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Ford Exhaust Manifolds and Headers
Exhaust systems have been the subject of hot debate for as long as there have been automobiles.
Headers or stock manifolds? Long- or short-tube headers? What size exhaust pipes? Single or dual
exhausts? What kind of muffler should I use? Must I use catalytic converters? Is louder better? Will
my engine make more power with the headers uncapped?

In recent times we have been learning more about exhaust systems and their effect on power
output. Contrary to what we believed for years, an engine can actually make more torque through
mufflers than through open headers. In some cases, stock manifolds can even help an engine
achieve better torque. Because exhaust system technology has changed considerably over the
years, it’s time for a refresher course in what works well today.
An exhaust system actually begins at the exhaust valve and port.  Good cylinder head porting
should be the beginning of a well-thought-out exhaust system.  We want smooth flow from the valve
face through the port into the header tubes.  Although we have covered cylinder head porting
elsewhere in this book, we remind you to think about port work as it pertains to your exhaust
system.  You would be surprised how much power you can pick up with good exhaust system
scavenging.  Good scavenging is what makes a power pump out of a budget engine.  

Think about exhaust tuning this way.  During valve overlap, we’re moving unspent fuel and air into
the chamber which pushes spent exhaust gasses out.  If we’re doing this thing the right way, we
tune our valve overlap (via the right camshaft selection) to move the fuel and air in just as smoothly
as we move spent exhaust gasses out.  This is where our exhaust system begins.  With the right
valve overlap, we create a smooth flow of energy and spent gasses through the engine.
There are four basic types of exhaust headers for V-8 Fords: tri-Y, equal length, four-tube, and
shorty. Tri-Y headers were most popular during the 1960s when it was perceived they were the
best idea. As engine power and speed have become more aggressive in the years since, it has
been found that tri-Ys don’t perform as well in racing applications. Tri-Y headers work quite well on
the street where good low- to mid-range torque is needed. Their smaller tubes and tri-Y design help
maintain back pressure and separate the exhaust pulses for improved performance. Carroll Shelby’
s GT350 Mustangs used the tri-Y header with great success during the 1960s. These retro-
headers can work very well in your street small-block application.

Four-tube headers are the system used most often today. The tubes are as close to equal length
as possible, although there are some exceptions. Ideally, a manufacturer will get tube length within
one to two inches, depending upon the installation. Late-model Ford small-block, equal-length
headers are typically shorties to where they can be tied into a Mustang’s dual-catalyst exhaust
system. (You do want to be smog-legal, don’t you?) Equal-length, long-tube headers also exist for
early- and late-model Fords alike. If what manufacturers offer isn't sufficient to meet your
specialized needs, you can fabricate your own headers via kits or simply raw materials from an
exhaust shop.
5.0L Mustang shorty production header
Late-model 5.0L high-
output exhaust headers
offer a clean design —
but breathing suffers.
They are just too small
and restrictive.
Header tube size is one of the most important issues facing the engine builder who is seeking
power — and a larger tube isn’t always what your engine needs to make power. Smaller header
tubes help an engine make better low- to mid-range torque, which is important on the street. Engine
displacement and mission directly determine what tube size you are going to need. Header
manufacturers have done most of the homework here already, making your job easier. Simply
specify your application and intended use, and the rest is easy.

Header tubes that are too large take away the exhaust system’s ability to scavenge spent gasses.
When you keep header tube size smaller, you are increasing exhaust velocity (speed), which helps
draw gasses out more quickly. Smaller tubes help increase back pressure, which, thanks to valve
overlap, helps you get the most out of a combustion charge. When header tube size becomes too
large, velocity decreases and we lose exhaust scavenging.
Aftermarket shorty headers for a 5.0L Mustang
Aftermarket shorty headers
are the most logical first step
to performance. They offer
unobstructed breathing.
Check your local emission
laws before installing these.
Legal or illegal, they look
stock and don’t throw up the
red flag like long-tube
Tube thickness is also an important issue. Typically, header tube wall thickness ranges from 18 to
14 gauge, with the higher number being the thinner stock. For durability, you will want to opt for 16
or 14 gauge. Longevity comes from a thicker wall and durable coating. For street use, we
recommend the thickest gauge, which is less likely to crack or split. Coatings range from spray-on
paint that burns off to a Jet Hot coating that lasts the life of the header.

If you are building an engine for the long haul, we suggest Jet Hot Header Coatings (phone
800-432-3379). This process may cost more going in, but it means having headers that will never
rust or rot through. It is the best ceramic header coating there is. Due to its very nature, it contains
heat too, which keeps heat where it belongs -- inside the header for greatest efficiency.  If you
cannot afford Jet Hot, we suggest a super heat-resistant header paint. For the paint to set properly,
you must begin with a clean surface. Clean the headers with brake cleaner, which has a high
evaporation rate. Let them dry out in the sun, then apply high-temp paint in thin coats, allowing
each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next.
289 and 302 exhaust manifolds
A terrific alternative to the shorty
header is the 289 High Performance.
The 289 High Performance exhaust
manifold (A and C) is a factory
cast-iron header. It offers improved
breathing without clearance and heat
issues. Manifolds B and D are
standard 289/302 manifolds. See the
differences? (Photo courtesy Dr. John
Another important consideration when selecting headers is smog laws in your area. Some areas do
not permit the use of headers on street-legal vehicles. Some areas permit only the use of EPA or
CARB-certified (California Air Resources Board) headers. Check your local motor vehicle code
before spending the money. Don’t kid yourself; smog checks nearly always spot the illegal beagles.
If your state is big on visual inspections, running any kind of illegal header will be difficult, if not
impossible. However, if you are dealing with a tail-pipe sniffer only, then opt for the best header for
your application. Shorty headers are the best choice for an application where a stock appearance
is important. Long-tube headers send up red flags immediately in a smog check. If you have
eliminated the catalytic converter, it can get expensive in terms of fines and the installation of new

Whenever you are shopping headers, always keep fitment in mind. Despite what manufacturers will
tell you, not all headers fit. A good many will require some adjustment on your part. Always use high-
temperature ignition wires that can withstand header heat, or install thermal boots and shields for
protection. Some ignition wire manufacturers offer ceramic spark plug wire boots. If headers run
close to the starter motor, heat issues apply here, too. Excessive header heat will shorten starter
life. Sometimes heat disables the starter entirely. Thermal-wrapping the headers reduces
underhood heat considerably. See your local speed shop for details.
Another thing to consider when you’re shopping for headers is quality.  Look at the flange at the
head and at the collector.  Examine the welding.  High-quality headers have welded flanges with a
solid bead for 100 percent of the seam.  Those with tack welds won’t last; they will leak.

Ford produced some respectable exhaust manifolds for its V-8 engines.  For example, you can still
buy reproduction 289 High Performance exhaust manifolds for your small-block Ford.  These
manifolds look like cast-iron exhaust headers and they tie nicely into virtually any exhaust system.  
A similar manifold to the 289 Hi-Po piece is the 1969-up 351W exhaust manifold.  Like the Hi-Po
manifold, these look like cast-iron headers.  With some grinding and clean-up work, they look sharp
and function well.  These manifolds give a small-block Ford that deep, throaty sound 289 High
Performance manifolds are famous for.  Whenever you’re shopping stock cast-iron manifolds, you
want to avoid the long, straight log types which are very restrictive.

Manifold selection for 335-series engines is poor.  We can’t honestly recommend one.  Ditto for
385-series big blocks.  Manifolds in both instances are too restrictive.  FE-series big blocks have
wide selection.  When it comes to FE-series big blocks, ideally you’re building a full-sized Ford or
Merc that will accommodate 390/406/427 High Performance factory exhaust headers.  These
awesome cast-iron bananas look terrific and sound incredible.  Unfortunately, they will not fit the
more compact Fairlane and Mustang.  There’s simply no room for them.
When it comes to late-model exhaust manifolds and headers, stock 5.0L shorty headers don’t
impress.  They’re too restrictive and the quality is poor.  Opt for a nice set of quality aftermarket
shorty headers, which will breathe better, last longer, and fit nicely.  Among the best are JBA and
Hedman headers.  Late-model cast-iron exhaust manifolds are awful.  Opt for aftermarket
shorties or long tube headers that will go directly into the cats.
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This has been a sample page from

How to Build Max Performance Ford V-8s on a Budget How to Build Max Performance
Ford V-8s on a Budget
By George Reid
Low-cost formulas for building serious horsepower!
This book addresses high-performance V-8
engines such as the 289, 302, 351ci small-blocks
found in Mustangs, as well as the FE series of
big-blocks. Emphasis throughout is a budget
approach to building high performance powerplants
through the use of over-the-counter factory
components and selected aftermarket pieces.
Includes realistic, low-cost formulas for building
serious horsepower in Ford V-8 engines.
Read the
sample pages to learn more!

Out of Stock

Click below to view sample
pages from several chapters
1 - Engine Building Basics
2 - Making Power
3 - Engine Block
4 - Crankshaft, Rods & Pistons
5 - Cylinder Heads
6 - Camshaft & Valvetrain
7 - Headers and Exhaust
8 - Ford Ignition Systems
9 - Engine Build Ups
8-3/8 x 10-7/8
128 pages
300+ b/w photos
Item #SA69P
Price: $
Click here to buy now!

If you're serious about building a powerful
Ford V-8 you need this book!

Other items you might be interested in

How to Build Big-Inch Ford Small Blocks
By increasing the bore and stroke of your current
engine, you can add those cubic inches without the
hassle of switching to a big block. George Reid
thoroughly explains the building of a small block Ford
stroker, paying special attention to the effect that
increasing the bore and stroke have on the engine as a
whole. Also included is a complete guide to factory head
and block castings, as well as aftermarket block and
head guides, so you can choose exactly the right parts
for your project.
How to Build Big-Inch Ford Small Blocks
$ 22.95

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