50 Ford Performance Tips & Tricks
Half a Hundred Ways to Improve Your Ford's Performance
From the July, 1999 issue of Modified Mustangs & Fords
By Wayne Cook
Photography by The Mustang & Fords Archive
In maintaining our emphasis on Ford restomod performance, we offer these insights into making your Mustang or other vintage Ford run with the best out there. Whether it's horsepower, handling, or braking, there's something here for whatever project you're working on. Take a little time and study our list, and see how many of these pointers apply to your high-performance Ford.
If the engine you,'re planning for next season has aluminum heads in the formula, remember that you can be more liberal with your compression ratio. The superior heat-dissipating qualities of aluminum allow you to run a higher compression ratio than would be possible with cast-iron heads. Some new cars equipped with aluminum heads have a compression ratio as high as 10:1. Your aluminum-headed mill can go this high, too, as long as you run premium gas.
More Voltage, Less Filling
In the never-ending quest to keep weight off the front wheels, many Ford owners opt to move the battery to the trunk. While this does help, it involves lots of work in routing heavy cable all the way to the trunk, which leads to considerable voltage loss because of the distance of the battery from the starter. One great compromise is a dry cell battery. They,'re so light that weight is not much of a factor. These batteries are also very small, so they fit easily in special applications. Ours has lots of cranking power and has never let us down. Also, tech inspectors at the dragstrip like them because there,'s no liquid acid to worry about.
Another advantage to using an electric fuel pump is that a fuel cutoff switch can be mounted inside the car in a secret location. This is a low-buck anti-theft device that's worth lots more than some of the expensive car alarms we've seen.
Soak Your Header Gaskets
One problem you may be having with your headers is recurring leaks. A simple trick we use to solve this problem is to soak our paper-based header gaskets in water overnight before installation. This causes them to swell up and make a better seal. Fire the engine, and the heat will cure them into the correct position.
Ice, 'Er Down
Ever wonder why they sell so much ice at the dragstrip? They,'re not putting it in their beer cooler. Ice down that intake manifold after each run and your engine will get a colder, denser, fuel/air charge on the next run. We all know that a cool charge packs more punch, just make sure to put the ice in a bag first so you,'re not leaking water all over the track!
We've noticed that our EFI conversion cars are very sensitive to distributor timing advancement. Although the 9:1 compression engines will run fine on 87-octane regular fuel, our 5.0 likes more advance than 87 fuel will tolerate, and ping or detonation is the result. Rather than retard the timing, we're buying 92-octane premium fuel because the performance difference on the freeway on-ramp is dramatic. The improvement is well worth the extra cost.
You may not believe this, but the truth is that high-voltage ignitions can create an ionized condition under your distributor cap. When this happens, you'll often get a miss that is impossible to diagnose because the ions allow the spark to travel along wrong pathways under the cap. Lift the cap to inspect the rotor, and so on, and the ions dissipate, so the miss goes away--but just for a while. The solution is to drill a 1/8-inch hole in the rear of your distributor cap. This allows the ions to escape. We know this sounds far-fetched, but if you don't believe us, look at a new 5.0 distributor cap. You'll see that Ford has the vent already built right in on the top of the cap. It's covered by that little black, loose cover.
One hot performance...
One hot performance tip for your early Ford engine is a roller cam conversion. This nifty kit offered by Crane Cams allows you to enjoy roller cam advantages, like greatly reduced internal friction (which means more horsepower) and quieter operation. If you're considering a cam swap, the roller cam conversion doesn't require much extra work, and it's well worth the effort. Info: Crane Cams, Dept. MF, 530 Fentress Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL 32114; (904) 258-6174.
In the quest...
In the quest for inexpensive horsepower, one of the best and most economical ideas we know about is to install a crossover pipe on your dual exhaust system. Any good exhaust shop can weld one into place in no time, and you'll see a noticeable gain in power and torque. Your exhaust system will also have a quieter and smoother tone.
We don't need...
We don't need to convince you of the need for disc brakes on your high-performance Ford. You already know about the superior and fade-free stopping power that disc brakes offer. What you may not know is that Stainless Steel Brakes now offers a PBR all-aluminum front disc-brake caliper kit to fit your vintage Mustang. These calipers reduce unsprung weight, which can be just the advantage you're looking for on bumpy road courses. When there is less weight for the suspension to control, the tire returns to the road faster after a bump for improved handling and safety. Info: Stainless Steel Brake Corporation, Dept. MF, 11470 Main Rd., Clarence, NY 14031; (800) 448-7722.
We all know...
We all know that it's a good idea to change the transmission fluid in your car's automatic transmission from time to time to keep your gearbox working smoothly and to prolong transmission life. If you've ever done this job, then you know it can be a big mess with tranny fluid spilling everywhere when the pan is lowered. A simple solution is to install a drain plug in the sump pan as shown. Now, when it's time to work on your automatic, it's a quick and easy task to drain the pan without the usual mess.
Start Me Up
In the unending...
Start Me Up
In the unending quest for weight reduction, here's a cool item. A high-torque mini-starter not only saves weight, it has more cranking power than an original, standard-size starter. Another advantage is that the small unit works in confined spaces when the full-size unit won't, so it's the hot ticket when you're using headers or engineering a custom application. They're available from either Ford Racing Performance Parts [Dept. MF, 44050 N. Groesbeck Hwy., Clinton Township, MI 48036; (810) 468-1356], or Hamburgers' Division of Mr. Gasket [Dept. MF, 8700 Brookpark Rd., Cleveland, OH 44129; (216) 398-8300].
Whenever you've made performance upgrades to your car's engine, you know that the mill is also generating extra heat. There are lots of folks out there who can help you with an oversize radiator. One look at this unit and it's easy to see that you'll have plenty of extra capacity available (compared to a stock radiator on the left) to cool that hot engine on a warm day.
An AOD conversion...
An AOD conversion for your vintage Ford can be an intimidating order because many special parts are required. Now, the folks at Windsor-Fox can help because they offer this cool kit for your conversion project. There's no need to hunt around because the kit has most of what you'll need, including a custom-made crossmember designed for your application, the correct-balance flexplate, a Windsor-Fox transmission control cable kit, and a special design shift rod that allows the use of your car's stock shifter. Shorten the driveshaft by one inch, use a C4 transmission mount, and you'll be ready to cruise into overdrive. Info: Windsor-Fox, Dept. MF, 18737 Hwy. 18, P.O. Box 2683, Apple Valley, CA 92307; (760) 946-FUEL.
No More Mystery
No More Mystery
Sometimes it's not easy to decide just what combination of parts to use when extra horsepower is what you're after. Let Edelbrock take the mystery out of it with one of their component-matched Total Power Packages. The parts in these kits are designed to work perfectly with each other to produce optimum power. The packages are available in several performance levels, so you can choose one that's best suited to your needs, from mild-street to full-race applications. Info: Edelbrock, Dept. MF, 2700 California St., Torrance, CA 90503; (310) 781-2222.
Room to Spare
Room to Spare
When it's time to upgrade the exhaust side of your engine, you'll often find that a set of headers is too expensive, or that there is not a set made to fit your application. The best solution we know of are these K-code exhaust manifolds. They're reproductions of a stock Ford casting originally made for the '63 Hi-Po cars. Available from a variety of sources, they flow almost as well as a set of headers, fit most vintage Fords with the Windsor engine, and give your car a sanitary look underhood while still delivering great performance. Another added plus is that they're quiet, so you won't have the old ping-ping coming from under the hood.
On early Fords like the Mustang or Fairlane, the shock tower braces often end up in the way when you're doing underhood modifications such as EFI or a different carb and air cleaner setup. These braces are very important to your car's structural integrity and can't be eliminated. One solution is to fabricate smaller braces to replace the factory units. The Windsor-Fox braces shown here have aircraft-type Heim joints, which makes them adjustable, and will clear almost any underhood modification.
One inexpensive way to gain some extra power at the rear wheels is to install a set of accessory underdrive pulleys from BBK. Used on serpentine accessory drive systems, these pulleys should be good for between 5 and 10 extra horsepower at the rear wheels. Info: BBK Performance, Dept. MF, 1611 Railroad St., Corona, CA 91720; (909) 735-8880.
Pump Me Up
Pump Me Up
Anyone contemplating an EFI conversion on a vintage Ford will be pleased to learn that it's no longer mandatory to go with an in-tank fuel pump. The extra expense of a special fuel tank can be avoided by using an external fuel pump similar to the Ford Racing Performance Parts' unit shown here. Simply attach the pump to the car in a convenient location, and you can use your existing fuel tank with no modifications other than setting up a fuel return line.
If you're after...
If you're after the high-performance look for your engine at a minimum cost, consider a set of these "Power By Ford" valve covers offered on '68-'69 Mustangs. They're genuine Ford with the classic '60s stylized lettering, and we found these for a mere $15, breather and PVC hose included. A few minutes in the sand blaster and some rattle-can paint had us ready to go.
Recover from Sticker Shock...
Recover from Sticker Shock
Are you still trying to regain your composure after pricing high-performance shocks? We can relate. Consider a set of these KYB Gas-a-just shocks for your vintage Mustang or special-interest Ford instead. They,'ll give you outstanding performance and won,'t break your bank account. Performance Suspension Technology has them, so contact PST at Dept. MF, P.O. Box 396, Montville, NJ 07045; (800) 247-2288.
Does your high-performance engine jump around when the pedal goes to the wood? Engine movement under hard throttle can cause all sorts of problems, including clutch linkage binding and contact vibration. One solution we've seen that allows you to keep your stock motor mounts is a torque strap like the unit shown here. This strap was fabricated from scrap metal, and it keeps the starboard side exhaust manifold on our '64 Fairlane off the shock tower when we're on the gas.
One of the big drawbacks...
One of the big drawbacks to the original intake manifold found on the FE 390- 427-428 engines is weight. The original cast-iron intake weighs in at a painful 78 to 90 pounds, depending on which FE you're running. Edelbrock offers two excellent FE aluminum intake manifolds, each weighing in at 26.5 pounds. We don't need to explain how a weight reduction of between 50 and 60 pounds over the front wheels helps both acceleration and handling performance. The extra flow potential and resulting horsepower gains come at no extra charge.
If the K-code...
If the K-code exhaust manifolds aren't what you had in mind for your high-performance Mustang and you still want a flavor of originality, try a set of Tri-Y headers from Stainless Works. This type of header was offered as original equipment on the '65 Shelby GT350. With Tri-Ys, you'll get both great performance and vintage looks. Info: Stainless Works, Dept. MF, 9899 E. Washington St., Chagrin Falls, OH 44023; (800) 878-3635.
You already know that unless your early Mustang came with air conditioning, it hasn't got a fan shroud. The factory shroud furnished with A/C cars isn't very deep, so you may want to fabricate your own custom shroud like this one.
If you,'re running an 8-inch open differential in your vintage Mustang, you may be thinking of a performance upgrade for your rear axle. If you don,'t want the clatter and jumpy operation common to a locker-type diff, consider a Currie Torque Sensing Differential for your third member. This unit will provide smooth and quiet two-wheel traction perfect for your street car. It drops into place in your third member with no modifications, and you,'ll be laying down two black stripes instead of one. Info: Currie Enterprises, Dept. MF, 1480 N. Tustin Ave., Anaheim CA 92807; (714) 528-6957.
If you want...
If you want to mystify the competition, and clean their clocks as well, consider a stroker kit from Speed-O-Motive. They can pack up to 347 ci into your stock-looking 289-302 block, and no one will ever know why your car is so fast. Use a 351 block, and you can get well above the 400ci figure. Use your stock air cleaner and stump the panel. Info: Speed-O-Motive, Dept. MF, 12061 E. Slauson Ave., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670; (562) 945-2758.
There's no question that anti-sway bars on your vintage Mustang or Ford will improve handling dramatically. What you may not know is that when you get these sway bar kits with polyurethane bushings, you can end up with a loud squeaking problem once the bars are installed. When we put sway bars on our car along with a whole new front end, we had loud squeaking that was driving us crazy. When we finally isolated the problem, we found that a little bearing grease on the inside of the polyurethane bushing solved the whole dilemma. Save yourself some grief and grease your anti-sway bar bushings a little before you install the bars in the first place.
If you've been...
If you've been wanting to eliminate the vintage power steering on your Mustang, but you don't want the expense of changing drag links and pitman arms, a different solution is now available. Mustangs Plus offers a manual steering adapter that goes in place of your power-steering control valve. The rest of your linkage stays in place. Besides the control valve, you can eliminate the pump with its bracketry, lines, slave cylinder, and thrust bracket. You'll have improved steering feel and lose all of the leaks and extra weight that goes with original power steering. Info: Mustangs Plus, Dept. MF, 2353 N. Wilson Way, Stockton, CA 95205; (800) 999-4289.
You can reduce...
You can reduce the amount of noise coming from underhood and pick up a few ponies at the rear wheels if you switch to an electric fan for your primary cooling. You'll also have less problems with overheating because air velocity through the radiator is full blast, even stopped at idle.
Path of Least Resistance ...
Path of Least Resistance
Any time you can lessen intake resistance, it's a good thing for power production. One simple way to do this is to run the tallest air cleaner element your hood clearance will allow. The same logic says to keep your element clean as well.
Make sure the preload on your hydraulic valvetrain is right on the money by performing this simple test. Rotate the pushrod between your fingertips as shown while tightening down on the rocker nut. It should rotate freely. When the pushrod just begins to drag, you're there. Tighten the nut down 1/4-more turn, and your valve will be in correct adjustment. Your lifters must be fully pumped up for this test to work. With an empty lifter, the pushrod will still rotate as the plunger travels down into the lifter. In this condition, you must observe and stop when the plunger begins to descend.
Remember that when you're running a special application where oil filter access is a problem, Ford Racing Performance Parts offers this remote filter attachment fixture. Place this unit on the inner fenderwell and all of your access problems will be solved.
Even if your...
Even if your car isn't running fuel injection, you should still be using an inertia switch if your engine uses an electric fuel pump. This type of switch opens in the event of an accident, cutting current to the pump to prevent pumping fuel at what might be a very bad time. Mount the switch in an out-of-the-way area, such as the trunk, and on a hard surface.
These late-model 5.0 valve covers are a good item to use on your Windsor engine no matter what the year. They,'re an aluminum casting with a machined seat, which makes a perfect oil seal an easy bet. They,'re low profile so they,'ll clear many special applications, including EFI, which they were made for. They will even work with aftermarket roller rockers, clearing with very little modification to the oil filler baffle in most cases.
If a super-screamer...
If a super-screamer Windsor engine is on your project agenda, but the two-bolt mains have you a little nervous, you can relax. You won't have to scour the woods for a Boss 302 block because now Milodon offers these four-bolt main caps to fit your mill. The outer bolts are splayed or angled for extra strength and protection against cap walk. Just have your machine shop drill and tap the outer holes, and align bore the crank saddle. Contact Info: Milodon, Dept. MF, 20716 Plummer St., Chatsworth; CA 91311, (818) 407-1211.
Disc brake conversions are near the top of our list when it comes to worthwhile projects for a vintage Ford. However, if you're doing a conversion on a '641/2 Mustang or '63-'64 Fairlane, you'll encounter a special problem. These early cars have a pressure-activated brake light switch attached at the front of the master cylinder, whereas later cars have a mechanical brake light switch inside the car at the brake pedal arm. When you install your new master cylinder, you'll notice that there is no provision for the old-style, pressure-activated switch.
Rather than converting over to the new-style switch, just leave the original junction block in place on the inner fenderwell, instead of installing the new block supplied with your kit. The end result is that when everything else is completed, you have one threaded port left over at the junction block. Install the early pressure switch in this extra port in the block, and you're ready to go using your original brake light activation setu
Crank it Up
Keep this in...
Crank it Up
Keep this in mind the next time you,'re scouring the swap meet for a good deal on a forged crank for your high-performance engine project. It,'s easy to tell the difference because the cast crank will have a thin parting line, similar to the crank seen on the left. Forged cranks have a wide parting line like the unit on the right.
Get a Handle on It
Get a Handle on It
You already know that when you're performing a cam swap, it's very important not to dislodge any of the cam bearings. You need to get a grip on the cam and support it on its way out so you don't bang on the bearings. To do this, reinstall the cam sprocket attachment bolt, then slide a deepwell socket over the bolt. This will provide you with a good handle to support the cam on its way out and in.
We Have Ignition
We Have Ignition
If you're sick and tired of adjusting dwell on your breaker points, get rid of them. This cool Petronix Ignitor will replace both your points and condenser and give you a true electronic ignition. Best of all, it fits under your stock distributor cap, so your engine will still look stock.
Cut it Out
Stop by your...
Cut it Out
Stop by your auto parts store and get one of these battery terminal on/off switches. It will prevent any current drain if your car is stored for a long period of time. Also, such a switch makes yet another inexpensive device you can use as a theft deterrent. Most car thieves won't wait around to troubleshoot a target if they can't get it running right away, so a switch like this one is good, and cheap, insurance.
More Cool Advice
More Cool Advice
Although you may not think of it, one good way to lower your engine's operating temperature is to increase the volume of oil in the sump. The greater the volume of oil, the more heat that can be pulled out of the engine. This winged sump oil pan from Moroso is a good example of how to do this. The unit shown is for the 429-460 engine. Info: Moroso, Dept. MF, 80 Carter Dr., Guilford, CT 06437; (203) 453-6571.
Yet another way to increase oil volume and further cool it is an external oil cooler. They're not too expensive, and they can be quite effective. This unit shown is a '69-'70 Super Cobra Jet cooler, as supplied from the factory. Oil coolers are also available from a number of aftermarket companies.
Torque it Up
When you install...
Torque it Up
When you install an intake manifold, it's a good idea to use locating studs to ensure an accurate installation. Also, we can't stress enough the importance of using a torque wrench and the correct torque sequence when tightening things down. If you don't get this installation right, you risk oil, water, and vacuum leaks.
Optional Insulator Pads
Optional Insulator Pads
When replacing the rear leaf springs on your vintage Mustang or Fairlane, new rubber spring insulator pads are usually included. These pads are great for isolating road noise and vibration. However, on a high-performance car, these pads can contribute to axle windup and the resulting traction problems. So, if your rig is a mellow cruiser, use these pads. However, if you plan on using you car as a dragstrip barnstormer, definitely leave them out and place the axle directly on the spring to eliminate the potential flex.
Get Wind of It
You may not...
Get Wind of It
You may not realize it, but a windage tray in your engine's oil pan can give you extra horsepower by keeping the oil away from the crankshaft. You'll also avoid aeration of the engine oil, which is definitely a bad thing for an engine at high rpm. This unit comes from MPG Head Service, which now offers trays to fit the 351 Cleveland as well as the 385 series big-block. Info: MPG Head Service, Dept. MF, 3881 S. Jason, Englewood, CO 80110; (303) 762-8196.
Cut it Out
If you want your...
Cut it Out
If you want your car to wail at the strip but have to drive it home after the day is done, consider a set of exhaust cutouts like these. You'll have the best of both worlds.
If a torque...
If a torque strap isn't enough to keep your engine from squirming around underhood, consider a set of solid-steel motor mounts. These units from Moroso have no rubber in them, and are just the trick for a bulletproof engine installation.
Call in the Reserves
Use a standard...
Use a standard hardware store valve like this one and you can bypass your heater core anytime you wish. This is an especially good idea if your car is quite old and you suspect your core is on its last legs. If the core lets go, you can just close the valve and you won't have to repair the problem on the side of the road.