An engine that's probably a bigger sleeper than the vintage 200ci six is the late-model 3.8L Essex V-6. For those of you not familiar with this engine, it resembles a baby Cleveland in appearance-with its broad-shouldered valve covers and wide "V" stance. Fire it up and it sounds like a buzzy European six-popper. Lean on the throttle and it comes on strong-for a six-cylinder engine. When this engine was first introduced as a carbureted V-6 in 1982, thereby replacing the inline-200ci six, it wasn't much to write home about. It lacked torque, it did not impress, and pulling onto the freeway took planning with this anemic mill.
For years the 3.8L V-6 has been an invisible Ford power plant. The smaller 2.3L OHC four-banger has seen more press in performance arenas, due to its optional turbo status in the Fox-body Mustang, Capri, Thunderbird, and Cougar. But it seems as though we haven't given the Essex V-6 the credit it deserves, for performance potential. It has taken someone with vision and imagination to squeeze 325 hp out of this sleeping mill.
We spoke with Tom Yentzer at Super Six Motorsports about Ford's 3.8L V-6. Super Six Motorsports specializes in dyno-proven performance modifications to the '94-2000 3.8L V-6 engine used in the Mustang. Because these modifications are dyno-tested and proven, you can try them out on your late-model Mustang with confidence.
In box stock form, the 3.8L Essex V-6 produces 145-150 hp at the crankshaft. According to Super Six Motorsports, that's 0.625 hp per cubic inch or 38.2 hp per liter. There is great potential in the Essex six's design. The symmetrical upper intake manifold, the sizable intake ports, the aggressive exhaust ports, and even the respectable 1.5-inch factory headers make the engine full of potential.
Super Six tells Mustang Monthly that you can modify this six in three stages, depending on your needs.
Stage 1 consists of porting the upper intake manifold with 1.5-inch shortened runners and greater plenum volume; a ported lower intake manifold; ported cylinder heads; three-angle valve work; and a custom-ground camshaft, which yields 214 degrees duration at 0.050 inch and 0.483-inch valve lift in a symmetrical pattern. With just these mods, rear wheel horsepower shot up to 155 at the factory 4,500-rpm rev limiter. Allowing for driveline power losses, this adds up to about 186 hp at the crankshaft. That's 41 hp with the camshaft and the head mods-all this with stock pushrods and 1.73 ratio rocker arms.
This stage takes us into greater potential with an adjustable fuel pressure regulator; a fuel pressure gauge; and a custom dyno-tuned computer chip to provide optimum ignition and fuel curves, increased rpm and top speed limits, lower fan "on" temperatures, and optimum AODE/4R70W shift patterns. With these simple modifications, the 3.8L V-6 delivered 177 rear wheel horsepower and 212 hp at the crankshaft. That's a 67hp increase more than factory. This maximizes the naturally aspirated potential of the Essex V-6.