Factory Trained Hot-Rodder
By Brian Holsten
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Growing up in a Ford family, I naturally took to the blue oval. And since 1985, I’ve been employed as a Ford service technician. My field is mostly driveability but my love is high performance. There is nothing like the satisfaction of improving the performance of a vehicle and doing it to look like (and perform better than) a factory option. It started with one car then grew into a large operation after the word got out in the local high performance Ford community. A coworker and I were the only ones doing it, at least on a dealership level, in the area. I’m only now finding out we were lucky to have a somewhat supportive employer. After moving to the larger Seattle area, I found out that most dealer management & owners are quite negative towards non-stock modifications of any kind.


I’ve installed kits from Paxton, Kenne Bell, Vortec, and Powerdyne.  Most of them were on 5.0 Mustangs.  Others were F150’s, Broncos and even Ranger V6’s.  All of the installs we did were on new or very low mile vehicles.


This was our first install. Paxton told us they had guys putting these kits on in less than 4 hours or so. This one took me a day and a half! I think the most time consuming part was trying to make it look factory. Among other things, the kit was instructing me to cut and modify the A/C lines using the kit supplied fittings and "shade tree" looking hose clamps. These fittings looked cheap and seemed less than desirable, especially for a new Cobra (that just happened to be owned by a local Mustang collector)! The car ran well after dropping the timing down to around 6 BTDC do help reduce spark knock.

94 GT

A black low mile GT was my first performance improving undertaking in my new location. For this car I tried the Kenne Bell Whipplecharger recommended by my old coworker. This car just ripped! Talk about instant big block, the low-end torque was amazing. This kit was the single most significant seat-of-the-pants hi-po mod I’d ever done next to nitrous oxide. A few months later the owner had me add Edelbrock Performer heads, a B303 cam, 90hp dry nitrous kit and Borla cat-back exhaust. After the head and cam upgrade, it took a few hours of driving and some fine adjustments to get the processor to learn a new strategy (B303 may not have been the best choice but it was legal). On the first test drive using the nitrous I found out how much power the stock clutch could handle! The only trouble I had with this kit was the belt. They use single factory belt layout to run the supercharger. It flew off twice until I rerouted it with a shorter belt. This belt has got to be over its maximum stress point at full boost! I wish the customer had kept the car longer so I could have tried some of the new stuff out these days. Like the Flowzilla intake and the new X-pipe craze. Unfortunately, he never got to the track or the dyno for any numbers. I would guess a conservative 400-450rwhp.

95 Cobra

A 95 Cobra with about 1500 miles rolled into the shop in mid 95 with a 9lb Powerdyne kit in the trunk. At first I thought this kit was the greatest system I’d ever seen. Silent drive belt drive impeller, ceramic bearings that didn’t require an oil supply and a well engineered hardware kit. I ran into a problem with the Superchip that came with the kit. I didn’t work. I mean the car wouldn’t start at all! The first replacement made the car run horribly. After 4 replacements we ended giving up on the chip and just installing the MSD6ALBTM. I’m lucky this customer still drives this car today so I’ve been able to get long term feedback on both the products and my work. The belt inside the Powerdyne seems to be its weakest point. Since I installed this kit, it has failed three times. And, of course, it just happened to be past it’s warranty every time. Each time it apparently destroyed the bearings requiring a full overhaul to the cost or around $500. Another issue is the kit does not allow adequate contact for the alternator pulley. It squeals at every startup unless I get it extremely tight. As for the performance of this car, it didn’t run as good as I had expected. I believe it had to do with the factory programming in the 95 EEC4 system. The customer recently installed the APE Speedbrain himself. I haven’t got to play with the programming but I have driven the car. Big difference! The power is much smoother and noticeably more responsive (I couldn’t keep the tires under the car in second gear)! I also installed a Borla exhaust, JBA shorties, 3.77 gears, ProM 75mm MAF, 70mm BBK throttle body and a 90hp dry nitrous (he was competing with the guy in the 94). This customer has future plans for an all-new 331-stroker motor. His request is, "I want it to have no less than 500hp at the rear wheels, and my grandma could drive it". Should be fun!

94 Bronco

For this truck I recommended the Kenne Bell Whipplecharger. The kit was very straightforward and went together nicely. And once again, the Whipple proved itself by providing a plentiful supply of boost down low, just what a big tired 4x4 needs. Up until I started using the APE chips, the chip that came with this kit was the only one I ever installed that worked. This truck ran perfectly with no problems at all. I believe I set the timing to 8 deg.

As for the manufacturers of these components, Paxton was by far the worst company to deal with. Very poor technical support with what seemed to be a less than quality product. For example, one of my customers had an 88 Saleen SC. The Paxton exploded and needed to be rebuilt. After 4 days of calling and leaving messages for the service department, I gave up and just ordered a new unit. It did not come with any information regarding the type of oil it needed, warranty or any instructions. I tried to call for technical info but just left more messages. It had been a while since I installed a Paxton and could not remember what type of oil it used. So, I guessed (my mistake). I blew up within a matter of miles. Once again, I called and called. Then, the phone tag started. Finally, I was actually speaking to the service dept. I told him my situation and he said since there were no instructions with the unit, he would fix it for us. It was too good to be true. I later found out he was just stalling me until his last day at the company. He kept telling me the parts were not available to fix it yet and to call back on this later date. When I called, (more phone tag) I found he’d left the company and the parts had been available the whole time. I had to pay for the overhaul. The overhauled unit came with instructions and a note stating if I did not install the optional oil cooler (something like $500), it would be void of warranty. Half way to Montana, it blew up again. The customer traded it in for a Jeep Cherokee at the closest dealer.


Due to pressure from the dealer uppity-ups, I’ve been forced to tame down my in-house custom work. So, I’ve discovered my new outlet helping out at Brad’s Custom Auto, a local Mustang/Corvette hi-po shop. My experience with the new EEC5/OBD2 systems is proving to be quite helpful. This shop is also the only Vortec dealer in the area so I regularly get to help tune and advise in some of their projects. They get to do all the cool stuff I never got to do. Like build a 500rwhp ATI charged 302! Most recently a Vortec charged and aftercooled Roush 4.6 Mustang. More fun to come!

My own projects include an 89 LX and an 86 SVO. The LX runs 13.50’s on the stock 140k motor. The SVO is my newest toy so I’ve got a lot of cool options to think about.

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