Ford's SuperCooler uses cold air to heat up engine performance
By Richard Truett
Automotive News / March 03, 2003
The SVT F-150 Lightning concept gets between 50 and 60 more horsepower with the SuperCooler, Ford's john Coletti says.
The key parts
Air conditioning compressor
Not long before the Detroit auto show in January, Chris Theodore, Ford Motor Co.'s chief of North American product development, looked at the SVT F-150 Lightning concept and wondered whether the 500-hp muscle truck's performance could be kicked up a notch.
"Is there anything we can do to really put it over the top?" Theodore asked John Coletti, director of Ford's Special Vehicle Team.
In less time than it takes to smoke a pair of rear tires on a Mustang Cobra, Coletti said, "Yes."
Coletti knew he could boost the truck's performance without making major expenditures or having to re-engineer the Lightning's supercharged 5.4-liter V-8.
He dusted a forgotten item from the SVT parts shelf that had been used on the 1993 Mustang Mach III concept car.
The SuperCooler, as Ford calls it, uses the vehicle's air conditioning compressor and an intercooler to lower the temperature of the air going into the engine.
When air is colder and more dense, a greater volume can
be packed into the combustion chambers. That enables the engine to produce more power.
While the technology is part of a high-profile concept truck, the system can be applied to any engine that uses a turbocharger or supercharger to increase horsepower.
Although different in approach, the SuperCooler aims to do the same thing as a nitrous oxide system, a popular aftermarket addition for enthusiasts.
A tank of nitrous oxide gas is mounted in the vehicle, with a line running to the engine intake manifold.
The gas provides more oxygen to the engine, which allows more fuel to be used in combustion and generates more power.
The gas also lowers the temperature of the incoming air-fuel mixture, making it denser and allowing more to enter the cylinder.
Nitrous systems, which sell for about $800, are enjoying a strong wave of popularity now because of the rapid growth of the sport compact tuner market.
The problem with nitrous oxide is that the tank has to be refilled at around $3.50 a pound. Conversely, the SuperCooler is a sealed system that does not need recharging.
The SVT Lightning concept truck - an early look at the next-generation production version based on the 2004 F-150 - delivers between 50 and 60 more horsepower with the SuperCooler, Coletti says.
How it works
The SuperCooler system doesn't need any expensive or exotic hardware, just an additional tank and some extra plumbing. But it works only on turbocharged or supercharged engines equipped with a liquid-to-air intercooler. Much of the hardware is already in place on the current F-150 Lightning and Mustang Cobra. Both are equipped with a supercharger and water-to-air intercooler.
The vehicle's air conditioning compressor chills a tank of glycol - antifreeze - to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the driver opens the throttle, the coolant in the intercooler, which is about 140 degrees, is bypassed by the chilled glycol.
The system lowers the temperature of the intake air from 120 degrees to between 50 and 70 degrees.
Once the glycol passes through the intercooler, it circulates back into the tank, where it is chilled again.
The system never needs refilling, never wears out and requires no additional maintenance. It also has no effect on emissions.
The four drawbacks are slight:
1. The additional horsepower is not available all the time. It lasts only as long as the supply of chilled glycol.
2. The system adds around 25 pounds of weight.
3. Fuel economy is slightly lower because the air conditioning compressor is running more often.
4. The SuperCooler adds around $750 in cost.
"With a 2.5 or 3.0-gallon tank (of glycol) and an engine our size, 5.4-liters, you are talking about 45 seconds where you have an effective superchilling effect," Coletti says.
He says that duration is more than enough since the truck hits 60 mph in around 6 seconds. It would reach 150 mph in about 25 seconds.
Coletti engineered the system so that it doesn't take long for the glycol to get cold again.
"It's under two minutes," Coletti says. "If you think about it, the way we designed it, you can go down the drag strip and by the time you get back to the starting line, you are ready to go again."
Coletti says the standard-issue Ford air conditioning compressor needs no modification.
He says the system is designed so that it gives cooling priority to the truck's cab over the tank of glycol.
The SuperCooler, Coletti says, has applications beyond the high-performance SVT Lightning.
It can be used to boost the performance of small displacement engines, which may have big implications if fuel economy standards are raised.
"It is possible to use the technology in the smaller end of the market," Coletti says.
"Let's say you wanted to replace a 3.0-liter engine with a 1.5-liter engine, you would need to have a boosted engine with a water-to-air-intercooler."
The system also works on diesel engines.
Coletti, who has a patent application pending, says he knows of no other SuperCooler systems.
He says SVT engineers have tested the SuperCooler and verified that it works well under real-world driving conditions.
SVT engineers piled on plenty of miles on a test mule Lightning last year with no problems.
There are no firm production plans for the SuperCooler. But Coletti indicates it is a ready-to-go system that Ford can roll out quickly to fend off competition, such as the upcoming V-10-powered Dodge Ram SRT-10 sport truck.
"Chris Theodore and I talk about it," Coletti says. "The questions are: When is the right time? What is the appropriate application?
"There are no major obstacles to keep it from production. There is a cost impact. There is a packaging impact.
"But if you need the extra power, it can be done without going in there and tearing up the engine."
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....