Replacing your Mustang’s exhaust manifold with aftermarket headers can offer a performance boost, but whether you’re going to opt for long tube or shorty headers depends primarily on what you’re focusing on with your build and what other options you’ve already installed.
Understanding how these headers function and how their differences affect the horsepower and torque gains they can offer will allow you to select the best set of headers for you.
The Exhaust Manifold
The exhaust manifold provides the “exhale” to the intake manifold’s “inhale,” and just like you’d have a hard time continuing to breathe in without breathing out, your car needs an exhaust that can exhale as much as your engine can breathe in. You can have an amazing hood scoop, cold air intake, and intake manifold, but without an equally beefy exhaust system you’re not optimizing your build.
Most exhaust manifolds are rather small, with openings that attach to each cylinder head and then lead the exhaust gases down into the catalytic converter, mid-pipe, and then the rest of the exhaust system.
Backpressure is what it’s called when there’s resistance that exhaust flow has to overcome in order to exit the cylinder, and it depletes an engine’s power rapidly.
Also called "tubular manifolds" or "extractor manifolds" depending on where you’re located, headers are comprised of a series of tubes that connect to each of your engine’s cylinders and help to extract the exhaust out. While as your stock exhaust manifold is typically made out of cast iron or stainless steel, headers can come in a variety of materials, and while as stock manifolds tend to be utilitarian, the tubes of a header seem wild in comparison.
Headers create an extended tube for each cylinder’s exhaust to go into, which relieves the back pressure created when four cylinders are emptying into the same space at the same time. Each of the individual pipes then comes together into a collector pipe, but because of the spacing of the tubes, they all exit into the collector tube at different times.
Essentially, headers act like a director, making sure each cylinder gets the opportunity to use the collector tube in turn, which helps to prevent backpressure. This is how headers help to improve performance.
Headers can come uncoated, painted, in chrome, or ceramic coated. Ceramic coated headers promise to help keep your headers clean as well as resist rust and corrosion. They also keep the headers cooler. Chrome headers will rust over time depending on how they’re being used, and while stainless steel headers are rust-resistant, the constant heat will turn them blue or brown in short order. All three finishes have applications they’re well-suited to, but the ceramic coated is the best choice for most people.
Shorty headers are perhaps inappropriately named, because they’re really only short compared to long tube headers. Compared to your stock exhaust manifold, shorty headers still have a much longer tube.
Because of how shorty headers are shaped though, you should still be able to use all of the other components of your exhaust, which makes shorty headers an easy modification.
If you’re driving a turboboosted engine, you will absolutely want shorty headers, but they’re also great for a variety of other drivers. If you’re looking to increase the performance of a vehicle that’s primarily your daily driver or commuter, shorty headers are a good idea.
And no matter what you’re driving, shorty headers should be a considerable step up from your existing exhaust manifold.
With shorty headers, an additional choice you’ll need to make is whether to get unequal or equal length headers. Unequal length headers offer a deeper rumbling sound and a little more low-end torque, but equal length headers offer greater performance gains consistently.
Long Tube Headers
Long tube headers are best for track cars or other machines that spend most of their time in the higher end of the RPM range. Depending on the style of long tube header, it may require either relocating or else uninstalling the catalytic converter. This is one of the primary reasons that long tube headers are frequently not fifty-state legal. The other reason is the sound.
Although many enthusiasts love the sound of an exhaust outfitted with long tube headers, it’s rarely a popular choice with the neighbors. These headers have a tendency to be incredibly loud.
Long tube headers can also be more challenging to install since they will probably be too long to work with the existing components of your exhaust.
Installing Shorty Headers
Installing shorty headers is a great project that you can complete in as little as an hour. The first step is to disconnect the car battery and then lift your vehicle.
Once you’ve completed that, you simply unbolt the mid-pipe from your existing exhaust manifold and then gently connect the headers. Be sure to make sure everything is lined up before you start to torque down the bolts. Then connect your new headers to the mid pipe
Because you don't have to uninstall the oxygen sensors or any of the more complex aspects of your exhaust system, the shorty headers should occupy approximately the same space as your former exhaust manifold. You’ll need to retorque the nuts after a short adjustment period, but other than that, there’s nothing to it.
Installing Long Tube Headers
Unfortunately, the process for installing long tube headers is no where near as simple, though it mostly starts out the same. You disconnect the battery and lift the vehicle. Then, depending on your vehicle, the process can vary significantly.
This CJ Pony Parts video covers the process of installing long tube headers on a 2015-2019 Mustang. This gives you a good idea of what is involved in the installation of long tube Mustang headers.
Though the basic steps are similar to what you'll encounter with installing shorty headers, there are additional steps that make this a more complicated installation.
Shorty vs Long Tube Headers
Ultimately, shorty headers are a great choice for people looking to get a little extra performance out of their daily driver or who are currently using a turbocharger. Because of the length of the long tube headers they tend to increase turbo lag substantially, and may negatively impact your performance if you’re using a turbo.
If you’re looking to get substantial performance gains for your track day beast, long tube headers may take longer to install, but they’ll be the right long term choice for you and your build.
Shorty vs Long Tube Header Pros and Cons
|Long Tube Headers
||Substantial Performance Boosts
Improve High Revving Cars
Not Always Legal
Will Hurt Turbo Boosted Engines
||Easy To Install
Legal in Fifty States
Great for Turbos
Better Than Stock Exhaust
| Less rev happy than long tube headers
Whether you’re more interested in shorty headers or long tubes, CJ’s has a variety of exhaust mods for your Mustang.
Source: How Stuff Works | Image Credit: Hotrod | Drive Tribe