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6 Cars That Make Lots of Horsepower With Simple Modifications

Cars that will actually respond to all those bolt-ons you ordered off the Internet… and still be reliable.
Chris D'Alessandro
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Ah, the pursuit of ever-more horsepower. It’s both the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. Except for credit card debt, of course. It’s only a cause of that particular problem.

But if you’re the kind of person who lusts for the glory of being witnessed, shiny and chrome on the Fury Road; horsepower is the only solution. Minimum payments be damned.

It’s not difficult to come by high-horsepower cars these days. We’re in an age where a small-town dentist can afford to walk into a dealership on any day of the week and leave with at least 500 horsepower—700 if he’s willing to fill out an order form and wait at least a few weeks.

In any other decade, except the one we’re living in, those are insane numbers, reserved for only the most expensive, exotic cars… or the most heavily modified.

But let’s say you’re not Mr. Dentist who wants to buy your 500+ horsepower beast off-the-shelf. Suppose you’d like to have some fun tinkering around with a car to build up to those numbers over time and maybe (I stress “maybe”) save some money along the way?

Again, there are lots and lots of cars out there that will make big power with enough time and money put into them.

But what if you don’t want to fully rebuild your engine or risk discovering the consequences of “too much boost”? What if you just want to order a few parts off the Internet, take a trip down to your local dyno for a little laptop tuning and call it a day?

If easy horsepower gains are a priority, and if you’re looking for that happy medium between off-the-shelf power and built from the ground up, then these are the cars you should be looking to purchase.

 

Mustang GT (2011 or newer)

We could probably end the article right here. Here’s the only answer you need. It’s the Coca Cola to your whiskey.

Seriously, the Mustang is the Coca Cola of cars. It’s ubiquitous, iconically American, a brand which is synonymous with a product, unbelievably popular and the go-to choice when the occasion calls for it.

There are many great horsepower-makers from the blue oval. But pre-2011, most were wearing a Cobra badge—not necessarily a pony. Cars like the ‘03 – ‘04 Mustang Cobra or ‘07 – ‘09 Shelby GT500, with their screaming superchargers, love to make big horsepower with just few simple modifications. But they hold their value well and good luck finding one with a warranty.

04 Mustang Cobra 500 horsepower club

2011 introduced us to Ford’s 5.0-litre ‘Coyote’ V-8, which presented a major bump in stock power from the 315 horsepower produced by the aged ‘Modular’ 4.6-litre V-8 to a whopping 412 horsepower in 2011. That number grew with newer generations of the 5.0-litre and after 2018, now sits at 460 horsepower.

Which is a lot to start with. However, the 5.0, unlike the old 4.6, really loves to make horsepower. Where making 400 wheel horsepower in a 4.6-powered Mustang GT without the aid of forced induction was a tall order, the 5.0 can achieve 500 horsepower with just a few bolt on modifications and a tune.

Turn to a service like VMP for forced induction and the sky’s the horsepower limit.

For the record, the Mustang II was New Coke.

 

Camaro SS (2010 or newer)

Hey, some people prefer Pepsi. I guess it was cooler in the ‘80s?

The Camaro SS is a great horsepower gain machine for one simple reason. The 6.2-litre LS engine.

The same could be said about C6 and C7 Corvettes and 2004 – 2006 Pontiac GTOs.

Camaro SS 500 horsepower club

Newer variants of the SS’ engine are branded as an “LT” architecture, but a Chevy small block by any other name is still a small block. The engine is still a simple, large displacement, push-rod design. They make mountains of accessible power (about 400 to 455 horsepower as the cars get newer) out of the box. And they’re bullet-proof.

Like the Mustang, add a few simple bolt-ons and a tune, and you’ll begin to tread into the territory of 500 horsepower at the flywheel.  And if you want to modify to your heart’s content, 800 horsepower isn’t out of the question.

 

Dodge Challenger SRT 392 (2011 or newer)

What a surprise, all the new muscle cars like to make horsepower. For the sake of argument let’s just include the Charger in this conversation as well.

And sure, you’re probably saying “just buy the Hellcat if you want more horsepower.” But that would sort of be defeating the point of building horsepower yourself. Plus, you could probably spend about half of what you would for a gently used SRT 392 than you would on a Hellcat.

Dodge Challenger SRT 392

The 6.4-litre Hemi V-8 (aka ‘the 392’) was a big upgrade over the old 6.1-litre Hemi. It added 60 horsepower from 425 to 485, but also made horsepower and torque more readily available in the lower part of the powerband. Which translates to more fun, more often. To achieve that, Chrysler fitted the 6.4 with freer-flowing valve heads—which is good news for modifications. More airflow means you can add more fuel, which means you can achieve more power.

Two or three simple modifications may be enough to send these cars into the 500 horsepower club.

Audi RS3 (2018 or newer)

The Audi RS3 is a pretty quick little bugger out of the box. It makes 394 horsepower from its 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbocharged engine and scoots to 100km/h in under 4 seconds. Nothing to sneeze at.

However, a few simple ECU flashes and some bolt-on mods can push this little Audi into the 500 horsepower world.

Audi RS3

Yeah, yeah. You and your buddy could build a 500-horsepower junkyard Civic in your driveway for less than it costs to buy a stock RS3. But wouldn’t it be nice to own a car that doesn’t smell like oil, cigarettes, and stale fast food? Surely it would be nice to drive a car that doesn’t make you look like you buy all your clothes at Zumiez, right?

Also here’s a 600 horsepower one that does the quarter mile in 9.6 seconds and sounds like a Group B rally car. That’s Dodge Demon fast.

All it took was new turbo internals, an upgraded fuel system and intercooler, and a tuned ECU set up for E85 to achieve those horsepower numbers.

 

BMW M3/M4 (2014 or newer)

All BMW M cars are excellent performance machines, and certainly you’ll find the Interwebs full of tuned examples making big horsepower numbers.

However, this latest generation of M3/M4 seems particularly susceptible to horsepower gains.

Some performance tuners are able to simply dial in an extra 50 horsepower to the Bimmer’s 3.0-litre engine, and with a few bolt-ons, those numbers only get higher. Heck, that particular tuner doesn’t even void the warranty.

Audi RS3

You can thank the S55B30 and S58B30T0 (for 2020) engines for these easy performance gains. Because these high-performance engines are built to withstand high levels of boost from the factory twin-scroll turbochargers (which, even stock push out a maximum of 18 PSI) without failing, you can simply increase boost pressure to achieve higher horsepower. Start adding better airflow, richer fuel, and you’ve got a recipe for many horsepower gains.

Speaking of boost…

 

Toyota Supra (1993 or newer) 

If you’re seriously looking to get your hands on a MKIV Supra, then you’re probably either looking to keep it as original as possible or to go all out and create some 1000 horsepower monster.

Might I suggest a middle road (perhaps for the buyer looking to save a bucket of cash by getting a Japanese Domestic Market car instead of a U.S. spec model)? The 2JZ engine loves to make horsepower—particularly with a single turbo conversion. Add in a little work to the fuel system and some cylinder head tuning. and there would be absolutely nothing wrong with a 500 or 600 horsepower Supra. Honestly, you might enjoy it more.

500 horsepower club

Let’s quickly talk about the new MKV Supra. Like its older brother, it’s also shaping up to be a car which makes easily tunable power gains.

Obviously, and controversially, the 2020 Supra is not powered by a variation or evolution of the infamous Toyota 2JZ VVTI engine. It is, however, powered by a cousin of the same engine found in the M3—the B58B30C.

While not as powerful out of the box as the S55B30, the “B58” (as it’s commonly known) is arguably as tunable as the 2JZ.

2020 Supra owners quickly discovered that simple modifications like downpipes and tunes could add up to an additional 100 horsepower. With more serious mods like bigger turbochargers, owners didn’t have any trouble breaking  over 600 horsepower.

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