Ford 351W Windsor Tuning

"All you need to know about tuning the Ford 351W engine!"

The Ford 351 Windsor, part of Ford's Windsor engine family, made its debut in the mid-1960s. Named after the Windsor Engine Plant in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, this V8 engine became a staple in Ford's lineup. It succeeded the 289 and 302 engines and went on to power a variety of Ford vehicles.

We were emailed and asked questions for more information on tuning and building a modified 351W and particularly which turbo upgrades work best, so this how to guide has been assembled which covers our go to parts for this engine and what we feel are the best value parts you can do.

There was a similarly named Cleveland engine, which we plan to cover in another article.

We are going to focus on the 90's version of this engine as that is the one most people enquire about. It was typically installed in the 1995 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R.

Our aim here is to consider 351W tuning and summarise the best upgrades. Ford 351W great bases for a tuning project and with carefully picked performance tuning mods like remaps, turbo improvements and camshafts you will certainly maximize your driving experience.

Now, as we turn our attention to modifying and upgrading the 351 Windsor, we step into the realm of classic American muscle. From performance camshafts and cylinder heads to modern fuel injection systems, the 351 Windsor invites enthusiasts to unleash its full potential and relive the golden era of V8 power.

See our video which provides a complete introduction to Ford Tuning, it contains some tips on performance and handling modifications.

History of the 351W Engine

Known for its versatility, the 351 Windsor offered varying power outputs depending on the specific model and year. In its heyday, it was available in configurations ranging from two-barrel carburetors to high-performance four-barrel versions. Power outputs spanned from around 250 to 300 horsepower, making it suitable for a wide range of applications.

In the 1990s, the 5.8 L, 351W was switched from speed density to MAF, which resulted in performance increases.

The 5.8 L had speed density when it was first introduced in 1994.

Car computers were configured with a certain quantity of air and fuel supply information in order for the engine to run at optimal efficiency.

As a result, the computer does not give more fuel until the oxygen sensors indicate a lean burn and the computer is able to correct for fuel trim.

After 1994, the engine was redesigned to use mass air flow instead of internal combustion (MAF).

As long as the sensor in the air intake was employed, the computer was able to immediately read how much air the engine was getting (MAF sensors cannot be upgraded for increased flow without using an aftermarket chip or ECU).

There are several methods to customise the intake system's rest, but the MAF sensor is often left stock.) As a result, the computer may raise the quantity of fuel the engine receives as the air flow increases, resulting in an improved degree of performance.

Tuning the Ford 351W and best 351W performance parts.

Best 351W mods

The best 351W parts on an engine are in our opinion the ones that give the best power gain for you spend.

We won't be swayed by popular 351W parts, they need to be cost effective.

Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your 351W. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Best Engine Mods for your 351W

  1. Tighten up spark Timing - engine tuning/remapping provides the biggest gains for the money, along with improving air flow into the engine and fuel delivery upgrades you have a power trifactor.
  2. Fast road cams are generally the biggest mechanical mod upgrade, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they are doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
  3. Stroker kits - stroker kits are a great way to extract more power from your 351W engine, but it's important to weigh the benefits, costs, and complexity before diving in there is not replacement for displacement as they say.
  4. Intake and Exhaust - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
  5. Turbo upgrades - forced induction is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. Although one of the most costly upgrades it offers big gains.
  6. Internal engine mods - crank, pistons, conrods & compression ratio including balancing and blueprinting

351W Tuning Stages

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Sports exhaust manifold, Intake manifolds, Panel air filters, Fast road camshaft, Remaps/piggy back ECU, Drilled & smoothed airbox.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: Fast road cam, induction kit, high flow fuel injectors, fuel pump upgrades, Sports catalyst & performance exhaust, Ported and polished head.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Adding or Upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Crank and Piston upgrades to alter compression, Engine balancing & blueprinting, Twin charging conversions, Competition cam, Internal engine upgrades (head flowing porting/bigger valves).

351W Stroker kits

A stroker kit is a collection of performance parts designed to increase the displacement (engine size) of an existing engine by increasing the stroke length. This involves replacing certain components and modifying the engine to accommodate the longer stroke. In your case, we're talking about a Ford 351W engine.

What you choose will depend on your aims and other mods but we see that a set of 351 rods, 302 pistons are commonly recommended on the 351W blocks. Here's a breakdown of the parts in a "Stroker Kit" for the 351W engines.

Stroker crank

This is a crankshaft with a longer stroke than the stock one for your 351W engine. Common stroke lengths for stroker kits include 3.75", 3.85", and 4.00", resulting in engine displacements like 383, 393, and 408 cubic inches respectively.

Connecting rods

While you can sometimes use the stock 351W rods with certain stroker crank combinations, often longer connecting rods are needed to maintain proper piston-to-cylinder geometry with the increased stroke.

These "351 rods" might actually be longer than typical 351W rods to compensate for the longer crank.

Pistons: To work with the longer stroke, the pistons need to be shorter than the stock pistons for your 351W engine. This ensures the piston doesn't protrude from the cylinder at the top of its stroke, preventing contact with the cylinder head.

The "302 pistons" might be based on 302 pistons but modified for use in the 351W bore size with the specific stroker kit stroke length.

Benefits of a stroker kit:

Increased engine displacement: This translates to more power potential, especially in the low-end torque range.

The shorter stroke of the pistons can make the engine feel more responsive. There is also teh bonus that a properly built stroker kit can be just as reliable as stock engines with good maintenance.

Things to consider:

  • Stroker kits can be expensive, and additional machining work might be necessary depending on the kit and your engine.
  • Installation is more complex than a simple rebuild and requires expertise and specialized tools.
  • Ensure all components are compatible with each other and your 351W engine.
  •  You might need to upgrade supporting components like the clutch, drivetrain, and brakes to handle the increased power.

Overall, stroker kits are a great way to extract more power from your 351W engine, but it's important to weigh the benefits, costs, and complexity before diving in.

Camshaft Upgrades

Fast road cams work better at boosting your top end power and we generally recommend this as a primary mod on gasoline engines to a tune or remap. In most cases you will see top end power increases through performance camshafts on most engines.

Significant gains on the 351W can be made from cam upgrades. Altering the cam profile alters the intake and exhaust durations on the engine and can dramatically change the bhp and power output.

Fast road cams tend to push up the torque throughout the rev band, you may lose a little low end torque but top end will be better.

Motorsport cams, push up the top end band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

A Competition camshaft will just annoy you whilst driving around busy urban areas.

You should ideally optimize your torque band to your usage of the car so for a typical daily driver stick with a mild fast road 351W camshaft

Different 351W engines respond differently primarily due to the airflow when camshafts are fitted depending on the camshaft being more aggressive camshaft durations than others as unique due to manufacturing tolerances and quality variations so set your engine up on a rolling road.

The engine timing and fuel delivery and fuel pump and injectors also will make differences on the power gains you'll get.

A longer valve duration can adjust the power range, and on most engines there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations and valve lift.

Plan your options and then find your mods and set yourself a power target to avoid wasting your time and money.

Tunes & Timing Improvements

Ignition timing and the timing advance are key to making more power on the 351W engines. Spark plug selection is also important with owners opting for a hotter plug or cooler plug depending on what else they've done to their engines and if they are starting to get pre-ignition.

Holley Terminator X MAX Engine Management Systems are good upgrades offering more control over the engine and they way it burns fuel. A decent engine management setup is highly recommended for those wanting to push higher power gains.

(Sometimes engine tuning/remapping the ECU is not an option, so an aftermarket ECU is the route to take, and many of these will outperform factory ECU's but ensure it has knock protection and that you get it setup properly.)

It will usually give around 30% more power on turbocharged vehicles and you can expect to see around 15% on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but power output will vary depending on the parts you've fitted and the condition of your engine.

Air Flow improvements on the 351W

It is the whole point to any engine upgrade job to feed more fuel and air into each cylinder. Flowing and porting the head, and fitting decent headers/manifolds will be a decent upgrade on the 351W although expensive.

Intake manifold take the air from the filter and allow it to be fed into the engine cylinders.

Design and flow characteristics of the Air Intake manifolds can make a big effect on to fuel engine efficiency on the 351W.

Commonly we find the manifolds are ripe for motorsport parts, although some car makers provide fairly well optimized headers.

Larger 351W valves, doing some 3 or 5 angle valve jobs and porting and head flowing will also raise performance, and significantly will allow you to get a greater performance increase on other parts.

351W Turbo upgrades

NA (naturally aspirated) engines need quite a lot of work when you add a turbo, so we have a separate guide to help you take into account the pros and cons of going this route on your 351W

The more air you can get into an engine, the more fuel it can burn and uprating the induction with a turbocharger upgrade makes major power gains.

When the engine is fitted with a turbocharger parts are simpler to install and we find turbo engines are built with stronger components.

There are reliable limits for every engine, with some being incredibly solid and some just sufficiently able to handle stock power. We recommend you find these restrictions and install better pistons and crank to utilize the power.

We've seen people spending a lot of money on turbo upgrades on the 351W only to watch the whole thing literally blow up just after it's been completed.

Large capacity turbochargers will usually experience a bottom end lag, and little turbochargers spool up quickly but won't have the peak rpm power band gains.

Thanks to progress the selection of turbo chargers is always evolving and we commonly find variable vane turbo chargers, allowing the vane angle is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end power.

Twin scroll turbo chargers divert the exhaust flow into two channels and direct these at differently profiled vanes in the turbocharger. They also increase the scavenging effect of the engine.

You'll commonly see there is a limit in the air flow sensor MAP/MAF/AFM on the 351W when a lot more air is being drawn into the engine. The 5.8 L, 351W, went from speed density to MAF in the 1990s, resulting in performance increases.

The engine was mass air flow after 1994. (MAF). This enabled the computer to immediately read how much air the engine received through an air intake sensor, provided the sensor was utilised (MAF sensors cannot be upgraded for increased flow without using an aftermarket chip or ECU).

The remainder of the intake system may be changed, but the MAF sensor is usually left stock). With greater air flow, the computer may increase the quantity of fuel the engine receives.

You'll see that 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor limited torque at a much lower level.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large bhp and torque gains, although harder to setup. We have this article on twincharging if you want to read more.

Fuelling Upgrades

Don't omit to improve the 351W fuel system when you are increasing the bhp - it makes the car more thirsty. Boosting the fuel pressure provides a more snappy the acceleration responsiveness.We strongly recommend you to be generous with your injectors flow rate.

As a rule of thumb add another 20% when fitting an injector, this accounts for injector deterioration and provides some spare capacity should the engine require more fuel.

We think this one is common sense, but you'll need to match your fuel injector to the type of fuel your car uses as well.

Performance Exhausts

upgrading your exhaust system can be a great way to improve the performance of your 351W, especially if the current system is creating a bottleneck. Here's a deeper dive into the points you mentioned:

Exhaust Flow & Power Gains: Opening up the exhaust ports and installing a better-flowing exhaust system can typically net you around 20-25 horsepower, especially on higher-performance engines. However, on most factory exhausts for the 351W, the flow rate is often sufficient for modest power gains.

Sports Exhausts for Equal Flow: Sports exhaust systems are designed to optimize the flow of air through the engine, improving performance and efficiency. They typically have larger diameter pipes, mandrel bends for smoother airflow, and high-flow mufflers that reduce restriction without sacrificing sound quality.

But if your exhaust is too big, you will lose much of your flow rate and end up sapping power and torque.

Oversized Exhaust & Power Loss: It's important to avoid going overboard with exhaust size. An exhaust system that's too big for your engine's power output can actually decrease flow rate due to reduced exhaust velocity, leading to a loss of power and torque.

Here are some reputable brands offering high-quality exhaust systems for the Ford 351W, catering to different needs and budgets: (As always please drop your recommendations below).

Hooker Headers: Known for their high-performance headers and exhaust systems, Hooker offers various options for the 351W, from long-tube headers for maximum power gains to cat-back systems for a more moderate upgrade.

Pypes Performance Exhaust: Pypes specializes in mandrel-bent exhaust systems that provide excellent flow and sound quality. They offer a variety of cat-back and axle-back systems for the 351W, with options for different exhaust diameters and muffler styles.

Flowmaster: Flowmaster is a popular choice for those seeking a performance exhaust system with a signature sound. They offer a range of cat-back and axle-back systems for the 351W, with varying sound levels from mild to aggressive.

Borla: Borla exhaust systems are known for their high quality and durability. They offer cat-back and axle-back systems for the 351W, with options for both performance and sound.

Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the 351W

The 351W engines are generally reliable and solid as long as they are regularly serviced.

Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves and exhaust ports, which will reduce power and smooth running, this should be looked out for on all engines especially as the mileage increases. We have tips on intake clean to remove carbon build up To minimize this risk only use quality fuel and don't short journeys.

Frequent oil changes are essential on the 351W, especially when tuned and will help ensure reliability of the engine.

Oil Leaks

One of the most frequent issues with the 351W is oil leaks. These can occur from various points, including the rear main seal, valve cover gaskets, and oil pan gasket.

Overheating

Overheating can be another concern, especially in older engines or those operating in hot climates.

Common causes include clogged radiators, faulty thermostats, or malfunctioning water pumps.

Overheating can lead to serious engine damage, so it's crucial to identify and address the underlying issue quickly.

Rod Knock

A knocking sound from the engine, particularly noticeable under load, can indicate worn or loose connecting rod bearings.

This is a serious problem that can lead to catastrophic engine failure if not addressed immediately.

If you want to learn more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your 351W engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss 351W tuning options in more detail with our 351W owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased Ford tuning articles to get insights into each modification and how effective they will be.

Please help us improve these tips by sending us your feedback in the comments box below.

We love hearing what our members have got up to and which upgrades work best for them on each model of car. We use your comments and feedback to improve the accuracy of these 351W tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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