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Since 1964, when Ford debuted the Mustang, it has been an iconic American car. However, the first models were attractive but lacked the power that would lead to the Pony Car Era. The Mustang did not earn that status until a modified version created by Carroll Shelby hit lots in 1965 with a whopping 306 horsepower.
After experiencing the 1965 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, there was no going back to the stock 120 horsepower luxury compact car. Consumers wanted the power and precision the GT350 proved Mustangs packed.
After seeing what the V-8 engine was capable of, owners began tuning and modifying their stock mustangs to increase the overall performance.
The most popular mods have changed over the years, and some enhancements are fitting for a specific generation. So, we create a guide with the most valuable upgrades you can invest in for your Mustang, whether you own a classic or the latest year model.
Since the Mustang’s inception, there have been six generations. The styling for five of the six is similar, with the fox body being the most unique. The differences are not just surface deep either. Check out the notable features of each below to find your favorite.
First Generation – 1964 1/2 – 1973
The first-generation Mustangs are considered the classics. They were synonymous with the Pony Car Era. In fact, they started it. However, not all Mustangs during this era are the same in terms of power and speed.
Ford outfitted all Mustangs in this generation with an inline-six or a V8 engine. Many buyers opting for more muscle. The most significant changes to the first generation came in 1969 when Ford made the mustang longer and in 1971 when it added width of nearly 3″ to make room for a monstrous 7.0-liter V8 big block motor.
Body Styles: two-door hardtop, two-door fastback, two-door convertible
Second Generation 1974-1978
When you hear about Mustang II cars, it references the second-generation models, which included year models 1974 through 1978. Of all the Mustangs Ford has offered over the years, the 1974 inline-four built on a Pinto chassis is often considered one of Ford’s worst creations. In those days, cars did not naturally create as much power as they do today, and the four-cylinder Mustang was sluggish at best.
Despite some mixed feelings about the smaller design and engine, Ford still won the 1974 Car of the Year award from Motor Trend, and its sales were good. Ford gave customers what they needed, a more efficient vehicle during an energy crisis that affected motorists across the country.
Despite Ford manufacturing more than 1.1 million mustangs, people didn’t hang on to these year models, and there are far fewer of them around.
Body Styles: two-door coupe, three-door hatchback
Generation Three – 1979 – 1993
The third generation spanned 14 years, longer than any other. It also offered more engine options with an available inline-four, inline-six, V6, or V8 paired with either a four-speed or five-speed standard manual or a three or four-speed automatic transmission.
The styling of this era is immediately identifiable, and people either love the Foxbody or hate it. However, if you want to dip your toe into a restomod hobby, this generation is an excellent place to start.
Body Styles: two-door coupe, two-door convertible, three-door hatchback
Generation Four – 1994 – 2004
In 1994, Ford went back to a more rounded body with a long hood and smaller rear. The early fourth-generation Mustangs look much different from those made in the early 2000s when Ford seemed to find more of a balance between straight edges and dynamic curves.
In the automotive world, people often refer to the fourth generation as SN-95. When it comes to modifying your 94′ through 04′ Mustang, you have far more interior and exterior styling options. There are numerous aftermarket parts for these models, and you can pick one up for less than $1,500, making them a great project car.
Body Styles: two-door convertible, two-door fastback coupe
Fifth Generation – 2005-2014
Ford referred to the fifth generation as S-197 before it officially adopted the concept. The redesign for the fifth-generation Mustang did not affect the exterior styling significantly. There were many nameplates during this period, including Rouche, Bullitt, GT, GT 500, and others.
One of the best parts about these cars is that they are reasonably affordable and highly customizable. Plus, there are plenty left to go around, and there are many dedicated Mustang owners who are trading these in for newer models, so this is an excellent time to snag one for a reasonable price.
The V6 is standard in this generation, but several more extensive options are available, including a remake of Carroll Shelby’s iconic GT500. The modern version inspired by the classic was made from 2007 to 2014.
It features either a 5.4-liter or 5.8-liter (2014 models) and many other upgrades that give it more than 600 horsepower. The standard 4.0-liter V6 only produces 210 horsepower, but it too has plenty of room for improvement with the right upgrades.
Body Styles: two-door coupe, two-door convertible
Sixth Generation – 2015-Present
Ford redesigned the Mustang in 2015 to commemorate the car’s 50th year of production. It is probably one of the most controversial redesigns in recent years as Ford reintroduced the inline-four engine with the 2.3T Ecoboost motor.
However, most who have driven it give the automaker credit for creating a smaller four-cylinder that is more efficient and produces more horsepower and torque than the entry-level V6.
It is a day most Mustang fans never saw coming. From a mechanical point of view, the revolutionary 2.3T engine is something Ford can be proud of, and people are starting to embrace it. The Ecoboost produces more than 300 horsepower off the lot, and you can quickly increase it by modifying the air intake system and exhaust.
Body Styles: two-door convertible, two-door coupe
Best Mustang Performance Mods
Increasing the performance of your car is what the Mustang is all about. However, when you start modifying your vehicle, you want to do it right with upgrades that increase the power without damaging it.
Tuning is one of the most necessary modifications if you add upgrades like a cold air intake or supercharger. Plus, you can alter the acceleration and other elements to increase the power off the line. We suggest a Dyno Tune from a professional automotive tuning shop. The custom tune is worth every penny of the $250 to $550 you will spend for it.
Steeper Gear Ratio
All Mustangs are rear-wheel powered. So, increasing the gear ratio will shave time off of the zero to 60 time. Increasing it too much will cost you overall speed, though. So, it is not suggested to increase it to more than 3.73 to 3.90 unless it is a track car. A precision 3.73 gear ratio ring and pinion kit from American Muscle costs around $170, so this is an affordable modification.
Cold Air Intake
Cold air intake (CAI) increases the amount of oxygen in your engine, which aids in combustion. You must make sure your vehicle is tuned for the modification before you complete this upgrade if you are using one that requires it.
There are some like the Rousch Intake for the 2015 through 2017 Mustang GT that includes an adapter that, when used, requires no further modification or tuning.
Superchargers are similar to an air compressor. They force more air into the engine. When used in connection with CAI and exhaust modifications, a supercharger can significantly increase your speed. You can’t go wrong with options from trusted brands like Vortech or Rousch, but they will cost you around $6,500.
When you hear a car with a low growling exhaust, it is usually thanks in part to performance cams. Performance cams increase the length of the valve openings, which creates a low bubbling growl at an idle and a fierce sound on acceleration.
Camshaft upgrades are something you can put off until you can go with a top-of-the-line component life, the Ford Performance Hot Rod Camshafts.
Complete Exhaust System Upgrade
You have the option of upgrading your headers and installing a cat-back exhaust system separately, but your vehicle will receive the most benefit from both. Doug Thorley and PaceSetter headers are solid options when paired with a high-quality Magnaflow cat-back performance exhaust system.
Best Mustang Safety and Precision Mods
Safety is always important, especially when you are increasing the power to your rear tires. When you are pushing 500+ horsepower, you also want to make sure you can stop. So, these mods are just as important as the above performance mods.
Wheels and Tires
If you want to increase your vehicle’s safety and put more of your upgraded engine’s power to use, you need to lighten the load. A great way to do that is with lightweight racing wheels and softer, wider, low-profile tires. A decent set will cost you between $1,500 and $2,500.
While you are changing the wheels and tires, you should also consider adding larger brakes. When you know you can stop your monster Mustang, you are also more likely to open it up and leave your reservations behind.
For the best results, we recommend a trusted product like the Ford Performance Shelby GT500 Front Brake Kit that retails for $1,391.99 is a perfect option for GT owners that want superior stopping power.
Best Aesthetic Mustang Mods
The aesthetic of your car is what attracts attention. By adding certain features, you can make a stock mustang look more like a top-of-the-line model.
Although we always suggest pairing your aesthetic mods with performance upgrades, so the exterior matches what you have under the hood. The main reason for this is that when you have a great-looking car, people will ask you about the engine.
Mustang Emblem Door Projectors
Mustang emblem projectors are available in a variety of styles for under $20. The kits include two projectors attached to your doors and magnetic sensors that you install on the car itself. When you open the door more than a foot, the device activates and projects your vehicle’s logo on the ground below.
Plug-and-Play Sequencer Tail Lights
Late-model Mustangs look sharp with sequencer tail lights. These lights accent the car’s design while adding something modern. Raxiom sells them for 2010 and later Mustangs for around $75.
Answer: With so many incredible mustangs to choose from, it can be challenging to decide which is the best for you to invest your time and money. The first question you need to ask yourself is what kind of modifications you want.
If you love classic cars and want to undertake a restomod, you should look for a 1964 through 1973 fastback with a V8 engine. Fastbacks are more valuable than similar year convertibles and hardtops. Yet, they are also more challenging to locate.
If you decide to save your money and buy a hardbody or convertible model, you need to make sure you get one with the larger V8 engine.
For fox body enthusiasts, a 5.0-liter Mustang model between 1979 and 1993 is ideal. One of the benefits of modifying a 1979 or newer Mustang is your ability to fit a larger engine and plenty of space under the hood for performance modifications.
Answer: There are endless engine modifications that increase your pony car’s speed. The model, year, and engine setup determine what mods will net you the most horsepower. If you own a newer Ecoboost, you will want to upgrade the turbo. On GTs, adding a supercharger will increase the power significantly.
Either engine benefits from a cold air intake, tuning, headers, cat-back exhaust, and a steeper gear ratio. Replacing the heavy stock driveshaft with a lighter aluminum one and adding lightweight rims with larger, softer tires will help you make the most of the upgrades and increase your speed the most off the line.
Answer: The classic 1965 and 1966 is not only the most desirable Mustang; it is the most collected car in the United States and the most collected item of its decade. Luckily for collectors, these cars were well made, and there are a ton of them. Both years sold more than 500,000 units.
Of the 1965 and 1966 Mustangs, the fastback is the most highly sought after and the rarest. However, prices for the iconic car are relatively affordable at around $45,000.
Answer: This is an essential question for Mustang fans. Recently, Ford switched up its lineup, so the naturally aspirated V6 mustang is its entry-level car. Until 2015, the V6 was Mustang’s smaller engine for decades after it scrapped its last version of the inline-four.
Some fans balked at the Mustang family’s latest edition, but many ate their words after driving the 2.3-liter Ecoboost version. Off the floor, the Ecoboost gets more horsepower at 310 compared to the 300 horsepower created by the V6.
It also has more torque with 320 lb-ft than the 280 lb-ft the V6 makes, and the Ecoboost has a higher top speed at 148 mph than 124 mph of the larger engine.
Final Advice on the Best Mustang Mods
Modifying your pony car is one of the joys of owning a Mustang. However, improperly paired components can actually cause your vehicle to run less efficiently and may even cause damage.
Tuning is one of the most essential things to do when you upgrade your Mustang because there are mods that may not work with your current engine tuning.
Additionally, when you increase air intake, you need to address the exhaust, as well. Leaving stock pipes on a car Mustang with a supercharger will cause you to lose power through the restricted exhaust. With stock rims and tires on a vehicle with a performance-enhanced engine, you lose some of the modification benefits.
So, if your Mustang is a project car and you are going to be refurbishing it piece by piece, it is a good idea to come up with a plan for the mods you want and verify compatibility before you start adding parts.