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How to Upgrade a Mustang V6 3.8

by Scott Eilers

The Ford Mustang is a muscle car produced and designed by the Ford Motor Company and originally introduced in 1964. Every production year, Ford has offered Mustangs with multiple engine configurations that typically include at least one V-6 and one V-8 engine. From 1982 to 2003, the company produced the 3.8L V-6 engine, also known as the Essex engine, and used it in many Ford vehicles, including the Mustang. There are a number of performance aftermarket modifications that increase the horsepower output of the Essex engine.

Replace the camshafts. Camshafts act as a gate for air and fuel entering the engine cylinders, which is where combustion occurs. Installing performance camshafts allows for more air and fuel in each cylinder, which increases combustion and in turn provides a boost to power and performance. Replacing the camshafts is a fairly complicated procedure as it involves making some modifications to the engine itself.

Replace the headers. Headers serve as an intermediary between the engine and the exhaust and allow hot air to flow out of the engine. Replacing the Ford headers with performance aftermarket headers will streamline this process and result in gains to horsepower and torque, as well giving your Mustang a more aggressive and slightly louder exhaust note. Replacing the headers is a fairly simple procedure that you can do in under two hours and does not require modifying the engine itself.

Replace the exhaust. The exhaust takes hot air from the headers and sends it back out into the environment, reducing back-pressure and allowing combustion to continue uninterrupted. The factory Ford exhaust is fairly restrictive in order to minimize emissions and cabin noise. Replacing it with an aftermarket exhaust will increase torque and horsepower, and can also give your Mustang a deeper engine note. Replacing the exhaust is also fairly simple, requiring access to the underside of the Mustang but no engine modifications.

Replace the air intake. The air intake sucks in air from outside, cools it and sends it to the engine cylinders, where it mixes with fuel. Performance aftermarket air intakes take in more air and cool this air more efficiently, resulting in gains to horsepower, torque, and fuel economy. The air intake is conveniently located near the top of the engine bay, away from the engine, so replacing it is fairly simple and does not require any other components to be disconnected or removed.

Swap the engine for a V-8. This may seem extreme, but the engine bay in the Mustang is designed to be able to accommodate a larger V-8 engine, and successful engine swaps have been done. Upgrading to a V-8 engine will allow you to receive greater horsepower and performance gains from other modifications that you make to your Mustang, and will also open up a larger variety of parts to choose from. This step is recommended for experts only as it is a very complicated procedure that can permanently damage your Mustang if performed incorrectly.

About the Author

Scott Eilers began writing professionally in 2006. He has been published as a coauthor in "Measurement in Counseling and Development" and "The Journal of Counseling and Development." He holds a Master of Arts in clinical psychology from the University of Northern Iowa and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Science in clinical psychology from Argosy University.

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  • 2006 mustang gt tail light image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com