Tom Wilson
May 1, 2001

Step By Step

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Saleen recalibration is performed entirely on this computer cart. Saleen tech Adam Wickliff ran us through the simple process that begins by hooking up the customer’s computer and reading the confirmation information to ensure the computer matches the customer’s information sheet. This is followed by a quick rewriting session, sticker application, and finally shipping back to the customer. Saleen has approximately 150 different calibration sets to choose from, depending on the year of the car, transmission type (manual or automatic), final-drive ratio, bolt-on modifications, and tire speed rating.
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To protect the Saleen warranty and remind you of the emissions-legal nature of the Powerflash calibration, an anti-tamper sticker is affixed over the service port. Other chips will function in conjunction with a Powerflash computer, but they will void the Saleen warranty and not be emissions legal.
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All Saleen Powerflash calibrations are written for use strictly with 92-octane premium fuel. If you have regular-grade gasoline in your tank when sending in your computer, you’ll need to dope it with octane booster before installing the Powerflash computer. A better solution is to begin using premium fuel two tankfuls before shipping your computer to Saleen. This cleans out any residual low-octane fuel before the reflashed computer returns. The higher octane fuel is required due to the more advanced ignition timing used by the Powerflash. Chances are high the engine will detonate without the higher-octane fuel when the Powerflash is installed.
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For documentation purposes, Saleen prints out and attaches a data sticker to each Powerflash computer. It allows quick and easy verification of the computer code installed in that Powerflash computer.
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Ford locates all Mustang engine-control computers in the passenger-side kick panel. The first step to accessing the computer is to peel up the rocker panel threshold. This takes but a second or two.
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Also quick to remove is the kick panel. You can use a trim tool to pry off the plastic fasteners, or simply pull on the forward edge of the panel to pop it free. Pros such as Adam just use their hands and have the cover off about as fast as they can reach into the footwell.
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It may take a second to identify the computer among all the wiring behind the kick panel, but it’s in there. Look for the white plastic holder just a little more than halfway up the open area; it has a single 5.5mm headed screw holding it in. Remove the screw and the computer, and the wiring harness will slide out of the chassis.
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Leaving nothing to chance, Ford secures the wiring harness to the computer with a small bolt. It has a 10mm hex, and while you may not see the bolt at first, it’s about midway on the connector and must be loosened. This will automatically back out the harness connector and you’ll have the computer in your hands. To install the Powerflash computer, reverse these steps. There are no trick steps. The connector goes on only one way (it must be screwed to the computer using the 10mm hex headed bolt), and the trim panels simply pop back into place, so you won’t have any trouble.
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We ran our 2001 GT test car by GRC in Mission Viejo, California, to see what the dyno said. We gained just a single horsepower in this tight, new car—it had but 449 miles on the odometer—but driveability was stone stock. Naturally we’d expect more of an improvement on a bolt-on car, and Saleen says the V-6 shows the greatest gains in stock form. Emissions were not measured, but the air/fuel ratio was sampled and the Powerflash was a bit richer than stock—12.0:1 versus 12.5:1 for the stock computer near redline.

Besides Saleen dropping everything to meet our deadlines, we’d like to say a special thanks to GRC Performance and Ford Motor Company for coming through with dyno services and a test vehicle at the last minute—all were a huge help.

Electronic tuning is hugely popular these days. From stone stock to knuckle- dragging street apes, getting the fuel and spark optimized is vital to making max power. While various ways of electronically tuning a Mustang exist, by far the most popular has been replaceable chips that piggyback onto the computer's service port.

Saleen has come up with a new way of handling the job, however. Instead of adding on to the computer code by conditioning the signals the computer receives and sends, Saleen has worked with Ford Motor Company to gain the capability to rewrite the computer's parameters directly. This is done by hooking the Electronic Engine Control--the engine's management computer--to a work station and reflashing many of the parameters in the computer. So, instead of working as an in-line addition to EEC V, the reflashed computer is simply a more aggressive form of EEC V.

Such an approach offers one large benefit--being able to accurately and precisely control the engine from idle to WOT (wide-open throttle). Secondly, some chips are not emissions exempt and thus are not street legal. Saleen decided to keep its computer coding within emission limits and has obtained CARB E.O. numbers on all 150 or so calibrations at its disposal.

Saleen has also entered its new Powerflash computer service at a competi-tive price. At $199, the new programming is less expensive than conventional chips. On the downside, adding a Saleen Powerflash computer is less convenient than a chip. To add a chip, you order one and when it arrives, you install it in the computer's service port and that's it. Or even better, you might have a chip burned as part of a dyno-tuning session, which is essentially instant gratification.

To Powerflash your computer, you order the service, then stand by to receive an instruction sheet, shipping box, and envelope. The simple instructions show you how to remove the computer from behind the passenger kick panel--almost a no-brainer--and run you through the simple questionnaire and return shipping paperwork. Then you ship off your computer to Saleen in the provided packaging. Saleen turns the computer around in 24 hours (in truth, usually the same day), so normally you have your computer back in three days.

That's three days you're riding the bus, but there is an important reason Saleen doesn't simply ship out replacement computers with a core charge--PATS. This is Ford's sophisticated Passive Anti-Theft System, which is heavily encrypted by Ford to individual cars. The PATS encryption in your computer is unique to your Ford, and it can't be deciphered, replicated, or rewritten without some special hardware and 40-plus minutes of computer time at a dealer. So, Saleen sticks with the original computer and avoids any compatibility issues.

Powerflash is aimed at stock and standard bolt-on--type cars looking for an affordable, mild boost in performance. The emissions legality strategy means Saleen is not supporting supercharging, nitrous, or cammed, ported, and high-compression engines. This would be more of a custom tuning proposition and is best done on a chassis dyno with a chip burner on-hand. If desired, Powerflash will work with a chip in the service port, but that will void the Saleen warranty, and it seems redundant unless the last erg of naturally aspirated performance was desired on a blower car, for example.

Finally, while Saleen hadn't worked out the details at press time, it will cost-effectively support Powerflash customers who want an upgrade at a later date. So adding a few bolt-ons a bit down the road won't relegate the Powerflash to garage-shelf status. And yes, the parameters in the Powerflash computer are near what new Saleen owners enjoy in their hot rods, but not identical.

Horse Sense:
The power and ease of electronics never ceases to amaze. Certainly swapping out a Mustang computer is easy enough. If you have the two sockets in hand, the entire job takes less than three minutes.