There are few engine displacements that have been heralded the way the 5.0L engines have been. Even though “5.0” and “Mustang” are synonymous now, for a long stretch of history you couldn’t get a Mustang with a powerful V8 under the hood.
Through the Mustang II era, limited engine options were available. That changed in the Mustang’s third generation. The first few years of Fox Body didn’t have a 5.0 engine, but that wasn’t the case for very long. Soon, the Mustang could come optioned with this eternally popular engine displacement.
Mustangs with 5.0L engines are still available today. But the 5.0L engine you’ll find in an S550 Mustang is very different from a Fox Body’s.
Through the Fox Body generation, and even into the SN95 generation, all V8s produced had an overhead valve configuration. Modern V8s, like the Coyote engine, typically have an overhead cam design.
There are significant differences between overhead valve and overhead cam engines. One thing both engine configurations share is that enthusiasts love to modify them to produce more power.
Whether you have an older pushrod style engine or a newer OHC engine, there are modifications that will increase your horsepower.
Best 5.0 Mustang Engine Modifications
Cold Air Intakes
Some modifications will improve your performance regardless of your engine configuration. Pushrod and modular engines see performance improvements from cold air intakes, for example. Cold air intakes improve the air supply of your engine and create more power.
Cold air intakes consistently show observable power increases. These replace your air filter with one that’s higher quality and actively pull in cooler air. The one downside is that they can be challenging to install. Just be sure to check in advance whether you’ll need a tune to accompany your cold air intake.
Long tube or shorty headers are another modification that can benefit any engine. Headers replace your engine's stock exhaust manifold, which improves the flow of exhaust. There are substantial differences between long tube and shorty headers that may make one or the other work better for you.
New Intake Manifold
Upgrading your intake manifold will improve your engine’s ability to pull air in. Denser, cooler air results in more powerful combustions, and consequently more horsepower. Many aftermarket intake manifolds have bosses for nitrous or additional water cooling. This can be a convenient feature for future modifications.
Pushrod 5.0L Engines
Though the overhead cam design has substantial advantages over its predecessor, many prefer the sound of an old-fashioned pushrod engine. Besides having a very different auditory quality, pushrod engines are easier to work on and lighter.
If you have an older pushrod V8 and want to increase your horsepower, there are modifications available that offer significant power gains.
One of the major advantages that the Fox Body Mustang has over newer generations is its low curb weight. The third generation of Mustang had the lightest curb weight. This creates a lot of potential for speed. Even minor horsepower increases translate to a lot of power for a Fox Body.
Tragically, most of the Fox Body Mustang's engines topped out around 200 horsepower. By adding a few engine and exhaust modifications, you can push the Fox past that with ease.
To increase an engine's power, most modifications focus on increasing fuel or air. Between the two, it's easier to increase the quality and quantity of the air.
Best 5.0L Pushrod Modifications
Throttle Body Spacer
In carbureted engines, like those in the Fox Body or SN95 Mustangs, a throttle body spacer can improve the fuel-air mixture. Throttle body spacers are an easy install. The best part about a throttle body spacer is that it’s very much an “in addition to” rather than an “in place of” modification. Installing a throttle body spacer doesn’t prevent you from making any additional modifications. Though the performance gain you’ll see from it is slight, every little bit counts.
One cost-effective way to modify a pushrod engine is with a camshaft replacement. Camshafts dictate the valve timing. This means that changing your camshaft will change the performance and sound of your early-model Mustang.
Cylinder Head Replacements
GT40 cylinder heads are a popular upgrade for Fox Body Mustangs. Better ported cylinder heads can breathe better, so this is a modification with an immediate impact. The cylinder heads you select can also positively impact the overall weight and balance of your Mustang.
5.0L Modular Engines
Even if you have a brand-new engine, that doesn’t mean that it’s performing at its peak. With just a few modifications, you can improve the performance of your new overhead cam engine.
Ford has been using modular V8 engines since 1996, and they’re great for a variety of reasons. In 1996, the 4.6L V8 modular engine had a much smaller displacement than some competitors’ engines. Despite that, this engine was capable of producing equivalent or greater power. Though there was some initial resistance from enthusiasts, Ford has continued to add innovations to their OHC engines.
With features like Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing (Ti-VCT), Ford was able to simultaneously improve power, economy, and efficiency. The 2011 version of the 5.0L Coyote V8 produced a staggering 412 horsepower with a high redline of 7,000 RPM. On top of that, it produced an EPA-estimated 25 MPG on the highway, an impressive achievement.
With horsepower values starting at 435 hp, there’s no need to improve the Coyote. That doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun to increase the power anyway.
Best 5.0L Modular Modifications
Adding a supercharger is a great modification for those looking for substantial horsepower gains. Though it’s a challenging install, a Roush supercharger can increase your horsepower to over 700 hp. Adding a supercharger is one of the main differences between the base Mustang and a GT500, which can go from 0-60 mph in 3.0 seconds.
While tuning older engines is a chore, it’s easy to add a custom tune to a modular engine. Tuning your engine will help make the most out of any other installations you complete, and is necessary for many performance mods.
If you have a Coyote modular engine, make sure to check out our guide to the best Coyote-specific modifications as well.
Improve Your 5.0L Engine
When it comes to performance, it’s hard to over-do it. Even if you have a 5.0L V8 engine, there are plenty of ways to make it outperform its stock brethren.
While pushrod and modular engines are different, they’re both very modifiable. With just a few bolt-ons, you can have an engine that’s custom. Almost all of these modifications are capable of improving performance on their own or working together with other mods.
This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.