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Tips for Boosting Your Mustang - Boosted Reference
Before you boost your Mustang, here are some professional tips to make it a successful endeavor.
Remember the grumpy cat meme saying, "I rode in a naturally aspirated car once … it was awful!" Well, a well-built naturally aspirated Mustang is a blast to drive, but boost makes everything more fun.
Even the most seasoned naturally aspirated fans feel that way because they just simply want to beat a boosted car. So in a way, it's a jealousy thing. They know it would be faster with boost, but they choose their own route, anyway. However, anyone who is fortunate enough to ever experience boost is instantly hooked whether they want to acknowledge that fact or not.
What is it about boost that makes us all want a blower or turbo under the hood? It's the menacing sound of a supercharger, the sound of a turbo car when it comes off boost, and the retina-detaching power and torque—that's what! That's why blower kits and turbo systems dominate the dreams of Mustang enthusiasts worldwide. The power available from a well-engineered power-adder combination will put a mile-wide smile on your face.
Just think, if you're making 400 rwhp in a naturally aspirated combination, imagine how much fun 550 to 600 rwhp would be? But there are things you need to know before making the step to boost. Having boost does make everything more fun, but it also makes everything happen much faster, which can include damaging a poorly tuned engine. When introducing boost pressure into an engine's combustion chambers, there's little room for error.
Simply stated, the purpose of a supercharger or turbocharger is to force more air into an engine. That's why it's often referred to as forced induction. Thinking of an engine as an air pump—the more air you can get into and out of an engine, the more power it's going to make. But before you go throwing a supercharger or turbocharger on your Mustang or Ford, there are things you need to know so you don't blow your engine apart.
When you introduce more air into an engine, you need more fuel as well. Therefore, you need to bolster your Mustang's fuel system. Your Mustang's ignition system needs to be capable of keeping the fire lit, as well. Basically, when introducing your Mustang to boost, you need to have your bases covered to make sure you don't regret making the decision in the first place.
Therefore, we're here to help you navigate through the hurdles of installing a power adder, but more importantly, how to keep that smile on your face after that first mash of the gas.
Erik Radzins, calibrations technician and social media representative, put this list together in jest, but in looking at it, Radzins hits the mark. Since he has a tuning/calibrations background, Radzins places a big emphasis on having the right tune in the car and being smart about what you do with the boost. People forget that the simple, proven combinations make power and tend to be more reliable, as well. Don't get greedy with the boost—stick with a reliable tune and let it ride. If it's more power you want from an existing power adder combination, get the components needed to do it right and go from there.
Erik's list reminds us that if you are smart and do your homework when you put together a power adder combination, it'll live. No one wants to have a broken down Mustang in the garage, so take the truth in Radzins' comical list, and you'll have plenty of good times at the wheel of your boosted Mustang.
1. Don't be an idiot.
2. Vacuum lines—check them (this includes wastegates, BOVs, MAP sensors, and so on)
3. See #1.
4. You will go really fast, so hold on tight.
5. If your car is tuned for 10 psi and is running good, leave it alone!
6. A boost controller is for holding boost, not so you can turn it up a few psi to beat your buddy.
7. Just because your friend bought EFI Live/HPT/SCT does NOT make him a tuner.
8. See #1 again.
9. Check your belt tension—make sure your belt is in good shape (old and hard won't cut it here) and that there is no slip.
10. If you think boost is fun, put a 100 shot on top of it.
Hellion Power Systems
Hellion Power Systems' John Urist knows everything there is to know about turbochargers and superchargers. He has utilized both in competition on his NMRA championship-winning Street Outlaw program. He uses that knowledge to make some of the most popular turbocharger systems available for Mustangs. Hellion has turbocharger systems available for every Mustang since the '87-'93 Fox models, and in some cases, in both single- and twin-turbocharger form.
John says a turbocharger package doesn't need some of the same bottom end components as a supercharger. The crankshaft isn't under the same loads with a turbocharger as it is with a supercharger, since a blower is driven by the crankshaft. However, John also cautions against doing a power adder that exceeds what your engine is capable of supporting.
"If your engine has a steel crank, it's good, but many engines will need a piston and rod upgrade," John adds.
In talking to John about Hellion Power Systems specifically, he says "Every system we build is around a factory engine, but the kit can make more power, obviously." So, you don't need to have a built engine in order the have a Hellion system.
John says Hellion's most popular kit is The Eliminator, the company's twin-turbocharger system for '11-'14 Mustang GTs and Boss 302s. The base kit is designed for 5 pounds of boost and roughly 550- 600 rwhp, but with the appropriate supporting hardware this system is capable of making 1,250 rwhp. Supporting hardware in this case includes a built bottom end, and the necessary fuel system upgrades.
"If you want to make over 750 hp with an '11-'14 GT, the engine is going to need rods and pistons," John says. "With a Boss 302, we've made 850 rwhp on race gas." But as you know, the Boss features good internals from the factory, so the power ceiling is higher out of the gate with the Boss' Roadrunner engine.
"The biggest thing with our kit is that a person will never have to make a hardware change," John says. In other words, Hellion's turbo kits are designed to grow with your Mustang's combination. Hellion's kits are such that you can tailor your Mustang's power level according to what it's capable of making, and then go from there without having to change anything with the kit, including the turbochargers themselves.
In talking to Vortech/Paxton's Brian Ellis, who works in the Sales/Marketing/Social Media arm of the company, he says, "The basic questions do vary from vehicle to vehicle, model year to model year. However, there are also a lot of constants."
When someone calls up Vortech/Paxton for a supercharger kit, there is a series of questions sales personnel ask. What he gave us is the following:
1) What is the year/make/model of the vehicle?
2) Is the vehicle currently stock? If not, what modifications are currently done to the vehicle?"
From here, it breaks into one of two lines of questioning, depending on whether the car is currently stock or not.
If the car is stock:
3a) Would you like the system to be complete and include everything, including the fuel enrichment and the tuning, or are you planning on a custom tune?
If the car is not stock:
3b) What is your horsepower target with the addition of the supercharger?
If the customer doesn't have a target horsepower level:
4a) What will the vehicle primarily be used for?
And if necessary:
4b) What octane of fuel will you be running?
These basic questions will usually give the Vortech representative a clear enough picture of the customer and his vehicle to be able to match him or her up with the best system for their needs.
"Sometimes we may start off the conversation asking if the customer is looking for a 50-state emissions-legal system as well," Ellis adds, "which would take us immediately to the complete system for that year/make/model, as that is the only system of each type that is CARB-legal."
For Kenne Bell, the company has a handy FAQ section on its website to help you navigate your power adder questions. One thing that stood out to us was this question: What parameters determine how much boost my engine can run on 91-, 92-, 93-, or 94-octane?
Kenne Bell uses the following parameters to determine how much boost you can run: compression ratio, air charge temp, boost, ignition timing, and air/fuel ratio. Kenne Bell points out a lower compression engine will allow for increased boost over an engine with a higher compression ratio. Naturally aspirated Coyote engines are 11:1; with stock rods and pistons, you can't run a lot of boost through them and expect them to live. However, there's a reason Ford Racing Aluminator short-blocks are available with a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and improved rods and pistons. That's so you can turn up the boost.
Air charge temperature is a reflection of a power adder's efficiency. If you're blowing hot air into your engine, it's not efficient. Therefore, proper intercooling is a must with a supercharger. Your engine is going to love nice, intercooled air much better than non-intercooled air.
Boost and fuel octane go hand in hand. The higher the fuel octane, typically the higher amount of boost you're able to run. And here's where ignition timing, and air/fuel ratio comes in, too. Boost, fuel octane, ignition timing, and air/fuel are what tuners are specifically looking at when tuning a power-adder combination. All of these parameters are the keys to making reliable power. If you have too much boost, not enough fuel, too much timing, and 91-octane fuel, it's not going to be a good day. However, if you have your bases covered with all of these parameters, you're going to have a fun Mustang.
VMP Tuning's Justin Starkey has made a name for himself tuning supercharged Mustangs, mostly in the Shelby GT500/TVS supercharger realm. Starkey recently jumped into the supercharger game with VMP Tuning-branded TVS superchargers for Shelby GT500s and Coyote engines (he already has them for the Terminator crowd).
If you take the '07-'12 Shelby GT500, for example, which makes up a large amount of Starkey's customer base, he says the factory fuel injectors are good up to 680 rwhp. Starkey's VMP TVS kit for '07-'12 Shelby GT500s include larger injectors since it's rated for 800 hp. A '07-'12 Shelby GT500 power ceiling is around 750 rwhp.
You can reliably make 700 rwhp all day, and it will live, but 750 rwhp is "as high as you safely want to go," Starkey says. Furthermore, anytime you go above 14 pounds, you also want to tighten the spark plug gap, but Starkey cautions against using copper plugs because they don't seem to last long. He recommends a platinum or iridium plug.
For '13-'14 Shelby GT500s, which already feature a TVS supercharger, Starkey says the plug gap is already down to 0.040-inch, but he recommends tightening if going above 15 pounds of boost. "For a blower car, run a minimum of 0.032-inch, but you can get aggressive and go as tight as 0.028-inch," Starkey says. He has several packages for '13-'14 Shelby GT500s available, but as you know, that car also boasts the 5.8L Trinity engine, so it benefits from extra cubic inches, as well.
His wife Rebecca's GT, which runs 9.50s, makes roughly 760 rwhp, and he uses NGK TR7 IX-11 with 0.032 plug gap. He replaces the plugs every dozen or so runs, and uses Shell Gulf Mach 116, which helps to extend spark plug life—more often if a person uses leaded race fuel.
The factory fuel pump is good for around 650-to-750 rwhp, but the injector plays a role in how everything works together. A larger injector, which is available in VMP's TVS kit, is able to provide the fuel needed. A Boss can handle 800 rwhp with one of Starkey's TVS kits, but with a GT, Starkey wouldn't push it that hard. With one of Starkey's TVS kits, the limiting factor is the GT's bottom end. It'll make 800 rwhp, but the engine won't support it.
The base TVS Stage 1 and Stage II kit is for 600 rwhp, but Starkey's Stage3 is rated from 600-to-800 rwhp. The 67mm twin-blade throttle body and smaller blower pulley help the Stage 3 make in the neighborhood of 800 rwhp.
A Solid Foundation
When adding boost, everything becomes important. Starting at the block, you want a sturdy foundation, and in the case of this 331, a Ford Racing Performance Parts block certainly gets a boosted combination off to a good start. Ford Racing blocks are beefier than production units in the areas where a boosted application need it, such as the main cap area. They also feature improved oiling passages, and reinforced head bolt bosses to prevent leaks and provide better cylinder head sealing. For the modular crowd, there is no aftermarket choice, but the Teksid aluminum and ’03-’04 Cobra iron blocks are plenty strong enough to handle upwards of 1,000 rwhp. Many racers go after a Ford GT Supercar block for an even stronger foundation, and more cubes.
Flipping over our short-block, we see another foundation for building a strong beast. A robust crankshaft is a vital component in a boosted combination. A cast crank, which is what is used in many stock applications, isn’t going to stand up to big power. That is why many people look to the aftermarket for a good crankshaft. There are all sorts of aftermarket cranks available for pushrod applications, but not as many for the modular crowd. A popular crankshaft swap for the modular crowd is a Cobra crank, but several manufacturers have started manufacturing crankshafts for modular applications capable of supporting big power.
Beefy Rods and Pistons
Typically, the rods and pistons take the most abuse when it comes to boosted applications. Many factory connecting rods won’t put up with more than 10 pounds of boost before they check out, wrecking everything else with them. Factory hypereutectic pistons, stock connecting rods, and the hardware charged with keeping them together weren’t built for boost, unless the conversation is leaned toward ’03-’04 Cobra, and the latest Trinity Shelby GT500 engines. Both the Terminator and Trinity engines have shown the ability to withstand a fair amount of boost. With a pushrod or naturally aspirated modular engine, only an entry-level supercharger or turbocharger kit should be used with boost kept to 7-10 pounds at the most. Sure, some stock engines will take a little more if the tune is right, but even so, the engine is on borrowed time when using stock rotating assembly components. If you’re trying to make serious power, aftermarket rods and pistons, with the associated heavy-duty hardware, are
No matter what engine you run, the cylinder heads are the key component to making power. Good heads are important to a NA racer, but with a supercharger or turbocharger, you’re forcing even more air into the engine. Since an engine is a large air pump, the cylinder head becomes even more important with a boosted combination. Ported heads, and a camshaft designed for either a supercharged or turbocharged combination, is the best route to making the most power. This particular head is a Ford Racing Z-head. The Z-head features a raised exhaust port, 63cc CNC’d combustion chambers, 20-degree inline 2.02/1.60 valves, bronze valveguides, and many other features.
Specific Camshaft Design
The cam(s) control when the valves open (and how long they remain open), so it’s critical to select a cam designed for your boost (and rpm) level. Camshaft profile has a lot to do with the power each combo is capable of making. In many cases, a supercharger cam won’t work as well in a turbocharged combination and vice versa. Therefore, camshaft choice also plays a large role in making power. These are Two-Valve cams from Trick Flow’s Track Max line of 4.6L/5.4L Two-Valve modular camshafts. With both pushrod and modular combinations, camshaft selection with a boosted application is very important to making maximum power. In many cases, a custom camshaft profile will be needed. Provide the camshaft manufacturer with details about your cylinder heads, operating rpm, and power adder of your choice to ensure that you get the right cam for your needs.
Proper fuel delivery (not to mention the proper fuel) is necessary for your power adder combination to live. With that, most boosted combinations require an upgrade to the fuel system. This includes the pump (or pumps), lines, fuel rails, and regulator. In addition, some fuel system components can be easily upgraded with replacement parts, while big horsepower levels often require a custom fuel system be installed. This is BBK’s ’98-’04 Mustang 300-lph, replacement electric fuel pump. This pump is capable of supporting big power with a drop-in installation. If you’re looking into making huge power, you’ll need more than just a pump. For huge horsepower combinations, you’re talking about a fuel pump or fuel pumps, along with the requisite fuel lines, fuel rails, and adjustable fuel pressure regulator. Many companies such as Aeromotive have dedicated fuel systems for Mustangs, ranging from the Fox cars up to the new ’14 model.