Make a list of must-have beginner upgrades for any vehicle. What’s usually at the top three of said list? A cold-air-intake, a tune and an exhaust, perhaps? Surely the allure of that added soundtrack tops the trio, no doubt, and all of these bolt-on components play nicely with each other. So, where do you begin?

The OEM exhaust manifolds on the Mustang are a compromise at best. — Don Lindfors, JBA Performance Exhaust

There’s no doubt that the Coyote engine is a great platform – one of Ford’s best, in fact. However, even in factory trim (or, naturally aspirated for that matter), there is always room for improvement.

Well, take note. The recipe is as follows. If you’re like us, you take a bone-stock 2013 Ford Mustang GT with its 5.0-liter Four-Valve powerplant, and you add a nice selection of components from JBA Performance Exhaust, SCT Performance and Brenspeed to really up the ante. The results, as you’ll find, are quite surprising.

Whether you’re looking to replicate this setup for your naturally aspirated, Coyote-powered Mustang, or you’re wanting to lay a nice, solid foundation for upgrades in the future, stick around to get the full download on what makes these components some of the best modifications you can do to your Mustang early on.

Race-Bred Exhaust

JBA offers three versions of its long-tube header system available for the ’11-’17 Mustang GT. We chose the 1 7/8-inch, silver-ceramic-coated headers.

2011-2014 Mustang GT Exhaust

According to Don Lindfors of JBA, all of the company’s headers, mid-pipes and cat-back exhaust systems are constructed from 409-grade stainless steel. He says this material choice offers an excellent life-span and resistance to rust, and that it is what most OE’s now use for exhaust systems.

“We also offer certain models of our long tube headers and mid-pipes in 304-grade stainless as well,” Don explained. “The 304-grade stainless steel offers even higher corrosion resistance, and will not turn to a red/brown color that the 409-grade does over time. It also has slightly better heat retention than the 409-grade – which itself is superior to mild steel – and aids with

exhaust velocity for better scavenging and more power. The 304-grade stainless steel is offered on our most popular performance long-tube header models.”

For this project we chose 1 7/8-inch, ceramic-coated, full-length headers (PN 6685SJS); a 3-inch stainless steel H-pipe with cats (PN 6686SHC); and a 3-inch, stainless steel, cat-back exhaust system (PN 40-2643).

The benefits of a performance exhaust have long been documented, no questioning that. But what makes a performance exhaust durable enough for everyday use?

The short answer is, it’s a balancing act. A colleague once told us, “Do you want a system that was designed specifically for your application? One that was put to the test in negative weather conditions, extreme heat situations and hundreds of hours of high-RPM testing? Or, do you want something that was mass produced to fit a certain bolt pattern, and there is no guarantee it will last longer than the time it took to ship to your front door?”

It’s a question we ask ourselves more often than not these days, and it’s certainly helped us choose the right components for our build.

And that brings us full circle to JBA Performance Exhaust and its research and development process. Don Lindfors, Director of Exhaust R&D at JBA, explained to us that material choice lays the foundation for a racing exhaust that is built to endure anything you can throw at it.

He believes that certain grades of stainless steel are superior to others, and that the integration of V-band connections seals for exhaust systems.

“V-bands offer superior sealing without any gaskets to blow out,” Don explained. “They also offer a little flexibility in alignment of the exhaust components to one another.”

Ceramic Barrier

What separates JBA from the competition is its incorporation of thinking ahead with its components. Here, we can again defer back to the durability portion of the company’s research and development section. Don explained to us how important ceramic coating is when it comes to its long tube header offerings — it’s a viable option that, quite literally, seals your exhaust’s fate.

“The metallic-ceramic thermal heat barrier coating that is available on our header line helps control the heat of the exhaust gasses within the header tubes,” Don enthused. “By holding that heat in the header for longer, exhaust velocity stays higher, which as a result increases flow and therefore power.”

According to Don, a side effect of the headers’ ceramic coating is lower underhood temperatures. This means that cooler air entering the engine, combined with a lower intake charge, results in more power as well. "It does add cost to the price of the header – but pays off in power increases and the additional corrosion resistance that it affords," he said.

After the headers are built, Don explained that they are baked at high temperatures in its in-house oven to burn off any oil and contaminants that are present from the manufacturing process. From there, they are media-blasted to create a surface that the ceramic will best adhere to. The headers are then sprayed with a ceramic coating, and after it dries, they are placed in large, vibrating polishing tanks that are filled with a small plastic media and soapy water.

“The polishing seals the material and gives it a high luster finish,” Don said. “When properly coated and polished, the durability is of the best quality. The owner does need to keep them clean, especially in areas where salt is used on the roads or corrosion can creep through the material over time.”

Sealing The Deal

Our bone-stock, Coyote-powered Mustang put down more than 361.8 horsepower and 354.3 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheels through a factory 6R80 six-speed automatic transmission. These are typical power numbers for a stock, automatic GT.

Judging from our dyno graph above, that puts our S197 Mustang right on the money for a 15-percent drivetrain loss target on a stock Mustang. In other words, we’re right on target for a rating of 420 horsepower at the crank – solid!

In regard to the install itself, it’s pretty straightforward once laid out on paper. Remove the factory cat-back exhaust system, remove the factory H-pipe and remove the factory exhaust manifolds – replace in reverse sequence, and you’ve got yourself a new external sound system and a bump in power.

In theory, yes it’s that easy, and this isn’t the first time (or the last) that you’ll probably read about an exhaust installation. That said, we’ll give you a few tips below on how to make sure the installation process goes smooth.

Our current exhaust had seen better days.

Yes, you're seeing that with your own eyes – that is the exhaust beginning to chip away (left/middle photo). We assume at some point that we ran over a plastic bag and essentially superglued itself to our exhaust system (right photo).

Out with the old…

Back on the subject at hand. Removing the current cat-back exhaust entails supporting the factory H-pipe assembly with an exhaust stand, followed by unbolting the two clamps which join the cat-back and the H-pipe together. From there, you can wiggle each side of the cat-back assembly off of its hanger location in the rear of the car, then remove all together.

Removing the factory H-pipe is a bit more trickier than the cat-back system. You'll need to unbolt the factory cats which are attached to the factory exhaust manifolds. Here, it is where a significant improvement will be made in the exhaust system, according to Don.

“JBA uses a high-flow metal substrate cat for our race application mid-pipes,” Don told us. “These cats will flow more volume than a factory cat for increased power, but are not legal for highway use. The H- and X-pipes that JBA offers are made of stainless steel and are mandrel-bent for smooth flow without restriction – unlike factory crush-bend pipes. We offer both 2 1/2- and 3-inch mid-pipes depending on the application. Like the header sizing, this has to do with the size and power output of the engine, and in some cases the area of the car available for fitment.”

We found removing the factory K-member completely was the easiest way to gain access to remove and replace the exhaust manifolds. Was it necessary? Not by any means. Did it make our lives, and in turn yours, a heck of a lot easier? Absolutely.

Don also says that the OEM exhaust manifolds on the Mustang are a "compromise at best." He says this is because they have to meet a certain design criteria that Ford dictates. That criteria mostly boils down to ease of manufacturing, emissions compliance and cost according to Don.

“With a long-tube, racing header we aren’t concerned with those issues,” Don explained. “With the constraints removed, we can design a header that will optimize exhaust flow and scavenging for maximum power.

Tying It Together

Our canvas was a bone-stock 2014 Ford Mustang GT, but now she’s rocking a full JBA exhaust.

With our new JBA exhaust buttoned up and ready to rock, we fired up our Coyote ‘Stang and insured there were no exhaust leaks with the new system installed. Everything checked out, so we let her rip on our Dynojet in-house dyno. With our Brenspeed calibration locked and loaded on our ’Stang, thanks to our SCT X4 device, our essentially stock Mustang picked up some decent power, with nearly 50 horsepower under the curve.

What ties together this bolt-on affair lies within this device, which is our SCT X4 Performance Programmer (PN 7015). Our friends at Brenspeed have provided a unique calibration for the job.

Curious how our new exhaust system works together to garnish that additional power?

“The diameter and length of the tubes will dictate the areas where the header will make its biggest contributions to power,” Don said. “During the R&D process, we look at the size of the engine, the RPM band and many other factors of the engine design, along with its intended use, to decide these parameters. As you increase the exhaust flow, you will also increase the flow on the intake side. As the headers and exhaust do a better job of extracting the burnt gasses from the combustion chamber, the more air/fuel that will enter into the engine. The tuning needs to match the flow to keep the air-to-fuel ratio in the range for power optimization.”

Combined with our Brenspeed email calibration, our virtually stock Mustang ramped up to 381.4 horsepower and 375.0 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheels in combination with the new exhaust. That’s a total gain of 19.6 horsepower and 20.7 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear feet.

Upgrading a Mustang’s exhaust is a quick way to pick up solid power gains and a serious improvement in sound. The implementation of this JBA Performance system has made believers out of us. Check ’em out if you’re in the market!