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Author Topic: So, you want to build a Turbo Pinto - Part 1  (Read 7579 times)

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Offline Wittsend

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So, you want to build a Turbo Pinto - Part 1
« on: March 27, 2009, 12:40:36 AM »
Every now and then someone requests information regarding the 2.3 Turbo swap into a Pinto.  Bill has done an excellent piece on the matter from a conglomeration of his previous posts.  Having relied on that I thought I would create an addendum to what he provided (as well as others) in letting interested parties know what they are in for.
   On paper this project looks like a 2 on a scale of 10.  I would say it is a hard 7 on the 10 scale!  I did what I think is probably one of the hardest swaps.  I used a 1973 wagon originally with a 2.0, C-4 and a 6-3/4” rear end.  I adapted in a 1988 turbo coupe (intercooled) with a T-5 and used the original 1988 turbo coupe wire harness.

So, you want to swap a 2.3 Turbo into a Pinto?  Having done that I thought I would pass on my experience:

Which Pinto?

 1974 and up Pinto’s are better suited for the swap (explained below).

Sedan-Hatchback/Wagons (battery location)?

Wagons weight more, but are purported to be safer from rear end collisions due to extended sheetmetal.  On this swap the turbo goes where the battery was.  You can put it in the back on a wagon, but it gets in the way and vents to the interior of the car (I guess it would on a hatch back too). I opted to put the battery in the driver’s side front of the engine compartment. This required removing the Pinto washer bottle and adapting the turbo coupe bottle under the fender.
  Note that on my car (and many other Pinto’s) the battery tray area is often rusted out.  I created my own special panel to accommodate more turbo room, waste gate actuator room and make it easier to bolt on the exhaust pipe.  Many have resorted to cutting and drilling holes for the needed clearance if you retain the stock panel.

Front end?

  The whole basic front end on the 1974 and up Pinto’s is different from the earlier cars.  The 1971-1973 front end parts are harder to find and typically cost more.  The 1973 Pinto has a one year only steering rack. It has “knob” on the drivers side that I had to grind down for additional oil pan clearance clearance.

Motor mounts?

  If you have a 1973 and older you will need to procure 1974 and up motor mounts (engine to frame rail – three pieces each side).  You will have to grind out the original motor mounts.  You will have to “guestimate” the right positioning of the engine (for me hours of contemplation) and then have the capabilities to weld the mounts in.


  The 1974 and up Pinto’s have about an inch or so of extra clearance at the radiator because they have a different radiator cradle.  With a 1973 and older I got about 3/8” clearance between the 2.3 water pump bolts and the radiator.  There is also limited space for a mechanical fan.
  1973 and older Pinto’s came with 17” radiators.  A 20” radiator is advised. You will need to modify the cradle opening to accommodate this radiator. My understanding is that some 1974 and up Pinto’s came with 17” radiators also.  This would still require the recommended change though I don’t believe the cradle needs to be modified.
 I would advise an electric fan.  1973 and older cars have no space for a pull through fan.  Their may be this limitation on 1974 and up cars too.  Pusher fans have grill clearance issues.  If one desires a front mounted intercooler the problems compound.  Some situations require an alternative to the factory hood latch.

 Oil pan?

The turbo coupes came with a rear sump oil pan. You will need a Pinto 2.3 front sump oil pan and pick up.  Note one of the pick-up bolts is very hard to get out.  The bolts are also multi point star type.  Consider reusing the turbo coupe pan gasket with sealer. They are not cheap.

 Donor car.

It is HIGHLY recommended you purchase a complete donor car.  This insures you have ALL the little parts one needs for this swap.

 What donor car (engine)?

Turbo Coupe, SVO, Merkur

1987-88 turbo coupes (and purportedly the 1986 SVO’s) have the best setups.  They were rated about 30 HP higher than the other cars. The 87-88 turbo coupes have intercoolers (maybe the SVO’s???).  The bad about that is on the Pinto you have to cut a hole in the hood to vent it. Otherwise you have to adapt a front mount intercooler and deal with the other problems listed above under “radiator.”

What wire harness?

  The Merkur harness is purported to be the easiest to connect.  I’m told it is a separate item to the regular car harness.  The pre-1987 harnesses come next.  The 87-88 harnesses are the most difficult – a real nightmare (ask me how I know).  Different harnesses require different pin configurations at the computer. You have been warned.

How to wire?

  You are on your own for gauges, relays etc.  I used the relay box found on the 87-88 turbo coupes. A lot of people don’t like them, but I found the fuel pump relay, radiator fan relay etc. to be a one stop hook up.
  My wiring problems were compounded by the fact that I elected to use the turbo coupe steering column because I wanted the stalk mounted variable wipers, high beams and cruise control.  Thus, me reason for choosing to use the stock 1988 harness.
  I ran the turbo coupe harness into the Pinto (through the firewall) at two points. The main input through the firewall was near the upper corner behind the heater similar to the turbo coupe location. The other was near the Pinto speedometer cable firewall hole.  When you dissect the harness label EVERYTHING!

What fuel pump?

 The injected turbo motors use a high pressure electric fuel pump.  The turbo coupes had an in-tank pump.  Some Ford F- series pick-ups and vans had an external mounted fuel pump that can be adapted.  There are after market pumps available. I have also heard use of BMW pumps.  A few notes on connecting: Ford used a shock switch to turn the fuel pump off in an accident.  It is highly advised that you wire this in to protect yourself and your passengers.  It is things like this where buying the whole donor car pays off.
  Additionally this system needs a fuel return line. Some opt to use the vent line, but it is not the best and then the tank must vent through the gas cap to the atmosphere.  I’m not a “green” guy, but for future sake wanted to be able to pass any smog test that may be to come.  I drilled a hole and soldered a return line through the gas gauge/fuel outlet.  Unfortunately this melted the seal (can you say leak) for the fuel send wire.  Hopefully JB Weld will persevere.

What computer (and where)?

The LA-3 from the 88 (maybe 87 too) turbo coupes and the 1986 SVO (different number ??? ) are said to be the best.  However there are manual and Auto computer versions so check for your application.  Also, there may be no benefit (and possible problems) using these computers on cars without the upgrade to the injectors, turbo intercooler etc.
 I opted to put the computer in the stock, passenger kick panel location. I heated the kick panel, bent it around the computer and fastened an extra section of another panel to complete the distance.

Where to put the VAM and Air Cleaner?

  The 1973 and older cars have limited space under the hood. Due to the turbo inlet angle I elected (as others have) to put the VAM and air cleaner inside the passenger fender in the front.  It took quite a while to fabricate a mount to adequately support it.  There are also some larger tire clearance issues as well as a need to protect it from water and dirt.
 Others have found ways to put the VAM  in the engine compartment and typically use a cone style air cleaner under the fender of in front of the radiator.

 Part 2