Everybody wants more power, and a supercharger is a glorious way to achieve it, but it also carries a $3,000 price tag. So what performance steps are there that deliver more bang for your buck? Glad you asked, because I offer you a bunch of no-buck and low-buck power and performance tips. Taken alone, you probably won't notice any single improvement. but added together, they form the little details that add up to allowing your car to run a tenth faster or more consistently in the brackets.
Honestly, the low-buck price range goes from free to a couple of hundred bucks.
Some tips require removing parts while others are simple do-it-yourself projects, and I give you leads on where to locate these parts and services. Read and consider the tips that might apply to your specific application. I hold no responsibility for your actions, so don't blame me if you mess up your car.
There are two kinds of motor oil: petroleum-based and synthetic. Petroleum-based oil is refined from crude, and synthetics are configured from petrochemical base stocks. The synthetic advantage is that it can be blended to achieve outstanding temperature and lubrication characteristics. This means reduced high- temperature volatility compared to a natural oil, which is something to think about when running a 24-hour showroom stock enduro race or simply commuting to work. Also, a synthetic oil reduces friction, so more power is delivered to the crankshaft. Reputable dyno operators figure synthetic deliver about a 2- to 3-percent gain in horsepower. Besides the oil pan, synthetic lubricants can make manual transmissions and rearends considerably happier when a lot of power is being applied.
Y-Blocks are Back:
Ford's Y-block was introduced in 1954 as a 239ci OHV V-8 and was later offered as a supercharged 312 mill in 1957. Despite it's proud history, lack of serious development denied this engine a true performance status. In the restomod '90s, that may be changing. I know of one builder who is planning a 312ci Y-block for his '57 Fairlane. The car will have a leading-edge custom cam, interesting head work, and Holley's Electronic Pro-Jection fuel injection. I predict that Y-blocks will become fashionable again. So what's the power tip? It's the heads. The ones with the largest valves were cast between 1957 and 1959. These had 1.925-inch diameter intakes and 1.51-inch exhausts. Casting prefixes include ECZ-E, F, G; EDB-D, E. Engines before 1957 had 1.78/1.51 valve combos. Heads cast in 1960-'62 had intakes that were reduced to 1.64-inch diameter.
Caution: High Voltage:
I thought about this while talking to a Power Tour veteran. He commented that carburetor-equipped cars ran rich while driving through high-altitude terrain, but this wasn't a problem if the cars had a good ignition. That's the key, and my tip. It may cost some, but it's an excellent idea to run an aftermarket ignition system that on a bad day puts out 40,000 volts. That kind of punch can keep igniting the fuel mixture even when the air/fuel ratio isn't as ideal as it should be. And if you run a supercharger on your car, then an aftermarket ignition is a must. The voltage delivered to the plug can help the spark from literally being blown out under boost pressures.
The more air an engine can intake and exhale, the more power it makes. Therefore, more air must flow into the carb to meet the engine's potential power demand. Hence, you should take a look at your stock air-cleaner housing. The idea is to replace the ubiquitous single-snorkel air cleaner for a dual-snorkel style. Ford installed dual-snorkel air cleaners on '82-'85 Mustang GTs and 5.0L Capris. Another little known source is '84-'85 LTD and Mercury Marquis fitted with 5.0L engines. If you can't find one, make one. Remove a snorkel from a second air cleaner. Cut a matching hole in the recipient housing. Then screw or rivet the snorkel onto the housing. Paint for a finished look. It's cheap, and with the air ducts plumbed to deliver cool outside air to the carb, it works.
Big is Better:
Cylinder heads with bigger valves gain more power. For early 289/302s, a cheap swap would be 351W heads. And finding a set should be a cinch since the 351W was used throughout the Ford car, pickup, and Mercury lines. First, don't look for 351W 4v heads; they are a myth. Any 351W casting from '69 to '74 (C9OE to D4OE casting number prefix) will have 1.84-inch intake and 1.54-inch exhaust valves, which are larger than the 1.78/1.45-inch valve set used on 289/302s. In '75 and later, the 351W valve size was reduced to a 302 combination. Also, 351w heads have 1/2-inch bolts holes while the 289/302 block has 7/16-inch bolt holes. Hence you need washer-faced head bolts, which are sold by Ford Motorsport (PN M-6065-B289; two kits are needed for a complete engine) to securely attach these heads to the block.
f you're a drag racer, here's a way to save weight and reduce power loss. The question is whether or not you should use a C4 or C6 trans behind your small-block quarter-mile terror. My suggestion is the C4. It's lighter, which translates into less internal rotating mass than a C6, so more power goes to the rear axle. Plus a C4 can be built stout enough to handle extreme amounts of power. Note the step-case C4, where the front pump bolts hold the bell housing to the transmission case. When removing the housing, be careful that you don't pull the pump out of the case. Otherwise, without professional reinstallation, the trans will have a very short life.
Your Throttle Bore is Open:
his freebie is filed under "Why-didn't-I-think-of-that." When the accelerator pedal is to the floor, are the carburetor throttle blades open completely? If you don't know, pull the air cleaner, and have a friend peer into the carb venturis while you floor the pedal. Don't be surprised if the blades aren't open all the way to vertical. Often, the carpeting and insulation under the pedal assembly is thick enough that with the pedal to the floor, the throttle blades aren't fully open. The cure is to trim the offending material until the pedal completely opens the throttle. Make sure the throttle linkage doesn't go over center or a stuck throttle could result. Maybe this is why you've been losing to your buddy's car on Grudge Night.
Why did the '65 shelby GT350 handle as well as it did? One important reason is Ol' Shel' lowered the upper control arm about an inch, and that made a huge improvement in the front wheel camber curve. Now the car became immensely more aggressive carving corners. Shelby deleted this modification in '66 as a cost-cutting move. To learn how easy it is to add this modification to your pony, order a catalog (about $3) from Tony D. Branda Mustang and Shelby Parts (Dept. MF, 1434 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd., Altoona, PA 16602, 1-800-458-3477). Inside is a full-size template for hole location and instructions for completing the conversion. Now your pony won't act skittish when galloping through the s-turns.
I can't say enough about after-market aluminium heads. They're about half the weight of cast iron, and they breathe well because they have exhaust ports that work. There's just one little problem. It's hard to recommend them in a page about low-buck performance tips, since a new set goes for about $900. So do the next best thing. Buy a used set. For example, Motorsport used to offer the J302 (bare; K302 was fully assembled) aluminum heads. They're characterized by the dual exhaust port bolt holes. These were superseded by the GT-40 aluminum heads in the 1995 Motorsport catalog. I suspect that a lot of people have upgraded to GT-40 or other heads. Considering the number of head manufactures, no doubt there are used sets of Edelbrock, Trick Flow, or Windsor Jr. heads sitting around to be turned into cash. Look, ask, and you may be surprised. Don't forget these heads have 1/2-inch bolt holes, so you'll need washer-faced bolts (Motorsport PN M-6065-B289) for 289/302 applications.
Less Weight, More Go:
The less your car weighs, the faster it'll be. So when you drag race or autocross, do you remove excess weight? Like the spare tire and jack... If not, you should. Depending on how serious you are about competing, you should take out all the weight you can. Replace the stock seats with lightweight racing buckets. Remove the insulation, sound deadener and carpeting. Trash the rear seat and panel it over with aluminum sheet-metal. How about deleting the heater assembly under the dash and even the wipers and the wiper motor? Anyway, you get the idea. Less weight means more go.
If your heart is set on a restoration, there's no reason why you can't convert your point distributor to one with an electronic trigger. Running points is pointless, but some people want to retain the small-diameter distributor to maintain the stock look. Replace the points with a PerTronix Ignitor (Dept. MF, 1268 E. Edna Place, Covina, CA 91724, 1-800-827-3758). Remove the points and condenser and drop the Ignitor into position and set the gap. Install the rotor and cap, and that's it. It doesn't matter if you have a big- or small-block, FE or Y-block. Now you've got more voltage to the plug, and ignition dwell won't wary because you never have to adjust the module again.
Have you checked your carb float level lately? If the level is too low, activation of the main fuel circuits can be delayed, which reduces performance. If it's too high, over-richness and flooding can occur and fuel can even slosh out of the vent tube. Either way, float level adjustment is easy to accomplish. Edelbrock Performer Series carbs are real popular and float level is easy to set. Begin by removing the top cover. Invert it, and with the cover gasket in place, use a 7/16-inch drill under the float to set the correct level. For you Holley-philes, you know that your carb has externally-adjustable floats. Remove the sight plug on the fuel bowl and adjust the level until the fuel reaches the bottom threads on the sight plug hole.
A Million Miles to Go:
Practically every street performance vehicle and lot of race cars I see are equipped with a K&N (Dept. MF, P.O. Box 1329, Riverside CA 92502; 1-909-684-9762) air filter. The oiled gauze construction can be washed and re-oiled. In fact, K&N warranties its filters for one million miles. And, according to K&N tests, its filter will out flow a comparable new paper element filter by almost 300 cubic feet per minute. A 360-degree open air cleaner with a tall filter element will flow awesome amounts of air. As for power, depending on the application, up to 10 extra horses could be unleashed. It doesn't matter what kind of car or application, K&N has a filter to fit it.
Cooler is Better:
Any time you eliminate heat in the carburetor, it pays off in potentially better performance. Too much heat can cause fuel percolation, which in turn adversely affects the air/fuel mixture. Heat expands fuel in the bowl, and that can force excess fuel into the venturi, enriching the mixture. If nothing else, this reduces fuel economy. The cure is s simple one. Install an insulated carb gasket between the carb and intake manifold. Edelbrock Corp. (Dept. MF, 2700 California St., Torrance, CA 90503, 1-310-782-2900 tech line) offers a selection of carb gaskets. They average 0.320-inch in thickness, and Edelbrock claims that you can see as much as a 30-degree difference between the manifold and carb body temperatures. Don't forget, adding a thicker gasket means you'll need longer carb studs.
This tip is aimed squarely at drag racers. Starting-line launch is very important, and a short 60-foot time pays off at the end of the track. One contributing item to this process is weight transfer, which is the result of the front end raising. The faster it raises, the greater the weight transfer and potential traction. One way to improve this dynamic is to remove the front antiroll bar. This allows the A-arms to drop further, promoting lift. And removing the bar eliminates unnecessary weight. Remember, if you drive to and from the track, the car will lean more in turns without the antiroll bar in place.
There are more 390ci FE engines out there than I could ever shake an editorial stick at. Here's a low-buck head swap that will deliver added ponies, and it's complements of a Ford engine building whiz. His recipe starts with a pair of C8AE-H castings. These are '68 vintage heads, often found on 360 pickup, 390, and 428s with A/C. Bounce the stock 2.05-inch intake for a 2.09-inch and a 1.66-inch exhaust goes in place of the stock 1.55-inch valve. Open the throats to match the new valve diameters. Add a three-angle valve job, some pocket porting, and this head is done. These heads offer about 70cc chamber volume, so good compression is available, and the intake port floor is raised medium riser-like. These heads are cheap to start with and will pay off with more grunt.
It's in the Trunk:
A battery is weight that you have keep in your car. You can purchase lighter, more expensive batteries, but regardless, you still need one for starting. Happily, this weight is movable, so why not make the weight work for you. In other words, move the battery from the engine compartment to the trunk -- behind the right rear wheel to be exact. Traction is aided since the weight contributes to tire bite. Moving the battery gets weight out of the front end, which is what you want whether you drag or road race. Battery trunk mount kits are available from several Mustang & Ford advertisers.
I've never heard of a noisy air filter, but apparently Ford has. Somewhere in its NVH standards are rules that the induction air can't be heard in the passenger compartment. Well, in a fast EFI 5.0L Mustang, I don't care about incoming air noise. So remove the air silencer located behind the passenger-side fender. Five minutes of work can pay off with 5 extra horsepower. Add that to the increase generated by a K&N air filter and it adds up.
Boy I hate it when a Holley carb with vacuum secondaries bogs the engine while I'm launching at the starting line. Hit the pedel and power falls on its face before the engine revs back to life. What you need to investigate is the secondary throttle blade opening rate, which is controlled by a spring in the diaphragm housing. the problem is often that the secondaries are opening too quickly, so the fuel arrives faster than the air can get moving. The cure is to change the diaphragm spring. Holly (Dept. MF, 1801 Russellive Road, P.O. Box 10360, Bowling Green, KY 42102-7360, 1-502-781-9741 tech line) offers a spring kit (PN 20-13) to accomplish this. Change to a slightly stiffer spring (they're color-coded) and test each one until the bog is eliminated. To change the spring, you need to undo four itty-bitty screws to remove the diaphragm cover. Invest in a quick-change kit (PN 20-59). This cover has an access opening that requires only two screws, so it makes changing springs quick and easy.
Another fuel system tip for best performance involves mechanical fuel-pump pressure. If you're running a stock pump, you may think that the pressure is just right for a street carb. Surprisingly, Edelbrock technicians have found that stock pumps can run 7-8 psi and some even spike up to 9. For most carbs on the street, 6.5 psi is considered max. If you run your engine exclusively on the dragstrip, then 7.5 psi will suit your needs. Check pump pressure with a pressure gauge, and if it's too high, then install a fuel-pressure regulator to get it where it should be.
I Sense Your Throttle Position:
If you're installing a 5.0L EFI crate engine in your vintage Mustang, here's a tuning tip. The Engine Management Computer (EMC) gets information on how far the throttle is open via the throttle position sensor (TPS). As the throttle plate swings open, the sensor translates this rotation into an electrical signal, which is crunched by the EMC and in turn influences injector pulse width. Positioned on top of the throttle body, the TPS is a black switch held in place by two screws. Loosening them allows it to pivot. By using a multimeter with the key on/engine off, you'll get a voltage reading. The ideal is 0.97 to 1.00 volt. If your reading varies, rotate the sensor to the desired value. If you're installing a new throttle body, you need to set the TPS voltage or you'll have driveability problems.
Clean the Bowls:
This is an old performance tip, but it's been effective for as many years as engines have been built. Ford engines are notorious for their small ports and limited breathing capability. Open up the ports and clean up the bowls of you Ford heads for a noticeable improvement in power. Porting is time consuming but relatively cheap when you compare it to the price of aftermarket heads.
A dual exhaust system is a good and inexpensive power upgrade. But like all our other tips, it's the details that make the payoff. In the case of dual exhausts, you want to make sure your system has an H or balance pipe that connects the exhaust pipes. According to Flowmaster (Dept. MF, 2975 Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95407, 1-707-544-4761), this will enhance torque across the rpm range with the bulk of it occurring in low to middle rpm. I could write a thesis on why a balance tube fattens the torque curve, but I'll leave you with Flowmaster's basic explanation. Due to cylinder firing order, the exhaust tubes get over loaded with exhaust. A balance tube provides a pressure release, which in effect reduces back pressure. And that improves flow efficiency. Simple? Yes.
A great way to get a power boost is to bolt on a four-barrel carb and intake. This power improvement is particularly noticeable when it's applied to a two-barrel-carb-equipped engine. It's cheaper than you think if you buy the part used. At most swap meets there are always vendors that have used intake manifolds. And the nice thing is that manifolds are usually unbutchered, so it's easy enough to choose a sound one. On the other hand, a used carb can cause problems since it can be out of whack for any number of reasons. Happily, a carb rebuild kit isn't expensive, or you can purchase one already rebuilt.