When the Mustang was debuted in 1964, it came at a pivotal time in automotive performance and customization. The 1960s gave way to a time in the car world where there was a seemingly endless performance race between manufacturers and the enthusiasts who modified their vehicles. The Big 3 were in a constant back and forth battle over who could create the highest horsepower street machines, while the enthusiasts who bought and drove them were looking to squeeze every extra bit of performance out of them.
While people have been tinkering with, personalizing, and racing cars since the first one was created, it was during the 1960s that America saw the rise of the quintessential “gearhead.” It was during the 60s that gearheads were able to flourish thanks to the growing availability of parts, motorsports, and car culture in general.
Today’s engineering, vehicles, and culture are more advanced than those of 50 years ago, but underneath it all, not as much has changed as you may have thought. The same passion and innovation that drove the enthusiasts of the 50s and 60s to build their cars to be better and better is still alive and just as apparent- the main difference is that it is a lot easier now to modify your car than it was back then.
Day 2 Mods
Back in the heyday of the muscle car wars, you would hear some of your old school gearheads make what they called “day 2 mods” (or some variation of that) to their vehicles. Essentially the idea is that you would no sooner pick up your hot new ride and immediately start modding it on the second day you owned it. Typically, these types of mods consisted of wheels and tires, exhaust, carbs, a shifter, and a few other things here and there. What would be a stock ’67 Fastback one day, would be a bolt-on tire shredder the next.
This sort of mentality and enthusiasm is still very much apparent in car culture, it has just become easier to do all of these things. Taking an old school gearhead mindset and applying it with a new school approach to your late-model Mustang will give you the hot rod you want in no time- or about 2 days if you have time and the know how to wrench on your ‘Stang yourself.
Regardless of what the stock exhaust sounds like, a gearhead always wants it to be louder, throatier and more efficient. While emission laws and regulations were certainly more lax in the old school days, allowing for open headers and uncatted exhaust setups, the modern hot rodder can experience greater benefits from today’s exhaust systems, even with the new regulations and laws.
Thanks to the large technological advances that have been made over the past half-century, aftermarket exhaust systems have become incredibly efficient and powerful. Manufacturers like Kooks are able to map out exhaust flow with computer-aided design (CAD) data and refine/tweak exhaust systems to a point where they have an efficient power yielding design that meets emission standards. Cutting edge technology has taken the uncertainty and imperfections out of the process and the parts, leaving the modern enthusiast with a much more refined and improved part.
In today’s day and age, it is incredibly easy to take an exhaust system and throw it on your Mustang and see benefits in sound and performance. It is entirely feasible to take a 2010-2014 Mustang home one day and throw on a Flowmaster American Thunder Catback the next and be ripping up and down the block.
Wheels and Tires
Swapping out the stock wheels and tires has always been an immediate mod for any enthusiast. Old school gearheads would change out the stock wheels for a set of Chrome Mag wheels with better rubber almost as soon as they had the car, and not much has changed in that regard. What has improved is the quality and the return on the investment in terms of dollar per performance value.
While the goal of a set of wheels has always been to remove weight and improve the look of the car, today’s wheels are able to do that better than ever before. New and innovative techniques, such as flow forming and forging processes, have given way to improved designs and lowered wheel weights, which has backhandedly improved performance. Wheels have become stronger and lighter than ever previously thought, and as the technology continues to develop we will see this continually improve. Now enthusiasts can slap on a set of Racestar wheels or Forgestars and shed a chunk of weight off of their Mustang, in the process of a few minutes.
Considering how far wheels have come, it is remarkable to think how much further tires have advanced in the same time period. In the constant search for grip that gearheads are all too familiar with, tire compounds have continually made large strides towards becoming stickier and stickier. Thanks to companies like Mickey Thompson who constantly look to reinvent the wheel (or rather the tire) by refining and perfecting their rubber, enthusiasts have been able to hook up off the line and grip going around a turn like never before.
One of the biggest advances in the automotive industry has been the switch from carbureted engines to fuel injected engines. Fuel injected engines have provided enthusiasts with much more consistent, predictable, and manageable performance than their carbureted counter-parts, and in-turn, made it easier to make power. Instead of swapping out the factory carb for a 3 or 4-barrel carburetor, today’s gearheads can easily switch out their stock intake for one of the options available like a Boss 302 or Cobra Jet Intake, which will feed in more air, more efficiently into the engine.
Optimized For Performance
While the basic ideas and practices that the old school enthusiasts have championed and instilled in those that came after them have persisted, the whole modification process has seen large improvements, but none quite as profound as what has been seen in the tuning world. The “tune-ups” that your old school hot rodder would perform look quite drastically different than what today’s enthusiast does.
Old school tuning essentially consisted of using your sense of smell to see how rich or lean you were running, checking the spark plugs, and fiddling with the distributor to play with your timing, basically going off of feel for optimizing your performance. Today’s enthusiasts have it much easier thanks to the various monitoring devices throughout the car which feed you with a direct flow of information on what’s going on inside the engine. Companies like Bama Performance are able to look at the data you provide them with and create a custom tune for you that optimizes performance and power, but yet is based on hard information. With data logging and live monitoring, your Mustang can be dialed in to its peak performance potential.
Looking To Tomorrow’s Gearhead
While the differences between your old school gearhead and their modern day equivalent may be glaringly obvious to some, it seems as though we all take the advancements that have been made for granted. It is incredible how much car culture has advanced in a relatively short time period and how much easier it is to modify our vehicles. Yet despite how much we have advanced, we are still influenced by the same ideas and practices of the old school; how we think about modding our Mustangs isn’t that different from the 60s, it is just with a new school approach. With that in mind, one can only be excited at the possibilities and potential of future generations of gearheads and innovators and the future of the car enthusiast community.