For those looking at the top Ford 302 performance upgrades, it’s hard to beat adding a cold air intake, long-tube headers, MSD ignition, and a larger carburetor. Ford produced the 302 V8 from 1968 all the way until 2001, and it powered all kinds of different vehicles. They have proven extremely popular over the years for modding, and luckily, they are capable of some pretty outstanding performance. Today, we’re going to look at the top Ford 302 mods to increase horsepower and torque.
Make sure to check out our other Ford content, including our Most Powerful Ford Engines of All Time guide, Best Ford Engines of All Time, Ford’s Best F150 Engines, ranked, and our Ford 4.6 Supercharger guide.
Ford 302 Performance Upgrades Basics
The Ford 302 (5.0 liters) V8 is a naturally aspirated cast iron engine in production from 1968–2001. Ford built millions of 302s before retiring it in 2001, before eventually bringing out the new 5.0 Coyote V8 successor in 2011. Over the years, while it didn’t always have the most impressive factory specs, the 302 showed itself to be a very capable motor for upgrading and modifying. With a stout bottom end and simple overhead valve (OHV) pushrod design, the Ford 302 became an easy engine to quickly make gobs of horsepower with.
Importantly, Ford gave the 302 several revisions over its three-plus decade run. Early versions used carburetors, before switching to throttle-body injection in the early-1980s, and then to multi-point fuel injection in the mid-1980s. Ford also used different sizes of carburetors, different camshaft profiles, and different cylinder heads. There were also the high output (HO) versions, as well as the ultra-high performance Boss 302 variants.
Ford also used the engine in a huge variety of vehicles. These ranged from performance cars like the Ford Mustang, to trucks like the F-Series, to vans, Broncos, and even a few Lincolns and Mercurys. Basically, Ford created a ton of different versions of the 302, so it’s important to consider which one you are starting with before getting into mods. Newer 302s, with fuel injection and hotter camshafts, will be ideal. The best option would be a HO 302, which had forged internals (for some years) and usually higher-flowing heads and intake manifolds.
Top Ford 302 Performance Upgrades
We’ve broken up our guide into three tiers of mods: basic mods, more advanced mods, and big power mods. Basic mods will help you add 30-50 horsepower and will definitely wake the car up. More advanced mods will be more expensive, but will also add up to 25-100 horsepower. Finally, we’ll look at big power mods, meaning forced induction like a supercharger or turbocharger(s). With big power mods, you can add 200+ horsepower with a big enough blower.
1) Basic Ford 302 Mods
For our basic list of Ford 302 performance upgrades, we’re looking at the intake, exhaust, ignition, and for older units, the carburetor. These are the basic building blocks for pretty much any successful plan, and they are definitely the best starting place.
The first step you’ll want to take is adding a cold air intake. Especially on older models, the stock intakes are very restrictive and do not flow well. In addition, for carbureted models, you’ll want something that actually reaches away from the engine bay to pull in colder air. Colder air has more oxygen than warm air, increasing combustion and making more power. A simple K&N or S&B style intake will open up the intake and let the engine suck in more air.
After the intake, you’ll want to get a good set of long-tube headers and a cat-back exhaust. Together, these will help reduce back pressure, which is enormously beneficial. Reduced back pressure allows for increased scavenging, meaning your engine is sucking in clean air much faster. Long-tube headers connect directly to the cylinder heads, and for a naturally aspirated engine you’ll want something around 2.5” in length with a 3” cat-back.
Next up is the ignition. A multiple spark discharge (MSD) ignition helps your engine achieve complete combustion by amplifying the spark. They are much better than the stock ignition systems, which can struggle to keep up with mods, especially in the higher rpm. They are not too expensive and really help on the top-end, though they don’t actually add horsepower themselves. Finally, we have a larger carburetor. If you have a pre-1980s Ford 302, a bigger carb is a great way to increase airflow and up the horsepower and torque.
With all of the basic Ford 302 performance upgrades combined, you’ll be looking at a 30-50 horsepower increase. The biggest gains will come from the long-tube headers and potentially the larger carburetor. The MSD ignition won’t add horsepower, but it will allow your ignition system to handle the increase in combustion. An intake will be good for around 5-10 horsepower, but will definitely be necessary for anyone looking at more advanced Ford 302 mods.
2) More Advanced Ford 302 Mods
The next step up for those looking for even more power out of their Ford 302 is going to be a higher-flowing intake manifold, ported cylinder heads, and a performance camshaft. All three mods will help increase the amount of airflow going into the engine, allowing for it to make a lot more power.
A higher-flowing intake manifold will complement a cold air intake by letting more air to flow through at a higher velocity. The stock intake manifold is heavy, restrictive, flows poorly, and is basically a hunk of junk. For stock power levels, it’s fine, but after opening up the exhaust it struggles to keep up. In addition, you won’t truly be able to take full advantage of your new intake without also upgrading the intake manifold. Coupling an intake manifold with a ported or larger throttle body is also a good idea, too.
For the cylinder heads, you can either port the stock heads, which increases flow rate by getting rid of any imperfections and rough surfaces. Or, you can buy aftermarket heads that flow better than the stock ones. Obviously, aftermarket heads will be superior, but for more budget builds porting the stock heads will offer solid gains. You can also look into replacing the heavier cast iron with something lighter, like aluminum.
Finally, you’ll want to look at a “lopier” and more aggressive camshaft. The Ford 302 is a single in-block cam engine. By getting a camshaft with higher lift and longer duration, you can boost the amount of air entering the engine. Of all the mods so far, a camshaft will offer the greatest performance potential, but it will also change the characteristics of how the car drives depending on the cam size.
With all of the basic mods plus an intake manifold, ported heads, and a performance camshaft, you can gain up to 100 horsepower over stock. A lot of this will be determined by your choice of camshaft. A more aggressive camshaft will net you more horsepower. Yet, it might also lead to a loss of low-end torque. On a drag or race build, that’s not the biggest issue. But if you’re building a truck engine, you might want to consider a camshaft that is less aggressive but still adds lots of torque.
3) Big Power Ford 302 Performance Upgrades
For those really looking to push their Ford 302 to its limits, you’ll want to add forced induction. That means a supercharger or turbocharger(s). After you have done all of the basic and advanced mods listed above, the next step is to artificially increase the amount of airflow into the engine. If you have a carbureted Ford 302, chances are a supercharger is going to be a much easier path. However, if you have an EFI 302, a turbo (or two) becomes a much more reasonable option.
For a supercharger, you have three different options: centrifugal, roots, or twin-screw. Of these, a centrifugal setup will give you the most peak horsepower. Roots or twin-screw blowers are still capable of gargantuan horsepower numbers too, and a motor the size of the 302 they perform very well. You’ll want to get an intercooled supercharger setup, to ensure longevity. If you are an EFI engine, you’ll also want to consider tuning, too.
For a turbocharger setup, you’ll want to start with an EFI setup instead of a carbureted one. It will be much easier, more cost effective, and more reliable. Like a supercharger, you’ll want it to be intercooled, too. With a turbocharger, or twin-turbo setup, you can ultimately make more horsepower than on a supercharged setup. However, if you are looking for a good street build, it’s hard to beat a twin-screw blower at 10-12 PSI and 400-500 wheel-horsepower.
Since its introduction in the late-1960s, the Ford 302 V8 has become an ultra-popular power plant for performance engine builds. While there are a lot of different versions of the 302, you can generally follow a similar mod path on them to gain solid results.
To start with, you’ll want some basic mods, like a cold air intake, long-tube headers, MSD ignition, and a larger carburetor if you have an older setup. After that, you can move on to more advanced Ford 302 performance upgrades, like a larger intake manifold, ported or high-flow cylinder heads, and a performance or truck-optimized camshaft. Finally, for those looking at really making their 302 scream, you can add a supercharger or turbocharger(s) and crank up the boost.
With basic mods, you can add around 30-50 horsepower, or 100 horsepower with more advanced mods. As for forced induction, some people have cranked more than 800 horsepower out of their 302 on race gas with a huge turbocharger. The sky is truly the limit.
The best Ford 302 upgrades are a cold air intake, long-tube headers, MSD ignition, and bigger carburetor. After that, enthusiasts generally look into a bigger intake manifold, ported or high-flow cylinder heads, and a performance camshaft.
To add 100 horsepower to a Ford 302 V8, you’ll want a cold air intake, long-tube headers, MSD ignition, intake manifold, ported or high-flow cylinder heads, and a performance camshaft. Together, these mods should net you around 100 horsepower on any Ford 302.