How Not to Build a V-8 Ford Focus

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In the end, you have a car assembled from lots of different parts, an automotive Frankenstein. Once JD Motorsports completed the assembly task for us, the Focus V-8 delivered the power and the performance we expected. A run on one of DynoJet's dynamometers indicated 250 hp at the rear wheels, about what you'd expect from a Mustang 5.0. This Focus V-8 weighed only 2919 pounds, and the weight distribution was virtually identical to that of a front-wheel-drive Focus. It turned the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 95 mph, and 60 mph came up in 6.1 seconds.

But, as in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein, the monster didn't exactly emerge from the laboratory in a white tie and tails, ready to go onstage and sing the refrain from Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz." It had some major issues.

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To start with, the too-small fill pipe to the fuel tank made the car burp gasoline on its rear fender once it drank a gallon or two, and re-fueling became a messy, torturous process. The newly built exhaust system would frequently clatter against the rear suspension. The cable-actuated clutch required a lot of pedal effort, and the transmission's short-throw shift lever came close to fouling against the driver's seat. The engine leaked oil through a sump plug, an exhaust header worked loose, and an engine pulley machined through the electrical contacts for the radiator fan. One tactical error was converting the base Focus disc-drum brake system to four-wheel discs using unsuitable aftermarket calipers and rotors. The resulting pedal action was very, very long, while the rear brakes always locked first. We solved most of the problems (few of which had anything to do with Kugel-engineered parts), and it's fair to say they were simply the kind of mechanical glitches you see in any handbuilt project car. In the end, though, we wondered about the kind of car we had created.

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A project car always begins with the idea of pumping up one aspect of its personality, and we ended up with a terrific piece for bracket racing on the drag strip. The Focus V-8 is a completely outrageous car, and you can have one of your own for about $20,000 (not including the Focus platform) if you contact JD Motorsports (www.ford-v8-focus.com). Just like any project car, the Focus V-8 gave us the thrill of creating something unique with an extreme personality. The looks on staffers' faces as they turned the key and heard the mean V-8 burble-from a Focus of all things!-at California Speedway on their first acquaintance made all the heartache worthwhile. Sort of.

But there's a dark side to a project car, too. When we discarded so many of the bland aspects of the Focus's performance profile, we lost a lot of the car's utility as well. The Focus V-8's 215/45YR-17 tires and total lack of chassis development deliver barely 0.80 g of grip, which doesn't make this car a good choice for autocrossing or even taking to the grocery store.

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Although it can be fun to have Frankenstein as a pal, there are times when you'll wonder what you could possibly have been thinking when you decided to put the monster together. But it sure does sound great.

Thanks to our lab partners: Ford Racing, Genesis Engineering, JD Motorsports, Katzkin Leather, Kugel Komponents, Modern Image Signworks, Pirelli, Technosquare.

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