Hot Pipes

Dec 3, 2009

Exhaust upgrades have been a staple since the early days of hot rods. Then, it was quickly determined that better pipes meant more power. Not long after that, those new pipes were made better looking and the aftermarket exhaust industry started blowing smoke.

Adding a more effective and better looking exhaust is still right up there next to new wheels in the upgrade business. So we checked in with a number of manufacturers on their product and how they appeal to the restyling marketplace.

Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.- based MagnaFlow Performance Exhaust’s Robert Wilson backed up our thoughts by saying, “For most enthusiasts out there, one of the first modifications to their newly acquired vehicle is an aftermarket exhaust.”

Smokin’ looks

The first of the two most popular areas are looks. At Corsa Performance Exhausts, Berea, Ohio, Ed “Blake” Burgy says, “All systems are 304 stainless steel construction with highly polished 304 stainless steel tips that look like jewelry for your car. Our exhaust systems are designed to look and stay that way.”

Bill Shutt of DynoMax Performance Exhaust, Monroe, Mich., says, “When we’re creating the system, one of the things we pay particular attention to is the tip. We try to compliment the car or truck. It makes the car look a little more aggressive. With a performance system you want it looking a little more aggressive.”

Mark Fowler of Billy Boat Performance Exhaust, Phoenix, says, that “99% of our systems use larger-than-stock tips that are manufactured out of T304 stainless steel and then hand polished for a look like no other. We also have some very unique tips designed for certain applications.”

And at Stainless Works, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Geoff Masters says, his company “normally provides a couple of tip options for every production vehicle exhaust system. In addition, we offer dozens of tip configurations for our customers, who can always choose their own tips from these offerings for production systems or as add-ons/replacements to their current vehicle. All our tips are polished 304 stainless steel, lifetime guaranteed.”

“Tips are a critical part of our exhausts systems, because a well designed system should be well tucked from view with the key exception of the polished tips.”

Stainless Works goes beyond just tips and systems, making stainless steel headers, too. Masters described that product line with, “stainless steel headers and exhaust systems made from 304 stainless mandrel-bent tubing and TIG (tungsten inert gas) welded, well known for their fine looks and quality.”

Sound bites

On the other, equally important subject of sound, Masters sums up the market with, “Most performance enthusiasts want to have a bit of “raspiness” from their exhaust system. That is, they want to hear the deep sound when they press the pedal. They don’t want that ear-splitting drone caused by many poorly designed tin can mufflers.”

“Leaving large volumes of empty space in a muffler without proper baffling, louvering or packing of tubes will cause the dreaded drone. -¦Simply reducing the tubing diameter inside a muffler will soften the sound at the exit of the exhaust system.

“Some customers prefer a milder tone that still provides a performance boost while maintaining a soft-sound cabin environment. This is commonly requested by those who drive their vehicles on a daily basis.”

DynoMax’s Shutt points out that “sound, first of all, is very subjective. We have our Super Turbo and it’s kind of mellow. It’s an entry-level system.” And MagnaFlow’s Wilson adds, “When it comes to sound quality, all MagnaFlow systems offer our signature smooth, deep tone.”

Fowler, of Billy Boat, notes that, “one thing that we do [differently] from other manufactures is that we have no universal mufflers. A great amount of time is spent designing the muffler for each system to give it a nice, deep exhaust note that is louder than stock.”

One of the more distinctive-sounding systems on the market today is from Corsa, where Burgy says, “Sound really depends on how much pedal you give it. The more throttle, the more sound. We are unique in the industry by offering not only different sound levels in our exhaust systems.”

By way of example, Burgy explains: “Touring – a mellow, sort of European sound; Sport/Pace – a smooth, aggressive, V8 muscle car sound; and for Corvettes –  the Xtreme [that is] deeper, louder, more aggressive than Sport, but not obnoxious. And no matter what sound level you go for outside your vehicle, all systems feature our patented Reflective Sound cancellation technology that keeps the vehicle interior comfortable and drone free.”

A feminine touch

And if you’ve ever wondered whether women have a sound preference, we weren’t afraid of asking.

Says Fowler: “While you might find this surprising, we see that- more often than you would think – the women are the ones looking for more sound than the guys are.”

Shutt notes that his company’s Super Turbo “would be the product if we would market strictly to women. We have our Ultra Flo, and that product is a straight-through design. It’s not offensive. It’s a nice roaring tone.”

Adds Burgy: “Many women tend to like the more aggressive exterior sound (get some deep bass in there) as long as it isn’t loud inside the vehicle. In general they really dislike any kind of interior drone or resonance and seem to be very sensitive to the interior sound quality of a vehicle. That’s really what we do for any enthusiast, give them all the great sound outside and none of the interior noise or drone.”

Masters treads lightly and says, “If I can characterize this group without repercussions, I would say that most women prefer the quieter cabin sound, which provides an environment for improved communications. Most women prefer and purchase chambered mufflers for their systems. But, then again, there are real performance enthusiasts out there that are women.”

More MPGs?

An area almost as touchy as women’s preferences is mileage. Can a performance system actually deliver more MPG? Burgy has an obvious answer with, “Sure, if you can keep your foot off of the pedal once you have all that great exhaust sound to hear along with some extra horsepower.”

“Your average driver won’t always notice the increase in fuel mileage due to their various driving conditions and habits,” Burgy continues, “but we have gotten back many calls and letters from customers, especially those towing trailers and boats, about the increases they’ve seen out on the highway.”

Fowler warns that increasing fuel mileage from a performance exhaust system is kind of a tricky issue.

“What I usually tell someone that asks,” says Fowler, “is that if you were to drive the vehicle the same way before and after the installation, then you will almost always see a slight increase [in mileage]. However, you have to remind them that they just installed a performance exhaust system for a couple reasons: sound and performance. Most of the time a customer’s right foot will get a little heavier, as they like to feel the increase in power and hear the added sound.”

Masters nails it down a little more with, “Better exhaust system efficiency always means improved gas mileage for a vehicle. Customers who have installed our systems are coming to us and telling us that they are getting up to 10% or more improvements in gas mileage, especially with a re-tune.”

Offering a caveat, Shutt says, “Yes, but you have to be careful how you present that. All of these will reduce backflow in the system. However, if you like the way that system sounds you may not see better mileage.”

MagnaFlow’s Wilson says, “According to our customers, they have also seen an increase in MPG with the addition of one of our systems (contingent on similar driving styles and conditions).”

‘Click here’ to listen

Shopping new exhaust systems is made easier with the addition of sound bites on the websites of manufacturers. Potential customers can hear how they sound.

We asked who has those sounds available.

“We do have sound bites for a lot of our systems,” Shutt says. But maybe more importantly, DynoMax brings a Chevy 502 big block to car and truck shows. There, their people test various mufflers live for showgoers. That was being included on the firm’s website in mid-August.

About Corsa’s website presentation, Burgy says, “Yes, we sure do, and we’ve even started going the extra mile now of posting up a lot of videos shot both outside and inside the vehicle so customers can get a really good idea of what Corsa has to offer.”

At Stainless Steel, Masters says, the company is “working on our website to add pictures first and then sounds to aid customers in making better-informed decisions.”

“In addition to pictures and sounds,” he adds, “the third thing that customers often want is a before/after set of dyno runs to provide validation of performance figures for our systems. This is especially true for those who are also purchasing headers for their vehicles.”

Wilson tells us, “We’re constantly updating our website with new application sound clips and dyno charts.” And Billy Boat’s Fowler says, “Yes, we have both sound clips and photos of many of our systems on our website.”

Built to perform

And if there are more MPGs to be had, is there more true power available, as well? Fowler says, “All Billy Boat Performance Exhaust systems are dyno tested to get the most added power possible.

Burgy says, “his company’s “straight-through, non-restrictive design makes Corsa Performance exhausts perfect for freeing up additional horsepower and torque on any vehicle. If there is performance to be gained we’ll get it. After all, performance is our middle name.”

Masters agrees: “Without question our systems deliver improved performance with more torque and horsepower through the entire power curve. As noted, we frequently demonstrate this on vehicles with before and after dyno runs. These are available on our website, as well.”

Shutt says, “A lot of our systems are designed for power. Our six-cylinder Mustang system can increase horsepower by 26%.” And Wilson adds that performance “is easy at MagnaFlow; if it doesn’t make power, we don’t release it to the public.”

For our gut check question we asked, “Does sound mean more power?” Burgy told us, “Well, sound sure helps the overall ‘feel’ of the vehicle; but just because an exhaust is louder doesn’t always mean it makes more power. The power really comes from freeing up the exhaust stream, so if you can do that and still control the sound level, so much the better.”

Shutt doesn’t think that sound and power necessarily go hand in hand: “No, it doesn’t,” he says, pointing out how DynoMax products are engineered to improve exhaust flow, maximize power and reduce backpressure.

Fowler says, “Power does generally make sound; however, we have learned through years of testing to somewhat leash the sound while not hindering the performance.”

Masters offers a different answer: “Usually, this is true. Oftentimes the improved flow of a new set of Stainless Works headers and larger exhaust system will deliver a more aggressive sound to go along with the better flow. Power and performance will increase to a point.”

Masters goes on to tell us a very important fact, “The next step is to maximize performance in adding an improved flowing air cleaner and then getting the motor re-tuned to re-adjust air/fuel mixtures and timing to enable full use of the new performance exhaust products.” And that, of course, means more up and side selling.

Like we said, a new exhaust system or component is one of the more popular upgrades a car owner can make. And it often leads to other changes to get the most bang for the buck for both you and your customer.