Rebuilding My Totally-Not-Collectible Mustang, Part 8

Categories: Collector Cars.

Blue Thunder, my 1980 Ford Mustang, was born as a 2.3 liter four cylinder but has gone through a progression of four small block engine installations. As a result, I’ve learned a few hard lessons about cooling a V8.

We initially tried leaving the original radiator in place, fully expecting to have cooling issues. We were right. Ford’s original paper-thin radiator was no match for even a stock 302 engine. The only way to keep it cool in the summer was to maintain 50 mph. At low speeds the temperatures crept north. At stop lights it was sometimes necessary to turn off the engine to prevent overheating. It was a complete mismatch. We expected that. No surprises so far.

The next step was a four core aluminum aftermarket radiator. By this time we had upgraded from a 220 horsepower Woodward 302 to a 407 horsepower McGunegill 347 stroker engine. The new radiator certainly helped matters, but low speeds and stop lights remained an issue because the coolant moved through the system faster than the radiator could lower the fluid temperature. Additionally, the 347 engine placed even greater demands on the cooling system, which made us consider another revision.

So we added a six-bladed steel fan (the old plastic fan blades were flattening out at high rpm’s), a shaft extension that moved the fan closer to the radiator, plus a dose of Water Wetter brand coolant additive that had given us good results in stock car racing. We experience another significant improvement but again, we had occasional overheating issues in city driving. This was a little surprising. I really thought that a four core radiator with coolant additive and a big steel fan would totally solve the problem. But not quite.

On the advice of a friend at National Parts Depot, I then decided to stop improving the old system and go electric. There were no band-aids left to try. It mostly worked, but didn’t offer 100% drivability under the hottest, low-speed conditions. So I threw everything out and started over. I’m a slow learner, okay?

So we installed a twin-fan electric system from Cold Case Aluminium Radiators. Instead of using random parts from various providers, I went with the full, integrated system that Cold Case recommended. New radiator, twin fans, complete electric wiring and absolutely everything that I needed to squash the cooling issues once and for all. And it worked.

Perhaps I’m using a sledgehammer to kill a fly, but believe me, this was successful. I can leave the high-horsepower racing engine at an idle for any length of time in any weather. I can drive the car as hard as I like and then cruise through a city at 20 mph. I’m now convinced I could drive Blue Thunder across Death Valley (and I intend to try – literally) with no overheating problems whatsoever.

If I had stayed with the 220 horsepower V8 – which we built with Ford parts to approximate the original powerplant of a 1985 Mustang GT engine – I believe the traditional setup would have been sufficient. But the high-horsepower 347 stroker was just a bit too much. If your home-built hot rod is giving you troubles, consider ditching tradition and going electric. You’ll thank me later.


Stephen Cox

Driver, World Racing League

President, Sopwith Motorsports

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