Over the last few decades, the Ford Barra 4.0 straight-six engine has grown to almost legendary status in many enthusiast circles. It came in both naturally aspirated and turbocharged variants, and made as much as 496 horsepower completely stock. The Ford Barra has also become a favored power plant among many Australian tuners and builders. This is due to its easy availability, rock solid reliability, and monstrous power potential. That’s why today we’re looking at the top Ford Barra upgrades to maximize horsepower and torque.
While it never made it stateside, thousands have been imported over the last few decades. Sadly though, it is exceedingly rare to ever find one on the street. Still, many enthusiasts are comparing the engine with the famed Toyota 2JZ-GTE or the Nissan RB26DETT as one of the best modern inline-six performance engines of the modern era. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a Ford Barra, here’s the basics behind building it.
Ford Barra Upgrade Basics
Ford built the Barra straight-six (or inline-six) engine from the 2002–2016 model years. They primarily put it inside the Ford Falcon, but it found its way into many different Ford Australia vehicles. Additionally, Ford Performance Vehicles (FPV) used a few high-performance variants of the Barra in a few vehicles. During its run, there were 11 different variants of the Ford Barra: Three naturally aspirated versions, two liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)/Autogas variants, and six turbocharged variants.
Of these, the turbocharged Ford Barras are by far the easiest to build and will net the most gains. You can still mod the naturally aspirated and LPG-powered Barras, but the gains usually are not as significant.
From the factory, power varied pretty widely on the Barras. The naturally aspirated versions ran from 182-195 kW (244-266 horsepower). In contrast, the turbo variants made 240-370 kW (322-496 horsepower). Compression ranged from 8.47:1 to 10.3:1 inside the petrol Barras. All engines had a cast iron block with an aluminum head.
The Barra is a dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) style engine with 24-valves (4 valves/cylinder). All versions of the Barra use Variable Camshaft Timing (VCT), but they don’t all use the same version. Early variants used Dual Equal Phase Shifting variable cam timing (DEPS VCT). Later 2005+ Barras got “Dual Independent Phase Shifting variable cam timing” (Di-VCT). Di-VCT allowed for different timing for the exhaust and intake cams, improving performance.
4.0 Barra Power Limits and Supporting Mods
The Barra has proven itself to be extremely reliable over the years, capable of making gobs of horsepower and torque. Many people have compared it with the Toyota 2JZ-GTE or the Nissan RB26DETT due to its knack for making extreme power without needing massive amounts of internal upgrades.
However, the engines are not indestructible and do need a few supporting mods if you plan on building them reliably. Internally, the weakest part of the engine are the connecting rods. When you start turning up the boost and increase torque, typically it’s the rods that are the first to go. Generally, the naturally aspirated rods are good until about 250 kW at the wheels (335 horsepower). The turbocharged rods are generally good until 350 kW at the wheels (475 horsepower).
The next biggest weakness are the valve springs. This is especially prevalent in high-boost applications on older engines that ran less boost stock. Above 10 PSI (15 PSI on 05+), engines can experience valve float, which can lead to some serious issues. One of the easiest ways to rectify this is to upgrade the valve springs to make them stronger and stiffer.
Head studs are also good ideas at higher power levels. Head studs help secure and keep the block and the cylinder head together. When turning up the boost some have experienced issues with heads lifting Studs make sure to keep the engine tight and together.
Besides that, the engine is generally pretty reliable and bulletproof. Depending on power-levels, you’ll need to upgrade the injectors and fuel pump, but otherwise builds have been known to surpass more than 550 kW (675 horsepower) on an otherwise completely stock bottom end.
Top 4 Ford Barra Mods
Our top 4 Ford Barra mods are:
- ECU Tuning
- Exhaust Upgrades
- Intercooler Upgrades
- Turbo Upgrades
Now, let’s get into the top Ford Barra upgrades. Since there are more than 10 different variants of the Barra engine, we’ve made this guide as holistic as possible to cover all the different versions. Importantly, later engines will be more capable of making more horsepower and torque than earlier engines. That’s also true of turbocharged engines compared with naturally aspirated ones. Make sure to check out our Ford Barra engine guide to learn about the differences between all of the different versions and see what applies to your build.
1) Ford Barra ECU Tuning
The first of the Ford Barra upgrades we recommend is ECU Tuning. ECU tuning is a great way to boost horsepower and torque and increase the entire power band. Tuning is by far the easiest way to improve performance without bolt-on modifications, and you can add 10-20% in power just through a new ECU flash.
ECU tuning works on both naturally aspirated and turbocharged Barras. On naturally aspirated engines, tuners can advance ignition timing, increase fuel pressure, and do other adjustments to make things more powerful. The same is true for turbocharged engines, but tuners can also crank up the boost for even more gains.
Generally, power gains will be much larger with turbocharged engines than naturally aspirated engines. The more mods you add the more your tuner can turn up the wick and more power your car will make. If you are naturally aspirated and are considering tuning, you will want to add at least a few bolt-ons to see any real gains, as the stock tune is already relatively aggressive for the stock equipment.
Best ECU Tuners
There are a few different options for ECU tuning. If you have a factory installed Barra (non-swap), some of the biggest names in Australia for tuning are Blue Power Racing Developments and Dyno-Mite Performance.
For stateside Barra owners, you’ll likely be using a standalone ECU to power your swap. Most opt for a Haltech ECU, which can then be custom tuned through a third party tuning device, like HP Tuners. It’s difficult to find U.S. tuners familiar with the Ford Barra; there is, however, an in-depth tuning guide from PCMTec, which covers everything you’ll need to know.
2) Barra Exhaust Upgrades
After tuning, the next Ford Barra upgrade we recommend is improving the exhaust flow through either a downpipe or extractors. On naturally aspirated engines, extractors — known as long-tube headers stateside — are the best exhaust upgrade. Extractors are wider than stock and connect directly to the cylinder head. They also replace or remove the stock catalytic converter. This reduces the amount of back pressure and restriction in the exhaust, which improves torque and horsepower.
On a turbocharged engine, the most important part of the exhaust to upgrade is the downpipe. The downpipe connects directly to the turbo and also contains a catalytic converter. Aftermarket downpipes are larger than stock and also replace or remove the stock catalytic converter.
Typically, for naturally aspirated extractors, you’ll want something in the 1.75”-3.0” range. In contrast, on a turbocharged engine, you’ll want a minimum of 3.0” with a maximum of closer to 4.0”. This sizing will ensure that you have the most possible airflow with the least amount of restriction.
In addition, you can also upgrade the cat-back portion of the exhaust, though this is more for sound than performance. The cat-back is the second-half of the exhaust system, and contains the mufflers and outlets. You won’t gain much horsepower or torque from a cat-back upgrade, but you will see an improved (and much louder) exhaust note. For stateside Barra builds, you’re going to need a custom built downpipe or extractors, as no stateside manufacturers make them and shipping from AU would be prohibitively expensive.
3) Ford Barra Intercooler Upgrade
Next up on our list of Ford Barra upgrades is a larger and better intercooler. This only applies to turbocharged Barras, but it is an absolutely crucial upgrade if you plan on making more horsepower. The stock intercooler is adequate for stock and slightly elevated power levels, but it soon starts to fall off fast. This is especially true with a turbo upgrade.
The purpose of an intercooler is to cool the charged air coming from the turbocharger before it reaches the engine. Turbos create quite a bit of heat both from the exhaust gasses running through them and the compression of air. Hotter air has less oxygen, which means it makes less horsepower. It also leads to higher cylinder pressures and potentially detonation, which can be catastrophic for an engine.
In contrast, colder air is more oxygen-rich, which allows for more horsepower and lower cylinder pressures. This means the engine will be able to produce more horsepower and torque more reliably and safely. Bigger intercoolers work by having a larger core which allows for superior heat reduction.
The stock intercooler is an air-to-air intercooler, meaning it uses ambient air for cooling instead of water like some designs. The best way to improve cooling is to get a larger core with more efficient designs.
For the Ford Barra, some of the most popular intercoolers are the Plazmaman, Jonny Tig, and PWR intercoolers. The Plazaman is a street intercooler, while the JT and PWRs are considered race intercoolers, meaning they can sustain a little more boost pressure and horsepower. All of them are solid upgrades, and your power levels will determine which core is best.
4) Ford Barra Turbo Upgrade
For our final Ford Barra upgrade, we recommend going with a turbo swap. Turbo swaps should only be done after you have already upgraded all of the bolt-ons listed above and have an ECU tuning solution set up. In addition, you will also need larger injectors and a larger fuel pump for increased fueling. You will also want head studs for the block and stiffer and stronger valve springs once you turn up the boost, too.
From the factory, the 240T, 245T, and FPV 270T all used a Garrett GT3582R. The FPV 310T and Ford 325T use an upgraded GT3582R with a bigger compressor wheel, compressor housing, and new wastegate. The Ford 270T used a Garrett GT3576R turbo.
For turbo swaps, the size of your turbo will largely depend on your intended use for the car and your power goals. Generally, larger turbos will produce more peak horsepower, but they will also have significantly more lag and take longer to spool. This makes them great for drag racing when you can launch the vehicle at extreme rpm, but is less ideal on the track or the street when you want more midrange.
In contrast, a smaller turbo wil spool a bit quicker, but will also not be capable of flowing the same amount and won’t make the same peak horsepower — though your power band will improve. For street cars, smaller turbos with a bigger midrange is ideal, while draggers will want the biggest turbo possible for the most boost.
Best Turbo Upgrades
Most street turbo upgrades for the Ford Barra will use a modified version of the stock Garrett GT35/82 turbo. The turbo is already capable of some solid performance, and by tweaking the internals they are capable of flowing well past 800 horsepower. You can also go with a larger Precision turbo in the 62xx series if you want to blow past 1,000 horsepower.
Considering how reliable the bottom end of the Ford Barra is, the sky is truly the limit with turbo swaps and upgrades. With adequate fueling and supporting mods, these engines have been shown to easily make more than 1,200 horsepower without breaking a sweat.
Top Ford Barra Mods FAQ
The Ford Barra straight-six engine has proven to be an extraordinarily capable motor for modding. With the proper mods, the Barra has been shown to regularly make more than 1,000 horsepower without breaking a sweat. Reportedly, there are even 2,000 horsepower examples of the Barra out there.
Most people consider the Ford Barra very reliable and capable of withstanding some serious horsepower and torque. The rods are the weakest part of the engine and usually the first to go when modding. Generally, the naturally aspirated rods are good until about 250 kW at the wheels (335 horsepower). The turbocharged rods are generally good until 350 kW at the wheels (475 horsepower).
The top Ford Barra upgrades are ECU tuning, upgraded exhaust (extractors or downpipe), larger intercooler, and a swap for a larger turbo. With these mods and other supporting mods, you can expect to make more than 800 horsepower out of a turbocharged Ford Barra.