Twenty years ago, the idea of ordering a complete engine for a vintage Mustang was pretty much absurd. First of all, it was a lot cheaper to rebuild or even have someone else rebuild the original engine. Secondly, even if you wanted to purchase a complete long-block, there weren't many companies offering such an animal. About the only thing available was a Ford-authorized remanufactured engine from Fred Jones Remanufacturing.
Two decades later, all that has changed. It's getting more difficult every day to find rebuildable Mustang engine cores, even for Fred Jones, because most vintage blocks and heads have already been machined and rebuilt several times. In many cases, blocks have been bored beyond servicing and heads have been knurled and ported beyond reuse. Age and heat have also contributed to cracked and warped surfaces. Remember that the last factory 289 was built 38 years ago.
Something else that has changed is the availability of crate engines. Today you have a choice of crate engine builders who can deliver an almost-turnkey engine to your door steps. Because most Ford crate engines are based on the late-model 5.0L (302) and 5.8L (351) small-blocks, which come from the same Windsor engine family as the old 289/302s and 351s, they can be easily adapted to a vintage Mustang. You can even paint them Ford Corporate Blue, swap on your front engine dress, and add a Cobra dress-up kit for a completely vintage appearance even though the guts may be thoroughly modern with a roller camshaft and forged bottom-end.
With a crate engine, you get a proven combination of parts, assembled by professionals and delivered right to your garage door. Just swap your accessories, exhaust manifolds, flywheel, fuel pump, and other components to the new engine, and you're ready to drop it in. In fact, some crate engines come with induction, distributor, wires, and everything else needed to fire up and run.
While the idea of mass production may not appeal to some, in reality, it means consistency from a manufacturer who has built thousands of the same combination, unlike one-off engine builds that can suffer from human error. Ben Smeding from Smeding Performance drives home the point: "You build 5 motors and you think you know what you're doing. You build 50 and you're getting better. You build 500 of the same engine combination and then you really know what you're doing."
Granted, crate engines can be pricey, with some running $5,000 or more for ultra high-performance versions, but for vintage Mustang owners who are mainly interested in a reliable yet powerful replacement for their 289 or 302, crate engines are available in the $3,000-4,000 range, not a bad deal when you consider the costs of rebuilding an old engine--machine work, new parts, and so on, not to mention the time needed to chase parts and run back and forth to the machine shop.
Blueprint Racing offers an affordable small-block with a factory 5.0L block and cast-iron heads topped by a Professional Products' intake for just over $3,000, while Ford Racing's best deal is the M-6007-XE3M, based on a new factory 5.0 short-block with GT-40 aluminum heads, which retails for $3,850 and can usually be purchased for less from Ford Racing dealers. Another good deal, primarily for the wider engine bays in '68-'73 Mustangs, is the Ford Racing M-6007-S58, priced under $3,000, with a new 5.8L short-block, cast-iron heads, and dual-plane intake.
Stroker versions are also popular, with 347 cubic-inch versions of the 5.0 offered by nearly every manufacturer. With the 5.8 block, displacement can grow up to 427 ci. More displacement equals more torque and horsepower, yet with a stroker Windsor, the package size remains the same as a 289 or 351.
Most crate engines are delivered as basic long-blocks: a short-block with a cam and cylinder heads. A few come with intake manifolds, while a handful, like those from Roush Performance, add a carburetor, distributor, flywheel, and other parts. Roller rocker arms are typically part of the crate engine package, a good-news/bad-news scenario for owners who want an original look because of clearance issues with vintage valve covers. Some can be modified to clear the rockers, while others may require the use of spacers or taller aftermarket covers.
Another issue with the late-model blocks is the lack of the threaded hole needed for the clutch linkage with manual transmission cars. A clutch equalizer bracket, available from Sacramento Mustang (www.sacramento-mustang.com), is required to install the equalizer bar. Additionally, on crate engines equipped with a water pump for serpentine belts, the pump will need to be replaced with one for the opposite rotation of a V-belt system.
Obviously, if you have the skills to rebuild an engine and you have a rebuildable short-block and heads to work with, then by all means build it yourself. But for many vintage Mustang owners these days, it's great to have the option of picking up the phone or jumping on the Web to order a ready-to-go performance engine.