To kick off Project Dark Horse, our '04 Ford F-150, we'll show you how we squeezed 30 more horsepower out of its 5.4L 3V Triton V-8 with a simple bolt-on header and exhaust installation. Since the truck is still under warranty, it had to be a street-legal system, so we decided to work with the performance pros at JBA Headers and Bassani. First, we contacted Mark Mathews at JBA, who set us up with Ed Howard at the JBA Performance Center in San Diego. The center is a full-service retail parts and installation facility with a Dynomax chassis dyno that does everything from simple bolt-ons to race performance work.

Mark set us up with a set of stainless steel Cat4ward headers (PN 1676S) with the optional high-temp JBA titanium ceramic coating. Like all JBA products, the headers are smog-legal in all 50 states and are covered by JBA's limited lifetime warranty. They feature patented technology like JBA Firecone merge collectors, 1 1/2-inch mandrel-bent 409 stainless steel primary tubes, JBA sealing domes, and 3/8-inch-thick mandrel-bent flanges.

The headers are direct bolt-ons with no welding or modification required; however, for this application, we recommend using a lift (or at least, large-base jackstands and a floor jack), and plan on spending a full day doing the swap. It took Ed six hours. Next, we visited Bassani Xhaust in Anaheim, California, for one of its Lightning-style after-cat exhaust systems. However, after Ara Trujillo removed the giant OE muffler to install the exhaust, he found it was too long for our standard cab shortbed, so he and Darryl Bassani himself prototyped a new system on our truck. By the time you read this, they'll have a part number for that system, too.

The system includes a twin-outlet, stainless steel muffler with polished tips, aluminized stainless steel connector pipes, gasketless ball and socket connections, stainless steel band clamps, new hangers, and detailed instructions. The exhaust is extremely easy to install, and of course, it's also legal in all 50 states, will not affect factory warranty or emissions standards, and is backed by a limited lifetime warranty. All that remained was to see what kind of performance gain we got by doing a dyno run at Superior Automotive in Anaheim. However, there was a minor glitch. The factory speed limiter prevented us from making a full powerband run; it automatically shut the engine down at about 90 mph.

The cure was simple. Shawn Ellis of SoCal Tuning & Performance came in and changed the speed limiter to 120 mph with a U7151 Predator tuning flash programmer. (See sidebar.)

With that problem fixed, Joe Jill, Jr. ran the truck again and came up with some very impressive numbers. The truck had gone from a baseline of 206.1 hp and 274.7 lb-ft of torque to 235.7 hp and 300.1 lb-ft of torque, substantially increasing power for passing and towing. Follow the photos to see how simple it is to put 30 more ponies to the pavement with a bolt-on exhaust system.