A 5.0-liter Mustang with a Vortech supercharger is iconic: as much a 1990s cultural touchstone as the Pets.com sock puppet.
And now the Vortech supercharger is back. It's an evolved version on a new engine in a new car, but it's the same. You know, sort of how like that sock puppet was resurrected to pimp for BarNone.com. Even though what BarNone.com does, no one seems to know.
While those old Fox-bodied Mustangs of the '90s started with an archaic but overachieving 5.0-liter engine that was already almost 30 years old when that decade began, today's Vortech supercharger is feeding a state-of-the-art DOHC 32-valve variable-timed wondermotor. It's a match made in heaven and it makes for a very, very fast 5.0.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Back when dial-up and AOL ruled, one magazine after another printed stories that extolled the virtues of centrifugal blowers heaving into the V8s under the swollen hoods of Mustangs. Large swaths of Oregon are still barren from supplying the paper stock for Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords alone.
But it wasn't the pretty pictures in the magazines that had the Vortech centrifugal blower leaving such an indelible impression. It was the sound.
Even now, at any racetrack or street race, it's impossible to miss the scream of the Vortech blown machines. It's the steel billet CNC-cut gears inside their aluminum case that makes that sound — something like the scream of a hawk squawking down to snag another prairie dog snack. If you don't like the sound, don't buy a Vortech system.
As Vortech's red 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 pulled into the queue at IL's testing venue, heads swiveled around in instant recognition. There's something wicked about a blower that hides itself under a car's stock hood, yet announces its arrival so boldly.
Back When the 5.0 Was King
In the '90s, the 5.0-liter Mustang was rated at a modest (by today's standards) 205 or 225 horsepower depending on model year. So a tough-running, but realistic for the street, blown Mustang back then might have made about, say, 400 hp.
Back in 1995 I put together a comparison test of Mustang tuner cars for Motor Trend. All the cars in that test were running versions of the 5.0-liter OHV Windsor V8 and the quickest of them all was built by Vortech.
That car — thanks to $14,000 worth of parts including custom ported TFS cylinder heads and the V-2 supercharger system — slammed down a dyno-certified 451 hp at the rear wheels on 100-octane Unocal pump race gas. My eyes are still watering from watching that untamed maniac throw off unburned hydrocarbons during its run on the DynoJet. It ran a severely traction-limited 12.73 in the quarter-mile at a ludicrous 119.51 mph. Its 0-60 mph time was a solid 4.8 seconds.
It was a glorious, unforgettable and totally absurd Mustang. I loved it. But I couldn't then imagine regularly driving it on the street. Still can't.
Modern Mustang Muscle
Today, a new 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 — stock, fully warranted and with a 72-month payment book in its glovebox — will glide through the quarter-mile in 13.0 seconds flat at 110.6 mph. And it runs from zero to 60 in the same 4.8 seconds that ludicrous beast from '95 did. Oh yeah, it also gets 26 mpg on the highway while burning 91-octane swill.
So today's 412-hp Mustang GT 5.0 runs nearly as well and hard as the most radical, barely streetable, blown Mustangs of the 1990s. That's a great place to start.
From there, Vortech added one of its new kits on the new 5.0-liter Coyote engine. The heart of that kit is the V-3 centrifugal supercharger that feeds the engine through 3-inch mandrel bent aluminum tubing, a 98-millimeter mass airflow housing and an air-to-air intercooler. Total boost available is up to 8 pounds per square inch, which is significant in light of the current 5.0's 11.0:1 compression ratio that is left untouched.
To grab atmosphere, the Vortech system uses a high-flow molded plastic body that ties into the stock OEM airbox so that the legally required factory hydrocarbon trap remains intact. Oversize injectors and fuel rail spacers complete the mechanical elements, while an SCT handheld tool modifies the operating parameters of the engine computer control module to deal with the boost.
According to Vortech all this adds up to a swift kick up in the 5.0's horsepower and torque numbers. Try 473 pound-feet at the flywheel and 605 hp. Not bad for $4,995.
And what about the Ford factory warranty? Why worry about warranty issues until something breaks? Go ahead, have fun. Maybe you'll get lucky.
In an ideal world, Vortech would have stopped right there and given us a car to compare heads-up with the unmodified Mustang GT 5.0. But, no, in this SEMA-perverted world, the car was dressed in a convention center's worth of parts.
So in addition to the Vortech pieces, there's a Borla stainless-steel exhaust system aboard to melodiously evacuate the waste gases. The suspension has been modified with the fitment of Steeda billet lower trailing arms, a Steeda adjustable panhard bar, H&R Sport springs that lower the car an inch in front and 1.6 inches in back, Tokico D-spec struts and shocks, and thicker 36-millimeter front and 26-millimeter rear anti-sway bars. Baer Racing's 15-inch Extreme Plus brake rotors with six-piston monoblock calipers are fitted up front, while Erataspeed rotors in back are matched to stock calipers.
Those are Modular Society Victor wheels, 20-by-8.5 inches in front and 20-by-10 inches in the back, fitted with 255/35R20 front and 275/35R20 rear Nitto NT05 tires.
Finally a Street Scene Equipment body kit adds decoration where little is needed, and various sponsor decals litter the car's flanks. The highway patrol will have no problem conjuring up enough probable cause for a stop. So program your lawyer's number into your Android device.
Thankfully, the car is brutally quick.
Say Good-Bye Shelby
At the track, the Vortech-equipped Mustang roared down the strip like a Boeing 777 that had just swallowed a dump truck full of amphetamines. It launched from zero to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds (4.1 seconds with rollout) and obliterated the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds at a 121.3 mph. That's quicker and faster than the last 550-hp 2011 Shelby GT500 IL tested.
And since none of the car's external decor is really necessary, there's some serious stealth potential in this monster. That is, of course, as long as you're running up against other racers who are deaf or too moronic to recognize the Vortech scream from under the hood.
But stay light on the throttle and shift early, and the Vortech Mustang will putter around like a Focus. It won't sip fuel, but the throttle is progressive and forgiving and the engine isn't ill-mannered, even at parking lot speeds. And it didn't puke up any fluids during the very brief time we had it in traffic.
The stiffer H&R springs keep the Vortech Mustang from squatting quite as dramatically as the standard GT on launch so there's some travel left to plant the big Nittos into the tarmac. And with some acclimation it's easy to launch the Vortech, since the big kick doesn't come until above 4,000 rpm. The drag strip times are further helped by the slick shifting of the Getrag MT82 six-speed manual transmission, which is light-years better than the Tremec six-speed in the GT500.
On the open road, planting your Adidas to the firewall will have the Vortech car ripping up Botts' dots and chewing up pavement until it hits bedrock. On a full-throttle upshift from 1st to 2nd, the standard Ford traction control is simply overwhelmed by the power and the car will squirm the tires violently enough to leave 275-millimeter-wide stripes down an entire city block. As Scott "Snookie" Oldham would say in his thick New Jersey-ese, "Awesome, guy."
Sadly, the suspension tuning reminds us that Vortech is a supercharger company. The setup is either oversprung or underdamped — take your pick. On the road it's constantly darting from one minor pavement divot to another like a hyperactive burro being zapped by a cattle prod. It just won't settle down, ever. And when you launch the thing hard on, say, the Las Vegas Strip in front of the Bellagio, hitting a pothole can mean being launched through the doors of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
Considering the big tires and stiff springs, the Vortech Mustang's 67.7-mph romp through IL's slalom represents a scant improvement over the regular Mustang GT's 67.3-mph performance. And it's behind the GT500's 68.2-mph blitz. Plus, the Vortech car demands an expertise and concentration level well beyond what is asked for by the factory Fords.
The 112-foot braking performance from 60 to zero is fair. But the advantage of brakes like these Baers lies in fade resistance, not initial stopping. On a road course, the Baer binders would likely show dividends on their investment. But remember, the Mustang GT is available with front Brembos from Ford.
A Supercharged Sleeper
If I were to install a Vortech system on, say, IL's long-term Mustang GT 5.0, I'd do so in the lowest-key manner possible. No body kit, no graphics, no loud exhaust, and maybe just a set of wheels to personalize it.
This is a wolf-spec rocket that is best when dressed up in a rental car sheep's duds. Compared to the high-profile Shelby GT500, it has a straight-line performance advantage and it's (potentially — depending on installation costs) a bunch cheaper. It has never been bad to have a sleeper. Trust me. My career stalled long ago and I've been driving Vortech supercharged Mustangs for a very long time.
By the way, BarNone.com is still using that sock puppet on its site. Some things from the '90s are eternal.
Vortech Engineering, LLC provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.