The Old Gray Sedan, She Ain't What She Used To Be...

Old Grey SedanMarch - April 2002 Lane Racing And Rodding Article By John McLellan

The chassis dynamometer is the only sure-fire method for registering a car's true at-the-wheel horsepower rating, and at the wheels is where the horsepower really counts. We recently had the chance to pore over some dyno-generated stats after our in-house website guru, Mark Rowe, drove his '98 Ford SVT Contour up to Baker Engineering in Nunica, Michigan for a dyno session.

Before we get into the dyno information, we should tell you that Mark's Contour is not a garden variety stocker, with pretty wheels and a loud exhaust. It would be an understatement to simply say that this little sedan has undergone some pretty serious modifications when, in fact, the complete "package" of modifications and add-ons would bring a smile to the face of even the most hardened speed shop owner. Under the hood, Mark has installed a Vortech Supercharger System, Custom Water Injection with a Labtronics Spray Controller, Taylor 8mm Spiro-Pro Plug Wires, NGK Spark Plugs, Haines Motorsports, Inc. "Smooth" Exhaust Manifolds, and Energy Suspension Motor Mount Inserts. Continuing the complete package approach, Mark upgraded the suspension with Eibach Springs, an "Aussie Bar" 24mm Hollow Rear Sway Bar, and Energy Suspension bushings. Rounding out the mods are Brembo Cross-Drilled and Coated Brake Rotors, KVR Carbon Fiber Brake Pads, Castrol Synthetic Brake Fluid, B&M "Pro-Edge" Short Throw Shifter, Taylor/Vertex Battery Relocation Kit, Custom Cat-Back Exhaust with Vibrant "Type V" Canister Style Mufflers.

Now that we're all on the same page with regard to the base vehicle, let's get on with the dyno session. This was actually Mark's third visit to Baker Engineering since he installed the supercharger. The first session produced a front wheel horsepower rating of 274. The next dyno session yielded 293 front wheel horsepower, and more was on tap when the blower broke. Mark feels that the 19 horsepower improvement between test #1 and test #2 was mostly due to better atmospheric conditions.

Mark arrived at Baker about half an hour before his 3:00 p.m. appointment and let the car cool down before beginning the test. At   3:00 p.m., he pulled up to the dyno and they started to pull the car on. From this point, the car was lifted up to the rollers and then pulled forward and strapped in place. The car's ignition was hooked up to the dynamometer with a cable that connects to the WINPep monitoring software. After everything was secure, Mark was given the signal to start the car. Chuck McAvinchey, the technician at Baker, double-checked all the tie-downs and monitoring software. As soon as Chuck was satisfied that everything was OK, he gave Mark the go-ahead to run the car through the gears until he reached 4th gear (the closest gear to 1:1 ratio). Mark then allowed the car to slow momentarily, to 2,500 RPM and then he was directed to fully depress the accelerator and hold it there until the car reached the fuel cut-off point of 7,500 RPM. Mark was looking for a reading of 310-320 fwhp, a realistic expectation considering the car's modifications.

Unfortunately, mechanical gremlins had other plans. At 5,800 RPM, the boost gauge registered 7psi and then, instead of climbing to 10psi, it "bobbled" between 6 and 7psi all the way to 7,500 RPM. Mark and Chuck suspected that boost was leaking from some part of the system, a suspicion verified by the less than stellar reading of 251 horsepower at the front wheels. The culprit turned out to be the seal in the cap of the water tank used for the water injection. Boost is bled from the blower to pressurize the water tank in order to maintain consistent line pressure to the two spray pumps situated before the spray nozzle on the throttle body. The seal had been attacked by the methanol mixed with the water in the tank and was no longer able to withstand the pressure.

Undaunted, Mark has already re-engineered the water injection system and plans to return to the dyno at Baker within the near future. He says his eventual goal is to reach 328 fwhp, what he refers to as the "magic number" which would indicate an honest 400 horsepower at the flywheel. If he accomplishes this feat, he will be the first SVT Contour owner/enthusiast to reach that mark. Like he says,"400 horses out of a 2.5L V6 4-door family sedan...yes, I am a sick individual!" Reaching the 400 horsepower plateau would effectively double the original power output of the little sedan. This would be equivalent to pumping 900 horses out of a LS-6 454 Chevy big block! We should note that one would most likely not use a 900 horse big block for everyday transport, and the engine's mileage would be considerably less than the 25 miles per gallon than Mark's Contour, his only car, still delivers each and every day.

Regardless of the next dyno outcome, if you see a low-slung, silver Contour SVT perched next to you at the stoplight, don't hassle the driver. This self-proclaimed "sick individual" may just deposit your jitney in the weeds. For anyone interested in having their vehicle tested on a chassis dyno, visit Baker Engineering's web site:

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