Alamo Autosports is a Dallas-area tuner that has specialized in sport compact performance since way before it was cool. Alamo zero-ed in very early on the Focus with the intention to develop a broad line of FocusParts.com brand engine performance, handling, appearance, and custom-electronics equipment for the Focus, and a web site to push the brand. "We wanted to do something new and cutting-edge," says Alamo owner Brice Yingling. "Something no one else was doing.
Alamo designed and began torture-testing their original Focus turbo conversion kit on the FocusParts test mule in late-winter of 2000, and Turbo Magazine planned a feature-length tech story on Alamo's 300-hp ZX3 turbo show car which, at that time, dyno-tested at 238 hp at the wheels. In the meantime, radical cars like Ford Racing's 300-horse very-yellow FR200 turned up in Turbo and its sister Primedia publications Sport Compact Car and 5.0 Mustang. But neither was Alamo standing still: Just when we were about to test-drive and photo the silver/checkerboard FocusParts car, we discovered that Alamo was in the midst of mobilizing resources and R&D experience to create the Focus SHO (Super High Output) turbo engine package featured in this story: A 367 fwhp "Born-in-the-USA" Nastygram fired in the general direction of German and Japanese hotrods that must be taken seriously.
Where Focii "Break"
The stock Focus engine system is reliable and strong-at stock levels of power. The stock redline is 6,700 rpm, and Ford's rev-limiter is very soft, incrementally pulling out power quite early to the point that you almost don't notice the limit. It's just as if the engine simply runs out of breath and absolutely will not exceed 7,050 rpm. Which is clearly a good thing if you're running stock rods and rod fasteners.
From a performance point of view, the stock Focus rods are...well, cute is a kind word. They WILL fail catastrophically if you run them at high boost and high rpm, and will probably take the block with them to that big junkyard in the sky. "We sell 7-psi street-type Focus turbo kits," says Alamo owner Brice Yingling. "Nine psi and above is not good for the stock rods." In fact, Alamo managed to break all four rods at once while racing a Z06 Corvette at high rpm and over 150 mph on a Stage III Focus at 9 psi.
Stock Focus pistons are lightweight castings with fairly high compression (9.6:1), designed with thermal expansion characteristics that eliminate the scary-sounding slapping noise higher-priced forgings make until they warm-up that tend to upset Soccer Moms and their ilk driving Focus economy cars. Cast pistons will not survive spark knock, and they are problematic at high rpm and high boost. The stock composition head gasket will blow if you make much power.
The stock main caps, according to Alamo, will simply not hold anything over 350 crankshaft horsepower; they'll "walk around" and then cause crank bearing problems.
The crankshaft itself is subject to harmonic problems above 7,000 rpm if you remove a lot of mass, says Yingling. Alamo balances but will never lighten or knife-edge a stock Focus crank. "We were highly advised by people at Ford who know not to knife-edge or lighten a Focus crank due to potential harmonic and torsional problems," says Yingling, who received performance consulting from personnel in Ford motorsports operations on the Focus. A stock unmodified, Focus crank with excellent balance, says Yingling, is good to over 8,000 rpm.
Focus cylinder head ports and valves are tiny for efficient production of low-rpm torque via high charge velocities at low speeds on engines designed to make peak power of 130 hp. With a turbocharger it's a different world. Unfortunately, the intake manifold, being of plastic construction, cannot be ported or Extrude-honed. It is good for a maximum of 350-360 hp. It has almost no plenum; the throttle body flange area diverges directly into the four intake runners. Not a problem on a stock Focus, but definitely sub-optimal on a heavy-breathing high-flow turbo mutant.
The stock Focus ignition-identical to that used on Euro Formula Fords-is quite good, fully up to the job of firing 10,000 rpm on turbo motors.
The stock Focus fuel supply is good for maybe 300 bhp worth of fuel. The USA Focus has no fuel loop; rather the fuel pump flow rate is dynamically controlled using closed-loop rail pressure feedback by the stock Focus computer. This system creates serious problems when the injectors begin to fight 20 psi intake runner pressure on a turbo conversion.
The Focus OBD-II engine management system doesn't exactly "break" when you hotrod a Focus, but emissions, longevity, fuel pressure, and traction-control logic can be a serious pain in the pants. Maximum rpm is absolutely limited to 7,050. The computer purely does not like excessive rates of acceleration in lower gears and will initiate traction control countermeasures that stops acceleration dead in its tracks.
The stock Focus throttlebody with its unique throttle butterfly (referred to "affectionately" at Alamo as the "Potato Chip" due to a white geometric profile that looks something like a Pringle), would constitute a definite bottleneck on high-output "all-motor" Focus hotrod engines. However, it is amazing how much air you can force-feed a 130-hp throttlebody with a serious turbocharger like the Turbonetics T04.
Alamo Focus SHO Performance Strategy
A stock Focus ZX3 2.0-liter powerplant weighs in with 130 bhp at 5,300 rpm, and 135 lb/ft at 4,500. Alamo's Focus SHO project was designed to achieve over 350 horsepower at the driving wheels on the Dynojet chassis dyno, which translates into something well over 400 horsepower at the crankshaft. Such a radical powerplant requires improvements in parts strength, volumetric efficiency, a high-pressure intercooled turbo system, plenty of fuel and engine lubrication, and superior engine management strategies. Alamo used the following tactics to pump of the volume of the silver checkerboard Focus to anti-social levels:Pauter Machine billet 4330 chrome-moly steel X-beam design rods provide increased strength and improve aerodynamics as the rod whips through the crankcase air at high rpm. They also reduce crankcase windage compared to the stock H-beam rod design. Forged 8:1 dish-top pistons, moly rings, World-Rally-type multi-layer steel head gasket, cryogenic treated block and crank (and other parts), precision crank balancing, billet main caps, increased oil pressure stock oil pump, fully synthetic oil, and colder plugs complete longevity upgrades to the engine.
Focus SHO VE improvements start with bigger Esslinger "mild street" camshafts, designed to provide maximum possible lobe lift with stock cam buckets. The stock cam buckets are so small that truly radical cam lobes begin to run off the edge of the buckets, quickly destroying both cam and bucket. Alamo installed adjustable cam-timing sprockets for optimizing cam phasing on the dyno, and installed 2mm larger than stock intake and exhaust valves with requisite valve seat changes. An Alamo ported and polished cylinder head increases gas flow "a good 30-40 percent," says Yingling. The Focus SHO package provides an upgrade from the stock cast-iron exhaust manifold with turbine inlet adapter (as well as from the Stage III Alamo tube-type exhaust manifold) via a switch to a higher-flow JBA header. Identical header/manifold geometry allows Alamo's FocusParts turbo and wastegate assembly with inlet adaptor to bolt directly to the stock cast exhaust manifold or either performance header. According to Alamo, the SHO's JBA header provides reduced backpressure through the turbo, higher maximum horsepower, and slightly faster spool-up.
The 420-horse Alamo Focus SHO turbo system is based on a large Turbonetics T04E/T3 turbo (an upgrade from the re-wheeled T3 used in the standard Stage III Alamo Focus turbo kit). Alamo selected the Stage III turbo for quick spool up and drivability on the standard turbo kit, while the Focus SHO system required a larger turbo for power on the top-end and the ability to rev freely. According to Yingling, Alamo was less concerned with rapid spooling on the SHO because the engine has more top-end rpm capability. A huge front-mounted air-air intercooler on the SHO Focus keeps charge air temperatures safe and dense, while a special SHO mandrel-bend exhaust system helps keeps backpressure low. The JBA directional-flow header adds a little responsiveness to turbo spool-up by directing exhaust pulses smoothly into the turbo such that they not suffer from interference effects. While the standard FocusParts.com turbo kit makes 238 fwhp, the Phase II car will achieve over 300 fwhp at 15 psi and has achieved 367 horsepower at the wheels on 18 psi boost. Assuming 15 percent drivetrain/rolling loses, this translates to 420-430 at the flywheel.
The Focus SHO engine requires an upgrade to Haltech E6K engine management from the Stage III Turbo's Alamo-reworked OE Focus engine management system with 02 simulator. The Haltech E6K incorporates special new firmware to interface to the stock Ford crank-position multi-toothed wheel and Hall-Effects pickup. Alamo's strategy is to install a Haltech E6K Engine Management System and piggyback it on the stock ECU, which continues to control basic functions unrelated to performance, such as A/C, idle, dash instruments, and the stock fuel pump (augmented at high-boost with a Kenne-Bell Boost-a-pump).
"The stock fuel supply limitations probably slowed this project more than any other single thing," says Yingling. "To properly convert to a traditional fuel rail with pressure regulator and fuel tank return loop, you need the European Ford ECU, the Euro fuel lines, the engine fuel rail, and the fuel tank from the European Focus. Alamo uses a Kenne-Bell Boost-a-Pump to jack-up the stock fuel pump's maximum fuel supply at high boost, which also easily provides fueling for a 40-shot fogger nitrous injection available for turbo spool-up purposes, when required on the Phase II Turbo Focus.
"The SHO turbo system is very responsive," says Yingling. "We installed the twin-bottle nitrous system prior to turbocharging the car, and it's currently less a performance necessity than an interesting conversation piece. At this point, the bottlenecks currently limiting Focus SHO power in the range 350-400 fwhp," says Yingling, "are the intake manifold, the 'potato-chip' throttlebody, maybe the cams, and the fuel system."
Alamo equipped the SHO Focus with a Quaife limited-slip differential to keep the engine from routinely boiling the tires in lower gears when you hammer the gas pedal. At the same time, Alamo disassembled the transmission gear stack to strengthen it cryogenically.
Dyno-tuning and Road-Testing the Alamo Focus SHO
Once Alamo had interfaced the Haltech E6K's wiring loom to the stock Focus electrical system and engine management sensors and actuators (including the cam trigger), the main challenge was to keep an eye on fuel supply while super-tuning the E6K on the Alamo Dynojet chassis dynamometer. The E6K is a programmable speed-density computer system that does not directly read Mass Air Flow from a hot-wire or film sensor, but instead determines ignition timing and fuel injection pulsewidth based on extensive internal tables of numbers that approximate the volumetric efficiency of the engine. These VE tables must be developed based on exhaustive dyno and/or road-test experimentation at all achievable combinations of speed and manifold pressure.
The process of scratch-building Haltech E6K ignition and fuel speed-density maps begins when you supply a set of engine parameters to Haltech's auto-mapping software. The Haltech builds "startup" maps based on mathematical models that predict engine fueling and ignition timing parameters based on the displacement, injector size, maximum turbo boost, and other factors. This "SWAG" (scientific wild-ass guess) map is typically quite good and is designed at the very least to enable the engine to start. At which point a tuner must laboriously manually optimize best torque (LBT) across a matrix of "breakpoints" of engine speed and manifold pressure on the dyno with a laptop interface program connected to the on-board computer and the help of a sensitive wide-band air-fuel ratio meter or gas analyzer. Following which, the tuner must then verify driveability on the street and track; once tuning is close, the car typically becomes the daily-driver for the chief tuner for a while, with a laptop riding shotgun for minor drivability adjustments, particularly during cold-start and warm-up cycles.
This sort of tuning is routine for dyno-shops like Alamo, but in the case of the Focus SHO, the main trick was to keep a close eye on fuel pressure to make sure that (with the help of a Boost-A-Pump when the turbo is working) the Focus' partially-disconnected stock computer was kept happy enough. It had to continue commanding a reasonable fuel supply from the variable voltage fuel pump under both naturally-aspirated and boost conditions without going into a coma or something while the E6K took over fueling and timing tasks.
What we want to know is, what can this bad boy do when you whip it good? To get some idea, look at the dyno chart. Moving 3,200 lbs worth of inertial dyno rollers, beginning in fourth gear at 15-20 mph and wide-open throttle, the car takes roughly 10 seconds to reach peak power near 75 mph. With the turbo working at full howl, the Focus SHO explodes from 4,000 to 7,000 rpm in fourth gear in four seconds. This "SHO" may be a "show" car, but it is capable of cleaning the clock of a Corvette Z06.
Title: Alamo Focus SHO Turbo
Run Date and Time: 10/6/2001, 1:29:50 AM
Acceleration from 1500 to 7300RPM, interval = 100.00 RPM
Absolute barometric pressure: 29.61 in.Hg.
Vapor pressure: 0.26 in.Hg.
Intake air temperature: 55.8 F
Gear Ratio: 58.51 RPM/MPH
Correction Factor: 0.97 SAE
Run Date and Time: 1/8/2000 10:12:00 AM
Acceleration from 2600 to 6800RPM, interval = 100.00RPMAbsolute barometric pressure: 29.61 in.Hg.
Vapor pressure: 0.17 in.Hg.
Intake air temperature: 50.6 F
Gear Ratio: 80.40 RPM/MPH
Correction Factor: 0.96 SAE
The Alamo Autosports Focus SHO turbo system pulled a triple play on the Zetec four banger by tripling its output. The kit generates 254.4 hp, pushing output from a commuter friendly 111.1 to a Corvette killing 367.7 Torque peaks out at 322.3 lbs-ft.