Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
September 1, 2009
Precision Fabrication, among other companies, produces numerous components that can help your factory air-to-liquid charge cooling system work more efficiently. Shown here is an '03-'04 Cobra fluid reservoir.

Vortech Engineering came out with its own air charge cooler, the Power Cooler, a few years after ATI's debut, and the company opted to go with the air-to-liquid route with its charge cooler. "The air-to-liquid design has several benefits," says Vortech's Mike Reagan. "It's easier to package and offers less frictional losses because there are less bends and shorter lengths to the tubing. An air-to-air charge cooler requires extra horsepower to push the air through the tubing." Reagan also claims that air-to-air coolers cause higher intake air temperatures because of the friction that results from the design, and he also tells us that depending on the way a car is driven and the ambient air temperature, they have seen decreases in air charge temperature of over 100 degrees.

Beyond centrifugal superchargers, the Roots- and twin-screw-style superchargers from Kenne Bell, Magnuson, Roush, Saleen, Ford Racing Performance Parts, and Whipple all use air-to-liquid charger coolers. When it comes to Mustang turbocharger systems, the verdict is overwhelmingly air-to-air charge coolers. Hellion, HP Performance, B&G Custom, Granatelli Motorsports, and all others utilize the air-to-air setup.

"The air-to-air cooler has less maintenance, it's easier to install, and has a lower cost-the air-to-water coolers require a reservoir, a pump, two heat exchangers, and other components," says Hellion Power System's John Urist. He does, however, present an open-minded approach to charge cooler selection.

For extreme performance street and track applications, Vortech offers its Mondo Igloo charge cooler, which fits certain '86-'95 Mustang powerplants. The Igloo is an air-to-liquid setup.

"You don't want to tell people one thing, because there are so many variables within each combination. Every one is different and has difference requirements that must be met. With the air-to-air, you generally want to fit the biggest one you can in the car. You're usually limited by the space available."

With regard to the air-to-air charge cooler, there are two different designs, and Urist, along with ProCharger, prefer the bar-and-plate cooler over the less expensive and less efficient tube-and-fin design. Most of the charge coolers you find for cheap on eBay are of the tube-and-fin design, so buyers beware.

That about covers the street applications in the Mustang aftermarket. Beyond the street, there are companies like Precision Turbo, JPC Racing, and Dez Racing that are building bigger, better charge coolers and installing them into cars making anywhere from 500 to 2,500 hp.

JPC Racing now offers this air-to-liquid charge cooler for the S197 Mustang GT. It can be adapted to a number of current centrifugal superchargers or turbochargers, and is beneficial to anyone running over 10 psi of boost. "I have seen inlet air temps with F-series blowers get up to 300 degrees with the biggest air-to-air versus 90 degrees with our air-to-water," says JPC's Justing Burcham.

Always the pioneer when it comes to the S197 Mustang, JPC Racing in Glen Burnie, Maryland, offers air-to-liquid charge coolers for the S197 Mustang that use any of the available aftermarket centrifugal superchargers, including Paxton, ProCharger, and Vortech. JPC has also been known to fabricate the necessary tubing to connect them to some of the popular S197 Mustang turbocharger kits.

Precision Turbo, in addition to selling turbocharger units for everything and anything, also sells its own line of charge coolers. Precision offers everything from Ford Focus 2.0L charge coolers up to tube-chassis, 200-mph race cars.

"Over the last couple of years, there have been significant advancements in the air-to-water intercooler technology, specifically in regard to the cores," says Joe Krivickas, sales manager for Precision Turbo. "This allows us to build a smaller, lighter, more efficient unit that will support more power, yet weigh less than similar units from years past. More importantly, we have been working on the safety aspects of the construction. We continue to review the welding process and tank materials to keep up with the higher boost pressures as turbo sizes grow."

The battle over which charge cooling method is better has been going on for decades now, and we see no end in sight. In a drag-racing application, the winner has to be the air-to-liquid charge cooler. Being able to chill the intake charge with ice water is just unbeatable, especially in classes where only a single power adder is allowed. When it comes to everything else, it's basically up to the manufacturer of the supercharger or turbocharger, as well as your opinion on the design of the charge cooler and how it integrates into the vehicle.

Both methods have their benefits and drawbacks, but one thing that can be said for both is that they help increase horsepower and torque, and you can't go wrong with that.