There are fast cars. And there are fun cars. And then there are cars that turn their drivers into juvenile idiots--burnouts at every stoplight, powerslides around every corner and the irresistible urge to drag race anyone and anything. The ATI Focus is one of those cars. Consider this evidence: Rubber in any gear. Better acceleration with five people in the car than with two. More than 1g lateral acceleration. Slalom speeds comparable to Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution VIII. Add all this up and the rear-wheel-drive V8 Terminator Focus is the most fun car we've driven in recent memory.
ATI, or Accurate Technologies Inc., is a supplier of vehicle calibration and data acquisition systems to several O.E. manufacturers, specifically, Ford. However in 2001, the company formed a second branch named ATI Motorsports and, you guessed it, these guys get to have all the fun. The Terminator Focus, as a product of that branch, was created by a group of autocrossers and track day geeks hell-bent on stuffing an entire SVT Cobra drivetrain into an SVT Focus.
ATI Motorsports created the car with the intention of demonstrating its expertise in vehicle electronics--a task it accomplished by successfully integrating the Cobra powertrain harness to work with the Focus electrical system. To appreciate the complexity of this task, justconsider the instrument panel. The Focus instruments were designed in Europe, the Cobra instruments were designed in the '80s. There is no reason, and therefore little chance, that electrons from the Cobra's sensors will mean anything to the Focus' dash. ATI relied on its own diagnostic products and electronics experience to create full factory functionality--right down to the operation of the stock Focus anti-theft system.
But the minutia of things like the stereo, alarm and endless hours of detail work matter little when you step on the go pedal the first time. Michelin's Pilot Sport Cup tires, sized 295/30-18, are saddled with the hopeless task of containing 470 hp and 466 lb-ft of torque whenever the throttle is opened. And it's truly a hopeless task. The only way we were able to make the Focus hook up was by loading it with five adults and feeding it 91-octane California pump gas--a far cry from its usual diet of 100-octane fuel. Even loaded to the gills with giddy old men reliving their glory hot-rodder days, the Focus was fast enough to waste anything from stoplight to stoplight.
So we took it to the track. Until now, anything approaching full throttle with less than 500 pounds of ballast in the car resulted in nothing more than two solid black stripes on the tarmac and lots of smiles inside the car. This combination, fun as it might be, rarely results in quick quarter-mile times. We lowered rear tire pressures to about 17 psi, launched at a low 2500 rpm and crossed our fingers.
The resultant 12.7-second pass at 115.9 mph is respectable, fast even, but still indicative of a serious grip limitation.
Handling, we figured, would be another story. Given the forward weight bias and the fact that the focus chassis was never designed to deal with this kind of power, torque or sheer mass, we thought it unlikely the Focus would be an impressive handler. We were wrong. Once we got over the intimidation of driving it quickly, it zipped through our slalom at 72 mph--about 1 mph slower than the last EVO VIII we tested. Then it blew us away by pulling 1.02g around our skidpad. By all appearances, the V8 focus was a handling machine, too. Braking wasn't as good. The Focus uses fully manual brakes--an unfortunate byproduct of the V8 conversion, which leaves no room under the hood for a brake booster. This makes the pedal very difficult to modulate, despite a race-style proportioning valve. The Focus hauled down from 60 mph in a wheel-locking 148 ft.
During our photo shoot, we had the opportunity to wring it out over some real-world roads. The results define exactly why we put words between our numbers. Under prolonged cornering loads, the massive Michelins would rub the inner fender well. Extended thrashing pushed coolant temps high enough that the ECU put the engine in limp mode until things cooled off. On the up side, the balance and chassis composure over roads we consider the most demanding anywhere was good--not as good as an EVO--but respectable and fun.
This made it clear the Focus is more at home poaching the Stoplight Winternationals than hunting EVOs and WRXs in the canyons.
ATI points out it made some cooling compromises in the construction of the Focus to retain its creature comforts and stock appearance. There are at least three heat exchangers in front of the custom radiator, including one for the intercooler, power steering and air conditioning. Plus, there's no ducting in Focus' stock bodywork to provide the airflow necessary to keep the big V8 cool. Clearly, modifying the stock SVT fascia would allow for better cooling, but it would also compromise the car's otherwise stock appearance. And these changes would give away the best sleeper we've ever driven.
Building the world's coolest Focus was no small task. Jamming the four-cam modular engine into the small workplace provided under the Focus hood required widening the front 18 inches of the tunnel, which accommodates the T-56 six-speed transmission. Even with this mod, there are no changes to the center console or dash and the firewall is untouched. A Tilton brake/clutch pedal assembly is used with a custom fabricated reverse-mount brake master cylinder and hydraulic clutch release instead of the cable assembly used on the Cobra.
The engine itself has seen simple yet effective power mods. A smaller (2.8 in. vs. 3.8 in.) supercharger pulley brings the boost up to about 13 psi (stock is about 7 psi). A billet plenum and single-blade throttle body replace the stock bits to increase intake efficiency. A recalibrated ECU from Superchips optimizes fuel and ignition maps and switches the cooling fans on at 160 degrees instead of 190 degrees. Custom headers and exhaust with the stock Cobra mufflers terminate under the SVT Focus bumper in the stock location.
A custom driveshaft was required to connect the transmission and rear end where the Cobra independent rear suspension hides. The stock Focus body was clearanced to make room for the upper control arms, then reinforced to handle the massive torque loads it needed to support. Custom braces were also added along the stock Focus frame rails between the front and rear subframe assemblies. This increased weight, but also provided much needed strength and, we suspect, is partially responsible for the car's impressive composure. The battery and stock fuel tank now reside in a slightly shrunken rear cargo area, which is covered in carpeting and looks like the rest of the interior.
The front suspension also uses Cobra geometry, thanks to a custom tubular front subframe and control arms. The strut towers were modified to accommodate JRZ double adjustable struts designed for the Cobra. JRZ dampers are also used in the rear. Stock Cobra brake rotors and calipers are used with Performance Friction pads.
Bottom line with the Focus is simple: If you're looking for a sleeper that's more fun than anything you've ever driven, this is the ticket.
ATI says examples this nice can be had for $65,000--not exactly chump change, but not insulting when one considers the engineering necessary to make the car work this well.
SVT Focus: $19,205. SVT Cobra: $36,200. Running bumper-to-bumper with Porsche Turbos light after light: Priceless.
|2003 ATI Terminator Focus|
|Estimated Price:||$65,000 |
|Type:||V8, supercharged and intercooled, iron block with aluminum heads|
|Valvetrain:||DOHC, four valves per cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke:||90.7 x 89.9mm|
|External Mods: ||Smaller supercharger pulley, billet plenum and single-plate throttle body, custom headers|
|Engine Management Mods:||Superchips ECU|
|Measured Wheel Hp:||459 hp @ 5900 rpm|
|Measured Wheel Torque:||466 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm|
|Layout:||Front engine, rear-wheel drive|
|Differential:||Torsen T2 limited slip|
|Estimated Curb Weight:||3,400 lbs|
|Overall Length:||168.1 in.|
|Overall Width:||66.9 in.|
|Front:||MacPherson Strut, anti-roll bar, JRZ coil-overs|
|Rear:||Upper and lower control arms, anti-roll bar, JRZ springs and dampers|
|Front:||Mustang Cobra 13.0-in. vented discs, two-piston calipers|
|Rear:||Mustang Cobra 11.65-in. vented discs, single-piston calipers|
|Wheels and Tires|
|Wheels:||HRE custom 18x8.5 (front), 18x9.5 (rear)|
|Tires:||265/35-18 (front), 295/30-18(rear) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup|
|0-30 mph:||2.4 sec.|
|0-60 mph:||4.8 sec|
|30-50 mph:||1.6 sec.|
|50-70 mph:||1.8 sec.|
|Quarter Mile Time:||12.7 sec.|
|Quarter Mile Speed:||115.9 mph|
|Lateral Grip (200ft Skidpad):|| 1.02 g|
|Slalom Speed (700ft Slalom):|| 72 mph|
|60-0 stopping distance:||148 ft.|