How much extra power can your 5.0L Explorer motor make with new Trick Flow cylinder heads and a Stage 2 Track Max cam? (Image/Richard Holdener)

To start things off, head on over to your local junkyard and snatch up a fresh 5.0L Mustang engine.

…Wait, what’s that you say? This isn’t the late 1990s (or even early 2000s), and you can’t find any 5.0L Mustangs in the junkyard?

Truth be told, it is harder and harder to find a complete (original) 5.0L Mustang in the yard from which to snatch said fresh 5.0L, but fear not, Mustangs aren’t the only source. Lucky for Ford fanatics, the fabulous 5.0L was used in a great many applications, including full-sized sedans, trucks, and SUVs. It is in the latter where we sourced our test mule, from the bay of a 5.0L Ford Explorer.

If you plan to replace all the top-end hardware anyway, like we did, you would be money ahead grabbing just the short block, but we started with a complete long block courtesy of our good friend Mark Sanchez. In fact, he had the complete motor, including the desirable (GT-40-style) Cobra/Explorer intake, but we opted to start this comparison as a carbureted combo.

The 5.0L Explorer mill is a good source not only as a starting point, but the GT-40 (or P) heads and Explorer intake make good (cheap) power when teamed with a simple cam and spring upgrade. 

Testing the Ford 5.0L Explorer Engine’s Mild Upgrades

To prep our long block for testing, it obviously required some type of induction system. The idea for this test was to compare the stock Explorer GT-40 heads (ours was an early non-P headed version) and cam to the upgrade components offered by Trick Flow Specialties. In truth, Trick Flow also offers a complete top-end kit that includes their very efficient Track Heat upper and lower intake, but we opted to just run the heads and cam on this test. Look for another test on the complete package coming up.

The test components included a set of as-cast, Trick Flow Twisted Wedge heads, Stage 2 cam and 1.6-ratio roller rockers. To establish our baseline, the 5.0L Explorer was first equipped with a dual-plane intake. The dual-plane, high-rise was teamed with a Holley 650 XP carb, though a low-cost alternative would be a similar size from the Brawler series. The initial combo also featured an MSD distributor, 1-3/4-inch, long-tube headers with collector extensions and some fresh 5W-30 oil.

After dialing in the combination, with jetting and 35 degrees of total timing, the carbureted 5.0L Explorer motor produced peak numbers of 264 hp at 5,000 rpm and 316 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,800 rpm. 

Testing the Ford Explorer 5.0L Engine After a Head & Cam Swap

Having established that the used 5.0L Explorer motor was indeed a runner, and getting our baseline power numbers, off came the dual-plane intake and carb to allow for the cam and head swap. We also pulled the valve covers to provide access to the rockers and pushrods, followed by the factory damper to allow access to the wimpy stock cam.

We removed the spider assembly and factory hydraulic roller lifters, though these would be reused with the new Trick Flow Track Max Stage 2 hydraulic roller camshaft. It was necessary to lower the oil pan slightly to facilitate removal of the front cover, but the dyno would reveal this was time well spent. The Stage 2 grind from Trick Flow featured a .542″/.563″ lift split, a 224/232-degree duration split and 112-degree lsa.

Prior to installation, the new Trick Flow cam received a liberal coating of assembly lube. In addition to the Track Max cam, Trick Flow also supplied a double roller timing chain (multi-index), a set of 1.6-ratio, aluminum roller rockers and a set of (6.70-inch) hardened pushrods, properly sized for the Twisted Wedge heads. We liked the fact that the kit also included a full gasket set (including Fel-Pro 1011-2 head gaskets) and ARP head studs.

The Twisted Wedge heads have a long history as a bolt-on power producer, but why do they work? Compared to the stock 5.0L E7TE cylinder heads, or even GT-40 Explorer heads, the 170cc Trick Flow heads featured more (or less) or everything.

First off, their lightweight aluminum construction meant the head swap netted a serious drop in weight over either of the factory iron heads. Now toss in their efficient Fast As Cast ports flowing near 250 cfm, a 2.02″/1.60″ valve package, and the legendary Twisted Wedge CNC-profiled combustion chambers and valve layout, and you have a winning combo.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that 250 cfm is going to work much better than the 160 cfm offered by stock 5.0L heads. We liked the fact that the revised valve angles and orientation increased piston-to-valve clearance (compared to similar valves on conventional inline heads) to allow more aggressive cam profiles with the stock pistons.

After the Trick Flow head, cam, and rocker upgrades, the modified 5.0L Explorer motor threw down peak numbers of  372 hp (at 6,300 rpm) and 356 lb.-ft. (at 4,200 rpm).

Though an extra 110 hp (measured peak to peak) was nothing to sneeze at, the airflow offered by the Trick Flow heads suggested they could support 500 hp on the right combination. Nothing like making an upgrade that has plenty of extra growth potential!                

Carbureted 5.0L Explorer Stock Heads & Cam vs Trick Flow

(Dyno Chart/Richard Holdener)

What 5.0L owner wouldn’t want an extra 110 hp? That’s a serious chunk of change, but it all came as a simple package!

After running the stock 5.0L Explorer heads and cam with a dual plane intake, Holley carb, and MSD distributor, the near-stock SBF produced 264 hp at 5,000 rpm and 316 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,800 rpm. Things changed dramatically after we swapped on the Trick Flow Twisted Wedge heads, Stage 2 Track Max cam. and aluminum roller rockers, to the tune of 372 hp (at 6,300 rpm), and 356 lb.-ft. of torque (at 4,200 rpm).

We all live and breathe horsepower numbers (especially peak numbers), but the great thing about a well-designed combo is the extra torque (like 40 extra lb.-ft.). Even down at 3,100 rpm, the new combo improved torque production by 25 lb.-ft.  

For our test, the Ford 5.0L Explorer (302) was first equipped with a polished, dual-plane, (high-rise) intake. (Image/Richard Holdener)
To ensure plenty of air and fuel flow to the 5.0L, we topped the dual-plane intake with a Holley 650 XP carburetor. A (low-buck) Quick Fuel Brawler carb would also work well on this application. (Image/Richard Holdener)
Because the factory EFI distributor would not work with the carbureted combo, we upgraded to this billet distributor from MSD. (Image/Richard Holdener)
To establish a baseline, the 5.0L was first run on the dyno with the dual plane intake, Holley carb and Hooker long-tube headers. So equipped, the carbureted 302 produced 264 hp and 316 lb.-ft. of torque. (Image/Richard Holdener)
After our baseline, we tore into the Ford Explorer motor and removed the valve covers to provide access to the factory stamped-steel rockers and pushrods. (Image/Richard Holdener)
We then yanked the intake and factory iron GT-40 heads, leaving us with a bare short block. (Image/Richard Holdener)
After dropping the oil pan, and removing the damper, we pulled the front cover to provide access to the high-mileage timing chain. Note we positioned the factory timing gear at TDC prior to removal of the chain. (Image/Richard Holdener)
After removal of the factory spider assembly and hydraulic roller lifters, out came the factory Explorer cam. (Image/Richard Holdener)
A serious step up from the wimpy factory offering, the Track Max Stage 2 cam offered a .542″/.563″ lift split, a 224/232-degree duration split and 112-degree lsa. (Image/Richard Holdener)
The top-end kit from Trick Flow Specialties also included a multi-index, double-roller timing chain. Make sure to countersink the bolt holes in the cam retaining plate (per instructions) prior to installation. (Image/Richard Holdener)
The Trick Flow Twisted Wedge cylinder heads featured a valve spring package designed to accept the Stage 2 Track Max cam lift and rpm potential. The assembled heads also featured dedicated guide plates designed specifically for the revised valve locations. (Image/Richard Holdener)
The 170cc intake ports flowed over 250 cfm (enough to support 500 hp on the right application). This compares to just 160 cfm for the stock iron E7TE heads (slightly more for the GT40 heads). (Image/Richard Holdener)
Compared to traditional inline wedge heads, the Twisted Wedge valve orientation improved both flow and piston-to-valve clearance. (Image/Richard Holdener)
The Trick Flow Twisted Wedge heads received these 1.6-ratio, aluminum roller rockers and hardened pushrods. (Image/Richard Holdener)
After upgrading the 5.0L with the Trick Flow Specialties components, the power output jumped by nearly 110 hp, to 372 hp at 6,300 rpm and 356 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. (Image/Richard Holdener)

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Richard Holdener is a technical editor with over 25 years of hands-on experience in the automotive industry. He's authored several books on performance engine building and written numerous articles for publications like Hot Rod, Car Craft, Super Chevy, Power & Performance, GM High Tech, and many others.