January 31, 2006

Dual Exhausts
When you buy a vintage Ford, chances are good it's probably equipped with the original factory single exhaust system. At best, you can hope for a lame dual exhaust system with an 13/4-inch pipe and generic replacement mufflers. To improve performance, you need to improve breathing and exhaust scavenging. Popular wisdom is to go with the largest pipes you can fit underneath your Ford. However, your goal needs to be achieving a nice balance between large and small diameter, depending on your engine and the kind of driving you intend to do. The best pipe diameter is 21/4 to 21/2 inches if you are running a mild street performance engine. This provides a good compromise between unlimited breathing and the kind of back pressure you need to have on the street to make low-end torque.

The aftermarket is rich with a variety of headers, mufflers, and exhaust systems. As a result, you have a lot to choose from--long- or short-tube headers, dozens of muffler types, and pipe sizes as large as 3 inches. When you go as large as a 3-inch pipe diameter, you're going to lose backpressure and make your Ford's undercarriage confining. stick to the common sense approach--21/4- to 21/2-inch diameter.

Always connect both sides of your exhaust system with a balance tube, which improves both sound and pressure between both sides of the system. You can even give it a different twist with an X-pipe that changes the way the exhaust pulses from each bank of cylinders. At high revs, the X-pipe sounds completely different, making our all American V-8 engines sound more European in tone.

Being Single
If you want to simplify your Ford's charging system and improve reliability, go with a single-wire alternator and throw away the voltage regulator. Converting your vintage Ford's regulator charging system may seem complex and hard to understand, but it is actually quite easy to do and can be done in about two hours. None of the factory wiring has to be eliminated. You can even leave the voltage regulator installed if you desire an original appearance.

When you install a single-wire alternator, you are going to an internally-regulated, high-amp alternator that will more than keep your Ford's battery charged, regardless of how much demand you put on the system. There are single-wire, high-amperage alternators available from Performance Distributors and Powermaster Motorsports. Each type comes with technical information and installation instructions.

Wheel Groovy
Nothing dresses up a ride quite like a nice set of wheels. Long ago, we were limited to a modest selection from Cragar, Keystone, American Racing, and Kelsey-Hayes. In the past 20 years, the wheel industry has grown phenomenally, with more styles, types, sizes, and manufacturers than ever before.

Likely the largest wheel you can get under a vintage Ford is 18 to 19 inches. But there's always someone hell-bent to shoehorn something larger into those wheelwells. When you are selecting a wheel and tire for your classic Ford, remember to temper your imagination with liberal doses of common sense. Make sure the wheel styling works with your Ford's body style. Check offset and backspacing availability. Another important issue is brake clearance. Make sure the wheel you want clears the caliper and control arms.

Also remember that large wheel size means less tire sidewall than we are used to with old Fords. Overall tire/wheel height doesn't change much based on what you can get into the wheelwell. This means going with a larger wheel means less sidewall, which means a rougher ride. The sidewall is there not only to look pretty, but to absorb road shock. When you hit irregularities in the road with 14- or 15-inch wheels and tires, there is a lot of sidewall to take up road shock. When you pump the wheel size up to 17 or 18 inches, you have less sidewall to take the bumps.

The cool thing about larger wheel size is what it does for the appearance of our period Fords. Huge 18- or 19-inch wheels on a '63 Galaxie fastback thrust these slippery beasts into the retro-crazed 2000s. And what about large wheels on a '69-'70 Mustang SportsRoof? This third generation Mustang body lends itself to big wheels and brute ideas.