The electrical system in a first-generation Mustang is one of the areas that needs to be upgraded in a high-performance car. The original systems were very basic with little capacity for extra equipment. This isn’t surprising when you consider there was little more than a very simple radio, some lights, a horn, and only some of the bare-bones basics found on modern vehicles. There often were no power locks or windows, no rear defroster, no A/C, no power seats, and certainly no navigation, bluetooth, electronic fuel injection (EFI) or other things that are ubiquitous in newer Mustangs.
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Should you decide to add EFI, a high-powered ignition, electric cooling fans, power windows/locks, an upgraded audio system, and so forth you very quickly become aware of the limitations of the stock system. Fortunately, you have numerous ways to add functionality and improve performance. You must take care of the basics in terms of having good grounds, no short or open circuits, etc. The rest of the electrical system (wiring, connectors, terminals, grommets, and so forth) must be in good shape. There’s no point in putting in better equipment if the rest of the vehicle is not up to par. Do a complete assessment of the electrical system and make repairs as indicated by the factory service manual before you make any modifications. This will surely save you trouble later.
Having a more stable voltage level can be an absolute necessity if you convert to EFI. Even with just a higher-power ignition you can see significant performance improvements due to less misfire and a hotter spark (see Chapter 4). Power locks and windows become a more reasonable possibility with a better alternator. This provides added functionality and convenience with a negligible weight gain plus it can also improve personal security.
Modern alternators not only can offer higher total output but they also can offer substantially higher output at idle speed. This is especially critical when you have high-current modifications such as an electric cooling fan, upgraded headlamps, driving/ fog lamps, air conditioning, and/or a high-output audio system. Modern alternators can have better output and be far more reliable, smaller, and lighter for the same or an even higher output.
Many are much easier to install and present a cleaner underhood appearance because they have internal voltage regulators and thus can use fewer wires. Some even allow you to manually adjust the output voltage to improve performance under certain conditions.
Special alternators intended primarily for racing use are available to handle sustained and/or extremely high RPM. These may be appropriate and even necessary but they’re not the best choice for a street car in terms of durability and resistance to weather. They tend to not have particularly high output, especially at lower engine RPM. Those intended for endurance races can be an exception but they tend to be pricey. Aftermarket companies (such as Painless Performance, Powermaster Motorsports, and others) have better options available for Mustangs in terms of price, performance, appearance, and so forth.
The PowerStar high-output alternator made by Painless Performance, for example, has very high output (92 amps) at idle and a significantly higher (113 amp) total output. It bolts right in to most firstgeneration Mustang engine compartments and may only require some minor modification of the wiring harness due to its internal regulator and single-wire configuration. It also has significantly upgraded materials and components so it’s well suited for high-performance use yet is still able to handle street use and achieve excellent durability. This model also has the capability to manually adjust the output voltage. Painless has many color choices, other models with significantly higher total outputs (up to 200 amps!), and v-belt or serpentine drive pulleys.
Upgrading your headlamps is a performance enhancement and a safety improvement as a result of the superior visibility it provides. The sealed-beam headlamps that came with first-generation Mustangs were state-of-the-art technology in their day but things have improved significantly since then. Modern vehicles now generally rely on removable halogen or xenon/HID bulb “capsules” that are inserted into fixed reflector assemblies that are an integral part of each new vehicle’s styling. LED technology has just begun to be utilized for daytime running lights and, at the time this book was written, have just begun to be used for headlamp applications.
Fortunately, owners of early Mustangs can benefit from this constant evolution of technology as these newer technologies become less expensive, thus allowing the aftermarket to develop products that retrofit to older cars. The prime example of this is the ability to convert the original sealed-beam headlamps on your Mustang to halogen technology. Several aftermarket and OEM suppliers offer simple, direct-replacement products that allow you to remove older lamps and replace them with betterperforming lamps.
In most cases, the new lamps even utilize the same type of electrical connectors as the original lamps so there’s no need to modify the wiring. However, in cases where the current draw of the new lamps is significantly higher than that of the original lamps it is advisable to modify the factory wiring to incorporate relays to provide better performance and less chance of problems. Several manufacturers offer special harness kits specifically for this.
Halogen lights coupled with improved lens and reflector technology provide greatly improved visibility versus the original sealed-beam headlamps as well as a cooler, bluer light. The latter helps drivers see roadside features such as signs more easily while also giving the older vehicle a “newer” look. The ability to simply remove and replace the bulb capsule is a further advantage versus having to replace the entire lamp assembly as with a sealed-beam unit.
It’s unlikely there will ever be many products for early Mustangs that use xenon/HID technology. This is due primarily to their high cost and the need to have specially shaped reflector assemblies that do not lend themselves to being aesthetically integrated into the styling of older vehicles. This is of little concern, however, because there are already LED-based solutions available for these cars, which provide an even lower current draw than the xenon/HID lamps (which is less than halogens) without the need for the expensive electronics required by xenon/HID lamps.
These LED headlamps are simple direct-replacement parts just like halogen units yet they draw significantly less current, last even longer (almost indefinitely), provide an even whiter (more natural color) light, and are very cost effective once you consider they can use the factory wiring without the need for relays, etc. Although they may not yet have as much maximum light output as the xenon/HID lamp this will surely change with time. They are, after all, available now at a significantly lower cost.
They outperform and last longer than halogens plus they are easier to install than the HIDs; they install just like the original lamps. LED headlamps do, however, have a higher initial cost and a unique appearance, which may not appeal to everyone.
Other LED Upgrades
You can improve safety and visibility even if you decide not to upgrade your alternator through the use of LED technology to replace some of your regular light bulbs.
LED lighting technology offers many advantages, including brighter/ whiter light, longer life, lower current draw, better visibility, and unique styling, when compared to regular incandescent lights. In most cases the upgrade to LEDs involve little more than removing the original bulb and replacing it with the appropriate LED module. Some applications require the replacement and/or installation of other components (such as the flasher) but there is no need to install relays or modify the wiring because of their lower current draw. Once the LEDs illuminate there’s little doubt something’s been changed due to the unique light signature, greatly increased brightness, different temperature, and even color, if desired. The instrument panel is a prime example of where the almost-infinite life of LEDs is a particular asset because replacing those bulbs is not generally an easy job.
Rear backup lamps, front turn signals, and parking lamps are among the popular upgrades. In addition, the license plate light, side-marker lights, and even hood-mounted turn signal lights can be upgraded.
The single most popular LED upgrade is the taillamps. LED technology provides improved brightness, visibility, longer life, added functionality (such as sequential strobing), and/or a different-color light for a unique look. Furthermore, little attention is given to the very real safety benefit LED taillamps provide due to the quicker response time. Because LEDs are brighter and look different, plus they also light up quicker and have the ability to flash sequentially, they tend to get the attention of a following driver sooner and more completely, thus providing more time to slow down or stop.
Written by Frank Bohanan and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks