By Steve Baur Photography By The Author And Courtesy Of Ford Motor Company

THE YEAR 1996 had a lot of Mustang enthusiasts scratching their heads. The body of their beloved ponycar looked the same, but under the hood was something quite unfamiliar. It was the debut of the overhead-cam modular V-8 engine in the Mustang, and many enthusiasts wrote the little 281 i mill off from the get-go. Add in OBD II

computer programming and it would seem the fun days were over.

In Dearborn, Team Mustang continued to improve the overhead-cam engine design, as did John Coletti's SVT division and Carroll Shelby's snake charmers. Most enthusiasts are well aware of the modular engine's fondness of unnatural aspiration, but these days, there are plenty of tuners/builders extracting unreal horsepower from naturally aspirated 281ci and 330ci engines.

Yes, the once-maligned modular engine family has come a long way in its relatively short lifespan. The term modular was given to the engine family due to the manufacturing

IT WAS dark times for Mustang GT enthusiasts in 1996. Though the Two-Valve 4.6L was less than awe-inspiring, the ray of light was the '96 Mustang Cobra, whose Four-Valve 4.6L showed that the modular engine family had great potential.

THOUGH THE common conception is that mod motors are boost-happy, Boss 330 Racing's Al Papitto has shown that they can make plenty of power when normally aspirated. Papitto's Cobra, powered by a 5.5L Four-Valve engine, has run the quarter-mile in the low-9-second range. The engine produces over 500 hp on its own.

THOUGH THE common conception is that mod motors are boost-happy, Boss 330 Racing's Al Papitto has shown that they can make plenty of power when normally aspirated. Papitto's Cobra, powered by a 5.5L Four-Valve engine, has run the quarter-mile in the low-9-second range. The engine produces over 500 hp on its own.

process used to produce them. Giving V-8 and V-10 engines the same basic design/architecture allows Ford to build several different engines on the same production line with very little change. Even a V-6 was considered part of this design at one time.

Certain vehicle designs necessitated a tight bore spacing, which keeps the block short in overall length, to allow Ford to mount

THOUGH IT debuted in the Lincoln Mark VIII, the normally aspirated Four-Valve engine saw several revisions over its lifespan. Pictured is the '99-'01 Cobra powerplant, which received a revised intake manifold and cylinder heads. All normally aspirated DOHC 4.6L engines feature an aluminum block with six-bolt main caps.

THOUGH IT debuted in the Lincoln Mark VIII, the normally aspirated Four-Valve engine saw several revisions over its lifespan. Pictured is the '99-'01 Cobra powerplant, which received a revised intake manifold and cylinder heads. All normally aspirated DOHC 4.6L engines feature an aluminum block with six-bolt main caps.

THE '00 Cobra R's 5.4L engine produced a normally aspirated 385 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque.

the V-8 transversely in some of its products. This left enthusiasts with relatively small displacement engines powering increasingly larger vehicles; the Mustang was no exception. Ford got creative with the engineering though, and has continually improved the modular engine family.

One could write a book about Ford's modular family of engines, so we've largely condensed the details to bring you a brief look at its history. What may surprise you is that the modular engine showed up in other production Ford vehicles long before the 5.0L pushrod-powered Mustang ever saw them.

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