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Factory sport trucks are cool, even if they are super rare. The early 1990s were the true heyday for factory-built sport trucks, with the Chevrolet 454SS, GMC Syclone (and it's Typhoon SUV twin) and the first-generation Ford Lightning offering up performance with a bed attached. But a decade before those heroes hit the dealer lots, there were trucks like the underappreciated Ford Courier. A dirt-cheap pickup truck, it never received any special performance or trim when new, long before the term “sport truck” existed. Jon Hagan took the simple idea placing the turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder from a 1980s Mustang SVO into a second-generation Ford Courier, creating the kind of sport truck the early 1980s deserved.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the time of gas shortages and small-displacement imports, Ford had taken a financial stake in Mazda. Part of that investment included importing Mazda’s B-series pickup into the United States to compete with the likes of Toyota and Datsun, whose smaller pickups had proven to be quite popular. With a new grille that was more reminiscent of the Ford F-series and a nameplate last used on a 1950s sedan delivery, the Courier quickly found its niche in the market.
The recipe for hot rodding success: take an undesirable vehicle and mate it with an exciting drivetrain. That’s exactly what Jon Hagan did, taking the Ford Courier mini truck and installing a Ford SVO 2.3 turbo engine making 450 wheel horsepower at an estimated 2,300 lb. curb weight.
Couriers, like most small pickups of that time, weren’t seen as sporty things. They were simply smaller, thriftier takes on trucks to the masses and were used as such. The second-gen Courier pickup was available with the optional 2.3L, generally reserved for the Pinto and Mustangs. You would think it would be a no-brainer to stab a turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant in a Courier. But alas, it never really happened.
“I’ve always had a bunch of Rangers and I’ve seen Couriers, but never in person,” said Jon. “I thought it was cool and fairly solid, so I brought it home.” Jon found the pickup stashed in a barn. “I’d been out of the car game for eight years after getting married and having kids. This was just something to play with and get the bug back.”
The truck sits on Jegs SSR Spike wheels, measuring 17 x 4.5 inches in the front and 15 x 8 inches in the rear. The rear wheels are wrapped in 255/60/15 Mickey Thompson ET Streets.
The Courier’s original 2.0L four-cylinder smoked, so Jon gathered parts to rebuild. “Then I remembered I had an SVO engine sitting in my barn,” said Jon, who has had a few Fox Body Mustangs over the years. The project began with a blow-through carb and eventually switched to EFI, working with Stinger Performance and their PiMP engine management. Jon uses a reluctor wheel conversion kit that drives off the original distributor. This allows the ability to run LS coil-near-plug coils.
Jon initially installed the Ford SVO 2.3 turbo engine with the factory Courier 4-speed transmission and rear axle. He didn’t know if the setup would work, so he installed a factory 5.0L clutch and bell housing, intending it to be a placeholder.
Inside, the Courier’s interior is as simple as you’d expect, with an 8.50-certified chromoly cage and Kirkey Pro Street Seats.
The transmission finally let go at a local drag strip last year—much longer than expected. The Courier currently features a Top-Loader 4-speed transmission, but Jon is working on a TKX upgrade this winter.
Jon only replaced the piston rings in the otherwise stock bottom-end of the 2.3L. It features a mild port job on the factory cylinder heads accompanied by a Bo-Port Stage 3 cam kit with valves. Bosch 210 injectors handle fueling, and a KLM radiator and air-to-air intercooler keep everything cool.
“I didn’t make the intercooler and valve cover, but that’s about it,” said Jon. Everything else he fabricated in his home shop. The radiator and intercooler are KLM, and the valve covers come from Kevco Racing.
The turbo is a VS Racing 61/62, which according to Jon, is a bit big for the setup with full boost around 4,500 rpm. The engine has never seen past 6,500 rpm, “I’m not brave enough to go past that,” laughs Jon. The truck made 415 horsepower at the wheels on 27 PSI of boost, but with the clutch slipping at the Ford Fest, Dyno Challenge presented by NOS and Redline Motorsports, Inc.
Jon expected over 450 wheel horsepower if he could straighten out the clutch issue. “I was going to throw more duty cycle in it and try for 500 wheel horsepower,” said Jon. “I’m getting close to scattering the bottom end. [Typically, the 2.3Ls] start letting go around 500 wheel horsepower. I’ve seen a few make more, but I’ve seen a lot let go making less. The engine is as simple as it can be. I’m just shoving a bunch of boost through it.”
Jon fabricated the turbo kit with 3in aluminum on the intake side and 3in stainless steel on the exhaust, using a pre-bent tubing kit. The exhaust dumps into a Flowmaster Flow FX muffler.
We first ran into Jon and his Courier back in 2019 at another Beech Bend event. Those local to the track may know the pickup well. It’s been through multiple evolutionary stages through the years. Jon’s day job is in construction, and with two daughters, he’s still able to keep the project on the road more than in the shop—a difficult task for many of us.
“I didn’t plan on going this far, but I’m not good at leaving stuff alone, so it just kept going,” said Jon. “I’m just an ole poor kid, so I have to build in stages.”
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