It's something of an SCC tradition to start project car updates with a long list of excuses why the update is so late. Instead, let's flip that around a bit and explain why we finally got around to turbocharging our Focus. More than a year ago, we decided it might be fun to take an SVT Focus and make it faster than a 390-hp SVT Mustang Cobra without spending any more than we would to just buy a Cobra. We ordered up a Focus, went to Mexico to watch them build it, and subjected it and a Cobra to our normal barrage of tests.
Surprisingly, the SVT Focus beat the Cobra in braking and slalom speed, but the Cobra made more skidpad grip and, well, you can probably guess what happened at the dragstrip. All this told us one thing: We needed a turbo. So we ordered one and started driving the SVT Focus, as is. We liked it and drove it so much, we wore the tires to the cords and got a flat. Hmm. The car's not moving. Quick, let's turbocharge it! Two days later, there was a box full of turbo kit on our doorstep.
The kit is from Precision Turbo and Engine in Indiana--a world away. We first spotted this turbo kit at the SEMA show and we were impressed with much of what we saw. Stuffing a turbo into the front of a Focus is tricky, since the turbo tends to get stuffed rather tightly between the head and the plastic radiator fans and coolant lines. Plastic tends to melt in the presence of turbos. PTE uses a relatively long manifold to put the turbo next to the oil pan where there's more room. This leads to a problem, though. Oil has to drain from the turbo back into the oil pan. If it has to go uphill, it'll back up into the center housing, increasing the oil pressure in the turbo and blow past the oil seals, making a big, oily mess. With the turbo drain below the oil level in the pan, however, it has to go uphill. PTE solves this problem by letting oil drain into a billet-aluminum sump bolted to the turbo and then pumping it uphill with an electric pump.When we first saw this design on a display engine, we were hooked. "These guys are thinking," we thought. "They're doing unusual things and they understand what they're doing well enough to deal with the consequences."
We also liked that the kit came with a big front-mount intercooler and a ball-bearing Garrett GT28R turbo.The only obvious problem was that it was designed and tested on an automatic Focus with the standard Zetec engine, which is a world away from our SVT's Zetec. But upon closer inspection, the differences are less than they first seem.
The PTE turbo manifold will bolt to either engine equally well. The base Zetec has a horribly restrictive close-coupled catalytic converter mounted to the front of the block. The SVT has a beautiful, elaborate and surprisingly large tri-Y header blowing into a high-flow metallic catalyst mounted underneath and behind the engine. But PTE's turbo manifold only cares about the location of the exhaust ports, which is exactly the same. Both cars have the same engine block, so little details like oil fittings will still be where they belong. And the front bumper, where the intercooler has to mount, is basically the same shape. With such different exhaust routings, however, the downpipe from the kit won't work.
The only differences that affect the fitment of the kit are the SVT's higher compression (bad), stronger rods (good), different exhaust routing, and a throttle body that's in a different location. To make things work, we'll have to get a new downpipe and upper intercooler pipe fabricated, which shouldn't be that hard. Famous last words.
When work began, we were going to tackle installation of the kit ourselves. It is a kit, after all. It has instructions and we have wrenches. Then we started trying to take the SVT apart. When it designed the Focus, Ford threw convention out the window. Everything was rethought. Everything was designed so the car could be assembled faster and easier, with fewer parts and fewer tools. The result of all this innovation is that nothing works like you think it does. You expect the fans to be bolted to the radiator, as they are in nearly every other modern car. Instead, cleverly integrated plastic clips hold them on, some of which have little hidden tabs you have to depress to slide it out. This is great if you can find the tabs. You also expect the three-piece radiator shroud that was put in the car in three pieces to come out of the car in three pieces. And it does, but only after you drill out all the plastic welds they did after they stuck it in there.
Since we were too lazy to buy a factory service manual, it took a day and a half to figure out how to get the stock exhaust manifold off (you have to remove the fans to do it). If you're doing this yourself, buy a service manual. As for us, we just called a flatbed and had the whole mess dragged over to FocusSport. FocusSport knows where all those hidden tabs are.
The first thing the guys at FocusSport did was show us how to get to the oil galley plug on the back of the block. This plug is removed to screw in the pre-bent turbo oil lines that come with the kit. To reach it, you need a lift, you need to remove the cat and its broken mounting bracket (after two dealers are unable to find a part number for it, you'll have to weld it back together rather than replace it) and you'll need three years of yoga training.
With the oil lines installed, the manifold in place, and the turbo bolted up, we finally installed the turbo oil-scavenging pump. The pump mounts in a vibration-isolating rubber mount that bolts to the air-conditioning compressor. A year and a half ago when we first saw the system use a scavenge pump for the turbo, we thought, "Wow, these guys have really thought things through," but when we finally saw it on our car, we thought, "Wow, these guys are from Indiana." In Indiana, we're guessing, people don't lower their cars much. It also snows there. Anyone fool enough to turbocharge their Focus is smart enough to have a beater snow car, so the Focus plays garage queen when the weather is sour. Making the transition to garage queen changes things. It makes every drive special. It makes you more careful.
Here in Southern California, it doesn't snow. We don't need beaters. The turbo Focus isn't necessarily a garage queen. We aren't very careful. We're fool enough to drive cars like this every day. We go 90 mph on the way to work. In traffic. And when a piece of retread comes flying out from under the car in front of us, we're too boxed in by the turbo Civics and turbo Sentras racing to work with us, so we can't swerve to avoid it. We have no choice but to pucker up and hit the damn thing.
Problem is, the turbo's little oil sump has to be lower than the turbo, and the scavenge pump has to be lower than the sump. That makes the scavenge pump the lowest point on the car. Correction: That makes the electrical connector on the scavenge pump the lowest point on the car.
If that piece of retread doesn't take out the pump, sump, or one of the oil lines--which would quickly drain the engine of oil--it will at least destroy the wiring, stall the pump, back up oil into the turbo and blow past the oil seals.
We'll have to fabricate some sort of skidplate to protect the pump, and the design of the Focus makes this very difficult, since there's nothing structural this low on the car. Correction: GT Fabrication will have to fabricate some sort of skidplate when it does the downpipe and intercooler pipe. We learned our lesson with the radiator fans. The next driveway scraper turned out to be our own damn fault. When we told PTE we wanted to outrun a Cobra, it suggested more intercooler. The deeper core PTE was sending, though, would hang lower. Then we said, "No problem, we'll be modifying the bumper support, putting on a WRC nose, building a titanium skidplate and moving the front wheels forward two feet. Just send it!" Or something stupid like that. For now, we're just drilling holes in the bumper and trying to get everything running again.
After seeing the tight clearance between some of the intercooler pipes and the car, we realized engine movement would be a big problem once we were making big torque. The engine's torque reaction is mostly controlled by a single torque mount under the rear of the engine. Since we were at FocusSport, it was an easy matter to raid its inventory for one of its polyurethane torque mounts. The stiffer polyurethane bushings in the FocusSport arm are pre-mounted in a billet-aluminum arm, so you don't need to worry about getting someone to press out your bushings. While the stiffer torque arm limits engine movement, most of the engine's vibrations are still absorbed by the soft engine and transmission mounts.
Of course, the car would have to run for us to know that for sure, and that won't happen until next time. The car is off to GT Fabrication next for that downpipe, intercooler pipe and oil pump protection gear. Then we'll have to figure out exactly how we're going to tune this thing. PTE ships a pre-burned Superchips ECU with all the kits, but they don't work with the SVT. Superchips may be able to make the SVT tuning work on our car, but that's a whole different project. Next time.