How To Tune Your Vintage Mustang for Improved Performance
Top tuning tips from the pros
There's a lot of myth and folklore out there for those seeking additional power from classic Mustangs. Stroker kits, superchargers, bigger carburetors, hot ignitions, high-flow exhaust systems, less restrictive air cleaners, fuel additives, and more will theoretically achieve gains in power. However, did you know your engine can make more power with simple analysis and performance tuning?
We visited Jon Enyeart of Pony Carburetors in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to discuss engine tuning and carburetors and how both directly affect performance. We also consulted with Marvin McAfee at MCE Engines in Los Angeles to get his take on how to unleash hidden power.
Pony Carburetors has been building concours-restored Mustang carburetors for 17 years. The company's nice-looking, factory-original Autolite, Holley, Carter, and Rochester carburetors look good on any concours restoration, not to mention a daily or weekend driver.
More than good-looking, Pony Carburetor's atomizers are high on function and improved performance because Jon wouldn't have it any other way. His approach to engine tuning is methodical, taking place one system at a time. He begins with the carburetor, then moves to the ignition system to ascertain a proper baseline tune. Most of the time, rough idle and lackluster performance are rooted in fuel- and ignition-system tuning. However, fuel and ignition systems cannot do their jobs effectively unless all other areas of the engine are healthy.
Any tune-up should include a compression check and cylinder leakdown test. Compression should be uniform within 5-10 psi across all cylinders. Leakdown differs from compression in that it shows whether or not the cylinder can maintain a proper seal. Compression is mechanical proof that each cylinder is making compression as the piston rises to the top of the bore with both valves closed. Leakdown is a test of cylinder pressure once compression happens and the fuel/air mixture ignites.
When compression and/or leakdown are poor, there's no point in tuning further until the fault is determined and repaired. Low compression and cylinder leakdown issues can be caused by burned exhaust valves, bad rings, piston damage, or a cracked casting.