Pony Wars: After $5K In Mods The Camaro vs. Mustang Battle Is Tight

If you had an idea how the first round of our Horsepower Wars: Pony Wars competition would end up, you were way ahead of us. No matter how you draw up the plans, the real world doesn’t always agree. Sure some of the outcomes were predictable but a couple of surprises turned what could have been a runaway into nearly a dead-heat as we head into our $15K competition.

The cars are only 16 horses apart and within 50 pounds of each other… — Brian Petty, Horsepower Wars host

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though. If you recall from our baseline story (which doesn’t count toward the competition’s points) the 2017 Camaro SS started out with a clear out-of-the-box performance advantage over the 2017 Mustang GT because Chevrolet refreshed its pony car before Ford did.

In the first round both cars received induction and exhaust upgrades in the form of cold air intakes, intake manifolds, and long-tube headers (see sidebars). Both engines were backed by high-performance torque converters as well. A custom calibration from DiabloSport tied the whole package together.

As a result the Camaro put down more power, and ran quicker on both tracks in stock form. The Mustang had a lot of ground to make up when we started pouring on the bolt-on parts acquired to fit within our $5,000 bolt-on budget based on Summit Racing pricing.

If you followed the first round of our builds, you know that both LSX Magazine Executive Editor Chase Christensen and FordNXT Executive Editor Steve Turner both focused on bolt-on engine performance and rear suspension upgrades in this round with an obvious goal of improving dyno and track results.


After bringing the Mustang up to snuff with a Performance Pack brake upgrade, ROUSH Performance 20-inch wheels and Toyo tires, both cars entered the competition with top-tier “stock” stoppers. To ensure there was no advantage, both cars were fitted with high-performance brake pads from EPIC. They received no other aftermarket braking enhancements.

We used the new Racepak Vantage CL1 Track Day package to record the lap times for Drake Kemper and Rob Krider’s laps behind the wheel of the two cars, as well spy on both cars from HQ using the real-time streaming feature. The quickest lap for each car was the one that counted for the competition. In this round, the Mustang edged the Camaro. We were able to track 60-0 braking as well for both cars, and the Mustang again edged the Camaro by stopping 3.8 feet shorter.

Accelerating the two rides up to 60 miles per hour and panic stopping sent the ABS systems pumping and the Toyo tires digging into the pavement. While the Camaro rocked a high-tech magnetic suspension and a lighter curb weight, the Mustang took top honors in the braking test as it bested its rival by 3.8 feet (105.8 vs. 109.6 feet) to slide to a stop with one Pony Wars point.

“The Brembos on the Mustang really surprised me,” Horsepower Wars host Brian Petty confessed. “I don’t go around hammering brakes on stuff very often, but when we did the brake test from 60-0 and saw that the Mustang stopped shorter, even though the car is heavier, it was a nice little twist.”

Chassis Dyno

When both cars hit the Dynojet rollers, the stakes were high. Three Pony Wars points were on the line and the Camaro had a huge head start. Its baseline was well over 400 horsepower in stock form, while the Mustang was in the mid-300s. However, both cars received bolt-on upgrades in the form of intake manifolds, cold air intakes, long-tube headers and custom calibrations from DiabloSport.

After the first round of modifications both cars hit the Dynojet rollers in the Horsepower Wars shop to decide a horsepower winner. With the bolt-ons installed, the Mustang jumped up from 356 to 402 horsepower at the wheels, while the Camaro moved up from 408 to 418 horsepower at the wheels.

“I guessed that the Mustang would make 402 rear-wheel horsepower before we started doing any pulls and that’s exactly what it made,” Brian exclaimed. “It was a great gain and whooped the Camaro as far as return on investment.”

While the Mustang’s Coyote engine definitely responded better to the $5K mods than the Camaro’s LS, it wasn’t quite enough to take the category. The Camaro only moved up to 418 horsepower at the wheels, but that was plenty to take the win by 16 ponies, which earned the SS two Pony Wars points.

Drag Strip

With the Camaro running deep into the 12s and the Mustang just dipping below the 13s in stock form, this would obviously be a challenge. The cars were now more closely matched, but that didn’t translate to the 1,320, and that seemed to come down to the transmissions. The Camaro shifted briskly and accurately in manual mode using the paddles – putting the power down through its Mickey Thompson tires and the result was an 11.98 at 114.86 mph.

Taking their newfound power to the drag strip, the two pony cars battled it out, but the Camaro held a decided advantage with a best run of 11.98 at at 114.86 mph, while the Mustang could only muster a 12.41 at 112.78 mph.

Meanwhile, the Mustang wouldn’t shift accurately in manual mode, and it served up its best performances self shifting, though it seemed to shift short of the Coyote engine’s high-strung power peak. In the end, it shaved off more e.t. with its mods, picking a few tenths, but its 12.41 at 112.78 mph was no match for the Camaro, which took home three points in this round.

“The Mustang picked up a lot from stock at the drag strip, but I really expected more. I feel like we saw the torque converter change, but not the nearly 50 rear-wheel horsepower we gained on the dyno,” Brian confessed. “The cars are only 16 horses apart and within 50 pounds of each other and I expect that to translate to a tenth split, not a half-second split. The trap speed was close, as the Mustang ran a best of 112 mph and the Camaro ran a best of 114, so that is about right, but the e.t. just wasn’t there.”

Road Course

Just as with our baseline testing, we turned to experienced drivers Drake Kemper and Rob Krider to get the most out of our pony cars on the Buttonwillow road course, but this time the track ran in a different configuration for the Speed District open track day. In addition, we used some new timing equipment this time, testing out the brand-new Racepak Vantage CL1 Track Day Package (more on this in a later story). The on-track action provided yet another twist to the story. In the initial testing, the Camaro — sporting lighter weight and an adaptive suspension — barely edged the analog-suspended Mustang by a second, so it seemed to have an advantage.

While Camaro and Mustang received some suspension upgrades, from BMR Suspension and Steeda respectively, those enhancements focused on the rear suspension to enhance traction at the drag strip. However, it turned out that the adjustable rear dampers added to the Mustang’s IRS might just have been enough to push it ahead of the high-tech Camaro. The drivers immediately noticed the improved control, while bemoaning the unchanged front suspension dynamics.

Drivers Drake Kemper (left) and Rob Krider (right) took the freshly modded pony cars around the road course to see how the changes impacted their lap times. It turned out that the Mustang’s suspension upgrades and improved power were enough to overcome the Camaro’s baseline advantage. The drivers were pleased by the improved control in the Mustang’s rear suspension, which yielded a brisk 2:00.59-minute lap, while the Camaro wasn’t too far behind at 2:00.85 minutes.

The seemingly outmatched Mustang rose up to run a 2:00.59 lap, while the Camaro was hot on its heels thanks to a 2:00.85 run, which gave the Mustang three Pony Cars points.

“I thought the Mustang would come out on top here since the dyno and drags didn’t show the upgrades,” Brian explained. “And the car didn’t disappoint. Both cars were within tenths of seconds of each other and the Mustang came away with the ‘W,’ putting both cars within one point of each other at the end of $5K.

Big thanks to Speed District for hosting us! The crew holds a number of open track day events in SoCal (and other locations) that are ideal for enthusiasts with street cars like ours, looking to have a little weekend fun.

Final Tally

Given the Camaro’s impressive baseline performances, the Chevy loyalist might have seen an easy path to victory, but the underdog Mustang made some impressive strides after $5,000 in Summit Racing mods. In the end, the Camaro is in the lead with five points, while the Mustang is in striking distance with four points.

That sets the stage for a dramatic finish as we really ramp up these two cars with $15,000 in Summit Racing mods, which will include a ProCharger D-1X supercharger on both cars. In this phase of the competition, we expect some huge leaps in performance in most every phase of the competition — braking, chassis dyno, drag racing, and road racing.

With the $5K results in the books, Camaro holds the lead with five Pony Wars points, while the Mustang clocked in with four points. With nine more points on the line in the $15K competitions, this is anyone’s game, so keep following along to see how it all plays out.

“With boost it is really going to be a battle. We know Coyotes love boost, but with the mods going into the Camaro with camshaft changes and ported heads, I have a feeling it is going to be close. If anything, the Camaro will fight traction at the drag strip because of the raw torque which may help the Mustang with its ‘peaky’ powerband,” Brian predicted. “The road course is tricky because both cars are going to have way more horsepower than the tires and possibly the braking systems can handle. I expect the Mustang to take the cake here because of the suspension mods.”

Because it’s so close, the team leaders are both hopeful their machines can come away with the inaugural Pony Wars victory, but they are well aware that the competition will be tough.

$5K Camaro Mods

ATI torque converter (PN 708350; $1,199)

BMR Suspension Rear Cradle lock-out kit (PN BK063; $359.95)

DiabloSport InTune i3 Platinum handheld tuner (PN 8245; $379.9)

E3 Ignition spark plugs (PN E3.74; $0.00)

EPIC brake pads (PN EC3F / EC3R; $0.00)

Holley Performance Products Intech cold air intake (PN 223-01; $349.95)

Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S drag radials P275/40R20 (PN 3401; $0.00)

MSD Performance Atomic Airforce Intake Manifold LT1 (PN 2700; $1,179.95)

Royal Purple 5W30 engine oil and extended life oil filter (PN 36530 / 10-48; $0.00)

Texas Speed & Performance 1 7/8-inch stainless steel headers with high-flow cats (PN 25-TSPG6304HCAT-178 ; $849.95)

Toyo R888R tires (PN 104400 fronts; $0.00 / PN 104150 rears; $0.00)


*EPIC brake pads, Royal Purple fluids, Mickey Thompson drag radials, Toyo R888R tires, and E3 ignition components not included.

“I will admit to being nervous about how the $5K competition progressed. Given the inherent power and suspension advantages of the Camaro, I worked with the crew at Evolution Performance and Steeda developing a plan to improve the car’s performance, specifically on the dyno and drag strip. It made some solid gains there, but didn’t win, so I was really concerned,” Steve confessed. “However, after the Mustang pulled an upset in the braking and road-course categories, I am feeling pretty confident heading into the $15K. Coyotes love boost and we are going to lean on that advantage in the next phase of the competition.”

Carrying a lead into the next round of competition, the Camaro team is feeling pretty confident.

“For the $15K portion, I’m confident that the Camaro will make some serious power and beat the Mustang on the dyno and drag strip. With a forged short-block, ported heads, and a cam, the sky is the limit with our LT,” Chase predicted. “The real restriction will be the fuel system. While we upgraded it to the LT4 components, it will still be the main limiting factor in how much power we produce. It would have been different if we were allowed to run water/meth; but with the rules the way they are, I think it will be very close. I still believe the Camaro has the edge. My hat’s off to the Mustang, though, Steve put together a potent combination that will be hard to beat.”

$5K Mustang Mods

BBK Performance 1 7/8-inch long-tube headers in polished silver ceramic (PN 18560; $649.99)

• BBK Performance high-flow performance mid-pipe w/ catalytic converters (PN 1816; $429.99)

• BBK Performance O2 harnesses and hardware kit (PN 16332; $59.99)

DiabloSport inTune i3 handheld tuner (PN 401345; $379)

E3 Ignition spark plugs (PN E3.74; $0.00)

EPIC brake pads (PN EF3F fronts / PN EF3R rears; $0.00)

Ford Performance Parts GT350 intake manifold (PN M-9424-M52; $1,086.99)

• Ford Performance Parts GT350 cold air intake and 87mm throttle body (PN M-9603-M50; $549)

• Ford Performance Parts 3.55 ring and pinion set (PN M-4209-88355A; $189.99)

Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S drag radials P275/40R20 (PN 3401; $0.00)

Reische Performance GEN2 170-degree performance thermostat (PN FORD-50; $57)

Royal Purple 5W20 engine oil, extended life oil filter and gear oil (PN 20-500; $0.00)

Steeda S550 Mustang adjustable differential bushing insert system (PN 555-4443; $99.95)

• Steeda S550 differential bushing bolt upgrade kit (PN 555-4448; $29.95)

• Steeda Pro Action adjustable rear shocks (PN 555-8156; $458.90)

TCI Automotive 6R80 lock-up torque converter (PN 457010; $998.97)

Toyo R888R tires (PN 104400 fronts; $0.00 / PN 104150 rears; $0.00)

Total: $4,989.68*

*EPIC brake pads, Royal Purple fluids, Mickey Thompson drag radials, Toyo R888R tires, and E3 ignition components not included.

To find out how it all shakes out, you’ll want to stay tuned to FordNXT, LSX Magazine, and Horsepower Wars.

This competition is backed by some of the biggest names in the automotive aftermarket — including ARP BoltsBMR SuspensionCOMP CamsCovercraftDiablosportDyna-BattE3 Spark PlugsFragola Performance PartsHolley Performance ProductsMahle North AmericaMahle MotorsportsMickey Thompson Tires & WheelsProCharger SuperchargersPRWQA1 SuspensionRoyal Purple Synthetic OilSummit RacingTCI AutomotiveWeld Racing, and others — and there is still a major battle ahead as we add another $15,000 parts to each car. This is going to be an epic showdown and you won’t want to miss it.

Article Sources

About the author

Steve Turner

Steve Turner brings decades of passion and knowledge in the world of Ford performance, having covered it 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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