Posted by Anderson Ford Motorsports on 17th Nov 2017
What’s so special about the 5.0? How did this engine change through the years? What is its relation to other Ford engines like the 302 and 351W? Why is this nearly 60-year-old design still a popular? Let’s take a look back on this motor’s history from its introduction, its use in the Mustang and its development into one of the most flexible engines on the market.
The Origins of the Small Block
The Ford Small Block debuted in the 1962 Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor with a displacement of 221 cubic inches (3.6 liters,) followed quickly by larger versions including a 260 c.i. (4.3 l) V8 in the first Mustang and a 302 c.i. (4.9 l) engine in 1968 that let the pony car meet Le Mans’ new displacement rules. The 302's four inch bore, three inch stroke and 8.2 inch deck height were kept through the small block’s production run.
Windsor vs. Cleveland
At one point, Ford’s small block and 335 engines were built at the same time using the same displacement, 351 c.i. (5.75 l,) leading owners to nickname them based on where they were built: “Windsor” or “W” for the small block and “Cleveland” or “C” for the 335. These names stuck, with most tuners referring to these engines by these plant names regardless of where they were assembled.
Initially, the Cleveland’s better head flow, larger bearing journals and higher displacement engines made it the enthusiasts’ favorite. That changed when Ford dropped the Cleveland in 1982, using the 351W in its place. This led to a shift in focus toward the Windsor, leading to the development of performance parts that not only made the Windsor superior to the Cleveland, it offers a range of performance options rivaled only by the Chevy small block.
When shifting to metric measurements, Ford started calling the 302 the “5.0” to avoid confusion with the 300 c.i. straight 6. The Fox body debuted with this “new” engine in 1979, but it was quickly replaced by a 4.2 liter which was intended as a stop gap until a new V6 was released.
The 5.0 as we know it was first used in 1983. This “high output” (H.O.) engine used a different firing order and small revisions throughout the engine’s design. In 1986, the engine got sequential fuel injection, bringing output up to 200 hp and 285 lb-ft. of torque, 60 hp and 35 lb-ft. more than the ‘79. In 1987, a new cylinder head and bigger throttle body brought quarter mile times into the 13s. Mass Air Flow EFI was added to ‘88 California cars and the rest of the V8s in ‘89, allowing the system to adapt to engine modifications, opening the door to greater performance. Hypereutectic pistons replaced forged pistons in ‘93, and the intake was revised for the debut of the SN95 in ‘94.
The SVT Cobra, built from ‘93 to ‘95 got GT-40 heads, a 65mm throttle body, smaller accessory pulleys and a new Cobra intake, delivering 235-240 hp. These parts are still sought after, despite falling behind the performance of modern aftermarket parts.
While the Mustang switched to the 4.6l “Mod” motor in 1996, the 5.0 continued in the Explorer until 2001. The Explorer’s engine uses a distributorless ignition and torque-focused GT-40P heads.
The Small Block Today: 5.0, 351W and the Boss
The 5.0 is a great base for a performance build, but as development has gotten more and more power out of this engine, we’re seeing the limit of what the stock block can handle. Failures are common when power reaches the 450-500 hp range. That’s still enough to make a lightweight Fox body fast, but for most of us, there isn’t such a thing as too much power. This has led builders to two alternatives: the 351W and Ford Racing’s Boss block.
The 351W was a staple of the truck market through the mid-90s, and, aside from a taller deck height, and larger head studs, is largely compatible with the 5.0, making it a go-to junkyard motor for starting a build. Since weight was less of a concern, Ford built these engines with a stronger block than the 302.
In 2010, Ford Racing restarted small block production with the Boss, a new design that uses Cleveland-sized bearing journals, stronger materials and a range of deck heights. Today, this block is offered as a direct replacement for the stock 5.0 and as part of their line of small block crate engines ranging from 302 to 460 cubic inches.
Get Your Small Block Build Started Off Right
Whether you want a little more performance from your stock Mustang or you want an engine ready for drag racing, you can get everything you need from Anderson Ford Motorsport. We’ve helped people improve the performance of their Mustangs for over 30 years, finding Ford Mustang performance parts that work and even making our own products including camshafts and intakes.
Want an old school small block in an SN95 Mustang? Ford offered the 5.0 in this body style for two years, which makes fitting a 302 or a 351 Windsor fairly easy regardless of model year. Fitting a Mod V8 or V6-equipped Mustang with one of these engines is mostly a matter of getting the right parts for the [...]
Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive Mustang project car or a full race machine, your build will probably start with one question: Should you get a Fox body or an SN95? Both cars share similar underpinnings, so it may be tempting to choose based on styling. However, there’s a lot more that separates these generations than just looks. Fox Body Ford [...]
The Fox and SN95 Mustangs are a great platform for making big power, but what about handling? The components used in the MacPherson strut suspension on the front of the car aren’t up to modern standards, but the basic design lends itself to modification, allowing for massive improvements in handling with a few performance parts.Camber Caster PlatesThe Fox body [...]
The Fox body and the SN95 that followed it are great platforms for building a fast car, but their stock suspensions leave a lot to be desired. Fortunately, thanks to years of experimentation and development by parts manufacturers and racers, it’s easy to set up your Mustang to handle on the track and put down power at the drag [...]
Bolt-on parts like bigger throttle bodies and higher flowing exhaust components can increase power, but at some point, they’re held back by the limits of your 5.0’s valvetrain. With the right upgrades, you can get more air and fuel into the engine and push exhaust gases out faster, reaping huge improvements in power. How the Mustang 5.0’s Valvetrain Works The valvetrain [...]
On the street, at the track and especially at the drag strip, shifting accuracy and speed can make a huge difference when you’re trying to get the most out of your Mustang’s engine. Switching to a short throw shifter can help by reducing the distance needed to change gears while increasing feel. While most transmission work can be daunting, [...]
Forced induction can get some serious power out of your Mustang’s engine, but there are two ways to get more air into the combustion chambers: supercharging and turbocharging. What should you consider when choosing these power adders for your build?How Forced Induction WorksNaturally aspirated engines use the pressure difference between the inside of the cylinder and the outside to draw [...]
For an internal combustion engine to work, it needs fuel, air and spark. Fuel and air get the most attention with cams, injectors, pumps and forced induction, but if your Mustang’s ignition system can’t keep up, you can’t get the most out of your engine. How do the components of this system work, and how can modifying them help [...]
It's often the last 10% of a build that's the hardest: once you've got everything together, you need to be able to test and tune your Mustang to get the best performance. The right gauges can help by letting you monitor engine parameters that are outside the scope of the stock gauges and can even help you keep your eyes [...]
All prices are in USD