Ford lobs one into the aftermarket, and Kenny Brown hits it outta the park.
BY LARRY WEBSTER
Photography BY AARON KILEY
Car and Driver MARCH 2003
You know what a "gimme" is, right? It's a freebie, the short putt credited without trying, a scoring gift. If you're Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher and you've already clinched the Formula 1 championship, the gimme is to lift off the gas on the final straight and let your teammate blow by for the win.
If you're Ford, your gimme to the aftermarket is the Mercury Marauder.
Why? The Marauder is a 302-hp, $34,495 souped-up version of the V-8-powered, rear-drive Mercury Grand Marquis that's supposed to be a real terror on the road. Says brand manager Philip Smoker: "The new Marauder is a true four-door muscle car—a black shark in a sea of minnows." Hey, easy on the caffeine, Phil, because a Honda Accord V-6 outruns it to 60 mph—getting there in 7.0 seconds to the Marauder's 7.5. Nothing against Honda, but that's like wrestling your little sister—and losing. We bet every single Marauder owner will utter—at least once—the phrase, "Hmm, this thing feels pretty soft, I wonder if a couple of spark-plug wires fell off."
In fact, we're betting that many of the roughly 3000 Marauder owners will be looking for some mo' juice. Kenny Brown, the noted tuner of Mustangs and other Fords, is betting on it. He won't be surprised if his new $16,800 Marauder performance package—it includes new brakes, a lowered suspension, and most important, 158 more horses—becomes his bestselling kit. And since Ford Racing, the blue oval's aftermarket parts division, does not currently offer any worthwhile performance enhancements tailored to fit the Marauder, Brown has—for now—a captive market. He didn't say it, but we could almost hear him thinking, "Show me the money!"
It's fitting that Brown is the orchestrator of this Marauder transformation. He was the original sculptor of the Lounge Lizard C/D project car (November 1998), a supercharged, blacked-out version of the Crown Victoria (Ford's version of the Mercury Grand Marquis) that we believe was the forerunner to the Marauder.
Since we published the Lounge Lizard story, Brown has built 35 similar cars, but since the Marauder and the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis use different engines, he had to gin up a new kit for the Marauder. For the Lizard and its SOHC 16-valve V-8 engine, Brown used a Roots-type supercharger that is sold by Ford—through Ford Racing—and sits in the vee of the engine. Ford Racing doesn't sell a Roots-type blower for the Marauder's DOHC 32-valve, 4.6-liter V-8. Even if it did, Brown says the Roots blower wouldn't fit underneath the Marauder's hood.
So Brown developed a centrifugal blower for the Marauder that's bolted to the front of the engine and driven by the accessory-drive belt. There are more than 150 pieces to his new engine kit, he says, including an air-to-air intercooler and larger fuel injectors. The maximum boost is a modest 7.0 psi, and the engine internals remain stock.
It's a slick, lively engine, with a powerful rush to redline and a wonderful V-8 roar. Since a centrifugal blower tends to work more like a turbocharger and provide the most benefit at higher rpm, Brown also included a shorter final drive (4.10:1 versus 3.55:1) to further increase throttle response and acceleration. The Marauder's four-speed automatic transmission is unchanged.
The results are staggering. The sprint to 60 mph took only 4.5 seconds—three seconds quicker than the stock Marauder. The quarter-mile zipped by in 13.1 seconds at 108 mph (versus 15.5 seconds at 91 mph for the stock car). Right about the time the factory car hits 100 mph, Brown's car is doing 130. The throttle response is extremely crisp as illustrated by the top-gear acceleration times: Punch the gas pedal at 50 mph, and in 3.4 seconds you're at 70, 1.6 seconds sooner than in the stock car.
With that kind of firepower, it's no wonder upgraded front brakes are part of the package. The Baer/PBR brakes feature 14-inch rotors, and two-piston calipers provide firm brake-pedal feel and fade-free 171-foot stops from 70 mph.
The suspension is mostly stock, although Brown shortens the springs by an inch to lower the car and adds urethane anti-roll-bar bushings that Brown says increase handling precision. We didn't feel a remarkable improvement in handling, but we do credit the included larger 255/45ZR-18 99Y Pirelli P Zero Asimmetrico front tires (stock has 235/50ZR-18 tires in front, 245/55ZR-18 rear tires) with an increase in skidpad grip from 0.86 g to 0.88. The biggest difference is that now there's ample power to slide the rear end at will.
Although we like the hunkered-down look of Brown's modified car, it did lose some suspension compliance in the conversion, especially over large bumps. Our car also had an optional ($1989) high-performance torque converter that abruptly locked and unlocked, making it tough to cruise smoothly. We'd pass on that, even if sprints slowed by a 10th or so of a second.
When we added in the rest of the options—a $512 high-speed driveshaft, a $489 transmission-oil cooler, a $393 boost gauge, and $151 headlights—the bottom line had swollen to $54,829, about 20 grand more than a Ford SVT Mustang Cobra, which is quicker. Still, we haven't tested a less-expensive full-size four-door sedan that can outrun Kenny's Marauder. We all know that speed costs money. What's important is that with the Brown package, the Marauder is finally what we all wanted it to be: one bad mutha.
Kenny Brown Performance, 57D Gasoline Alley, Indianapolis, Indiana 46222; 317-247-5320; www.kennybrown.com.
Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Price as tested: $54,829 (base price*: $51,295)
Engine type: supercharged and intercooled DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, Ford EEC-V engine-control system with port fuel injection
Displacement: 281 cu in, 4601cc
Power (SAE net): 460 bhp @ 6200 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 450 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic with lockup torque converter
Wheelbase: 114.7 in
Length: 211.9 in
Curb weight: 4331 lb
Zero to 60 mph: 4.5 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 11.3 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 19.5 sec
Street start, 5-60 mph: 4.7 sec
Standing 1/4-mile: 13.1 sec @ 108 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 171 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.88 g
EPA fuel economy, city driving: 17 mpg
C/D-observed fuel economy: 12 mpg
*Base price includes all performance-enhancing options.