Pony Wars: Introducing Our 2017 Mustang GT War Horse

We are kicking off our Horsepower Wars series in the best way possible. Two bitter rivals for over five decades will face off in a battle for bragging rights in Pony Wars. In this contest our 2017 Mustang GT will square off against a 2017 Camaro SS through two build phases and a variety of competitions to crown a winner.

The cars will compete to see which one performs better in braking, chassis dyno, drag racing, and road racing. While we will start with two largely stock vehicles, the cars will be modded in two installments working with budgets of $5,000 and $15,000 parts from our official supplier, Summit Racing, at each level. After the upgrades are installed, they will return to testing to see how they respond to the changes.

Out of the box the S550 is pretty good, but that does not mean it can’t be better. — Glen Vitale, Steeda

To help us put together a package that will get the job done, we are relying on advice and counsel from experts in the industry, including our two team advisors Evolution Performance and Steeda, both of which have a long history building fast Mustangs.

“Out of the box the S550 is pretty good, but that does not mean it can’t be better,” Glen Vitale, Vice President of Operations at Steeda, said.

Our Race Red 2017 Mustang GT provides an ideal blank canvas for a project build. It was only optioned with the base 300A package and a six-speed automatic transmission, so it isn’t bogged down with a lot of creature comforts.

However, before we start getting carried away with the mods, we wanted to set the stage by taking a look at our Mustang contestant. It was ordered with a pretty simple palette of options, which was limited to just the 300A option package and the 6R80 six-speed automatic transmission. This makes it a pretty affordable starting point for a project, and hopefully, makes it a bit lighter than a loaded model as well.

The S550 chassis is excellent for both drag racing and the road course and is easily upgradable for improved performance. — Fred Cook, Evolution Performance

We are considering these things because the opposing Camaro is lighter, has more base horsepower, and is optioned with a magnetically adjustable suspension. Our ponycar is definitely the underdog here, but the Mustang has long flourished despite competitors having more out-of-the-box performance because it was built with adaptability in mind.

“The S550 chassis is excellent for both drag racing and the road course and is easily upgradable for improved performance,” Fred Cook, of Evolution Performance, explained. “Plus, the Coyote engine and its four cams love to rev, and that is one of the major advantages the Mustang has over the Camaro.”

Going into the competition, we know the Brand X ponycar will likely have power-to-weight and handling advantages that we will have to overcome. Since our car was ordered with minimal options it is ripe for modification. We will have to focus on select categories in each phase in an attempt to gallop past our adversary. Fortunately, the traction playing field will be level, as both cars will compete on spec street rubber on the road course, and much-needed Mickey Thompson drag radials at the drag strip.

While the suspension might hurt us early on, we are confident the Gen 2 Coyote engine will respond nicely to a balanced package of modifications. These 5.0-liter engines have proven over and over again that they readily benefit from bolt-ons, but they really flourish when exposed to a power adder, even in stock form.

We didn’t want the Camaro to have all the out-of the-box advantages, so we decided to level the playing field a bit before starting the competition. The base brakes were not going to cut it, so we ordered the complete Performance Pack brake upgrade, including the six-piston front Brembos, so the car would have the "good" factory brakes. To clear those, we decided to add 20-inch wheels from Roush Performance. Both cars will compete on spec 20-inch Toyo tires on the road course and much-needed Mickey Thompson drag radials at the strip, so we are trying to keep things as fair as possible.

Fortifying the drivetrain to survive that influx of power is another challenge. The Mustang’s six-speed transmission has proven robust, but the stock 3.15 gears might hurt in the early stages of the competition. Plus, the Brand X eight-speed auto might have more favorable ratios to balance the drag strip and road course contests, but we will have to play the hand we are dealt and hope for the best once the mods join the party.

The true strength of this car is its Gen 2 Coyote 5.0-liter engine. These cars responded nicely to bolt-ons, but deliver insane power with boost — and you don’t even need to pull a cam cover to get big results.

Horsepower Wars is backed some of the biggest names in the automotive aftermarket — including COMPDiabloSportE3 Spark PlugsHolley Performance PartsMickey Thompson, ProCharger, QA1 Royal PurpleTCI, and others — and it’s going to be a wild ride over the next few months as we let these Pony cars do battle.

We plan to upgrade the exhaust, induction, powertrain, and suspension of the car to improve its all-around performance. In the end, it will simply be exciting to see just how much performance we can squeeze out of this Mustang given the constraints of a limited budget, and it might just give you a few ideas for building up your S550 project car.

Stay tuned to this page and the official Horsepower Wars site to see how it all comes together. And, who knows, the battle might rage on next year with newer cars and the possibility of a Mopar entry…

About the author

Steve Turner

As Executive Editor of FordNXT and Ford Muscle, Steve Turner brings decades of passion and knowledge to Power Automedia. He has covered the world of Ford performance 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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