By on July 21, 2009

Before the days of anti-smog legislation and catalytic converters, anyone looking for more power in their ride needed a few tools, access to a drag strip and intimate knowledge of their carburetor. This concept lives on today, but the names and faces changed: Hot-Rodders are now Tuners. Here’s an idea: let’s see how much power is left on the table after a Tuner gets their hands on a fuel-injected, late-model performance machine. But first a word from our hacker . . .

SCT is one of the larger software and support providers. Their work is suitable for a farrago of fuel-injected American vehicles. Their plug-and-play tuners for 1996 and newer vehicles is ideal for your average horsepower junky seeking a quick fix. Custom packages installed on your race-ready laptop are also yours for the asking. Between these options lies a one shot, custom-tune performed by an SCT licensed dyno tuner specifically for your vehicle. Bingo.

My dyno shop of choice: Henderson Performance Technologies in New Braunfels, TX. The owner, Corey Henderson, offers a wide selection of SCT products, two dynos, a clean shop, years of EFI tuning know-how and a Mechanical Engineering degree. Safe!

TTAC’s test car: a Lincoln Mark VIII LSC. Originally, the American whip’s V8 made 290 hp and 290 lb·ft of torque at the flywheel. That equates to 232/232 at the rear wheels, using the universally accepted 20 percent drive train loss calculation for rear wheel-drive vehicles running automatic transmissions.

And then I started wrenching. I gutted a junkyard Lincoln’s (already large) mass-airflow sensor with a Dremel. I also installed headers with a mandrel bent 2.5″ diameter dual exhaust. Because FoMoCo’s factory tuning on the Mark VIII’s 32-valve 4.6L V8 was unbelievably fuel heavy and conservative, especially compared to its Mustang Cobra cousin, my shade tree tuning made the Mark VIII feel much faster than stock. I was about to find out by how much.

The baseline dyno pull was first on the agenda. I handed the keys to Corey Henderson, who strapped the big Lincoln on the dyno and spun the rollers. Nothing. Corey dug deep into SCT’s adjustable parameters to lock the transmission into third gear. (A 1:1 transmission ratio is required to accurately measure power to the wheels.) With that hiccup cleared, the Mark VIII managed a respectable 246 hp and 265 lb·ft of torque. That’s a respectable increase, considering the modifications performed are the logical start for almost every late model performance car.

And then we got stuck in, messing around with the (previously untouched) computer. Corey downloaded SCT’s base tune for the Mark VIII, attacking the factory’s air-fuel ratio to remove the lean-to-rich behavior at full throttle. The following dyno pull achieved a peak of 262 hp and 279 lb·ft of torque. More importantly, the Lincoln gained an astounding 20 lb·ft of torque below 3500 rpm. Adding that much twist with an automatic transmission in the way is pretty impressive stuff.

Like any good dyno tuner, Corey started on the ignition curves. He added one degree of ignition timing; the Mark VIII lost one horsepower. Too bad about that, so the previous tune was set in stone. [click to expand]

Actually, no. SCT tunes include engine and transmission tuning at high and low throttle inputs, cooling fan settings and a blizzard of engine parameters wholly unnecessary for this nearly stock application. Corey kicked in the cooling fans at a lower temperature and adjusted the transmission’s internal “line pressure” to eliminate the soft, lazy up shifts, which makes sense at full throttle, but that’s no small feat for low speed shifting with an aftermarket 2800-stall torque converter.

The end result? Anticlimactic: the Lincoln’s new programming feels slower, since the power curve is both fatter and more linear. But that’s a good thing. While originally engineered for 91 octane gas, the Mark VIII now exploits 93 octane, but still runs effortlessly on regular (87 octane) fuel. The aforementioned increase in low-end torque means top gear passing requires less throttle input, while the transmission’s programming overcomes the drag-strip worthy converter for stock levels of fuel economy, even in rev-inducing bumper to bumper traffic.

Considering the Mark Series of the 1970s had flat, torque-rich power bands and Cadillac-killing swiftness in their transmissions, perhaps SCT made my Mark VIII more of a Lincoln and less of a MK-Zephyr. Color me impressed.

If you’re thinking that SCT covers all the bases, you’re only partially right. On the Internet or near the Interstate, there are SCT approved Tuner Shops aplenty. But they aren’t equal: a human is still responsible for SCT’s actions.  Take the plunge without fear, but check your model-specific car forum for the right questions to ask a shop. Pick your Tuner wisely for the most bang for your buck.

[Henderson Performance Technologies provided their Dyno Tuning services at a discount.]

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28 Comments on “Product Review: SCT Dyno Tuner...”


  • avatar
    OffCamber

    Nice write up Sajeev. thanks.

  • avatar
    NN

    That Lincoln’s kinda sexy

  • avatar
    niky

    Most experienced tuners are relatively safe… maximum power from ignition and fuel tuning usually comes long before you reach the stage where your car becomes a detonating, jerky, boggy mess.

    Sounds like a great service… is SCT just a reflash? How much did it cost you, all in?

  • avatar
    CamaroKid

    If I read this right

    So you made a bunch of minor mechanical changes and picked up some power on the stock ECM… Then you changed the ECM and made only 16HP…

    Yup, your experience matches the experience of “tuners” all over the planet… The only difference is you did this on a dyno so you could prove that these chips more often then not achieve nothing. (other then lightening your wallet)

  • avatar
    GS650G

    How many kids out there slap a cold air intake and a bumble bee muffler on their civic and claim to double the power output?

    The real results are only confirmed by stopwatches and dynos, nothing else.

    A friend went the chip route with his A4, did a few other mods and then decided to go all the way with new turbos, exhaust, etc. Lots of money and time, the end result was a car that was quirky, hard on gas and still not as quick as a viper or a vette. In the end nothing beats displacement.

  • avatar
    Power6

    Love the Mark VIII Sajeev. I park next to one of these most every day here at work, and I was just thinking the other day, this was the last truly impressive Lincoln. When the Mark VIII came out it was a big deal. The old guys who bought them were instantly cool. I guess it was the last hurrah for big coupes and Ford really had it with that Mark.

    I guess the LS was a big deal too. It really looked like Lincoln was heading the right way back then. They seemed to have lost their way.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    “Corey kicked in the cooling fans at a lower temperature” – Why?

    “While originally engineered for 91 octane gas, the Mark VIII now exploits 93 octane” – What do you mean ‘now exploits’? The Mark VIII already has knock sensors and the ability to advance and retard timing in response.

  • avatar
    Power6

    Then you changed the ECM and made only 16HP…

    Yup, your experience matches the experience of “tuners” all over the planet… The only difference is you did this on a dyno so you could prove that these chips more often then not achieve nothing. (other then lightening your wallet)

    I think that is a pretty good result, 16hp is not “nothing”. Seems like too many out there expect miracles, this stuff isn’t cheap to mess with and needs to be done right. If modest gains like this aren’t acceptable one should just save their money and not bother to tune.

    A friend went the chip route with his A4, did a few other mods and then decided to go all the way with new turbos, exhaust, etc. Lots of money and time, the end result was a car that was quirky, hard on gas and still not as quick as a viper or a vette. In the end nothing beats displacement.

    I don’t think that is a good argument for “displacement” especially when one considers that turbocharged cars are among the easiest to tune for more power in a conservative manner. However I take your point that trying to build an A4 up to be as quick as a ‘Vette is probably not worth it, and involves more drivability compromises than one would think.

    In my experience, I have found it is better to remain conservative with this “tuning” stuff. The initial mods usually are inexpensive, highly beneficial, and compromise free. It is the quest for “more” that leads one to greater expense with diminishing returns and reliability issues. If one has some self control, you can have some fun.

    I had a Mopar Stage 2 kit on my SRT-4 for over 4 years. Never bothered to get into any more tweaking than that. A reliable gain of 30hp and way more fun, as long as you can bring yourself to stop there and just enjoy it…

    “Corey kicked in the cooling fans at a lower temperature” – Why?

    Why not? More HP means more heat (that’s what most of the engergy in the gasoline goes to unfortuneately)

    “While originally engineered for 91 octane gas, the Mark VIII now exploits 93 octane” – What do you mean ‘now exploits’? The Mark VIII already has knock sensors and the ability to advance and retard timing in response.

    Every modern car has knock sensors, but the base programming needs to take advantage higher octane fuel in order for one to get any benefit from it. Knock sensors are there to signal the ECM to pull timing if knock is detected from lower octane gas, there is no way to know ahead of time what the knock-resistance is. This is the same reason why you get no benefit by putting 93 in a car tuned for 87 octane.

  • avatar
    86er

    I finally get to see what your Mark VIII looks like, Sajeev! Colour me impressed as well!

  • avatar
    trk2

    Sajeev, I love the color of your Mark, especially since it is the same color as mine! I do have a couple of questions. Did you remove the air silencer as well? Can you share what the cost of such an operation would be (minus the discounts that you mention) for us normal worker bees?

  • avatar
    niky

    Did we miss the 18 hp difference in peak hp and the 20 ft-lb difference in torque at low rpms?

    The reason a good tune like this is worth the money is because it improves power over the entire rev range. An average 15-20 hp gain over the entire powerband with no loss of power anywhere else (as you would typically get with simple bolt-ons) is nothing to sneeze at.

    Of course, typically, a dyno-tune is the last modification you do. After all the intake, throttle-body, intake manifold, MAF, exhaust, cams, port-and-polish, valves, compression, etcetera modifications, you hit it up with a dyno-tune to make everything work nicey-nice with each other.

    A dyno-tune does not a quirky, rough driving car make. It helps make a quirky, rough and poorly sorted car (poorly sorted because the stock ECU has no idea what to do with the mods it’s been given) drive like it came stock-from-the-factory with the mods it has on. If the car runs like shit after a tune, it’s the tuner’s fault for not knowing what the hell he’s doing.

    There’s a reason many tuner houses now package their turbo kits with a piggyback or a rechipped ECU.

    -

    Again… a proper retune is not a pre-packaged “rechip”. It is a comprehensive optimization of the air-fuel and ignition maps for your car and your mods. Anything that claims to be “plug and play” and doesn’t allow on-the-car tuning isn’t worth the money.

  • avatar
    Johnson Schwanz

    My Dad currently owns two Mark VIII’s: a 1996 LSC and a 1997.

    Do you have any videos as to how this thing sounds now?

  • avatar

    niky: Sounds like a great service… is SCT just a reflash?

    Yeah, it just gives the computer a whole new set of parameters to play with.

    —————————
    CamaroKid : If I read this right. So you made a bunch of minor mechanical changes and picked up some power on the stock ECM… Then you changed the ECM and made only 16HP…

    Apparently you missed the 20+ lb-ft of torque at low rpms, no small feat through an automatic. Sure, I could spend a little more for a 75-100 shot of NOS or bought a real performance car, but neither suits my tastes. We can’t all drive Camaros, but now I know that stock automatic LT-1 and LS-1 F-bodies have a little more competition from the little 281 in the Lincoln.

    —————————
    Power6 : I park next to one of these most every day here at work, and I was just thinking the other day, this was the last truly impressive Lincoln. When the Mark VIII came out it was a big deal. The old guys who bought them were instantly cool. I guess it was the last hurrah for big coupes and Ford really had it with that Mark.

    Funny to hear that, because I wanted this car (when new) in high school and I really haven’t grown up. Even if the Lincoln MKS Ecoblast had 600hp, I can never get excited about it’s tall and dorky demeanor.

    —————————
    Nicodemus : “Corey kicked in the cooling fans at a lower temperature” – Why? “While originally engineered for 91 octane gas, the Mark VIII now exploits 93 octane” – What do you mean ‘now exploits’? The Mark VIII already has knock sensors and the ability to advance and retard timing in response.

    It’s already been mentioned (thanks, niky and Power6!) but the Lincoln’s base timing was calibrated for 91 octane, not 93. Knock sensors only come in handy when you use something lower than 91 octane. And having a cooler running engine (slightly) does help in the performance department.

    FWIW: fuel economy didn’t change after the tune. City mileage did change after installing the 2800 stall converter. :)

    —————————
    trk2 : I do have a couple of questions. Did you remove the air silencer as well? Can you share what the cost of such an operation would be (minus the discounts that you mention) for us normal worker bees?

    I removed the silencers (one in the fender, two on the tube) and changed the fuel filter while I was there. The whole cost should be about $500 for the chip (OBD-I car) with software license (SCT specific cost) and dyno time. Your tuner sets rates for shop time and normally wraps it all together, so all I can give is a rough estimate.

    I wouldn’t be shocked if rates for OBD-II cars (1996 and newer) are a little different, because the parts are different. FYI.

  • avatar
    CamaroKid

    When you read this, hidden in the article are several mistakes… First off it appears that Sajeev did not do a baseline dyno run on a stock engine/stock ecm car… He has no idea how much RW-HP the car made before he started…

    Next did he measure the vacuum load across the MAF sensor? It is easy to measure and if it minimal then “hogging it out” bought you nothing.

    Did you sample the vacuum load of the air intake system? If there is a load then significant gains can be had (for cheap) by swapping in a CAI.. If there is no vacuum load in the intake pipe then again you are wasting your time/money.

    Replacing the stock exhaust system is almost always the best place to start (which Sajeev did). Most stock exhaust systems actually generate a specific back pressure number to help the EGR system work. Reducing this back pressure will generate almost all of your gains.

    Sadly with no “stock” baseline we don’t know how much horse power the headers and cat back made… 14 HP seems a little low. (OK a lot low)

    Of course this all comes down to $ vs HP…

    How much did it cost to bolt in the headers and cat back system and how much did you get…

    And how much did it cost for a custom re-tuned chip and what did you get?

    The tuner guys hate that last question… More often then not you are paying well over $600 to pick up 15hp that you could just as easily get from a $30 K&N Air filter or a $100 CAI system

    One more dirty little secret that the Tune guys don’t like to talk about… since about 1995 almost all ECM’s are “self correcting”… “self tuning”… They will sense a 1-2 shift and say “wow that was a little hard” and pull out timing here, Or they will sniff the stock narrow band O2 sensor and pull out all of the extra fuel that the tuner put in… After a couple of weeks of driving your ECM will be very much back to a stockish tune.

    Sadly I’ve even seen some guys with proper back to back dyno sheets that show an extra 20Hp at the wheels that they paid a tuner $600ish to make… And then in the drive to the track the car pulls all of the new tune out of the ECM and the car runs the quarter at exactly the same number it did before the tune.

    There is no quick fix.
    !

  • avatar

    CamaroKid : When you read this, hidden in the article are several mistakes… First off it appears that Sajeev did not do a baseline dyno run on a stock engine/stock ecm car… He has no idea how much RW-HP the car made before he started…

    If you don’t believe in the generally accepted 20% drivetrain loss, not much I can do there. WHo cares? I tested a before and after with an SCT tune, and that’s the point of this review.

    Next did he measure the vacuum load across the MAF sensor? It is easy to measure and if it minimal then “hogging it out” bought you nothing.

    Again, not the point of this review. I got a junkyard sensor, hogged it out and liked the different in performance vs. the stock one. Nothing to do with SCT.

    Did you sample the vacuum load of the air intake system? If there is a load then significant gains can be had (for cheap) by swapping in a CAI.. If there is no vacuum load in the intake pipe then again you are wasting your time/money.

    What is that supposed to accomplish? Putting the car on a dyno is the be all and end all to see how much power hits the road. And there’s no better example of terrible bang for the buck than your average CAI on your average car (especially those with NA motors).

    Replacing the stock exhaust system is almost always the best place to start (which Sajeev did). Most stock exhaust systems actually generate a specific back pressure number to help the EGR system work. Reducing this back pressure will generate almost all of your gains.

    Except I gained a whole lot more after an SCT tune. And that power only came from the tune.

    Sadly with no “stock” baseline we don’t know how much horse power the headers and cat back made… 14 HP seems a little low. (OK a lot low)

    Fair enough. Keep in mind this isn’t a new car, the motor has 157k on it. Again, nothing to do with the SCT tune’s numbers before and after.

    One more dirty little secret that the Tune guys don’t like to talk about… since about 1995 almost all ECM’s are “self correcting”… “self tuning”… They will sense a 1-2 shift and say “wow that was a little hard” and pull out timing here, Or they will sniff the stock narrow band O2 sensor and pull out all of the extra fuel that the tuner put in… After a couple of weeks of driving your ECM will be very much back to a stockish tune.

    Sorry but that sounds like a load of bull. I’ve watched 10+ cars (mostly Detroit products) run down the track before and after a “brand name” tune, and they keep it YEARS after getting dyno’d.

  • avatar
    Power6

    One more dirty little secret that the Tune guys don’t like to talk about… since about 1995 almost all ECM’s are “self correcting”… “self tuning”…

    Sounds great to the uninformed. Better off not assuming though, there are message boards for every car these days, no need to assume just log on and start learnin. I think the old Lincoln is EEC-V stuff and not the new style of Torque management so not much worry there.

    Besides, your argument is actually the one made for the *need* for a custom tune. It is that CAI or free-flow Exhaust that the stock tune will compensate for since the program is targeting a torque estimate. A good tune will change the targeted power level, and hence take advantage of the mods.

    15hp that you could just as easily get from a $30 K&N Air filter

    Are you serious? What K&N drop in gets 15hp? Keep in mind any HP gains (more like .15hp) are simply because the K&N doesn’t filter as well. Even still without a tune…see above…

    Or they will sniff the stock narrow band O2 sensor and pull out all of the extra fuel that the tuner put in…

    This is where you really fall down, Narrow band 02′s can’t read ratio, only cross-counts to determine stoich. Though many cars have wide-band now anyways. Again you are arguing your opposing point, they only way to effect the desired fueling etc, and not work against a computer is to change the program which is exactly what a tune does.

    Sadly I’ve even seen some guys with proper back to back dyno sheets that show an extra 20Hp at the wheels that they paid a tuner $600ish to make… And then in the drive to the track the car pulls all of the new tune out of the ECM and the car runs the quarter at exactly the same number it did before the tune.

    This is silly. These guys need to go to a different tuning shop that can program a tune that doesn’t “fall out” so to speak.

    There is no quick fix.

    Of course not. That is why there are companies, such as SCT, putting development money into reverse engineering this stuff, so a competent tuner has the software to do good work. $600 for 15hp is not bad. It costs money to do it right.

    Or you can cheap out and have a $30 red gauze filter and 15 mental hp, that is ok too.

  • avatar
    niky

    A filter does good… but so what? You assume that a person who does retuning will have already done all the simple and cheap modifications and want more.

    As for the ECU relearning around the tuning, it’s a well-known issue for piggybacks, with well-known solutions. Some piggy-backs will use an O2 clamp, others can control O2 sensor outputs onboard. For a reflash, you are already subverting the stock maps and are in no danger of losing the tune.

    If the tuner is unfamiliar with the car and the OBD system, he can make a tune that the car will learn around. But if done properly, the car’s fuel trims will not change drastically.

    I already have the K&N. A full mandrel-bent exhaust. A port and polish. A set of wicked cams, and cam-gears. All the cheap stuff was fun, but the biggest gains… both by the butt and on the dyno and on the track… are from the Unichip Q and the headers. No other non-invasive (I consider cams non-invasive… pistons are another matter), non-destructive (boost) modifications make a bigger difference.

    Of course, my car isn’t anywhere near as quick as… say… a Subaru WRX STi… but as I spent a lot less on it, I couldn’t be happier.

  • avatar
    majo8

    Nice write up.

    Love the MKVIII……I’ve owned two and still have a 97 as my work car. These are the last of the traditional American RWD V-8 full-size personal coupes, and they will likely be collectible some day, especially the LSC models.

    20 or so hp from a SCT tune sounds about right. I’m running a custom canned SCT tune (with CAI ) on my 07 Mustang, and just that mod alone was worth .42 sec on my 1/4 mile time over stock. Not bad for $600 for the cai and tunes. Speed costs money……….

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    “While originally engineered for 91 octane gas, the Mark VIII now exploits 93 octane, but still runs effortlessly on regular (87 octane) fuel.”

    “Knock sensors only come in handy when you use something lower than 91 octane.”

    Is that last one a typo or something? What is the advantage of 93 octane as you see it? and what properties do you think you are exploiting?

  • avatar
    niky

    Uhmmm… advanced timing? High octane allows more ignition advance and potentially more power.

    Even if the thing doesn’t ping on lower gas, an optimum tune will lose a little power when running with gasoline it hasn’t been optimized for. That’s why some cars see no difference or even lose power on higher octane fuel, while some sportscars and tuned engines gain power when running it.

    And coincidentally, this is how we restore power lost due to lower energy density when switching from petrol to propane… a good propane tune will make just as much power as the stock gasoline maps or more… (in my case, much more) since the 98-100+ octane rating of propane allows much more ignition advance than gasoline… the only problem is that the car cannot run the same fuel maps and ignition advance on regular gasoline, so you’ll need an additional ignition controller and switch to maximize gains and driveability on propane for a street car. (most propane systems only include a fuel computer.)

    A good knock sensor is a must if your car is tuned for high octane with an extreme amount of advance… but it’ll depend on how much knocking resistance is inherent in the design.

  • avatar

    Nice to get a look at the Hot Rod Lincoln! I really need to drive a Mark VIII.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    “Uhmmm… advanced timing? High octane allows more ignition advance”

    Wow, you reckon? And what do you suppose is the feedback mechanism for advancing and retarding ignition? Why, it’s the knock sensors!

    Hence my incredulous reaction to Mehta statement?

    “Knock sensors only come in handy when you use something lower than 91 octane.”

    “A good knock sensor is a must if your car is tuned for high octane with an extreme amount of advance…” Absolutely right, nothing worse than fitting a rubbish knock sensor to a car.

  • avatar

    Nicodemus : Wow, you reckon? And what do you suppose is the feedback mechanism for advancing and retarding ignition? Why, it’s the knock sensors! Hence my incredulous reaction to Mehta statement?

    I think you’re forgetting who’s the boss in this equation. No, not me…I’m talking about the engine computer. Knock sensors CANNOT do a damn thing for 93 octane on a car that’s programmed for 91. Raising timing any higher than 91 requires the spark tables to be raised accordingly.

    Again: knock sensors bump timing up and down, but its glass ceiling is the ECU’s spark table.

  • avatar

    Johnson Schwanz : Do you have any videos as to how this thing sounds now?

    I need to buy a video camera for that to happen. But a Mark VIII with headers/exhaust/no intake resonators sounds much too much like the soundtrack to Steve McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang.

  • avatar
    niky

    @Sajeev: Yup. Knock sensors don’t know or care what the octane is, what the engine temperatures are and what timing is set at. All they know is that the engine is knocking (or producing vibrations that feel like knock…) and cause ignition retardation.

    Interesting product for you to look up: J&S Safeguard. It’s an intelligent aftermarket anti-knock system that actually retards your ignition on a per cylinder basis. This allows you to run even closer to the knock threshold safely. I’ve heard some good things about it, but have never had a chance to try it myself… don’t need it because my engine is pretty resistant to knock, as it is.

  • avatar
    amripley

    Gotta say, the Mark VIII is still a great looking car. It’s still visibly a little dated, but the lines to me still looking classic and elegant. This is (arguably) a far better looking car than anything they make today (i.e., the Taurus-twin MKS or badge-engineered poster-boy MKZ.)

  • avatar

    No argument here.

  • avatar

    Are you considering testing multiple SCT tunes in the future to measure the benefits at different settings? They offer some nice touch screen models now that offer some unique tuning capabilities. It’s nice to see the dyno breakdown like this.


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