It started out with good intentions, as project cars always do. One of us (no one remembers who) turned to the 2002 Ford Focus and allowed that there was nothing wrong with it that a V-8 engine couldn't solve.
Yes, even we feel the urge to build a project car once in a while. Suddenly, you feel the need to customize an otherwise respectable motorcar. Apparently, even the top executives at Ford Racing can't resist this compulsion, because they're the ones who actually started the whole Focus V-8 thing.
Shortly after the Focus was introduced in 2000, it became the promotional vehicle of the moment for the automotive aftermarket, kind of like the Paris Hilton of tuner cars. Ford Racing even decided that the Focus could become the perfect vehicle to promote its new catalog of V-8 crate engines, and its engineers tore a Focus to pieces with the idea of installing a V-8. And, just like kids everywhere with an excess of enthusiasm and an unfortunate access to hand tools, they made a mess.
So Ford Racing turned to Jerry Kugel at Kugel Komponents in La Habra, California, a longtime hot-rod guy who had developed (among other accomplishments) a Pontiac Firebird that became the first stock-bodied passenger car to exceed 300 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Kugel's intuitive feel for cut-and-try fabrication soon solved the problems of installing a V-8 in the Focus.
Imagine Kugel's surprise when Ford Racing asked him to build another Focus V-8. It was to be a different kind of exercise, a project car that a do-it-yourself mechanic could assemble like a garden shed from the Home Depot. It was actually a far more difficult and demanding engineering task than a one-off show car, and Kugel's effort was justifiably recognized as the best-engineered product at the 2001 SEMA show.
And that's where we came in. After a season of autocrossing a Focus ZX3 that we had procured from Ford (don't ask how), we sort of wondered what to do with it. We even had a brainstorm about creating a mid-engined monster with a turbocharged, 900-hp Ford-Cosworth V-8 from the Champ Car series. Right after the Ford Racing guys finished laughing, they suggested we have a Kugel-modified Focus V-8 built for us.
The Kugel Focus V-8 comes from a recipe that anyone can follow. First, take one Focus. Then open the hardware catalogs from Ford Racing (www.fordracing.com) and marvel that we're living in the golden age of performance parts, with extensive inventories of specialty pieces meant for racing drivers, hot-rodders, or simple troublemakers like us. We picked out the drivetrain pieces recommended by Kugel Komponents (www.kugelkomponents. com), including a 315-hp, OHV, 5.0-liter V-8, a Tremec T-5 manual transmission with a cable-actuated clutch, and a solid rear axle with an 8.8-inch ring gear.
Kugel's $6000 kit of conversion com-ponents does the rest, as long as you can find someone willing to put in 150 hours to do the work. A new front crossmember cradles the V-8 engine, the steering rack, and the control arms. The front suspension struts are unchanged, but the Kugel components switch the steering gear to a location ahead of the wheel center line and re-quire use of a power-assisted rack-and-pinion from a Mustang II. Four trailing links locate the Mustang rear axle, and Kugel also provides the dampers and springs. There are plenty of other parts, of course-from brackets for the new compact air-conditioning compressor to antiroll bars. All that remains is to order up a suitable aftermarket fuel tank and locate it in the trunk well, where the spare tire used to go.