We’ve been covering engine swaps because we admire the ingenuity and creativity of the builders, and because we want to save information about the swaps for posterity. Some swaps are straightforward (such as a DOHC B18 engine into an early Civic – a combination not offered in the US), some are more complex (a V-8 Ford powered Miata is probably the best example – and we’ve covered several on this site) and some are so ridiculous (V-12 swap into a Miata) that they just have to be done. In almost every case the technical expertise of the builder will be tested, although the quality of the end result varies widely.
Here’s an example of a complex swap. Not at all straightforward – considerable engineering and fabrication had to be performed to adapt an automotive engine for the unique requirements necessary for airplane use. Airplane? You read that right: it’s a home-built airplane with a 1990 Thunderbird Super Coupe (SC) engine.
That engine is Ford’s 90-degree pushrod iron-block aluminum-head V-6 (literally the 4.9 liter V-8 minus 2 cylinders), with fuel injection, an Eaton supercharger, an air-to-air intercooler, and improved internals (including a special head gasket since the resulting cylinder head bolt arrangement was poor at sealing). The EEC-IV computer was used. This engine was introduced in 1989 and made 215 HP/315 torque at 12 pounds of boost. In 1994, the engine received several changes to make 230 HP and 330 lb-ft of torque. 1995 was the last year of Super Coupe production, although the Thunderbird chassis live don thru 1997.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) is a growing and diverse organization of members with a wide range of aviation interests and backgrounds. EAA was founded in 1953 by a group of individuals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who were interested in building their own airplanes. Through the decades, the organization expanded its mission to include antiques, classics, warbirds, aerobatic aircraft, ultralights, helicoptors and contemporary manufactured aircraft. The writer of this blog posting is an EAA member, although for his warbird interests and not for airplane ownership.
Hand-built airplanes are classified by the US Government as “experimental” (mainly due to antiquated laws from the time when all planes were indeed experimental). Airplanes powered by automotive engines are rare and in the definite minority because car engines are engineered for automobile-type packaging, weight, horizontal (versus climbing) usage, and ground environment purposes. Very few can meet the demanding requirements of airplane usage.
But there are the exceptions to that rule and the Thunderbird-powered example here is definitely a one-off: http://www.eaa.org/experimenter/articles/2009-01_bd4.asp The article was written by the builder and owner of the plane. In reading the article, you’ll recognize him as a hobbyist in the same vein as automotive hobbyists – except that his life will very literally depends on his engineering expertise and flying skills. Home-built planes have to pass a long series of inspections and certifications by the FAA before they are allowed to fly – there is no analogy to that process in the automotive hobby.
The images that follow are from the article, and copyrighted by the EAA. You can see that while repackaging of the intake and intercooler assembly was necessary, by and large the engine is recognizable.