Expert tips to make your S197 Ford Mustang faster

By Staff Writer
Mar 19, 2023 | Ford, Mustang, Tech Tips, Buyer's Guide | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the June 2016 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Courtesy Ford

Story by Ed Higginbotham

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

Meet Our Expert:

Glen Vitale
Steeda Autosports

Early S197 cars, those built from 2005-’08, had issues with spark plugs breaking when people tried to remove them from the cylinder head. Be sure to replace these pieces, especially if they have never been replaced, regardless of the mileage.

On the 2011-’14 models, the transmission is less than stellar– and that is putting it politely. However, these units will last with proper maintenance and additional cooling. Quality synthetic fluids and the Ford Racing transmission air deflector are easy reliability upgrades.

Common maintenance items include the usual: replace air filter, flush brake fluid, bleed brakes, and replace fuel filter, oil and oil filter.

When it comes to popular upgrades, we recommend a coldair kit and tune while upgrading the springs, shocks and shifter. With these five simple mods, you will completely transform the S197. Acceleration and cornering grip will be greatly increased. The overall fun factor will go through the roof.

Upgrading the shifter is a good bang for your buck, especially for 2011-’14 models. Even if you are not at a track rowing through the gears, you still get to utilize the benefits of a shorter and more surefeeling shifter in daily driving, and the more precise you make your shifts, the less strain you put on the already-suspect transmission.

Performance brake pads and better brake fluid are also a necessity if you want to hammer the car lap after lap without a cool-down period. The factory Brembo brake package is good enough for track use, but the OEMpads are more biased toward daily driving.

If you are taking your Mustang to the track with aftermarket springs, you should plan on upgrading the struts and shocks. You can go mild to wild in this department, but most of the happy people we have seen are utilizing our non-adjustable Pro- Action shocks and struts.

Replacing the stock springs with a spring kit that maintains proper geometry will also make a big difference. Just keep in that mind lower is not always better. Some kits out there will slam the car to the ground, which will actually make the car handle worse because the roll center will be too low. Our Sport Spring kit works well both for street and moderate track use. We also sell a competition spring kit for the guy who has a larger budget. This coil-over kit is the way to go for the track.

We would also recommend changing ball joints when lowering the car, again to keep the front geometry in check. A bumpsteer kit to maintain proper alignment is also recommended. The goal is to get the front lower control arms, tie rods, and rear lower control arms as close to ground-parallel as possible. Simply lowering the car with shorter springs will throw these pieces our of whack and can introduce more handling problems than it solves. If you’re going to lower, it is imperative that you correct the geometry.

The rear axle is offset from the factory. Installing our adjustable Panhard bar (part No. 555-2551- A) can allow you to re-center your Mustang’s axle. If you ever lower the car, especially if you lower and get wide wheels and tires, you will need this part because one side will stick out past the fender.

In the rear of the car, the stock rubber lower control arm bushings have a tendency to dry out, which results in excessive play in the control arm. Replacing the whole unit with our lighter billet arms with urethane bushings make a big difference in how the car feels when driving. The same goes for the rubber bushing on the upper third link. Our adjustable third link comes with urethane bushings, which is also adjustable so you can adjust the pinion angle of the driveshaft. That is beneficial if you lower your car–which will result in the driveshaft pinion angle being less than optimal.

Photography Credit: Courtesy Ford

If you are buying a car with a cold-air intake or a major poweradder like a supercharger, make sure it was properly tuned once the install was completed. Adding parts without a tune on these cars is a big no-no. Not only do you not get benefits from the new parts, you can sometimes even create situations that can lead to longterm damage. Any engine codes are a big red flag and could be the result of an improper tune.

The biggest plus of this model run is the Coyote motor found in the 2011-’14 cars. Minor modifications can allow you to push a naturally aspirated version to the same power numbers–if not higher–as the supercharged 4.6-liter engine that came in 1996-2004 Mustangs.

As with many other makes and models, the newer the S197, the more bells and whistles that you get as standard. Creature comforts like USB and Bluetooth are a pipe dream on a 2005-’07 Mustang, but both were pretty much standard by the 2011 model run.

Some of the specialty models are a plus, like the Shelby models in 2006 and ’07. The Boss models are also good cars to search out. The Performance Pack option, which was available for 2013-’14, came with Brembo brakes. Cars in the 2011- ’12 range had a “track pack” option that included the Brembos and a set of 3.73:1 final drive gears.

Avoid the GT500 for track use. The name sounds cool, and all that horsepower is tempting, but the factory supercharger is not very conducive to lap after lap of track driving. And even though it comes with big brakes, there is still a lot of weight that needs to get slowed down–and on a hot track day you will be investing in front brake pads. You have to spend some decent money on brake cooling and an intercooler to make those cars last on a road course.

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10/24/19 10:38 a.m.

The first Mustang, so clean, great pic David.  Hope you all are doing well, look back on my time at GRM fondly!

Fair New Reader
10/25/19 8:12 a.m.

"The rear axle is offset from the factory. " - say what now?

I think (hope?) this was a mis-quote. The factory 8.8" solid axle in the S197 is perfectly centered from the factory at the stock ride height. But...

When lowered (lowering springs or coilovers) the original equipment S197's fixed length panhard bar will THEN make the axle sit off center. That is when an adjustable panhard rod or Watts Link kit is necessary to bring that back. Otherwise the left and right side tires will sit differently relative to the rear fenders - when lowered.

ultraclyde PowerDork
10/25/19 10:55 a.m.

Who owns the black car up top? I have those same GRM stickers in the same place on the quarter windows of mine!

Jordan Rimpela
Jordan Rimpela Digital Editor
10/25/19 10:59 a.m.

A chap called Ben, according to the folder. 

thebc New Reader
10/25/19 1:25 p.m.

In reply to ultraclyde :

I owned it back in 2006, don't own it anymore.  At the time I worked at GRM, like I said in my first post, enjoyed it, good people.

stormy1 New Reader
1/4/23 12:10 a.m.

the head change for 2 piece spark plugs was december of 2007

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