As a former drag racer in a class where you had to use stock parts to make power (NMRA factory stock), I thought I would try my hand with the little 2.3L ranger motor for fun.
My plans are to coax as much as I possibly can from my 97 2.3L motor using as much of the stock components as possible..So, no fancy esslinger heads and cams and intakes with a holley 350/500cfm 2bbl carb..Just a simple stock looking 2.3L with surprising performance improvements.
Most of this some may already know as it may have been seen or done before in other areas of forums and articles and in the real world but, my method to this is taking the best of the best tips and tricks and putting it all in one place…So on that note ,ill get started with the plans for my 97 ranger performance improvements and hope it can help some make more educated decisions and not waste a ton of money on hype and gimmicks.
Im only going to cover what one can do to an already assembled motor..I can go farther in depth with short block building tips and porting heads/intakes but this will not be covered in this particular area as im not taking the motor apart and rebuilding it..Perhaps in another thread down the road..You can consider this the less expensive version of improved performance.
1.) Condition of motor: This is very important for good results on any motor..If you have bad rings or low compression due to a worn motor or have blue smoke emitting from your exhaust or you hear knocking from the motor then save your money for a rebuild if that is the case…You can throw everything at at a worn motor and see very very little gains as performance is already lacking.
2.) Expectations: Don’t get you hopes up thinking that you’ll be running 14 second times in the 1/4 mile ,because you wont unless its in a 2000lb vehicle..This is to improve performance that you will be able to feel within the entire factory RPM range and still have a very reliable and economical 2.3L ford.
I first want to explain my definition of “more power”..Most everything you will see here does not add power to your motor but, it more so releases power your motor already has in it from the factory…Most all factory motors today are rated using all the power accessories. (Power steering/smog pump/ A/C- alternator / exhaust system/ air intake system etc..) not all, but most of this is known as parasitic drag..All this takes power from a motor but is presented in todays SAE dyno test results from manufacturers to the public…So in reality you have a somewhat powerful 2.3L, its just held back from these things we need to use on the street for comfort and government regulations…Most of us will choose to keep these items intact that take power away from our 2.3L so, we have to deal with it as best we can…Removing all these things and making your motor a track/race only version can yield you a 30-40hp gain with no other changes as you wouldn’t use most of the power robbing accessories..so keep in mind its not as weak as you think.
Ok, Lets see where we can get some of this power from and what you will not make more power from.
1.) Air intake: We already have a “cold air intake system” in our stock rangers, just without all the fancy chrome tubing and racy looking air filters..They actually work quite well and in most cases can already flow more air than our motors can make horsepower with..With a few simple mods to them they can flow enough air to power motors with triple the power you will never see from your 2.3L naturally aspirated ranger…So keep in mind you don’t really need a fancy looking CAI unless you want one for looks..I can promise you its not going to help you make any more power and may actually hurt your performance with the open filter sucking hotter air into the motor as opposed to the cooler air we already get from the fenderwell or front grill area…So in conclusion I will be removing any restrictions (air baffles/silencers) in the factory air box system and replace the filter with a more free flowing “replacement style ” filter just because I can…If you can find one, try the Fram Air Hog filter..It flows as well as the much more expensive K&N filter at half the cost. They are discontinued but you can still find them around if you search for it.
2.) Exhaust system: On some of the ranger models you already get a factory”header”..They aren’t the greatest quality and will rust in no time but they work very well and are not an exhaust restriction at all for street duty..Nor is it a restriction for more power than will see here in these mods.
The restrictions are in the catalytic converter and the factory muffler if anyplace..Im not recommending you remove your cat at all but do what you can to lessen the restrictions..A simple high flow cat and turbo muffler will make a big difference in the exhaust system and your performance.
I also want to touch on what diameter exhaust pipe you should consider..Keep the exhaust pipe at 2″ inches if you can bare it. Your factory pipes are large enough to handle the power and frankly the smaller diameter helps you make power to an extent..Exhaust is not just air pushing out… Its a pulse of air pushing in and out very very fast in which when the cycle of your motor (intake cycle) has both of your intake and exhaust valves open at the same time, will help pull more of the intake charge into the combustion chamber..Over sizing your exhaust does nothing for you and in most cases can kill torque you want for the street…Remember were not building a high rpm race motor here..you want torque you can feel at lower rpms.
If you would like to see something cool?, Hold a dollar bill or a piece of paper flat against your tail pipe opening when its idling and watch how the bill slaps back and forth against it..Thats your exhaust pulse at work.
I have emission regulations I have to pass in my state so removing my cat is not an option for me personally nor do I recommend removing it unless its with a high flow cat….I will be adding either a 2″ thrush turbo muffler or possibly a 2-1/4″ V8 muffler out of a junk yard…I wonder what a 5.0L H.O muffler would sound like on a 2.3L:icon_confused:
3.) Cooling fan:..Now here is where you can unleash some of that parasitic drag and increase power…The clutch fan system works great at cooling but it robs the motor of power..Consider replacing it with an appropriate sized electric cooling fan that is thermostatically controlled…Manual switches are fine for racing but you don’t want to forget it about it on the street.
4.) Throttle body/Mass air flow meter: Heres another item that will out flow your power potential..I believe if my source was correct that it is a 50mm T.B (correct me if im wrong please.)..If it is a 50mm it can already flow over 350cfm of air..You will never see over 300cfm of air being drawn into you street motor..This is not an air restriction at all and going bigger has really no effect on power but will require a re calibration…You simply don’t need a mustang 58mm throttle body that flows almost 600cfm of air…Most engines rarely ever use all the cfm a carb or a TB system advertises..The 5.0 H.O. mustang really only uses maybe 480 cfm of air to make the 200 horse power it made stock…lets cut that in half and you get 240cfm for a 2.3L cylinder for comparison..Save your money…If anything clean up any casting flash or sharp edges to improve the air flow stream and don’t concern yourself at this point with more volume of air..The same hold true for the mass air meter…Its enough for our mild N.A. street motor.
I will be cleaning up the TB and mass air of any casting flash and sharp edges and giving them a slight polish inside the bores to smoothen air flow but not try to increase volume..you don’t need it at this level of power.
5.) Fuel Injectors: Another stock item that will supply you with enough fuel in your stock naturally aspirated motor…Your fuel pressure should be around 40psi which is the pressure most injectors are rated at..The 14lb injectors can supply more fuel to make quite a bit more power if needed with a simple fuel pressure regulator..But we don’t need it to make the power were looking for out of the stock motor..Again don’t waste your money thinking you need 19lb injectors for the naturally aspirated motor..19lb injectors can support about 275HP….Will your naturally aspirated mild street motor make that kind of power?..i didn’t think so..I will be leaving my stock injectors alone.
6.) Intake manifold: This also supplies more cfm than you will use/need in stock form..Ford didn’t do a very good job of matching the upper to the lower and you very well could benefit from matching the ports but, i wouldn’t take it any farther than that with full porting…You will kill the motors bottom end power as the smaller ports create low speed velocity which is what you want for street use…You don’t need volume over velocity for the street…For now im not doing anything to the intake ports.
7.) Cylinder head: Did you know the D-port cylinder head flows as much if not more than a stock 5.0L H.O. (E7TE) head?..Well it does..It also has comparable valve sizes..The stock 2.3L D-port head can flow as high as 150cfm at .500″ valve lift on the intake side..The thing most don’t see is you don’t need a .500″ lift cam to take advantage of this..The 2.3L head flows well around the .400″ valve lift range giving around 144cfm of air flow and anything more lift wise is a very minimal gain..maybe a 5 to 6 cfm difference but not without a much more expensive cam and valvetrain to give you that added lift…you don’t need to spend a fortune on a new valvetrain and cam to take advantage of maximum air flow when its already so close…The exhaust side however is a little different where it peaks with max air flow at a much higher lift (.600″)…But no one uses a .600″ lift on the exhaust and a .400″ lift on the intake..lol..Just go with the stock .402 lift for both intake and exhaust and be happy..lol
For street use, if you already have the head off the motor, then if you want send it out for a good quality serdi valve job then that is a worthy power builder..the angle of the cuts can improve air flow a significant amount..porting and polishing is not something you want for a daily driver and especially for fuel mileage…If you have the earlier version motors with less compression you can also have the heads milled to give you a little more compression and power..My 97 is graced with a 9.4:1 compression from the factory and I wouldn’t want to increase than any more as pre ignition I think would be a concern without a more expensive higher octane fuel which I don’t want to pay for..lol…For this project ,the head is staying completely stock for now.
8.) cams: You cant help but thank ford for designing a roller cam for the 2.3L..less friction which releases more power is always a welcome addition to any motor…For 97 ford took a slightly different route with how they came up with valve lift…They used a smaller lobe lift but increased rocker ratio to 1.86 from 1.66 to come up with a .402″ valve lift…This cam only works with the 1.86 rockers unless you want to do some modifications to make it work with an earlier year roller cam…Don’t just consider lift alone however as the holy grail..Whats more important is the valve opening and closing events in relation to the cycles of the motor but ,both style cams use the same cam specifications other than lift ,so no real performance advantage here really, other than a small lift increase…The factory roller is really an impressive cam profile but can be improved upon for wonderful power and torque gains.
I spent hours and hours and days on a an engine simulator program testing different specs on the factory cam to maximize it for the motors stock air flow ,and have determined a cam change can be a significant power gain but only within certain parameters..Unfortunately I will have to have this cam custom ground from the factory cam unless I want to switch to a flat tappet cam, which I don’t…Its very similar to a hydraulic flat tappet version of a competition cams grind for the 2.3L but, it will be a roller of course without the added lift as its not really needed…..Your factory cam should already be installed 4 degrees advanced so, if a custom or new cam is not in the program for you and you want more top end power then you can retard the cam in 2 degree increments and see what you like.. for every 2 degrees of change expect the power band to move about 200 rpm…Advancing the cam will give you more bottom end torque but another 2 degress over stock may create a problem with pre ignition/pinging.. I would consider watching for this as it can damage your motor..Some models of vehicles can detect this problem and remove timing to avoid damage but, will also take power away from you…So be cautious when advancing the factory cam more than the 4 degrees advanced it comes with stock.
You will need an aftermarket Cam sprocket to change the cam timing so, be aware of that.
So, my plan here is to have my factory cam re-ground to my custom specs to improve the power of my 2.3L. I will still be able to use my factory springs and valvetrain as well…This may be out of reach for some to do but it can make a big difference if you know what you’re doing.. If you don’t, talk to the cam grinder and tell them what you want or what youre looking for from the cam and they will more likely than not give you what you need…The factory roller cam is a wonderful cam and can work well left stock if you chose to do so..Even without the cam change you will still notice great improvements over your stock motor with the rest of the changes mentioned here….I cant say how accurate numbers are but im looking at over a 12hp gain and over 10 more ft. lbs. of torque gain using my custom specs…The best part is this is across the entire rpm range..not just peak numbers…In any case, real world testing will determine how well it works for me..This cam will also be degreed in…If it works for me like I expect it to, I will release the specs so you can have one made for yourselves.
9.) Gearing: Of all the items ive mentioned so far, none will feel like as big of a gain than changing the ring and pinion gear on your ranger…If you have less than a 3.73 gear you will benefit from a change nicely..I happen to have a 5 spd so im considering going with the 4.10 gearing and make that overdrive a more useful gear on the highway…Zero power gains here but it alloys you to use that power more effectively…It will effect your overall fuel mileage so you may want to compromise on your gear ratio decision.
10.) Tuning: This is not a cheap mod but, with all the changes made together as a whole you will benefit a little bit from a custom Tuner program..It will maximize your air/fuel ratio and other parameters for maximum power and a great running motor..Its very costly but you cant be perfectly tuned without one and in some cases you have to have one….Stay away from those $69.99 cheap so called “chips” that claim 40 50 60 hp..Its a complete gimmick and they do not give you anywhere near the added claims and in more cases than not a zero gain in anything..Some actually use resistors to try and fool the computer into giving you more fuel or make a sensor think the air temp is cooler than it is…Just don’t buy one..its better to not have one than waist your money on something like that…Go with a name brand programmer and you will be rewarded with noticeable results…Jet and SCT are the 2 most common that actually make a difference in power/tuning.
11.) Coil Mod: This is something ive read about and theres too many conflicting results for me to be sure on rather or not I will do this..I can see if you had an over rich condition how it might help cure this but I don’t see it really making anymore power per say..Maybe throttle response will be better but I can comment as I haven’t tried this just yet.
12.) Throttle body spacers:..Well, I can vouch for plenum spacers working on a carbureted motor but have never used one on a throttle body before..So I cant say they work or if they don’t but honestly I don’t see them being any improvement at all..Any gains will be diminished as the air has so much farther to travel before entering the motor…The concept of a spacer was introduced for carbureted motors where it helped atomize the fuel creating a better burn thus increasing power…Im going to call it hype on a long runner efi intake sytem such as out 2.3L manifolds.
13.) Header Wrap: This is something that seems to make a difference for some in many different categories of motorsports …I do plan to give this a try although one may not really feel a difference with it as far as power is concerned..This wrap is supposed to keep the heat inside the header which is said to help move the exhaust at a faster rate thus improving the intake scavenging effect…It can also help reduce under hood temperatures which can also be a plus… Before i use this wrap, i plan to paint the header with a high temp exhaust paint to maybe help with some rust, at least on the outside..lol
14.) Underdrive pulleys:..Ok, they actually do work…Its just more noticeable in race only applications..Unfortunately no one is offering a “street” version of a pulley set for us 2.3 fans..So what we have are really “race diameter crank pulleys” to work with..This unfortunately slows the alternator and water pump down to a much slower speed than we really want for street use..So, I say you can install one and get some power gains but you may not like a motor overheating while sitting at a stop light or a dead battery over time…So use your caution as to what you want to do here…I may or may not try a pulley..It depends on how happy I am with the rest of the results.
15.) Ignition system: You know, I couldn’t believe how expensive the performance ignition upgrades are for this motor..In all honesty I think the factory coils are providing more than enough spark to efficiently burn the fuel we are supplying to it..I doubt they would make that big of a difference at our power levels..The same for the plug wires..They aren’t low resistance performance wires but they are supplying the power well enough that the coils are sending through them..Plugs ,you may can find a very small improvement with using a platinum type plug but they aren’t exactly cheap for such a small gain..I will just say to leave this up to the individual if they want it or not…It most certainly wouldn’t hurt performance…At some point when we run out of things to replace,we will think about these items and maybe get them for the hell of it just to say we have it…lol..Ill be leaving mine stock however or with at least a quality standard replacements as needed.
16.) Synthetic oil and fluids: A TRS member reminded me of this as it completely slipped my mind…Synthetics lessen friction and when using it in all the right locations can free up some power enough to make a noticeable difference..Areas you can use synthetics in are the motor, transmission and rear axles..Its not cheap to do all 3 areas but it does help…This should be a consideration for some as its been proven many times over in test results and in the real world.
See the original post “2.3L EFI power (The Naturally Aspirated Way)“