Dr Jamie Meyer
March 15, 2007

The concept is straight out of a high school physics class: The colder you make your intake charge, the denser, and therefore more powerful, your intake charge becomes. With more atmosphere shoved into the engine, there are more oxygen molecules going through the combustion process and a more forceful down stroke on the piston. To that end, hot rodders have traditionally done all that they could to decrease the intake charge temperatures. This ranges from letting your truck sit between quarter-mile blasts, icing down the intake tract of the engine, and using some type of mechanical or chemical means to decrease inlet temperatures.

Recently, the concept of injecting methanol into the intake tract has become popular. Snow Performance, an industry leader in this technology, has developed specific methanol injection kits for all sorts of different applications. Of course, we wanted to know what the effects of methanol injection are on a built-up Lightning, and Matt Snow, owner of Snow Performance, was more than willing to let us test a kit on one of our resident trucks.

Before we get to the details of the Snow kit, let's address the question of why methanol. According to the Snow Performance Web site: "Methanol is a high-octane fuel that is extremely resistant to detonation with an excellent cost/benefit ratio. Its high latent heat of vaporization also makes it an excellent air charge cooler, which means a denser mixture and more horsepower. Because of these facts, it is a better antidetonant than ethanol or isopropanol, although they will work in a pinch. In gasoline engines, as with any intercooler, this suppresses detonation so more power-producing boost and timing is utilized. Water, with its high latent heat of vaporization cools the intake charge and combustion. Methanol cools the charge and combustion but also acts like an extremely high-octane fuel (some researchers claim as high as 120 octane) as well as adding more oxygen to combustion. It has, however, only about 60 percent of the energy content of gasoline by volume, so about twice as much is used to make similar power if used as a straight fuel. It is extremely toxic and should be handled with rubber gloves in well-ventilated areas. Avoid skin contact."

The Meth Kit
With that as a primer, we took a look at our Snow Performance kit. It's based around a high-flow Snow Performance pump that is modified to flow 500 ml/min at the nozzle. Matt assembled the rest of the kit with an eye toward keeping the cost down while maximizing the bang for the buck. Together, it represents one of the hottest trends in the performance-truck hobby: liquid intercooling. Our Stage II MAF Boost Cooler kit ($399) includes a variable controller to optimize the system's activation by working with the MAS voltage to custom-tune the Snow pump output. As we have come to expect from Snow Performance, its methanol kit comes with detailed, illustrated instructions, making for an easy installation.

Test Truck
Our test truck comes from our old friend, Eric Holt, who donated his Lightning for our sheetmetal JLP-intake installation in the first issue of Ford Truck Performance. Eric's Lightning has seen just about everything that JLP has to offer; built JLP bottom end, JLP ported heads, JLP cams, Kenne Bell twin-screw blower, larger heat exchanger, JLP fuel system, headers, roll cage, race trans with converter, JLP's DiabloSport tunes, and even a ZEX nitrous kit. With power on pump gas exceeding 500 rwhp without the nitrous, this is a true test of the Snow Performance methanol kit capabilities.

Step By Step

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Mmfs_060064_05_z Snow_performance_methanol_injection Installing_the_adaptor
Install a line adaptor to the washer fluid reservoir, again using sealant.
Mmfs_060064_06_z Snow_performance_methanol_injection Engine_bay
Chris starts snaking the methanol line toward the intake. As you can tell, this isn't a stock Lightning. Eric Holt's F-150 has about every trick in the book.
Mmfs_060064_07_z Snow_performance_methanol_injection Controller
The Snow Performance management unit is mounted on the battery cover. This device is wired into the MAS sensor and tuned to come on at a precise boost level. By 8 psi, we want our methanol kit working.
Mmfs_060064_08_z Snow_performance_methanol_injection Wiring
Chris tackles the job of wiring up the system. This job was made easy by clear, well-illustrated directions from Snow Performance. There are wires going to ground, power, MAS (for activation), and the positive side of the methanol pump.

Our good friends at Paul's Automotive Engineering (PAE) handled the installation of the Snow Performance methanol kit. PAE is a Ford performance superstore located in Cincinnati, Ohio, that has built its business on show-stopping Shelby restorations as well as high-end custom hot-rod Fords. We've done a lot of technical work with Paul Faessler, Tom Honsaker, "Big Mike" Wilson, and the rest of PAE's crew, and they never let us down. They have installed a number of the Snow Performance methanol kits on customer cars, so they had no trouble with this installation. With new technician Chris Tino handling the wrenching, we had the kit on our test truck in less than half a day.

The only part of the installation that we can help you save some time on is with the settings for the boost controller. Following Snow's instructions, we set ours up so that the system activates at 3.5 volts at the MAS. This coincides with a full-throttle effort or at about 2,700 rpm when laying into the gas pedal aggressively. Our maximum setting is programmed to 5.0 volts, which our truck never reached, but the system was ramping the pump output throughout that range, making sure we were chemically intercooled.

With the advertisement of chemical intercooling, we had high hopes that our Snow Performance kit would give our extreme Lightning even more power. Matt Snow has often stressed that these kits really shine on vehicles that are forced to run 89- or 91-octane fuel, but we found horsepower with 93 octane in the tank and a mild street tune. The baseline for our test Lightning was 536 rwhp and 607 rwtq. With the activation of the Snow Performance methanol kit, those numbers went to 556 rwhp and 618 rwtq, for a sweet 20 hp and 11 lb-ft gain to the tires.

Our air/fuel ratio went from 11.8-11.9:1 down to 11.5-11.6:1 with the Snow Performance methanol kit activated. Big Mike also recorded a 7-8 degree decrease in inlet temperatures, a clear indication that our kit was working as advertised.

A key to understanding the power of methanol injection is realizing that when you activate one of these systems, it's just like running higher octane fuel. As such, you may not see the increase in performance that you are expecting with only the kit. Take your Lightning to a tuner who knows how to use this product, and get a retune for a higher octane rating. Something on the order of 110 octane is a good comparison. You can get away with outrageous amounts of timing with a Snow Performance methanol kit (we've seen it first hand). Experiment with your own application to maximize the benefits of methanol.

Note that Big Mike spent a few hours playing with increased timing and decreased fuel. At the most, we picked up 2-4 rwhp over the initial recorded numbers. The best numbers came with the baseline tune and that netted a 20hp increase. This seems surprising as we've been able to get away with some outrageous timing and fuel curves on supercharged 5.0 Mustangs equipped with a Snow Performance methanol injection kit. The result has been as much as an 80 rwhp and rwtq gain. When we discussed this with the folks at PAE and other experienced tuners, they said this particular Lightning's efficient factory intercooler coupled to a larger heat exchanger masks a lot of the benefits of this product. Most said that on a stock truck using a stock Eaton blower at a very high boost level, the Snow kit would shine as it would help overcome the superheated intake levels. Still, for the price of this kit, a quick 20 rwhp gain is nothing to dismiss. Once again, the Snow Performance kit proves itself to be a high-quality answer to those looking for increased engine efficiency through chemical intercooling.