Welcome to my world, my world of turbos, tyre smoke, and tuning...
Tuning cars, driving cars, testing parts, and complaining about everything. It's my job, and a the majority of my non-work life too...
In the UK and Europe, the Ford Pinto was about the most popular Ford engine to tune in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, and to this day powers loads of fast road and race cars.
The Pinto has spawned loads of legendary variations, most famously the YB Cosworth engine, but also things like the Millington Diamond engines you see powering most top Mk1/2 Escort rally cars these days, among other things.
The thing is, while the Pinto was cheap and common, let's be honest, it wasn't that great, and didn't exactly set the tuning world on fire. Granted, it can be made to push out decent performance, and the bigger bucks and much rarer YB/Millington/Warrior/etc headed versions can be pretty insane, but for your average Joe road car tuner, once the 80s and 90s came along with various other, better, engine options, it just didn't cut the mustard; especially as there was very little serious turbo development done by tuners or racers on the basic 8 valve production Pinto engines.
In the USA though, they didn't get 'our' Pinto, but oddly, and on a similar time scale to our engines (ie early 1970s on), they got a very similar looking, but it turns out totally and utterly un-interchangeable engine, fitted to a car that was called the Ford Pinto. But the engine wasn't called a Pinto, the engine was the Ford Lima.
It looks like a Pinto, with it's inline 4cyl 8 valve setup and iron block and head, but the Lima is, aside from de-stroked race engines late small bore versions, 2.3ltr, 0.3ltr more than the biggest production Pinto, which is a bonus for tuning from the outset. In fact it's even more of a bonus than it first seems, as thanks to the engine design, the capacity can be increased hugely with stroker kits, with high revving engines up to 2.9ltr (just under 400bhp N/A!) have been built from the Lima.
Standard capacity is one bonus, but another is, like it or not, the Lima block seems to be a lot stronger than the production Pinto block too. Normal Pinto blocks are generally considered a liability above 400bhp (though more has been done, with some risking pushing the 205 block YBs beyond 500...), and beyond that it's generally the stronger (but interchangeable) YB Cosworth (4wd and RS500) blocks that are needed for the Euro Pintos.
The Lima block though? Well, 1000bhp+ has been known...
Another massive advantage is the Lima attracted a huge tuning and motorsport scene in the USA and South America, so unlike the Pinto, there's a large amount of tuning knowledge and parts out there enabling BIG power; especially with turbocharging them.
Perhaps the biggest single advantage though from a road car tuner point of view, is, from 1979 to 1989, it was sold as a factory turbocharged engine on a huge number of vehicles. This means it was not the lucky rich few who got to play with them, but your average Joe had no problem affording one, as they were cheap and relatively commonplace.
As always with road car tuning though, there's always the question of "Where IS the limit of this engine?" and without motorsport it's rarely found out. But just like the YB Cosworth engine we all know and love, the turbo Lima was used by the Ford Motorsport teams for their race engines too, which meant a whole shitload of expensive R+D the road tuners could never do was done for them by Ford, advancing the tuning scene massively...
In the early-mid 80s XR4TIs in the USA kicked quite a bit of ass in IMSA GTU racing using 2ltr 400bhp versions of these engine, still using the factory iron heads etc etc, but then for the TransAm race series where more many more mods were allowed, the Lima engine went fucking mental...
Bashing out 800bhp (allegedly 1000bhp+ wasn't an issue in dyno testing, but of course it needs to last full race distance) from the little 2valve per cyl turbo engine, while still lasting full race distance, these things were mental.
Check out the small water lines from the head next to each exhaust port- Cool little mod to prevent steam/heat pockets in the head, which is one of the many reasons big power turbo engines shit out head gaskets and so on...
Even Ford themselves considered making the engine even better, funnily enough about the same time Ford Europe turned the Pinto in to the YB Cosworth, by creating a twin cam 16V Turbo version. While prototypes were fitted to a few testbed cars, inc a Mk1 Sierra chassis (the B+W pic below), it never saw full production, which is a shame, as potentially it was a Cossie beater when tuned, considering how good the 8V head version is...
Anyhow, after Ford themselves stopped racing it, the tuning scene and indeed the racing scene using these engines went from strength to strength, especially with US Ford 4cyl tuning gods Esslinger Engineering producing countless parts for them, from stroker kits to lightweight, high flow, and strong as hell, alloy heads and blocks.
It's not like these 8 valve engines are only good with a ton of boost shoved down them either, as they're hugely popular in naturally aspirated form in midget racing (crazy single seat dirt track go-kart things, not small people with large heads), and often push out 375bhp from 2.6ltr versions revving to around 10,000rpm!
In fact Esslinger are so confident in these things, they sell a sealed crate race motor, 2.6ltr, 340bhp, and 9400rpm, that is capable of over 30 races before needing a rebuild- Try that with a Pinto!
So yeah, in my eyes at least, as much as the YB Cosworth is one of my, if not my favourite engine ever, it's a real shame Ford USA and Ford Europe didn't work together on engines, as if the Lima existed over here in place of our Pintos (woo, alternate future theories...), our tuning scene, especially the Ford tuning scene, probably would've been even more full of big power cars, and even earlier than it was...
Hi, I'm Stav...
You may or may not have heard of me, but I've spent the last 15 years working full-time in the tuning scene, and the last decade or so writing for various car magazines.