Flex Your Muscle: Top Performance Mods to Add Right Now

Stock is no option - that's why you're here poking around in the greasy-hands virtual garage of musclecars.net. So, let's start digging into the three best performance mods you'll want for your muscle car that'll turn stock into something closer to a muscle car: exhaust systems, an air intake and performance chips.

Exhaust Systems

To kick it off your performance upgrading quest, your muscle sled needs some extra horsepower that comes with the bold benefit of boss sound from powerful pipes. Performance exhaust systems deliver more pedal punch and enjoyment combined than most other mods you can make. The power in a performance exhaust comes from a smarter and often wider exhaust path, pushing more gas out of a crimp-free pipe network. The sound of your new exhaust hails from the muffler at its core, which does less muffling than a stock unit while letting the flow go. Both work to reduce backpressure (the nasty resistance in stock systems), which then produces more of the acceleration you're chasing. Exhaust modding can go to levels beyond a cat-back performance exhaust system. You'll probably want to make other mods first, but you'll soon discover other restrictive stock exhaust parts that can be dumped. High-torque headers can handle enhanced exhaust gas movement in ways underwhelming factory manifolds cannot. Another choke point in your pipes network that's worth pitching is your stock catalytic converter - either tossed for a faster-flowing part or replaced with a straight pipe (just keep Johnny Law and the smog sniffer away after messing with the heavily-regulated cat). Sure, there are other ways to get more horsepower (we'll get to those in a minute). But a performance exhaust gives you horsepower and sound immediately, and enhances the effectiveness of future mods too. That's the kind of bang (and rumble) for your buck that makes an exhaust system the perfect first upgrade pick.

Air Intakes

After bolting-up a new set of pipes, grab another great mod that cranks the sound and power even higher: a high-flowing air intake. These masters of air delivery make power gains by doing away with the bulky, indirect design of stock intake tracts and replacing them with a wider tube and a huge, reusable air filter. The resulting extra airflow adds to the power potential in your pedal right away. Air intakes can be had in a number of designs. Short ram styles emphasize throttle response; cold air intakes draw denser air from deeper below your power plant and offer top-end rush. You'll recognize the top air intake brand names, too, including AEM, BBK, and K&N intakes. Best yet, air intakes are another boost to your performance sound - the bulky baffles that keep your engine quiet are removed with the stock intake.

Performance Chips

Once you've added an air intake to push more air into your engine and an exhaust system to push more of it out, it's time to graduate to more advanced performance modding in between. It's time to dip into the high-gain world of performance chips. The best way to describe a performance chip is essentially "plug-in performance" - and lots of it. Programmers rely on adjusting fuel maps, shift points, rev limiters and speed governors to tap performance potential left unused by factory settings - much the same way old-school gearheads used to do with endless carb wrenching and timing tweaks. Performance chips break into two main types: inline modules pre-loaded with tested tunes that bolt into your engine's ECU wiring, and plug-in programmers like popular Superchips programmers that hook into the OBD-II port under your steering wheel. The big difference: an inline module's settings are fixed, while a plug-in programmer (like Diablosport's popular Predator) lets you control the power level, set up custom tunes to work with your intake and exhaust, and even tweak the setup to handle different fuel octanes. Still, both programmers instantly produce power best measured on the dyno - or in the seat of your pants. The performance mods just keep going deeper and more extreme once you've revamped the three key areas of exhaust, intake and programming. You can ditch your stock intake manifold completely for a race-ready part. You can fire factory suspension parts that are prone to softness and body roll. You can even dig deep into your engine, replacing the most intricate of working parts like rockers with a lighter, faster version to reduce weight and speed fuel delivery. Modding can be endless. However strong your itch is, there's a part to scratch it somewhere in the huge universe of auto parts out there. Or, you can start and stop with the big three mods of exhaust systems, air intake and performance chips, and be quite content. But, everybody does something, because stock just isn't going to fly. That's the beauty of performance mods and muscle cars.