Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
September 13, 2013

To Tune or Not to Tune

I have an ’03 Cobra with 16,000 miles. The only modifications are a Bassani X-style pipe, a Borla exhaust, and a K&N air filter. My question is, do I need to purchase a tuner and/or have the car dyno tuned with these modifications? It smells like it may be running rich. However, I associated that with the fact that the catalytic converters are now gone due to the off-road X-style pipe. I have read on forums how changing air and fuel without a custom tune can cause damage to the engine. I do not plan to do any other modifications at this time.

Chris Schnitzler
Via the Internet

Chris, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money and say, “Buy a tuner and flash your computer,” but in your case it could honestly help. We’re assuming you’re using MIL eliminators with your off-road pipe, but you can do that and much more with a custom tune file. That said, your minor mods will not damage the engine. Your supercharged modular has pretty much a full exhaust swap on it (just need some headers to finish it off), no cats, and improved breathing with the K&N. The Terminator Cobra has a long history with tuners and as long as you use a reputable shop, they can easily make your Cobra run better and cleaner—and perhaps put a little more power to the rear as well. Check with Mustang owners in your area for a good tuning shop with a dyno and then discuss your Cobra with them. They can tune the car on their dyno and set you up with a hand-held tuning device with programs for your specific needs. You’ll drive out of there with a new-found love for your Termi and might even start putting some more miles on it!

Not the Only One

I read with both interest and familiarity the Late-Model Corral letter with the supposed “pre-production” window sticker. My ’93 SVT Lightning’s sticker is the same and it was a truck that I special-ordered. My Lightning was not ordered via any string-pulling or insider favor. It had no ties to pre-production marketing or press or anything like that. It was simply an early order (I think it was added to the order banks in late September or early October 1992, along with my black ’93 Cobra that I also still have).

When the truck finally arrived at the dealership, they called to inform me that it was “in,” but they couldn’t give it to me until the EPA certification came through and Ford gave them the green light to sell it. So it sat on their hold lot for a couple of weeks until the red tape and bureaucracy between Ford and the government was finally cleared-up. It wasn’t until I had it in-hand that I saw the interesting window sticker.

I always chalked it up to lead times if a production schedule came down “to the wire” to where they’re ready and scheduled to build prior to the paperwork flowing through all the proper channels—i.e. EPA—be it a matter of things running slowly at the EPA or some unforeseen hiccup or dispute. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that Ford was racing the clock leading up to production, so rather than shut the plant and send workers home while they awaited the EPA’s go-ahead, they just started production and added these window stickers on all of the vehicles built prior to the “formality” of EPA certification. At least that’s the story with my Lightning because it was nothing beyond being a special-order truck for a retail customer.

The window sticker certainly draws a lot of attention when I show the truck as it’s still in all the dealer-wrappings with less than 150 miles on the odometer.

Rick Schmidt
National Parts Depot

Thanks for taking the time to follow up on our answer with your own experiences and even providing a photo of your window sticker. Holding for EPA certification seemed to be more the norm than the exception with early built cars, no matter the selling dealer.

Suspension Attention

I have a ’06 Mustang GT that came from factory with the optional 18-inch “fan blade” wheels with BFGoodrich tires. I thought I read somewhere where Ford made slight adjustments to the suspension to accommodate the optional larger wheels. Have you or other readers heard of this? If this is true, I would keep the suspension stock, hopefully keeping the car for many years. If not, I could then consider aftermarket suspension components to install without worry.

Dave Elsbury
Crystal, MN

We do not know for certain if the ’06 Mustang did indeed have minor suspension tuning changes for a specific wheel and tire package, but we have heard of Ford doing just such a thing on other year Mustangs and even other models. Essentially, Ford engineers determine that a certain wheel size (its weight mostly) or a certain tire size (harsher ride due to less sidewall) could possibly exceed the stock suspension’s tuning parameters. To bring the suspension back into “spec,” a slightly softer spring or shock might be used or even a different durometer bushing in the control arms or shock ends. That being said, these minor changes should not deter you from upgrading your suspension if you want to lower the car, improve its handling, and so forth.

Let us hear from you. Send your late-model Mustang questions or comments to: Late-Model Corral, c/o Mustang Monthly, 9036 Brittany Way, Tampa, FL 33619, or email us at