What makes a vehicle sexy? We can associate automotive sexiness with the outward appearance; sensuous curves leading us on, from pert, composite high beams, along a slender belt line, to a taut and toned rear end. It’s easy to be superficial, to allow ourselves to get caught up in the carnality of exterior sheetmetal. There’s more to it than that, though.
Intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac. What you see before you is the thinking gearhead’s definition of sexy. On the surface, it only hints at the sexiness beneath its pedestrian panels. Today, Jake Sholz tells us a little bit about his Cobra-powered Crown Vic. It might look like a middle aged housewife in sweatpants and running shoes, but this lady knows what she wants, and her 500+ horsepower will leave you a hot mess in nothing flat.
INTRODUCTIONS & BACKSTORY
Jacob Sholz lives in New Jersey and works as a mechanical engineer at a small consulting firm specializing in thermal process engineering and air pollution control. He bought the car with a 2003 Mercury Marauder motor (aluminum 4.6L V8) already swapped in and most of the turbo system installed. At just 12psi, it put 517hp to the rear wheels.
The previous owner was a law enforcement officer who built it up with the help of a local shop. When you spend your days (and/or nights) behind the wheel, you get pretty good at knowing what you like. This LEO PO was no exception. He told Jake he liked the ride of the Crown Vic, but missed the power of the old Caprices. This car was his attempt at bringing the two together; peanut butter and chocolate, you might say. Like most of us, too many projects combined with too little time led to burnout, and the car went up for sale.
“That being said it was not the best job. Soon after I got it, I started working on fixing a few electrical issues, some poor wiring, and mismatched piping/connections/vacuum lines, and a few assorted leaks and questionable parts. After several months, the engine went boom. It suffered a catastrophic failure when a rod broke (and put a hole in both sides of the block). I then spent the next year acquiring parts and installing an ’03 Cobra motor topped with the Marauder intake piped to twin, rear-mounted turbos.”
DILIGENCE. PRESSING ON REGARDLESS.
Talk about a heart-breaker. Here’s Jake, buying a nearly complete project Panther off a cop, only to have it grenade on him shortly after ironing out the wrinkles. Being less than versed on Panthers and modular Fords, I asked to tell me why it took a whole year to get the car back together; are parts to find or fund (or both?)
“After the motor went, (which I attribute to a combination of too much power on stock, powdered metal rods and, potentially, a failing turbo that may have allowed some oil into the air intake piping), I had to source a place to store and work on the car. Working in a gravel driveway in the winter wasn’t an option, so I managed to find a room in an old cold storage warehouse where I could keep the car and work on it for a reasonable price. Then I went about getting parts.”
He went on, “I found an ’03 Cobra short block with low miles, and took a road trip to Ohio to retrieve that. Had my heads milled and the valves/guides checked by a local shop, ordered gaskets and miscellaneous parts, then swapped the motors. That all took 6-8 months working full-time and working on my car over the weekends.” It didn’t help that a couple months prior, Jake landed a new job and an hour plus away from his newly acquired work space. And since he could only “play cars” on weekends, he’d work for a month or two until he needed a part, order it, and wait for it to arrive before he’d move on, until he discovered something else was needed.
A DOUBLE DOSE OF PIMPING
While the motor was out, Jake did a few upgrades beyond the Cobra short block (with ARP hardware and new bearings). “I replaced the head bolts with ARP studs, installed MLS head gaskets, a 180°F thermostat, all new seals, some new timing components, fixed some fuel lines, had my injectors cleaned and flow-matched, and installed custom-built 9.5″ 3000rpm stall converter. I also replaced/rebuilt both turbos.”
Even living an hour away, this didn’t seem like the sort of thing that would take a full year. Jake hadn’t really presented any of the usual, damning mechanical gremlins which typify extended downtime. Yet. “I got everything assembled, topped off all the fluids, started the car, and had low oil pressure at idle when warm. Low enough after a short break in (<10mi/16km and 30 minutes total run time) I decided to pull the motor, as I wanted to protect my new investment (and couldn’t afford to break it).”
“Once the motor was out (again), I replaced the oil pump with a Melling high flow, billet, geared unit, along with a self-modified pickup tube. I also checked the main and rod bearings to make sure they were okay, and measured the bearing clearances. Turned out the shop that I purchased the short block from had replaced the bearings, but made the clearances slightly over spec. I re-assembled everything, put the motor back in, and switched to a slightly heavier synthetic oil. All this helped, and since I knew where the oil pressure was going, I wasn’t as worried to see 5psi at warm idle (which is higher than it had been before), considering the pressure built fine with rpm.”
“Sounds pretty expensive,” I said. “As to expense, as I have learned, Ford modular V8s are expensive. Most every aspect is expensive, especially making power. That is when compared to a carburetted motor or a Chevy LS motor. (I am now pretty well convinced that the Chevy LS platform is the cheapest way to make reliable power, but then again it’s a Chevy… not a Ford.)” I like this guy.
WHY BUY A MODIFIED CROWN VIC, THOUGH?
“I bought the car a few months after I graduated college and got a job. I had been saving a little money to find something fun to drive and work on, on occasion. Several of my friends had fun cars, which didn’t help. My first car was a Lincoln Mark VIII – by choice. I really like comfortable cars with space, and fun/quick cars. In high school, I couldn’t get past the fact I could get a 2 door with more horsepower than a Mustang, a better ride, and more amenities for half the cost. Granted, it wasn’t as ‘fast,’, but it moved well enough to keep me happy, and I still enjoy driving the car.”
“I was familiar with the Ford mod motors from owning a Mark VIII, and sleepers have always been something that appealed to me. I found the Crown Vic at a good price, and it fit the bill as comfortable, with a nice ride, and plenty of space for my 6’1″ 210lb self. That and it was rather quick. Plus a Crown Vic is something no one would ever expect to be as fast as it is (can you say sleeper?). Oh yeah, and hearing a blow off valve on a Crown Vic and seeing all the confused onlookers brings a sinister grin to my face every time.”
UPS & DOWNS
Jakes Mark VIII comments reminded me of the house I pass a couple times a week on my way home from work which always has three or four Mark VIIIs parked in the driveway. They’re all white. One is always covered. I keep meaning to stop and knock on his door. Anyway, we know why Jake bought the Panther, why he went for Cobra power, and how he’s overcome some serious obstacles. The difference between success and failure is often tenacity. I asked what matters most to him about his experience thus far with the old Panther.
“The biggest thing for me with this car was swapping the motor. I’ll admit I’m pretty mechanically inclined, but the most difficult thing I had done to a car up to that point was swapping out front end parts (control arms, struts, shocks, tie rod ends, etc.), and basic stuff like plugs and oil changes. Swapping the motor, assembling the parts of my new motor, and getting it all back in and working was (and still is) a big accomplishment for me. I even had a few friends tell me I was getting in over my head (including my father), but once they saw that I was determined, they ended up jumping in to give me a hand on several occasions.”
“Getting the car back up and running would not have happened anywhere near as fast – or as well – without a good bit of help and encouragement from several friends (and of course a good supply of beer to help them stick around). Swapping the motor was a BIG project for me, and took me months, but I did a lot of homework and reading and discussing, and in the end I got it done. I get a decent sense of accomplishment from that.”
As well you should, mate. As well you should.
As is my style, I asked Jake what’s next for he and his mean machine. “Since getting the motor back in and everything up and running, I’ve only put 200 or so miles on the car. I keep fixing little things here and there trying to get it ready for a dyno tune. That’s the next big goal; to get the quirks ironed out and get the car tuned by spring. The old motor was 10.1:1 compression. The new motor is 8.55:1, plus I have a slightly better cooling system, lower thermostat, and that awesome 3k stall converter and slightly different turbos, so the car really needs a good tune before I feel comfortable getting into it all the way. So next milestone goals are: tune car by spring, and get to the track over spring/summer to see what it can do.”
Once the Vic is tuned, Jake just plans to drive and enjoy it. So long as the weather is nice and the roads aren’t a mess, he’s hoping this Panther spends more time prowling the streets than not. As he puts it, “I see no sense in having this car – especially since I put so much time and effort into it – and not enjoying it as much as I can.”
I’ve got a calendar reminder set for early April (figure Spring should reach Jersey by then), when I’ll be checking back in with Jake. Will he get all the wrinkles ironed out? Will he make more horsepower than before? You know his car will only get sexier as time goes by. You’ll have to subscribe if you don’t want to risk missing the answers to those questions! Until next time, keep going fast with class and press on regardless.