Have you just bought a Mustang and are now wondering what you should do to it first? Well, it's a question we get asked quite often. While the answer does vary from case to case, I have a few suggestions and explanations that might help you in your quest for speed. While we will deal with Mustangs in this guide, many of these tips will translate to other makes and models of rear wheel drive vehicles out there.
First, the question I have for the new Mustang owner is always (in the case of a used Mustang), "What does it have done to it already?" Most used Mustangs have little tweaks and tricks already performed on them as that is pretty much what these cars are made to do -- be improved upon. Sure, Ford did a decent job from the factory but, let's face it, more is always better! If it's new well, let's think of it as a blank canvas and get started modding!
The second question is then "How much would you like to spend?" Budget is the next factor in the progress of your Mustang from tame to wild.
The third question I usually ask is, "What's your ultimate goal with the car?" That will help narrow down parts you should buy now and not have to change them later down the road. Many times, however, people start with an idea of just a little bit more power and end up with the desire to increase the output of their car by 100 or more horsepower. I am a person who fits into the latter category :) My daily drivers always start life as such and then I'll just put a cold air kit on. Then, maybe a small nitrous kit. How about some heads? Well, I need a new exhaust now, don't I? And so on!
Alright, enough of the questions! Let's get to some answers.
If you just bought a used car, the first thing I'd recommend you do is a simple tune up. You'd be suprised at how much power you could find by replacing spark plugs with worn electrodes or badly cracked and split wires. How about a fuel filter? When was the last time it was changed? Definitely do an oil change and let's move on!
The first recommendation I always make to Mustang owners is to install a set of subframe connectors on the car. If you were building a house, you wouldn't start laying the first floor down without pouring the concrete and letting it cure, would you? Well, this works the same way. Ford (and most other manufacturers) did away with full frames in these types of passenger cars and went with Unibody Construction for a few reasons. It's a weight saver, you get better clearance under the car, allowing you to make the vehicle lower to the ground and, of course, it costs less. So, instead of a full rigid frame from front to back, you have a subframe leading from the front of the car to the middle of the front floor pan and one going from the back of the car to the beginning of the rear floor pan. Yup, the floorpan is now a structural piece! I've seen cracks in the floor pans of Mustangs measuring 6 inches. I've also seen cars with multiple fractures in the floor pan from areas under the front seat up the transmission tunnel and many more. Convertibles are even more prone to twisting as now you've taken the roof out, too! Needless to say, subframe connectors are the place to start on any Mustang. They're cheap, with full length connectors (running the entire length of the car) costing the most with a range of $109-$130. Installation will cost more than the part as it requires a person who can weld decently and a proper facility. Don't forget to pull the carpet up and bungee it or clamp it over the center console! Don't want it to catch fire!
Torque Box Strengthening
Wild Rides, a company out of Farmingdale, NJ, came up with a simple and strong way to fix another area where the Mustang is structurally deficient -- the 'torque box'. Basically, the torque box area is where the rear control arms connect to the chassis. The uppers are merely connected through some stamped steel that is tack welded to the sheet metal of the floor or upper sear back area inside the car. The lowers are slightly better but not nearly good enough to serve our purpose! These kits are cheap insurance at $109 a piece or $169 for the set of uppers and lowers. The labor is a little more but you can do these yourself in a driveway with a socket set, floor jack, jack stands and a friend to help hold and mark things. That'll save you money as they don't have to be welded in (although you can if you choose). Wild Rides is the original maker of these kits -- they call them the battle boxes as that's what you'll be ready to do when they're installed -- battle it out on the street or the strip!
While so far, the mods aren't sexy as they don't make you go faster, they're definitely necessary -- and inexpensive, for the most part. It's like upgrading brakes -- most people put that off to last, even after upgrading wheels when it should be one of the first mods. We'll skip those for now as, I know, mentioning brakes is like pouring water on the go fast fire!
Rear End Gears (Ring & Pinion)
Probably one of the best bang for the buck mods you can make. It's relatively inexpensive for the parts -- around $200 for the gears, $45 for an installation kit, the proper speedometer gear (up to 98) or SpeedCal box (99+ stick cars) and, of course, then there's labor which will vary from area to area but you can probably figure around $200. So maybe around $450 for a complete installed set of gears. Now, while this is just a general bolt in for all the 60's to the 79-93 fox bodied cars, it might not be so for your later Mustang. For example, 05+ Mustangs require a handheld tuner or computer work to swap gears -- or almost anything, for that matter! But nothing outside of adding gobs of power will make your Mustang 'feel faster' and actually accelerate better for the money than a new ring & pinion.
Next is what ratio? 3.55's, 3.73's, 3.90's, 4.10's, 4.30's? Of course, ratio choice will depend on your vehicle's weight, motor, transmission & driving style. For example, an '89 5.0l Mustang with a 5 speed and a Vortech S-trim supercharger might be better off with a 3.55 or 3.73 ratio, when compared to a '98 Mustang Cobra with a Viper Spec 6-speed installed would be great with a set of 4.10's. RPM range, vehicle weight, transmission, driving style (drag, street, street/strip) -- oh and let's not forget gas mileage -- all affect the choice you would make for gear ratio. Ford Racing is a big player in this market as is Motive, Richmond and others.
5 or 6 speed Shifter
If you're driving around with a sloppy feeling OEM shifter on your Mustang, you won't believe the difference a good aftermarket one will make. It really feels like you're driving a different car! Quality units like the ones from Pro 5.0, Steeda, Hurst & B&M will all make a difference in the way your car drives, but they also have another purpose -- to protect the internal parts known as the shift forks. What can happen with a stock style shifter is you can push or pull too hard (when shifting in a spirited manner) on the handle while shifting. What that can do is bend the part inside the transmission called the shift fork. That part moves other parts that in turn engage your selected gear. When those forks become bent, they will not allow the gears on the shafts to engage fully, causing the gear to be side loaded and then stripped when power is applied. Pro 5.0 shifters with their billet base and power tower has adjustable stops to prevent that from occuring. All the manufacturers mentioned above also have a similar mechanism to prevent that scenario from happening. It's a great first mod and will run you about $169-$179.
Cat Back Exhaust
Cat back exhaust systems are just as they sound -- from the catalytic converters back. They're a great first mod and can really enhance the look and sound of your Mustang. They come in all flavors from aluminized steel and inexpensive to full stainless steel and hold on to your wallet! There's a kit for everyone in that range. Things to consider are sound levels and materials. I am often asked "is it too loud?" I always tell the customer that it's a subjective thing and tough for me to gauge as something that is too loud for you might be just right for me. Either way, many places have sound clips for you to hear what their exhaust systems might sound like on your car. Flowmaster, Magnaflow, Dynomax, Pypes, JBA, Mac and many others have clips you can listen to. If that fails, YouTube is an excellent source for sound clips. They can be installed in your garage with a jack, some jack stands, a socket set, some penatrating fluid or a hacksaw/reciprocating saw (watch out for sparks around the gas tank -- make sure it's not leaking anywhere!). The prices range from $249 - $800, depending on the type of kit you get. Of course, you could always just get mufflers and install them yourself for less, but it will require more work as the OEM pipes are welded on the mufflers.
Headers can be a worthwhile improvement but will require a little more work to install. Shorty headers will bolt right into the place of the OEM headers and onto the OEM cat/con setup. They're a little more expensive, depending on what brand and style you get. You also have to choose between the following types: Shorty - unequal length tubes or equal length tubes & Long Tube. Shorty headers are easier to install and bolt up to the stock converters as I mentioned. On equal length models, the tubes are all the same length which, as you can imagine, require some pretty twisted and turned tubes, making it a pain to install spark plugs -- something to think about. Long tubes are great, especially if you're going to go further than the average Joe with the modifications, but they require a special H or X pipe as they are long from the factory and you'll need a shorter one to mate up to the longer headers. Again, prices range here to fit anyone's budget. Mac, JBA, Hedman, Edelbrock, BBK and many other companies make headers for Mustangs and the prices range from $180-$500.
Cold Air Kits
Some cars respond better than others to cold air kits, or CAI kits. The Mustangs definitely like them. 05+ Mustangs, 07 Shelby GT500's, 03-04 Cobras, among other models, love them. Now, this may not be the best bang for the buck as 2 of those three cars I just listed will also require tuning for most CAI kits and in some modified forms, the 03-04 Cobra will require it as well. Either way, they work! They're also a great starting point for future modifications. JLT, BBK, Airaid, Mac, K&N, AEM and many more companies make CAI kits for the Mustang. Prices range from $150 - $220 or more depending on options you may pick (JLT kits can be had in matching colors -- even Mystichrome!). Don't forget that you may need a handheld tuner for some Mustangs, so that could add up to $379 to the expense.
Throttle Body & Mass Air Flow Sensor
This is probably not one of the first modification I would make, but I thought I would include it as it is an easy modification to make. Also, if you're going with a CAI, you might want to make this change at the same time to get the most benefit from the parts. Again, these are year dependent. For example, the throttle body and EGR spacer you see up there will work on 86-93 Mustangs. 94-95 requires a different throttle body and no EGR spacer. 96-04 all require model specific throttle bodies -- GT, Cobra, etc. will change the throttle body you need. 05+ Mustangs use a drive by wire system where no actual cable runs from the pedal under your right foot to the throttle shaft in the throttle body! This is an all new setup on the Mustang (BBK's got you covered!). Same goes for Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensors. They're year and model dependent, for the most part. Connectors are different on some years, number of wires, etc. Also, some require you to have them calibrated to your fuel injector size, while others are programed through a person tuning your car. It may sound complicated and that's why I reluctantly included them in my list as it's not really a 'first modification' I would suggest. They're worth doing, however -- especially if your plans include more go fast goodies. Prices on these parts can get expensive. Throttle Body kits run anywhere from $185-$400 and MAF's run around $180-$300.
Well, if you're like me, you get used to the power you have and always want just a little bit more. If you need any help deciding what's best for you, send me a message and I'll be glad to help! Hope this helped! Have fun with your Mustang!