Evan J. Smith
January 1, 2014

If there's a common denominator between all car enthusiasts, it's that we'd all love to spend more money on our cars (and trucks). Big or small, we all have a budget—however, most of us have a different description of what that word means.

Professional race teams often have a budget that surpasses our wildest dreams. We've drooled over the detail of some fine show and race cars at SEMA and other events, wishing we had the time, talent, and money to do the same. Others use the term budget to represent something that is ultra-cost-effective—like home-ported heads or used hot-rod parts, and that's okay, too.In planning our stories, we offer you high-end fantasy builds such as our 25th Anniversary '88 GT called Hypersilver. We also offer plenty of budget-oriented how-to's that (almost) anyone can do.

During a recent editorial meeting, we debated whether or not a set of $1,500 aluminum heads should be considered a “budget” part. Said heads went on a $999 306 short-block that ultimately belted out 300 rwhp in a '92 LX. I'd call it an affordable build, not a total budget deal since we installed a custom cam, new valvetrain, and new headers (since the old ones were rusted away). (Editor's Note: You can read all about that build in our Fox-only special, which goes on sale mid-November). And check back in a few months as we upgrade the intake and cold-air package to make more power.

Associate Editor Kristian Grimsland stated his case that the heads were in no way a cheap or budget part. Tech Editor Marc Christ and I disagreed. While I'd hardly call any $1,500 part cheap, the performance we gained from the heads was well worth the money, and a major upgrade over stock 5.0 iron heads. And let's face it—the power comes from the heads, cam, and intake anyway. Of course, there's horsepower to be found with a properly machined block and with careful selection of the crank, rods, and pistons, plus the ring choice and fitment of the parts. But we've proved numerous times that the basics also work well.

A proper rebuild on old iron heads is not cheap either. Done right, you're looking at a valve job and new seals, springs, retainers, valve locks, and assembly. Plus you should check the deck surface and machine if necessary to ensure the heads are flat before installing them. And you may still be stuck with heads that don't flow very well. For $1,500, improved airflow of most aftermarket heads will give you 40-60 hp over stock, plus you'll shave 40-50 pounds from the nose of your Ford. In short, if you're modding a near-stock 302 or 351, better heads are a must.

The good news lies in the plethora of parts available. There are options for strokers, different intake designs, forced induction, nitrous, and more. When it comes to early 5.0L performance ('79-'95) the potential is endless. Fox Fords (and Mercs) will accept just about any Ford engine, and today swaps are as common as scrolling through Facebook.

Circling back to my original point, I guess the term budget will always mean something different to each of us. Only you can decide how much money, time, and effort to put into your project. The important thing is to get out in the garage and work on your fast Ford. Don't overlook the little things, and enjoy the hobby at whatever level you can afford.