Bolt-On NA 2018 Mustang Blasts Out Over 500 RWHP

Over the years the standards for horsepower street cred have swelled alongside the elevation of factory performance cars. Where 300 or 400 horsepower was once race-car stuff, it has become the mundane output of stock vehicles. Clearly the forced induction expectations are hurtling toward four digits, but who could have imagined that naturally aspirated bolt-ons could easily create 500 horsepower at the rear wheels? Well, in the case of the 2018 Mustang GT it was Evolution Performance.

“Once we made 474 rear-wheel horsepower with initial tuning on e85, 500 rear-wheel horsepower became the goal,” Fred Cook, of Evolution Performance, said. “I knew once we added long-tube headers and Lund Racing got deeper into the PCM we would hit the goal.”

Evolution Performance’s Fred Cook wasted no time modding his brand-new 2018 Mustang GT auto. With a carefully chosen selection of bolt-ons from JLT Performance, Roush Performance, and Kooks Custom Exhaust marching to the orders of a Lund Racing custom calibration, this naturally aspirated street car blasted out over 500 horsepower at the rear wheels. (Photo Credit: Evolution Performance)

The car is awesome from the power and torque to the 10-speed auto… — Fred Cook, Evolution Performance

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, however. While the Evolution crew has a long history of staking significant performance milestones with Shelby GT500s and Coyote-powered Mustangs that have leaned toward the racetrack, the basis for this project is highly optioned 2018 Mustang GT automatic. It is a daily driver through and through.

“The car is awesome from the power and torque to the 10-speed auto to the MagneRide to the active exhaust. The car is the complete package and a huge improvement over my 2015 Mustang GT with the six-speed automatic,” Fred enthused. “The 2018 is my daily driver so I needed all the creature comforts. It even rocks a car seat in the back for my son, Chase, who is already a Mustang enthusiast at the young age of 18 months.”

Back To Basics

Though Fred plans to drive the car on the street, he is not leaving this optioned-up ’Stang stock. Like any enthusiast, he can’t leave well enough alone when it comes to performance. As such, he opted to start off his build the way most of Evolution’s customers would — with the basic bolt-ons.

“A cold air intake, tune, and exhaust are one of the first modifications Mustang enthusiasts do after purchasing a new car, so we wanted to target that audience and show them what could be done with basic bolt-ons and tuning,” Fred explained.

To implement its custom tuning, Lund Racing’s Jon Lund II deployed his calibrations for this second-gen S550 with SCT Performance’s most advanced handheld flash tuner — the BDX. The calibrations were created in SCT’s Advantage tuning software.

He selected a list of familiar parts for the build, including a JLT cold-air intake, a Roush exhaust resonator delete, a set of Kooks long-tube headers, and a Kooks catalytic converter-equipped mid-pipe. However, you can’t so much as think about modifying a modern car without a proper performance calibration.

“We have been an SCT dealer for 14 years,” Fred said. “Combine that with SCT being first to the market with a performance programmer that supported the 2018 Mustang, and Jon Jr. was able to use SCT software and the BDX to remotely tune the 2018 Mustang.”

Just looks like a stock 2018 Mustang GT with a JLT cold-air intake. No big deal, right? Well, this sleeper will wake up anyone thanks to its 500-plus-rear-wheel horsepower credentials.

The Jon in question is Jon Lund II of Lund Racing, which is well known for creating custom calibrations for high-performing Mustangs with a wide variety of combinations. The Lund team has long dialed in Evolution-built pony cars and that trend continued with this 2018 Mustang GT.

Hardware & Software

There’s not much gain on 93 octane but there’s a decent gain with E85! — Jon Lund II, Lund Racing

“Ford did a really good job at optimizing the power output of the Gen 3 Coyote engines, so one challenge is trying to find room for improvement on 91 and 93 octane,” Jon said. “With the 12:1 compression they are very knock limited without additional octane. That’s why they respond so well to E85 as you see on our personal test vehicles as well as Fred’s car. There’s not much gain on 93 octane but there’s a decent gain with E85!”

Of course, that’s getting a bit ahead of the curve on this first phase of Fred’s build. Before stepping up to corn, he baselined the car with nothing more than rev limiter raised to allow for running the car on the dyno in the auto transmission’s 1:1 Seventh gear. With that 427-horsepower/402 lb-ft baseline established, it was time to start adding tuning and those bolt-ons. The tuning pumped the power up to over 443, while the JLT Performance cold air intake system pushed the car beyond 456 horsepower at the wheels on Evolution Performance’s in-house Mustang Dynamometer.

We know that engine oil can sludge up your intake and even dilute the octane of the fuel in the cylinders. Fortunately there is an easy way to keep that oil out of the intake tract with JLT’s plug-and-play units, which collected this much oil in just 600 miles. “The oil separator is the first mod that needs to be done upon picking the car up from the dealership,” Fred said. “It prevents oil that gets sucked through the crankcase from going into the intake manifold and potentially caking your intake valves which could cause knocking, pre-ignition, loss in power, and reduced fuel economy.”

“The molded heat shield fit perfectly in the engine bay along with the massive 120mm cold air intake tube with a velocity stack and blue filter,” Fred said of the JLT system. “It looks as good as it performs.”

From there it was time to ramp things up by switching from 93-octane gasoline to E85 and really let Jon dial in an aggressive calibration, which included a mastery of the new 10R80 10-speed automatic.

Moving Target

Evolution 2018 Mustang GT Mods

• JLT Performance 120mm cold-air intake (PN CAI-FMG-18)

• JLT Performance 3.0 passenger-side oil separator (PN 3024P-C)

• Kooks 1 7/8-inch stainless steel long-tube headers with 3-inch collectors and Kooks Green-cat factory connection pipes (PN 1151H430)

• Roush Resonator-delete X-Pipe (PN 422046)

• SCT Performance BDX programmer (PN 40490)

“The ticket to track results improvement on the automatic is the transmission calibration on the 10R80s. Ford does a lot of torque management and rpm limiting, so removing a lot of that will allow it to shift at higher rpm and shift quicker to improve e.t. and MPH. While that seems like an easy task, manipulating the transmission control system to achieve those goals is not easy. It’s very time consuming due to the new complexity. The key to overcoming that challenge is intentional calibration changes,” Jon said. “Many tuners like to make blind changes and hope for the best when they know very little about the control system. It’s a bad habit to fall into because more often than not those blind changes don’t do anything or they cripple something that needs to work down the road. Those tuners end up running around in circles trying to figure out what’s wrong when it all comes back to understanding what you’re changing without guesswork. That’s not now how we approach tuning and it’s definitely not something you can do and be consistently successful with on these newer, more complex control systems. ‘Intentional calibrating’ is how Ford does it, so we try to follow the same practice!”

To free up some exhaust flow and improve the sound of his new GT, Fred elected to install a Roush Performance resonator delete. “This is the same X-pipe used on 2015-2017 Mustang GTs that we have installed over a hundred times,” he said. “It is the highest quality and best fitting resonator delete X-Pipe on the market.”

Switching to corn ramped up the power to 473 at the wheels, which caused Fred to recalibrate his goals to the aforementioned 500 rear-wheel mark. To get there, Fred chose to open up the exhaust with an eye toward keeping it streetable.

“Kook’s jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this project. The headers are high-quality 304 stainless steel and fit like a glove,” Fred said. “The long-tubes have the Green-catted connection pipes that connect directly to the factory exhaust or in our case the Roush resonator-delete X-pipe. They feature Green cats, which are an EPA-certified catalytic converters, and are available exclusively through Kooks Custom Exhaust.”

The Long Tale

Installing the first set of 2018 Mustang headers from Kooks was a breeze, except for one little hurdle Evolution had to overcome because of a change in the latest car’s wiring harness. Fortunately the driver side of the factory harness was along enough and could be used on both sides to facilitate the exhaust upgrade.

“Honestly, on our end, everything was smooth sailing until we noticed the wideband sensor connections were different for 2018,” Fred said. “It delayed us but our good friends at Springfield Ford in Springfield, Pennsylvania, made sure we had another driver side wideband (PN JR3Z-9F472-A) the very next day so we could complete the installation.”

Evolution Performance was fortunate to get its hands on an early set of Kooks long-tube headers and the matching X-pipe for the 2018 Mustang GT, which are obviously designed for better flow than the stock manifolds. They did, however, have to overcome a curveball in the form of a new oxygen sensor wiring harness connection, which meant the 2015-2017 wiring extenders would not work. In solving the problem, Fred and the crew determined that the driver side harness was long enough, so they installed a driver side harness (PN JR3Z-9F472-A) on the passenger side to accommodate the header install.

By ordering a second of the longer factory harness, Evolution was able to seamlessly integrate the new exhaust into the 2018 Mustang. This opened the door to more performance with a full bolt-on package and E85 in the tank. With all those key assets in place, the Lund Racing team could work its magic to break through the 500-rear-wheel horsepower barrier without a power adder.

Once installed, the Kooks 1 7/8-inch stainless steel long-tube headers with 3-inch collectors and Green-catted factory connection pipes were enough to push the E85-burning bolt-on combination over the 500-rear-wheel horsepower mark. It also sounds pretty great, according to Fred. “Normal Mode is probably my favorite exhaust mode since the long-tubes were installed. It has a very deep but clean exotic exhaust note that has zero in cabin drone,” he enthused. “Track Mode is very aggressive. If you like it loud and you want the whole world to hear you, that’s the mode for that. The only downfall to this mode is that it drones excessively in the cabin, which would be very annoying on long trips. If you open the window the drone will decrease a little bit to make it more tolerable.”

Finished Product

“To optimize the power output on Fred’s car it was really a matter of reviewing the data and making sure it met our specification,” Jon said. “We had already done a lot of the legwork on our personal test vehicles in-house with tweaking cam timing and finding optimal air/fuel and spark. So we applied those changes to Fred’s car and it really testified as to the repeatability of the car by seeing the same gains we saw. On e85 it becomes less knock limited and we can roll in more ignition timing and lean it out a hair to pick up more power. It is crazy to think about 500 rear-wheel horsepower out of these very simple modifications for a naturally aspirated engine and we can’t wait to see how they respond to boost!”

Fred’s 2018 Mustang GT picked up horsepower in chunks of 16.09, 12.96, 16.89, and 28.23 in response to tuning, the JLT CAI, E85, and the Kooks long-tubes. The torque gains corresponded impressively as well, climbing up the ladder with gains of 18.25, 11.76, 13.35, and 16.92 lb-ft of torque. Suffice it to say the Gen 3 Coyote responds well to bolt-ons, tuning, and E85.

We know how much corn-burning Coyotes love boost, but even in its current, bolt-on form this second-gen S550 sounds like a blast to drive.

“The car is amazing. The powerband on this car is so smooth and has incredible torque, something the 2015-2017 Mustang GT’s lacked,” Fred said. “The transmission shifts like a sequential transmission that you would find in $200,000 cars. Jon Jr. really dialed in the 10R80, so I can’t even imagine once we boost it. This is where the active exhaust really shines. The car still starts quiet in quiet mode, then gets more aggressive as you go to Normal, Sport, and Track.”

In the end, Fred’s corn-burning, bolt-on 2018 Mustang GT picked up 74.72 horsepower and 87.89 lb-ft of torque to top out at 501.49 horsepower and 462.35 lb-ft of torque. With that impressive foundation in place, we can’t wait to see what the combination will do with boost.

As you would totally expect from a cutting-edge outfit like Evolution, this is just the first step in building streetable power for this 2018 Mustang. The car is already slated for a ProCharger P-1X supercharger upgrade to push it to the next level as well as a full BMR Suspension upgrade and a variety of driveline upgrades — from Ford Performance Parts and GForce Performance Engineering — designed to withstand a much higher level of output.

So, if that upgrade path intrigues you, stay tuned right here to see this second-gen S550 project evolve.

Article Sources

About the author

Steve Turner

Steve Turner brings decades of passion and knowledge in the world of Ford performance, having covered it for over 20 years. From the swan song of the Fox Mustang to the birth of the Coyote, Steve had a front-row seat.
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