If you’ve ever worked on a Modular Ford yourself, you’ll know that these engines are quite finicky in regards to anything ignition related. Certain F-150 and Mustang model years were plagued with all sorts of tedious issues, such as spark plugs ejecting themselves (under normal driving conditions, no less) due to an inadequate thread design in the cylinder heads. That said, once hotrodders were able to overcome those pesky factory shortcomings, the question then became what ignition components to run.
A little ignition-system company headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, called Performance Distributors came up with the idea to completely redesign the early Modular-powered Mustang’s ignition system with a package called the Firepower Ignition Kit. These kits were designed for early 4.6-liter Two-Valve-powered Mustangs with a more traditional but still distributor-less ignition system, and they worked quite well. Fast forward to today, and Performance Distributors has a handful of ignition components for vintage and modern Mustangs alike.
From distributors and spark plugs to coil-on-plug ignition coils and everything in between, here are four tips from Performance Distributors on what you should consider for your next ignition system upgrade.
Tip No. 1: More Volts Means More Power
“The stock voltage rating of most OEM Ford coil-on-plug ignition coils are around 25,000 volts. Our 4.6-liter and 5.0-liter Coyote coils feature a 60% increase in spark energy, which is an increase of more than 15,000 volts per coil,” said Steve Davis, president of Performance Distributors.
Steve explained that this voltage, when under load, is extremely important for a handful of reasons. For starters, the more spark energy you can channel to the combustion chamber, the more efficient the combustion results in. One benefit that Steve deems crucial is the total voltage gained per engine using Performance Distributors’ modern coil-on-plug ignition coils, like the SOS coils.
“These coils provide more than 15,000 additional volts under load per coil, which equates to an increase of more than 120,000 volts over a stock Modular Ford engine. Ignition coils that provide a voltage increase under load means enthusiasts can open the spark plug gap wider. Combined with more voltage and an increased gap, this exposes more spark energy and leads to a quicker start-up, smoother idle and an increased throttle response.”
Tip No. 2: How To Make More Power
Steve said there are many ways to take advantage of a vehicle’s ignition-system components when it comes to making more power. The flip side, however, is if an ignition coil has too low of voltage, the car will certainly be down on power.
“An ignition coil with too low of a voltage is going to lead to a ‘soggy’ acceleration when you open up the throttle,” Steve explained. “When an ignition coil already has a low voltage rating, it’s going to drop even more under load. If a vehicle has been tuned for a richer air-to-fuel ratio, a low-voltage coil will not burn the mixture sufficiently.”
Steve told us that this formula is especially important to get right if you’re running a forced-induction application.
“We don’t rate ignition components for certain horsepower levels. That said, if we have a customer running a lot of boost or very high compression, we suggest reducing the plug gap by .010-inches. We used our office manager’s ’97 F-150 as a guinea pig to develop our ignition coils. In a series of 0-60 mph runs, we improved our e.t. by an average of .84-seconds over the stock ignition system!”
Tip No. 3: The Importance of Spark Plug Quality
As our discussion with Steve progressed, one thing he really drove home was the importance of all components working together. Spark plugs, of course, were part of the blueprints.
“A quality plug is very important,” he divulged. “We want our customers to run a plug that can be gaped, as this allows for fine tuning of the air/fuel mixture for better combustion. A great example of a spark plug that can do this would be the Platinum Plugs from Autolite. We’ve had great success with them over the years, as we’ve found they are very good at maintaining a wider, more consistent gap.”
Steve told us it’s important to consult your engine builder or tuner in regards to spark-plug gap for your application as it will vary depending on your build.
“Regarding spark plugs, we consider three main criteria. First, they should be at least 8mm to carry an additional spark. The second being that we recommend a spiral internal-winding to prevent radio and ECM interference. Lastly, heat resistance. It’s important to select the correct heat range based on the vehicle’s intended use, which is something we recommend discussing with your engine builder or tuner.”
Tip No. 4: Design and Construction
Performance Distributors’ LiveWires meet all of the criteria above and then some, according to Steve.
“Our LiveWires feature an 8mm plug wire using an internal spiral winding. Additionally, they use a glass braid heat sleeve that is heat shrunk, making them approximately 10mm with the braid. These spark plug wires are as tough as they come and can withstand more than 1,400 degrees of heat. Coupled with the fact that you can mount them in the OEM location, pairing these with a Screamin’ Demon Coil is the ultimate ignition system upgrade for early style Modular Fords. The Screamin’ Demon Coils feature a high-quality epoxy filing for improved heat transfer and vibration resistance, so rest assured, these coils are just as tough as our LiveWires.”
If Coyote and EcoBoost applications are of more interest to you than the traditional stuff, we recommend checking out Performance Distributors’ SOS Coils in action here and here. For more information on Performance Distributors, check out what products are available for your application here.