When it comes to making horsepower, airflow is the ultimate deciding factor in how much an engine will eventually produce. While other aspects such as displacement, RPM and compression ratio can influence power production, a bottle neck that restricts air flow anywhere in the system — whether on the intake or exhaust side — will prohibit even the largest of motors from making respectable power.
It may sound cliche, but an engine is just a glorified air pump (albeit an awesome, explosion-powered one we couldn’t live without). And while improving the rate of air flow through an engine is a tradition as old as the car itself, so is shoehorning gigantic motors into platforms that they probably probably shouldn’t be in — it’s called hot rodding.
Sometimes, however, those two things create a juxtaposition – cramming a big motor into a tight area might be great for a vehicle’s power-to-weight ratio, but it drastically limits the real estate available to keep the intake and exhaust paths flowing well. That’s where Ultimate Headers comes in.
Ultimate Headers has been specializing in awesome flowing headers in tight spots for almost three years now — in fact, their motto is “Big pipes in tight places.” Recently, a customer brought them a 1939 Hudson with an LSA transplant; the pre-war car was in desperate need of a set of custom headers that could snake their way between the powerful LS and the narrow original frame rails, while still retaining good flow. Jim Veite of Avon, Ohio — the owner of the Hudson — had considered several shops before finally finding Ultimate Headers, and it’s a good thing he did.
“Had the owner not found us, he would have spent $2,000-3,000 having a set of custom headers made,” said Jim Browning, the founder of Ultimate Headers and Corsa Performance Exhaust. “In addition, he would have lost 30-40 horsepower because of the way they would have had to build the custom headers.”
According to Browning, the specific reason that they would have made less power is because any builder would have had to use substantially smaller diameter piping in order to create the drastic bends needed to clear the engine and chassis.
“The smaller tubing allows you to run a tighter radius on the tube, but it also necks things further down on the bends” Browning said. “On top of that, the tubing wouldn’t have been running perpendicular to the port and consequently you lose the flow.”
Browning added that Ultimate’s headers actually use cast bends to prevent any narrowing of the pipe due to bending it. Many of their applications utilize these bends directly off the exhaust port in order to provide as much flow and strength as possible right out of the gate.
“We use the cast elbows for bends that are too extreme for tubes to be bent without fracturing,” Browning said. “The wall thickness is very uniform, there is no thinning at all like what you would see with a bent tube.”
The headers started life as just a pair of polished cast flanges, cast bends and 1 7/8-inch 321 stainless steel tubing. While many header companies use stainless steel, very few companies besides Ultimate Headers use 321 for headers.
“We’re the first and only one that have made 321 stainless our standard material,” Browning said. “In all honestly, probably 75 percent of our customers would never need that additional strength, but we don’t know how they’ll be used, so we make them the best we know how — in spite of the cost — and offer a lifetime warranty on them.”
Ultimate began the search for a set of headers that would not only fit the old Hudson, but would allow them to clear the body and frame – all while retaining flow much better than anything else that would have been fabricated with just a 90-degree bend directly off the head. The result is a header that sacrificed almost nothing for its compact design.
Browning found that a set of the company’s off-the-shelf headers, designed for swapping an LS into a first-gen Camaro, actually fit the project car in a way that would make it seem as if they were specifically designed for the Hudson.
“We tested the engine on the dyno with both a set of standard headers and the set we put on the car,” Browning said. “We only lost two horses from the dyno headers to the ones we built, which is pretty much negligible.”
Not only did the headers Ultimate built sacrifice arguably nothing in the way of performance, they also did so for substantially cheaper than what a set of custom headers from a fabricator would have cost — which is more than just a win-win in our book.
The Hudson will not only sport a set of tubes from Ultimate Headers, it will also ride on a custom Kugel independent front suspension setup that will see it handling and stopping like a brand new car.
Add an LSA to that combination and you’ve got a good recipe for one of the coolest pre-war cars around. We can’t wait to see the project finished and hear the snarl that LSA makes through the set of Ultimate Headers pipes.