When it comes to entry-level racing--either on dirt or asphalt--there isno doubt that the Mini-Stock classes are among the most popular outthere. The costs are easier to contain, the cars are cheaper and not asadvanced, and the lower power levels compared to V-8s keep the speedsmanageable.

A second advantage of the Mini-Stocks is there is basicallyonly one engine out there. Yes, there are racers out there campaigningToyotas and Chevrolets, but by and large they are the individualistslooking to do things their own way and hate following the status quo.Ford's venerable little four-banger is hands-down the popular champ whenit comes to the Mini Stocks. The engines hold up well to racing stress.They were produced in the millions and can be found relatively easily.There's nothing fancy about them (which makes them easy to work on; it'seasy to source parts for them).

So it's interesting that while the crateengine wave came crashing down on us a couple of seasons ago, we haven'tyet seen a four-cylinder crate offering. Until now, that is.

A couple ofyears ago, the folks at Esslinger Engineering, one of the mostrecognized shops in the country when it comes to buildinghigh-performance four-cylinder engines for any application, introducedits aluminum CNC cylinder head for Ford's 2.3- and 2.5-liter engines.The head was not only an improvement over the stock unit; it was also aresponse to the anticipated shortage of cylinder heads that is now uponus.

"The cylinder head was a success,'' says Dan Esslinger, thecompany's president. Customers seemed to appreciate a complete cylinderhead ready to bolt on. The logical next step is a complete, turnkeymotor for racing. "If you look at the trend of just about everything inracing, the old-school racers are moving on and they are being replacedby guys that want to race and don't want to work on their stuff somuch," explains Esslinger. "And that's OK, because racing is the funpart.

"All the big manufacturers have jumped in with crate engines.Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge all offer something, and even otheroperations are selling their own versions of V-8 crate engines. What wedidn't see available was something for the four-cylinder guys. Whatwe've put together we feel is a pretty good combination that providesgood power at a good price."

Indeed, Esslinger Engineering's two cratemotors are built using many parts that are purpose-built for racing.They include the CNC aluminum cylinder head, bigger stainless steelvalves, solid lifters with roller rockers, a gated oval track oil pan,Wiseco pistons, and Esslinger Engineering's own CNC aluminum water pump.

"What we tried to create was something that made good power but wasn'ttoo exotic. It may not be the perfect fit for everywhere and everycondition, but it will work very well in most places," Esslinger says."For us, everything we've done before was a custom engine. That was trueeven in the racing classes that required basically stock engines,because we spent so much time chasing the smallest power gains. Thiscrate engine allows us to build a really good quality race engine andlower the cost because eliminating all the custom changes really cutsdown on the man hours."

Because the engine package is so new, there areno on-track results to report. The only question looming for tracks toallow the engine is the cylinder head. Many rule books require "stock"heads with minor porting work. Esslinger Engineering's aluminum headobviously isn't stock, but in the long run Dan Esslinger believes it isthe best (and cheaper) option.

"In a couple of years, there simplyaren't going to be any more cylinder heads left," he explains. "Rightnow, if we get in 10 cylinder heads, we are lucky if we find three thatwe can use.

"Ford made millions of these engines, and the blocks haveheld up well. But the cylinder heads tend to overheat and crack. Not tomention that these engines came in the cheaper vehicles--Pintos,Mustangs, Rangers, things like that. Parents handed them down to theirchildren to drive, and they just drove them into the ground. They wereessentially treated as throwaway cars. That's why the heads are gettingso hard to find; [we] felt that producing our own head was the best wayto go."

Esslinger Engineering's cylinder head is designed around Ford'sfamous D-port cylinder head for the 2.3-liter engine. All the bolt holesmatch the stock unit, so everything designed for the 2.3- or 2.5-literengines--from intakes to exhaust headers, water necks--will work withit. The combustion chambers are different, however. They mimic newerFord SVO chambers to improve efficiency. The D-port design was chosenbecause the ports flow well and it matches up with the best intakemanifolds available for carburetors. Finally, the head is fully CNCmachined, and the ports are designed to be just a little bit better outof the box than a fully ported stock head.

"Stock Ford heads really getto flowing good about the same time you grind holes into the waterjackets," Esslinger says. "Ours flow just a little bit better than thatright off the CNC machine. That is going to save a guy a lot of time andexpense. Plus, there is not much reason to do additional porting becauseit isn't going to help much. Where it is worth it to spend all thatmoney on a stock head because you can find 30 horsepower, it isn't worthit on our CNC head because there is maybe only 10 hp at the most to begained."

One of the big reasons for waiting to get the crate motor outwas Esslinger Engineering wanted to make sure the package was as good aspossible before marketing it. The idea was not only to offer a crateengine, but one that was stable. In other words, Esslinger plans to beable to put this same package of parts together next season and the nextso that there won't be different versions on the market. If this enginegains acceptance, there is hope it will be used as a spec engine forracers who enjoy racing more than they do wrenching. "Sealing an engineis the easy part," Esslinger says. "Right now, we are just working on anengine that our customers can afford and win some races with."

Esslinger Engineering
1432 Potrero Ave.
South El Monte
CA  91733
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