The iconic and legendary Ford Mustang remains one of the longest running, uninterrupted production cars ever. Since it’s wildly successful debut in 1964, this class Pony Car has provided a fantastic option for those looking for a calm cruise along a coastal highway, and has also served as the platform for many mild-to-wild modifications. Regardless of the generation or year, there are countless modifications that novice Mustang enthusiasts or expert mechanics and builders have at their disposal to give their Mustang more power, better handling and improved and unique style. In this post, we’ll cover 10 of the most popular options for modifying your Mustang, new or classic.
1 – Mustang Exhaust Kits
Quite possibly one of the best options to give you both improved performance and a unique sound is to upgrade to a custom Mustang exhaust kit. While the sound and performance of factory exhaust systems on Mustangs has improved in recent years, it’s no secret that installing an aftermarket exhaust kit on your Mustang can improve performance and add an aggressive note.
Whatever year Mustang you have, there are several options and brands when it comes to choosing an aftermarket exhaust kit. Many Mustang enthusiasts begin by upgrading to an aftermarket cat-back or aftermarket axle-back kit, depending on the year of their Mustang. These offer a good bump in exhaust volume and tone, along with a decent increase in performance.
For those looking for a bit more, upgrading their mid-pipe to an aftermarket mid-pipe is the next step. Again, depending on the year and model of your Mustang, these come in the form of h-pipe, x-pipe and y-pipe configurations. Additionally, you often have the option to go with or without catalytic converters, but be mindful of local and state emissions laws and requirements in your area.
The last major component of the exhaust system, and arguably one of the more difficult parts of the Mustang exhaust system to upgrade, are the headers or exhaust manifold. Upgrading from the restrictive exhaust manifolds or factory headers to a set of aftermarket headers with larger, more free-flowing runners can free up some serious horsepower and make a considerable improvement to the exhaust note of your Mustang. Keep in mind, though, that upgrading to a set of aftermarket headers for your Mustang is not always an easy job, often times requiring removal of several components from the engine bay and temporarily unbolting the motor mounts to lift the engine and provide clearance to install the new, larger headers.
Regardless of the components you choose to upgrade, or whether you end up upgrading the whole exhaust system, you have several options of brands that produce quality Mustang exhaust kits and components. You have some of the more common and popular options such as Magnaflow, BBK and Pacesetter, along with lesser common but just as high quality (if not higher) such as Borla, SLP and Bassani. But this isn’t an exhaustive (hah, get it?!?) list of Mustang exhaust kit brands, so be sure to check out one of the many online aftermarket Mustang part stores for more.
2 – Mustang Air Intake Kits
Often one of the first modifications many people make to their Mustangs is the installation of an aftermarket air intake kit. These kits are generally inexpensive and easy to install by most anyone with a basic set of hand tools, making them an ideal upgrade option for even the beginner Mustang or automotive enthusiast. These kits are generally designed for Mustangs equipped with fuel injection. Many air intake kit manufacturers claim horsepower gains from 5 to 25 horsepower, depending upon application and complimenting modifications.
Pop open the hood of any Mustang with a stock air intake, and you’ll notice that the tubing and air filter setup is less than ideal. The intake tubing often constricts airflow and volume as a result of irregular and tight bends along with an interior that often is not smooth. Additionally, to make servicing easier, the stock location of the air intake filter is often directly in the engine bay, resulting in relatively hot air intake temperatures. Aftermarket Mustang air intake kits increase performance by providing smooth, larger diameter and smoothly bent tubing, and usually relocating the air inlet to allow for a cooler air intake charge.
There are two common options when it comes to aftermarket air intake kits for Mustangs – cold air intake kits and ram air intake kits. Both can increase performance for relatively little cost and effort to install, with cold air intake kits focusing primarily on re-locating the air intake entrance to pull a cooler charge of air, and ram air kits working to position the air intake so that the vehicle’s own speed helps to force air into the intake.
Much like Mustang exhaust kits, there are several brands that manufacture aftermarket air intake kits for your Mustang, including JLT, Airaid, and Steeda, along with several other aftermarket air intake kits.
3 – Mustang Wheels and Tires
Nothing says unique style and catches more looks than a new set of aftermarket wheels and tires for your Mustang. With the Mustang being as popular as it is, there are a ton of options available for wheel and tire combinations for your Mustang, from classic styles to more modern and exotic.
While wheels and tires can definitely add some points in the style department, they can also serve to be a functional and performance improvement. By selecting lighter weight wheels for your Mustang, you can help reduce the rotational, un-sprung weight of your Mustang which results in faster acceleration and better handling.
A wider set of wheels will also let you put on a wider set of tires. The wider the tire, the larger the contact surface (the actual amount of tire that touches the ground at any given moment), which means more traction. With the increased traction, you’ll be able to launch of the line faster and hold the corners better.
Many manufacturers of wheels for all makes and models have a selection of wheels and tires for your Mustang, including Enkei, American Racing, and BBS. A fantastic site to help you find the right wheel and tire package for your Mustang is Tire Rack, with a cool feature that let’s you preview how a set of wheels will look on your Mustang!
4 – Mustang Computer Chip, Flash or Tune
Older style, carbureted Mustangs generally have very little when it comes to electronic control systems, with almost all tuning and adjustments, such as timing and fuel mixtures, being done through mechanical means. Newer, fuel injected Mustangs include computer systems that manage functions of your Mustang’s engine such as timing, fuel injector pulse, and more. From the factory, your Mustang is setup with a tune that provides a healthy balance between performance, stability and fuel efficiency. But for the performance-minded enthusiast, tuning your Mustang is a perfect option.
Depending on the year, model and re-tuning needs, you may have options for how you can apply a tune to your Mustang. A tune is essentially re-writing or overriding the factory computer settings, and this can be done through the use of a single install chip, through a flash of the computer itself, or through the use of a handheld tuner. There are many out-of-the-box or mail-order tunes available, but often the best results can be found by visiting a local auto shop with a dyno that can build a custom tune for you.
For tuners and chips, several brands are available, with popular tuners including SCT Tuners, Bama and DiabloSport. Keep in mind that many of these tuners can hold several tunes, and depending on where you purchase your tuner from, it may come pre-loaded with tunes specific for your Mustang.
5 – Performance Lowering Springs
From the factory, the ride height and suspension of your Mustang is meant to be sporty and responsive, but still comfortable and forgiving of rough roads. Because of this compromise, there is performance left on the table, along with a rather high ride height. Upgrading to a set of performance lowering springs will help provide a more aggressive stance that also improves handling and responsiveness of your Mustang.
Installation of performance lowering springs is generally pretty straight-forward, and most anyone with some mechanical knowledge and a good set of tools can perform it. However, depending upon how low you go with your springs, you may need to also install complementing components to account for the change in suspension geometry, such as offset rack bushing, improved shocks and struts, and caster-camber plates.
Some of the most popular brands for Mustang lowering springs include Steeda, Eibach and Vogtland. Be wary of online forums recommending simply cutting your stock Mustang springs, as this can be detrimental to performance and even dangerous as it negatively impacts the spring rate.
6 – Mustang Rear End Gears
The ring and pinion gears in the rear-end of your Mustang are a significant factor in how torque is transferred to the road and impacting how quickly you can accelerate. By installing a ring and pinion gear set for your Mustang, you can change this gear ratio, enabling you to accelerate faster and keep your Mustang’s engine in it’s power-band longer.
Installing a set of rear end gears in your Mustang is arguably one of the best bang for your buck modifications you can make, with the parts being relatively inexpensive and the results being quite significant. However, installation of a ring and pinion gear set is not for the novice mechanic, and a series of specialty tools are required to ensure the job is done correctly. Unless you feel absolutely comfortable performing this modification yourself, be sure to factor in the cost of having a reputable shop perform the installation.
7 – Short Throw Shifter
This modification applies only to Mustangs equipped with a manual transmission. The factory shifter that your Mustang rolls off the assembly line with is meant for comfort, not performance. As such, the handle is longer than it needs to be, and the rowing action leaves much on the table in terms of confidence when shifting, especially in that ever crucial 2nd to 3rd gear shift.
A short throw shifter replaces the shifting components of your Mustang with a set that provides improved feedback, often spring-loaded to help guide the shifter between gears. A shorter handle also reduces the amount of motion, or “throw” necessary to move from one gear to another, reducing the amount of time it takes to shift. While this modification doesn’t add any extra power, it can help improve and keep your racing times consistent by providing a better, more accurate shifting experience.
Hurst is a company that has been making shifters for years, and has shift kits available for your Mustang. Other companies that provide high quality, highly rated short throw shifters for your Mustang along include Steeda, Pro 5.0 and MGW. While you’re getting a new shifter, be sure to also pick up a new Mustang shift knob, choosing one that has a good profile to match your grip and add a bit of style to the interior of your Mustang.
8 – Mustang Body Kits and Parts
With every generation of the Mustang that has been produced, it’s come from the factory with a fantastic look, even with newer generations exhibiting lines reminiscent of the original Mustangs. However, with so many Mustangs produced each year, it’s very easy to get lost in the crowd and look like all of the others on the road. Why not change that with a full Mustang body kit, spoiler, or other exterior modification?
There’s no quicker way to set yourself apart from the crowd than to install a body kit for your Mustang, or even just a different spoiler, window louvers, scoops or hood. While the parts can be purchases online and usually installed with relative ease as long as you are careful and take your time, it is highly recommended that you seek the help of a professional auto body shop to install the body parts on your Mustang, and also get them painted to match or for the color scheme of your choice.
Depending on the style and look you are going for, there are many different options for manufacturers of Mustang body kits and parts, with some of the more popular ones being Cervinis body parts, Roush Performance, Steeda and several more.
9 – Mustang Nitrous Kits
What if you could have an extra 75, 100, 150 or even more horsepower with just the touch of a button? That’s exactly what you can have when you install a nitrous kit for your Mustang. In general, nitrous kits inject nitrous oxide into your intake system, along with an increase in fuel. This added mixture to your intake charge allows your engine to produce more horsepower.
Mustang nitrous kits are available in two forms, a “wet” kit and a “dry” kit, with different components and installation procedures for both. We won’t go into the details on the differences in this article, but be sure to do the research to find the one that’s best for you. Typically, a wet nitrous kit is on the easier and less expensive side for installation while still providing lots of power and stability.
Over the years, there have become a handful of companies that are really strong contenders in the Mustang nitrous kit space, with Nitrous Express kits, Nitrous Outlet, and NOS systems being some of the best kits available on the market.
10 – Mustang Supercharger or Turbocharger
The majority of Mustangs that have come from the factory are naturally aspirated, meaning there is no forced induction of air provided by the likes of a supercharger or turbocharger. Superchargers and turbochargers both have the goal of forcing more air into your Mustang engine’s intake, with superchargers using a pulley-driven impeller to build boost, and a turbocharger leveraging the exhaust to spin a turbine and provide boost.
Superchargers and turbochargers can increase horsepower and torque in your Mustang substantially, however, they usually cost a fair bit, and often require complementing components, such as a higher performance fuel system and injectors, an appropriate tune, and depending on the amount of boost and power you are looking to produce, you may also need to beef up the internal components of your engine, including pistons, rods and more.
Paxton, Vortech and ProCharger are some of the big names providing Mustang supercharger kits. If a turbocharger is what you are after, be sure to check out turbocharger kits from Hellion, or for a more affordable option, have a look at On3 Performance turbocharger kits.
And that sums it up, 10 of the best, most popular and biggest “bang for your buck” modifications you can make to your Mustang. Of course, there are countless other modifications that you can make to your Mustang, but these are definitely some good ones to keep in mind! Now, what are you going to do with your Mustang today?