5.0 Mustang & Super FordsNews & Views
Tuned In - Bench Racer
Every now and again when I sit and process the broad scope of my association with late-model Mustangs, it amazes me that I've been around long enough to witness so many things that have helped change the game. Now, don't get it twisted. I'm not so old that I can remember the day the first 5.0- powered Pony rolled off the assembly line. But I must confess, I really do have considerably more years under my belt than a lot of you may think.
"You're only as young as you feel," is one of many popular anectdotal statements (made by the proverbial wise men who get credit for coming up with such thoughts) that we occasionally repeat. While I agree with this in most cases, I recently spent time with a car friend who shared an experience that he says made him "feel about a hundred years old," despite his actual age of 30.
Before I get into the details, let me start by saying that Al is an awesome mechanic. When it comes to conceptualizing and then building/making pieces for cars—especially Mustangs—he really is beyond gifted. Al also has plausible aptitude when it comes to engines—the ability to build the bullets for his own Ponies, and he has even helped other friends with their own small-block-Ford builds. The tricky thing about this is that despite his age, Al is a "carburetor guy," admittedly ignorant to the ways of making Mustangs run with electronic fuel injection.
In all honesty, I didn't believe such a creature still existed (at least not one so young), but when thinking about things on a larger scale, Al's Mustangs all have carbs (from an OEM Holley 600 on his '84 GT, to twin Dominators on his race Mustang).
"I just never got into the whole EFI thing," Al told me. "Yeah, they're [fuel-injected ‘Stangs] smooth and all, but I don't want to mess with a computer in order to get it to run.
"I came to realize I'm living in the Dark Ages, far behind the times, when I got caught ... well, stuck in a buddy's turbocharged '13 GT, when the engine completely suddenly started to run really rough, stopped, intermittently started but wouldn't stay running, and eventually refused to fire altogether.
"With a carbureted engine, I probably would've been able to determine what was wrong and make things right. That wasn't possible with the EFI. When it comes to that technology, I'm far, far behind. The only thing I know how to do with a laptop is check my email," Al said.
The confession led me to really think about today's street Mustangs and the manner in which their engines are tuned for increased performance, and/or improved driveability—by laptop and with aftermarket tuning software. Tuning, as we currently know it, is a general way of life for late-model Mustang enthusiasts. (I'm even including injected-Fox owners in this group, as aggressive mods and performance for pushrod engines warrant PCM calibration that is as detailed as the tuning required for hopped-up modulars.)
Does anyone (besides Al) still use a small screwdriver, a half-inch wrench (for loosening the distributor hold-down bolt), a jet-removal/installation tool, and a timing light to tune their ‘Stang's engine? Sure, there probably is a very small minority of OGs—and I'll include myself because I came into the hobby by way of a carbureted '84 GT—that have such skills. However, nowadays it's guys like Jon Lund, Chris Johnson, Chris Jones, Ken Bjonnes, Brian Macy, Eddie Rios, Justin Burcham, Brent White, Bob Kurgan, Brian Schapiro, Rick Anderson, Tim Matherly, and many more tuners around the country who have risen to near rock-star status because of their ability to manipulate an engine's fuel, air, and spark values (and make big steam) by way of laptop computers, smart phones, and the Internet.
Of course, EFI tuning is not for everybody, and by no means is it as easy as simply pecking a few keys on the computer's keyboard, hitting Enter, and instantly creating hundreds of horsepower. Some engine gurus actually are able to transition from carburetor to fuel injection and tuning technology in self-taught fashion without missing a beat. However, for those who aren't as savvy or comfortable with diving head first into EFI, but have the desire to learn and become hands-on with tuning, there are options. Courses are offered by such aftermarket fuel-injection companies as FAST, SCT, and Holley, and traveling schools like the EFI University program taught by Brian Macy.
These provide excellent instruction on how to operate various tuning softwares correctly and ultimately make your mild-or-wild Mustang run great. I'm thinking about giving Al one of these lessons as a Christmas gift.