If you're looking to make sizeable gains in horsepower on your Mustang or Ford vehicle, one of the best things you can do is invest in a supercharging system.
Although the entry price may initially seem steeper compared to some other bolt-on upgrades, the long-term benefits, especially on street-bound vehicles, often far outweigh the entry price. Since the early '90s, aftermarket supercharger kits have proved wildly popular on Ford engines, due in part to the introduction of sequential fuel injection on the 302 V-8, first introduced for 1986. But if you go back into the archives, you'll discover that supercharging internal combustion engines is nothing new, and in fact dates back to the '20s.
On Ford vehicles, the first recognized supercharger application was developed by Robert Paxton-McCulloch for use on Flathead Ford V-8s, the first examples of which were introduced in 1937. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Paxton-McCulloch managed to sell 5,000 of its supercharger kits, which gave the already relatively fast Ford V-8s an extra shot of oats. During World War II, supercharging really came into its own, particularly in aviation circles. Because an engine in many respects works like a giant air pump, the greater the volume of air you can force into it, the more power you can make. At higher altitudes, piston engines suffer from a loss in power and throttle response due to the reduction in air density. Through the use of superchargers to increase the air volume entering the engine via a crankshaft-driven turbine, the power loss problem was effectively eliminated.
In the post-war years, the concept of a relatively low-cost, self-contained supercharger, designed for quiet operation and optimized for low-end boost in passenger cars, really took off. By the early '50s McCulloch had introduced a ball-drive supercharger that used an internal planetary gear system and incorporated a 4.4:1 step-up ratio from the input shaft at the front of the supercharger to the impeller. A mechanical oil pump and reservoir provided lubrication for the drive mechanism (using transmission fluid). By the mid-'50s, Ford and Studebaker were offering supercharged engines on passenger cars, utilizing the Paxton-McCulloch on offerings such as the 312 F-code Ford Y-block V-8s fitted to select Thunderbirds and lightweight sedans. Supercharger development continued through the '50s and '60s, but fell from favor a decade later as emissions requirements and fuel economy concerns began to bite.
However, supercharging began to enjoy a renaissance in the late '80s that continues to this writing via electronic, sequential fuel injection. Engineers discovered that by separating the air and fuel paths in an internal combustion engine, they were able to more precisely control the air/fuel ratio and delivery, which combined with increasingly advanced electronic engine controls, enabled power, emissions, and fuel economy to work more or less in harmony. It also proved the perfect foundation for a new generation of superchargers. By increasing the airflow into the engine, using advanced controls to retard spark timing, and compensating for the increased air by a more aggressive fuel system, with higher flow rates, bigger fuel pumps, and larger injections, it was possible to double the horsepower of an electronically port-injected engine by bolting on a supercharger kit. An added bonus was that by introducing adjustable fuel pressure regulators and later fuel management units, these new supercharger kits were fully emissions legal. The supercharger phenomena has reached new heights today, thanks in part to the popularity of the 5.0L Ford Mustang. A huge range of supercharger applications is available from a wide variety of different manufacturers, which is why we put this guide together.
Ford Racing/Whipple Industries
Making a name for themselves in the positive-displacement supercharger game is Whipple Industries. This company has developed its own line of blowers in conjunction with Ford Racing. In particular, Whipple has gained notoriety for its '03-'04 Cobra and '07-'09 Shelby GT500 supercharger packages. The latest version of the Ford/Racing Whipple blowers utilizes a W140ax compressor, which in the case of the '03-'04 Cobra application, is able to withstand up to 26 pounds of boost on a modified engine. Ford Racing/Whipple kits are available as direct bolt-ons, utilizing the stock throttle bodies, or can be used with aftermarket units such as those from Accufab and Billet Flow. The FR/Whipple blowers also incorporate a discharge plate designed to evenly distribute the flow of air across the intercooler core as well as a thoroughly engineered bypass system to prevent boost from backing up and causing detonation. These blowers are also designed to work with factory Ford fuel systems and electronics, up to around 13 pounds of boost. Beyond that, you'll need custom tunes, bigger fuel injectors, and a more aggressive fuel delivery setup. At present Ford/Racing Whipple blowers are available in either polished or satin-black finish.
Among the kits currently available are those for the '03-'04 Cobra and '99-'04 Lightning pickup, the '04-'08F-150 trucks for 5.4 and 6.8 V-10 engines, as well as '05-'08 Mustang GTs and '07-'08 Shelby GT500s.
Started by Jim Bell in 1968, who initially specialized in Buick engines, super tuning and later turbo charging, Kenne Bell pioneered the concept of a twin-screw, positive-displacement supercharger for fuel-injected engines in 1991. These units feature dual rotors mounted inside a case that bolts on top of the engine's intake manifold. The twin-screws developed a reputation for their quiet operation and instant boost at low rpm. The rotor design, in comparison with other Roots-type blowers, promoted greater efficiency with lower parasitic loss-hence more power could be made via lower levels of boost. In For circles, the popularity of Kenne Bell systems really took off with the introduction of the '03 Mustang Cobra. Although powerful, even with the factory-installed Eaton/Roots blower, owners discovered that by changing to a Kenne Bell, over 600 hp at the rear wheels was possible using an otherwise essentially stock engine (up from 370 hp at the tires with the factory setup). Since then, Kenne Bell has expanded its supercharger offerings for F-150 Lightning pickups with the 5.4L Triton V-8, as well as kits for the Mustang 4.6 Two-Valve V-8s, both the '96-'98 versions, and the performance-improved '99-'04 variety.
Today all Kenne Bell superchargers have been upgraded in capacity and the 2.1L kit is the company's most popular item. It's designed to bolt on a stock lower fuel-injected intake manifold or Ford Racing GT40. It delivers a 60-80-degree reduction in air temperature and is designed to deliver a steady amount of boost, from idle all the way up to redline. The standard kit is designed to run at 6-9 psi and is fully 50-state emissions legal. An optional bypass valve is available for higher boost applications and is designed to reduce the risk of a detonation, often caused by excess buildup of compressed air at the throttle body. These kits are available for '86-'93 and '94-'95 Mustang 5.0 V-8s; '96-'98 and '99-'04 Mustang GT Single Overhead Cam 4.6 V-8s; and the 4.6L Dual Cam Cobra V-8s ('96-'98 and '99-'01, '03-'04 Mach 1).
If you're looking for more power, Kenne Bell offers its Blowzilla 2.2L kit, which incorporates larger rotors, pushing the power envelope further. It's designed to work on more highly modified engines, including 4.6s and 5.4s, as well as strokers such as the pushrod 331, 347, and 408 Windsor V-8s, plus 5.0L cammers. Because the supplied Standard inlet tube starts posing a restriction on airflow, K-B offers its larger Flowzilla inlet and bypass, which requires an 80mm mass air meter and 70mm throttle body to work effectively. The Blowzilla kit is designed to deliver up to 785 hp, though beyond 700 hp K-B recommends upgrading your Mustang or Ford's stock fuel system, including recalibrated Mono Chip fuel injectors, Boost-A-Pump, fuel rails, and pump.
If the Blowzilla isn't enough, you can always step up to the 2.6L Big Bore kit. Bear in mind, this is designed for more hard-core, all-out performance applications. Still, it is designed to cover a wide range of different boost applications, anywhere from 9 to 26 psi, though it does need to be used in conjunction with a 4.6 engine that has built internals as well as forged pistons and connecting rods. Due to its height, the 2.6L also won't clear the stock hood on your Mustang and will require a Cobra R-style design to fit. Kenne Bell also markets a 2.6L kit designed specifically for second-generation Ford F-150 Lightning and Harley Davidson pickups.
2.6L '03-'04 Cobra Kit
Because the '03-'04 Cobra engines came with Eaton superchargers from the factory, they already received stronger cast-iron blocks, forged crankshafts, H-beam rods, and forged pistons. Consequently, they're better able to withstand higher levels of horsepower and boost than the naturally aspirated '96-'04 units. As a result, Kenne Bell's entry-level kit for these cars is a 2.6L unit. It boasts a 30 percent lower intake charge temperature than other twin-screw blowers and is designed to use the Cobra's stock crank pulley and fit under the factory hood. Dyno tests have shown that the 2.6L Cobra kit can provide power gains of 289 hp versus the factory Eaton blower on an otherwise essentially stock engine.
2.6L '05-'08 Mustang GT
One of K-B's newest kits is the 2.6L twin-screw supercharger for the '05-'08 Mustang. These are available in Stage 1 and Stage 2 packages for up to 10 pounds of boost.
For the hard-core power junkie, K-B has brought out its line of Mammoth Superchargers. Mammoth actually refers to the inlet tract, designed to accommodate massive 75mm dual throttle bodies, maximizing flow through to the big-bore twin-screw rotors and massive case, though the Mammoth will still work with stock-sized 60mm units. Over years of testing, Kenne Bell discovered that the inlet tract is the area responsible for the biggest losses in airflow on many twin-rotor supercharger systems, which is why the Mammoth was developed. Mammoth 2.8L blowers are available for '03-'04 Cobras, '07-'09 Shelby GT500s, and shortly, '05-'06 Ford GT Supercars.
A division of Magnuson Products, Magnacharger is another company that specializes in the development of positive-displacement superchargers. Company founder Jerry Magnuson has over 30 years of experience in developing supercharging technology, and today Magnachargers are available for a wide variety of different passenger car and light truck applications. The company has developed very close ties to Original Equipment Manufacturers and offers a number of its blowers from the factory on certain vehicles, including premium-branded European cars such as Jaguars and Mercedez-Benz models.
However, for folks reading this article, Magnacharger systems of most interest revolve around those designed for Mustangs and F-150 pickups.
For Mustangs, the company's latest product is MP112, which incorporates a built-in bypass valve designed to minimize detonation risk while maximizing fuel economy. The twin-rotor design is also aimed at longevity and reliability, based on the company's OE development programs (the surface of the rotors are Teflon-coated). It also comes supplied with an air-to-water intercooler assembly and a cast-aluminum intake manifold that replaces the plastic setup on the 4.6 Three-Valve V-8. According to Magnacharger, the complete kit (including fuel system upgrades) can be installed on an '05-'08 Mustang GT in less than one full day. There's also a standard three-year warranty system on the Mustang supercharger kit, with an optional three-year, 36,000-mile powertrain warranty available. Besides the V-8 kit, a Magnacharger system designed specifically for the 4.0L V-6 Mustang ('05-'08) is also available, dubbed the X-Charger and sold through Explorer Express, a company that specializes in forced induction for V-6 Mustangs, Explorers, and Ranger pickups.
Besides the Mustang kit, Magnacharger currently markets a blower for '04-'06 and '07-'08 Ford F-150 trucks equipped with 5.4L Triton V-8s. These are similar to the Mustang kits and come as a complete package, featuring a built-in bypass valve, an air-to-water intercooler, and a cast-aluminum lower intake manifold that replaces the stocker. In addition, the truck kit has been certified by the California Air Resources Board under directive EO 481-11, meaning it is officially 50-state emissions legal, something not all aftermarket supercharger systems can achieve.
A stalwart in the automotive supercharger industry, Paxton Automotive needs no introduction for many enthusiasts. Paxton blowers have been available for automotive applications since the '40s. During the mid-'50s its VS-57 with patented ball drive proved popular enough that it was listed as a factory option on some Studebakers and Ford vehicles. A derivative, the VR-57, incorporated a variable rate planetary drive ratio to increase the step up and hence promote increased power via greater boost at higher rpm. This blower was installed in the legendary '57 F Bird and dominated NASCAR racing to such an extent that year that blowers were outlawed in the sport. In the '60s Paxton worked with Shelby American to develop a line of superchargers designed for the small-block 289/302 V-8. These blowers, dubbed the SN60, which featured a stronger internal drive mechanism than the VR-57, became factory options on Shelby GT350 Mustangs from 1966 to 1969. Smog regulations and fuel economy concerns in the early '70s sounded the death knell for supercharger development (albeit temporarily). By the mid '80s, with the auto industry embracing electronic fuel injection and coping with emissions and fuel economy targets, the supercharger started making a comeback. Paxton reintroduced the SN60 for the 302 V-8, this time on the Fox 5.0L Mustang. It was later joined by improved versions of the ball-drive unit, designed for higher boost-the SN89, the SN92, and finally, the SN93. As enthusiasts started craving more power, the ball-drive mechanism in these blowers proved to be somewhat fragile, so in 1995, Paxton launched the first of its NOVI direct-driven superchargers-the NOVI 2000. This featured helical gears and a 3.50:1 step up. It was designed to withstand up to 1,000 hp and 20 pounds of boost, which was almost unheard of at the time. Since then Paxton has introduced further versions of the NOVI, including the 200R and RR race-oriented blowers as well as the milder NOVI 1000 and 1200 series. All are aimed at the street crowd, which wanted a dose of extra horsepower. Unlike some of its rivals, Paxton currently offers supercharger kits for fuel-injected and carbureted engines. Take note, vintage Mustang and Ford owners.
Current applications for Paxton superchargers include the following:
- '64½-'68 289/302-engined Mustangs
- '69 351W-engined Mustangs
- '85 302-engined Mustangs
- '86-'93 302-engined Mustangs
- '94-'95 302-engined Mustangs
- '96-'97 and '98 4.6-engined Mustang GTs
- '99 4.6-engined Mustang GTs
- '00-'04 4.6-engined Mustang GTs
- '01 4.6-engined Mustang Bullitts
- '96-'98 4.6-engined Mustang Cobras (4V)
- '99 4.6-engined Mustang Cobras (4V)
- '01 4.6-engined Mustang Cobras (4V)
- '05-'06 4.6-engined Mustang GTs (3V)
- '07-'08 4.6-engined Mustang GTs (3V)
- '97-'98 5.4-engined Ford fullsize trucks
- '99-'01 5.4-engined Ford fullsize trucks (4V)
- '99-'02 5.4-engined Ford fullsize trucks (2V)
- '98-'01 6.8-engined Ford fullsize trucks (V-10)
Accessible Technologies jumped into the supercharger game with its line of centrifugal blowers under the Procharger banner. Instead of utilizing twin rotors inside a case mounted on top of the intake manifold, Procharger blowers feature a single impeller mounted in a snail-shaped housing that's off to the side of the accessory drive. The impeller design is among the sturdiest in the industry, being made from aircraft-grade T-6 aluminum and CNC-machined for maximum durability, power, and precision. Unlike some rivals, Procharger also machines its casings from aircraft-grade aluminum and employs a self-contained oiling system for its blowers, meaning no oil-feed taps to the engine were required. The oil used to lubricate the blower geardrive is specially formulated synthetic, designed to withstand high temperatures. The self-contained oil system effectively eliminates problems such as friction and heat buildup as well as improper lubing (often a problem with designs that use engine oil, since the oil might be clogged, dirty, or leaking from the engine). ATI Procharger has also spent years testing its superchargers under extreme conditions. In the Ford and Mustang world, the company is recognized as being the first to run blower-equipped 5.0L and 4.6L Two-Valve cars successfully in the 11-second range in drag racing. In motorsports the company has also managed to win 11 national championships within the last two years.
ATI Procharger sells kits for a variety of Ford EFI applications, along with air-to-water intercoolers. These are sold as complete kits. The following applications are available for Blue Oval lovers:
- '86-'93 Mustang 5.0L V-8
- '94-'95 Mustang 5.0L V-8
- '96-'01 Mustang GT 4.6L V-8
- '96-'01 Mustang Cobra 4.6L V-8
- '03-'04 Mustang Mach 1 4.6L V-8
- '03-'04 Mustang Cobra 4.6L V-8
- '05-'08 Mustang GT 4.6L V-8
- '05-'08 Mustang 4.0L V-6
If you're into racing, chances are you've heard the name Roush. Originally founded as Jack Roush Performance Engineering in 1976, Roush has become one of the most successful companies in motorsports, winning everything from drag race to road race and Winston/Nextel Cup championships. In 1995 Jack Roush founded Roush Performance, a division of the company that specializes in performance parts and vehicles for enthusiast buyers. With an extensive background working with the OEMs, Roush has been able to bring factory-grade quality and engineering prowess to the aftermarket performance business. In 2004 Roush jumped into the supercharger game, launching its positive-displacement, Eaton-based RoushCharger twin-rotor blowers for the '05-'06 Mustang and '04-'06 Ford F-150. With all the essential hardware included, plus a specifically calibrated Roush PCM, these kits are among the most refined in the industry. In fact, Ford backed them with a three-year 36,000-mile warranty as installed on new Mustangs and F-150s, marking them as the first and only supercharger kit that comes with a Ford-endorsed warranty.
Since then the RoushCharger lineup has been expanded to included an intercooled version of the truck blower (designed for '04-'08 F-150 trucks), plus further variations on the Mustang kit. These included an uprated supercharger kit that comes with an air-to-water intercooler, plus a polished version of the same basic kit. In late 2007 Roush announced tweaks to the RoushCharger. A smaller 73mm pulley was added, along with improved PCM electronic calibrations, resulting in a bump of 30 hp for a total of 445 hp and 418 lb-ft of torque when installed and running on an '05-'09 Mustang GT engine.
At the 2007 SEMA show in Las Vegas, Roush revealed the P-51A, a limited-production Mustang with an aviation theme. At the time, it was also the most powerful Roush Mustang ever built, packing 510 hp thanks to reworked engine internals, new calibrations, and a new version of the RoushCharger-the 2300. Since then this upgraded blower, named for its capacity which features more advanced four-lobe rotors and a high-flow inlet tract to improve overall efficiency, has become available as an over-the-counter item. It comes as a complete kit, with upper and lower intake manifolds, 52 lb/hr injectors, a low-temperature radiator, dual 60mm throttle body and special fuel rails, and 52 lb/hr injectors. It is also the first RoushCharger that can be shipped without Roush-specific PCM calibration, allowing buyers to install custom tuning calibrations on their engines when equipped with this blower. It is possible to gain from 510 hp to 700 hp with the 2300, which also comes backed by a one-year warranty.
Through its Speedlab Parts division, Saleen Automotive offers a positive-displacement supercharger; the latest version of which is dubbed the Saleen Series VI. Like Kenne Bell and Whipple superchargers, it employs twin-screw rotors contained within a casing, in this case a 2.3L unit. However, that's where the similarities end. Instead of the supercharger forcing air down into the manifold, an inverse design draws air from the intake snorkel assembly and feeds into the blower. The result is a very neat, compact design that provides maximum airflow from a relatively low amount of boost (in this case 5 psi), reducing wear and stress on the engine internals. The Series VI kit also includes a specific Saleen Power Flash computer and is designed to work on '05-'06 Mustangs equipped with the 4.6L V-8.
Besides the Series VI, Saleen still offers its Series IV Roots blower, a version of which was first seen on production S281 Supercharged cars in 2000. This is designed as a direct bolt-on for all Mustangs using the 4.6L single overhead cam V-8 in PI form ('99-'04). It comes as a complete kit with a replacement aluminum intake manifold, larger 30-pound injectors, an intercooler, a heat exchanger, and a specially calibrated performance tune.
Founded in 1990, Vortech Engineering has arguably become synonymous with late-model hot-rodded Mustangs. It seems you can't throw a rock these days without hitting one of these cars that sports a Vortech blower under the hood-and for good reason. Vortech has carved out a niche, delivering reliable, affordable kits that are 50-state emissions legal and provide plenty of room to add extra boost and horsepower.
'86-'95 Mustang 5.0L V-8 Kit
The company's original V1 A-trim centrifugal blower for '86-'93 5.0L Mustangs proved a hot ticket item. Today its successor, the V-1 SC-Trim, remains one of the most popular supercharger kits on the market. Upgrades are available for this kit, including the SQ S-Trim with helical-cut gears, designed to support greater power levels, and the T-trim, aimed more at the street/strip crowd and able to support 825 hp.
Vortech also offers a SQ and T-trim kit designed specifically for the '93 Mustang Cobra, as well as a kit for the '94-'95 Mustang V-8s, including provisions for the intake elbow configuration that is unique to this application.
'96-'04 V-2 Mustang 4.6 Modular V-8/3.8 V-6 Kits
When Ford replaced the veteran 302 pushrod engine with the modular overhead cam 4.6L V-8s in both two and four-valve form, Vortech was there to answer the call with a line of V-2 kits. These were an improvement on the V-1, but still used engine oil feed for lubrication. They were also available with a raft of popular upgrades, including Vortech's own Power Cooler air/water intercooler, high-flow bypass valve, and fuel management unit designed to optimize the air/fuel ratio. Besides the V-8 applications, Vortech also released a version of this kit with the V-2 blower designed for the 3.8L V-6 engines found in '94-'04 Mustangs. Versions of this kit are currently available for the following:
- '96-'98 Mustang GT 4.6L (2V)
- '96-'98 Mustang Cobra 4.6L (4V)
- '99/'01 Mustang Cobra 4.6L (4V)
- '99-'04 Mustang GT 4.6L (2V)
- '01 Mustang Bullitt 4.6L (2V)
- '03-'04 Mustang Mach 1 4.6L (4V)
'03-'04 Mustang Cobra Tuner Kit
Although the '03-'04 Mustang Cobra already came supercharged from the factory, due to demand, Vortech offered a version of its V-2 SQ and T-Trim blowers designed to fit this car. Dubbed the Cobra Tuner kit, they are designed to handle serious amounts of boost (up to 26 psi) and feature a 4-inch aluminum intake duct, a billet mounting plate, a MaxFlow race bypass valve, and an eight-rib supercharger drivebelt for maximum durability. These kits also include an integrated air/water power cooler, but unlike the other V-2 kits, use the Cobra's factory mounted heat exchanger.
'05-'09 Mustang Kits
Vortech was among the first to release a supercharger kit for the '05 Mustang GT. Although initially offered as a non-intercooled kit, the vast majority of the '05-'08 kits sold today come with a PowerCooler. These kits feature billet aluminum brackets, a high-flow fuel pump, a DiabloSport handheld programmer, and high-capacity fuel injectors. Although the standard blower featured in these kits is a version of the engine oil-fed V-2, the company now offers a self-contained version- the V-3. Besides the GT, kits are also available for '05-'08 Mustangs with the 4.0L V-6 engine.
Ford Truck kits
Unique amongst current supercharger manufacturers, Vortech also offers a wide range of supercharger kits for Ford Trucks. These are similar to the Mustang kits and are comprised of the following applications:
- '87-'97 Ford F-Series Trucks 5.0L; 5.8L; 7.5L V-8
- '93-'95 Ford F-150 Lightning 5.8L V-8
- '97-'02 Ford F-Series 4.6L V-8
- '98-'03 Ford F-Series 5.4L V-8
- '99-'03 Ford Super Duty 5.4L V-8, 6.8L V-10
- '04-'06 Ford F-150 5.4L V-8
Stop Press: Positive Displacement
Coming somewhat as a surprise at the 2008 SEMA show, Vortech pulled the wraps off the VL series positive-displacement supercharger. A twin-screw design manufactured in Sweden by Lysohom Technologies, these kits will be distributed in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. By doing so, Vortech becomes the only supercharger manufacturer to sell centrifugal and positive-displacement blowers. The VL series, available in 2.3L and 3.3L capacities, is designed for '07-'09 Shelby GT500s and KRs and can be a direct bolt-on replacement for the M90 on '03-'04 Mustang Cobras. It features a new plenum design with increased volume to maximize airflow and an integrated bypass valve. It utilizes the factory intercooler on these cars, and like other Vortech units, comes with a DiabloSport Predator handheld programmer to optimize timing and air/fuel ratios.