression should see this figure. Swapping is straightforward on rack-equipped cars — they all have a rear-bowl sump and most use bolt-in RS2000 components. Note though, the carb and exhaust are on the opposite sides to Crossflow-engined cars.

Capacity: 1993cc

Found in: Mk3-Mk5 Cortina, Capri, Sierra, Transit

2. Zetec E

Pros: Easy to find, and fit

Cons: Conversion costs

There are basically two series of Zetec — the Silver Top and the Black Top, while the cooking ST170 is based on the latter – it’s American though and quite a bit different.

The Silver Top is known as the Mondeo engine, while the Black Top is the Focus engine, and both produce big power with an induction change. You can get up to 150 bhp with the standard breathing components and around 170 with carbs/injection. 200 bhp is hard without headwork and larger-size followers, which are needed for longer duration cams. 

Zetecs will mate to any Ford-pattern gearbox, so they’re easy to turn round but you will need a water rail conversion, correct rotation water pump and ideally, a rack-and-pinion equipped car. Front bowl sumps are available, but not many choose this route

Capacity:  1796cc, 1988cc

Found in:  Focus, Mondeo

1. Cosworth YB

Pros: Power is almost limitless

Cons: Expensive to buy, rebuild and tune

Yes, they may well cost a fortune to buy in the first place, especially a good, legit one, but they take the minimum to wire up and virtually bolt in place of a Pinto. Plus keeping the turbo means an easy 200-plus bhp, and the tuning potential’s incredible — bhp figures are almost limitless. But they have a serious reputation for normal aspiration, too. Prior to the 1986 launch, the YB was a Cosworth venture to convert the Pinto into a BDA beater — alloy head, 16-valve, twin cam – the next-step to conquering the rally world. It didn’t quite work out that way but there are plenty of NA Cossies competing and powering road cars. The typical built figure is around 225 bhp but it’s at a cost — and the conversion isn’t as cheap as some of the more up-to-date options like the Duratec.

Capacity: 1998cc

Found in: Sierra/Sapphire/Escort RS Cosworth

This top 10 engine swaps guide first appeared in our Engine Swaps Special/December 2014 issue

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