Driving Class & Seat Time

All the upgrades and performance parts in the world won’t make a lick of difference if you can’t drive your way out of a paper bag. While attending a full-on driving school at a private facility is well out of our preset budget, attending an autocross clinic or a daylong driving instruction often is not. Driving Concepts is a good example; they offer a two-day Advanced Racing and Competition School at Willow Springs Raceway for experienced drivers for $495, as well as one-day High Performance Driving School in your own car for only $395. Alternatively, just search for local autocross events. The typical cost for a single day event is probably $20, so you can get your feet wet and maybe even get free advice from the regulars racers.

Bushings

Not ready to swap out your suspension hard parts for better engineered aftermarket stuff, but want to massively improve your handling? It’s all in the bushings, baby. Energy Suspension carries polyurethane upgrade kits and individual bushings for just about any classic or late-model muscle car, and they’re all very reasonably priced. The main benefit is the increase in hardness on the durometer scale that will greatly reduce flex between suspension components and the chassis versus the original rubber, which is designed to give to increase ride cushiness. We always use them for engine and trans mounts as well, since they decrease power-robbing driveline flex. Secondarily, but also very useful is the fact that polyurethane has a far greater life span under use, so you won’t be doing this swap again anytime soon.

Wheels

Wheels for under $500? They’re out there if you know where to look. Our favorite source for ultra budget-friendly wheels is Summit Racing, since their filtering system will allow you to hone in on exactly what the options are for your platform. They’re mostly in the 15- and 16-inch range, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s always fun to have a set of drag wheels and tires off to the side. Like that classic drag five-spoke look? You can have a set of these hoops (15x8 and 15x4.75) for $489.

Ring-and-Pinion

If you want your car to suddenly feel (and actually be) faster off the line without changing anything else, gears are what you need. It’s simple math here: The gear ratio in your rearend needs to correspond to the rpm range your engine has been tailored toward. For example, if your chosen combo of parts is designed for the ever-popular 1,500- to 6,500-rpm range, to make the most of the altered power curve you need a ratio that will allow your engine to climb rpm more quickly. Some 3.00 cogs will get there eventually, but 3.50s will get there much faster, and that’s a difference you’ll feel in your seat and see reflected in your e.t.’s. Ring-and-pinion sets are fairly cheap, and installation really shouldn’t cost more than $150 or so.

Exhaust/Headers

To stay under $500, you may have to choose one or the other here, but either option will yield positive results. For exhaust, DIY prebent kits are the way to go. In the July ’12 issue we put a sweet 2½-inch mandrel-bent stainless steel header-back kit from Flowmaster complete with Super 44 mufflers on Project EcoNova; total price of the kit was a budget-friendly $483. Kits like that will not only yield amazing sound, but exhaust flow that will support upward of 600 hp. Headers are a no-brainer for any performance engine. Hedman, Hooker, Summit Racing, and Doug’s all have multiple offerings well under $500 that open the corked airflow and free up horsepower and torque you didn’t even know you had.