The Ultimate Ford Tuning Guide

close-up of 4x4 tunned ford

The last Ford Falcon to roll off the production line was a blue XR6, on October 7, 2016. The Falcon nameplate endured well over five decades and sold over three million cars. A few gems, in the guise of V8s and turbocharged in-line 6s, like the FPV F6, the GT-HO and the XR Falcon a few years earlier, all attest to the blue oval’s ingenuity and dedication in creating the ultimate Aussie muscle car, while also providing mobility for the masses. Though production has ceased, many of these cars still roam the streets and are ripe examples for the ultimate tune.  

Of course, there are different tunes for different Ford engines. Depending on the performance figures you’re after you can spend hundreds or thousands. Smaller modifications with fewer parts are done to the exhaust, while full-on tuning includes swapping out all the internals with parts rated for higher-revving, and bigger torque and bhp numbers. Tuning kits for a number of iconic Aussie Fords are available and contain all the necessary Ford performance parts to produce a balanced engine with all the grunt you want.  

You might have already guessed that the Barra in-line six is one of those engines screaming for a tune. It is by far the most popular Ford engine this side of the Pacific, and the engine you’ll find in many used Falcons currently for sale. It proved its worth against the bigger V8s, and yet has space for. Older Falcons and Fairmonts with the naturally-aspirated 6 and 8- cylinder EL, EF and AU engines are also popular among tuning enthusiasts.  

Basic Modifications 

catalytic converter

This is also known as Stage 1 tuning and includes parts that you can add without too much hassle or mechanical knowledge. Stage 1 tuning is more about appearance and handling than better performance. It usually involves swapping out the stock wheels for bigger and lighter alloys, and putting on low-profile tyres with a wider tread. Handling is improved and you get a better feel through the steering wheel. Be prepared to feel all the potholes though. Along with the wheels, drivers opt for stiffer suspension, using uprated shocks. This sets the car a couple of centimetres lower, reduces drag and sticks the car to the road. 

Performance upgrades are more evident with the use of straighter and wider exhaust parts paired with uprated air filters. This combo lets more air in and gives the engine more breathing space. You can also choose to remove or upgrade the catalytic converter. Turbo-back exhausts will get you the best results on the XR6 Barra, along with bigger cotton filters. Once you’ve changed out the exhaust, get it calibrated with the rest of the engine by doing an ECU remap.  

Moderate Mods 

close-up of upgraded ford engine

Having a stage 1 tune will have you guessing what more you can do. Stage 2 is a natural progression. To get the best out of a modified exhaust you’ll also want to put in a better fuel pump and bigger injectors. With more air comes more fuel. You may also want to use fuel in higher octanes. Here there’s the need to polish the cylinder heads and enlarge the inlet and exhaust valves ports, or cylinder port. This will get the extra fuel into the cylinders. Balancing all this out means a better camshaft is added to the mix. Camshafts are vital for Ford performance parts in that they control the opening and closing of the valves, so the engine gets the correct amount of fueling at the correct time. Lastly, check the ignition timing so the car doesn’t stall. 

Getting Serious 

If you want the best performance figures, you’ll need to dig deep into the engine innards. Stage 3 modifications are the most complicated and the hardest to get right. Fortunately, tuning specialists have packaged tuning kits for each Ford engine, which takes out the complicated guesswork of mixing and matching the right parts. Stage 3 involves changing out the transmission with a better clutch, adding a turbo, and replacing the pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft. With higher torque numbers the uprated clutch is what gets the power to the wheels. Turbos can be installed on the naturally aspirated inline 6s and V8s. Most tuners of the Barra XR6 choose to swap out the stock turbo, with a bigger, faster-spooling turbo. To handle the extra heat and increase in pressure, an intercooler is also added. As for the pistons and conrods, go for high-performance racing combos with forged parts. Alternately, you can buy these separately. For the Barra, there’s a choice between I-beam or H-beam conrods, while the 5 litre V8s are better served with H-beams. If you’re going the whole hog, a new crankshaft completes the picture. This will be better in absorbing the torsional vibrations when the engine gets revving higher in the range. And lastly, to balance everything out, also install a harmonic dampener.  

Tuning Considerations 

close-up of 2 4x4 turbo Ford trucks

Rebuilding an older Ford, or tuning a legend like the Barra takes knowledge, time and money. Parts need to be paired carefully to get a boost in performance. Quality Ford performance parts are also available for recent engines, like the 4-pot 2.3 litres Ecoboost in the detuned Mustang or Focus R. If you’re new to the whole tuning game, get some tuning smarts from mates in the know and read up on forums for the best mods.