Kevin Tetz
October 23, 2013

Streetable and well-equipped vehicles with all the features of late-model cars are everywhere these days, which is one of the best things to happen to the vintage car world in a long time. Seeing, creating, and especially driving these cars is a great experience, but it's a delicate balance of technologies that has emerged 40 years apart; to say the least, mashing up decades worth of automotive advancement is a careful science.

We're all comfortable with late-model engine swaps into early cars, and comfortable with the rock solid reliable power levels that are double that of our vintage Pony cars, not to mention 20-plus mpg, but this can lull us into complacency and a false sense of reliability that goes along with the newer donor vehicle. It's easy to assume that along with a modern engine swap goes the modern reliability of the donor engine into the rest of the vehicle systems, such as brakes, steering, suspension, and electrical components…but that assumption can be dangerous. Let's face it, not many of us gearheads are engineers. Sure, there are a probably a few, and a few more that think they are, but the truth is that most of us are just people who like to work on our own cars. Restomods have come a long way, but balanced components are the key to a well-built and fun project, and nothing takes the place of good planning and excellent execution.

Once the logistical challenges of blending modern and classic have been hammered out, the fine tuning begins. Part of that is tuning the engine for best performance and efficiency. With the advent of the OBD-II interface around 1994, we now have the opportunity to easily plug in and communicate with our engine's brain, known as the PCM, ECU, and by other acronyms describing the vehicle computer, to optimize the function (aka tune) using external computers, sensors, and software. The icing on the cake is that tuning can be affordable and is more and more accessible.

Tuning Access

As Ford geeks, we're fortunate to have companies like SCT that specialize in handheld programmers, which make it really easy to safely increase power levels for mostly stock vehicles. SCT (www.sctflash.com) is well known in late-model Ford high performance circles with mass air meters, chips, power programmers, and software, and it was the preferred interface of our shop, DBR High Performance (www.dbrhighperformance.com) in Spring Hill, Tennessee. There are a variety of "canned tunes" that can be loaded into our PCM via the OBD-II port, and they've been tested to safely deliver increased performance on most cars.

Our test car is different, due to the high performance mods we've done, and the unique nature of the blend of components. Plus, the computer doesn't need to recognize emissions restrictions either, since we're not disabling any emission systems mandated on a '66 Mustang. A great source for tested custom tunes that go to the next level of performance for almost any configuration and combination of mods is Lund Racing (www.lundracing.com), who we worked with to tune the Pro Touring '66 Mustang "Jaded" later in this story. Utilizing the experience of a company like Lund Racing takes experimentation off the table, and still gives added performance over off-the-shelf programmers. To optimize the perfect combination of air, fuel, and spark and verify chassis and drivetrain safety, function, and limitations, a tuning session on a chassis dyno is the way to go and that goes for any year, make, model, or style of vehicle.

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Dyno Testing

We've all heard the horror stories and seen the videos online of bad things happening on a chassis dyno. It's true; bad things can happen during a dyno tune, but with education and preparation, they don't have to. Dyno tuning is nothing new; it's simply load testing with tons of information attached.

Without a chassis dyno, how are you going to test and tune your vehicle at full throttle? Where are you going to be able to find at least three blocks of totally safe paved roads with no traffic and excellent visibility, not to mention good weather and perfect temperatures to get a full throttle run and see what's happening with air, fuel, heat, oil pressure, and driveline components. Answer: other than a racetrack on a perfect day, nowhere! You'll probably end up with a couple of traffic violations to say the least, and you still won't know what's going on internally in your engine. A chassis dyno-tune makes more sense the more you learn about it, and knowing that it's much safer than tuning on the street is an added bonus.