It’s the rallying cry of gearheads across time and place, whether you secretly wish you were Brian O’Connor when passing cars in your Mitsubishi Eclipse or Cole Trickle when tossing your 1984 Camaro around town.
In making this list of ways to increase horsepower, we limited it to what most mechanically inclined people with a free weekend, an open garage stall and a few hundred bucks can perform.
Most budding gearheads start here. Upgrading to a cold-air intake is relatively simple and can provide a noticeable power boost.
An engine is essentially an air pump. The more air it takes in, the more power it can put out. Cold-air intakes help eliminate the sharp bends and restrictive air passages inherent to some stock intakes. Abrupt transitions and sharp edges can restrict the air intake creating turbulence, which leads to loss in horsepower.
Increased airflow triggers the computer to add more fuel to the fuel/air mix. More fuel/air equals more horsepower. Cold-air intakes also, as the name implies, draw cooler air from outside the engine compartment. Cooler air is more dense, again resulting in the computer increasing the amount of fuel, helping the engine increase horsepower.
More air in naturally means more air has to exit the engine. While many stock exhaust systems can handle the added air intake, consider upgrading to a catback exhaust or high-flow catalytic converter, especially if you’ve already modified your engine to increase horsepower.
A catback exhaust includes everything installed after the catalytic converter, including the resonator, exhaust piping and muffler. These performance exhausts are typically designed with larger-diameter parts compared to the stock exhaust, allowing greater airflow. Since it includes everything after the catalytic converter, catback exhausts don’t run the risk of disrupting your vehicle’s emissions system by messing around with the catalytic converter.
Even so, a stock catalytic converter can restrict airflow and reduce power, making it a prime target for an upgrade. A high-flow catalytic converter features larger openings on either end, increasing airflow and horsepower.
Sometimes called “chips,” performance tuners plug into the diagnostic port. They modify the fuel and timing maps to increase performance, typically at the expense of fuel economy. Some performance tuners can improve fuel economy, though.
Tuners are especially popular among diesel owners for performing engine tuning. They’re about the simplest upgrade to install available on the market.
If your engine is equipped with a turbocharger or supercharger, it arrived from the factory to deliver a preset amount of boost, measured in psi. Installing a boost controller allows you to adjust the boost level produced in the intake manifold, potentially causing an increase in horsepower. It’s a good idea to install a boost gauge as well so you don’t overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to increase boost no more than 15-20 percent more than the factory setting.
Bear in mind that increasing boost too much will damage your engine. Do your research, be careful and consider reaching out to a professional for guidance.
All this added horsepower and heat can invite engine wear and harmful deposits if your oil isn’t up to the challenge. Upgrade to synthetic motor oil. While you’re at it, upgrade to synthetic lubricants throughout your vehicle. They offer improved wear protection and resistance to heat. But they also maximise horsepower due to their ability to reduce friction compared to conventional lubricants. Less friction helps maximise horsepower to the ground.
One final word of advice: performing numbers 1-4 on this list can void your warranty, so check your vehicle owner’s manual and proceed with caution.
Thankfully, your ‘84 Camaro is out of warranty, so happy wrenching.