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I recently bought a very rust free 1996 Thunderbird lx 4.6. I know the engine is in good condition for up at 180k the transmission is a little worse for wear. And the interior seems to be kinda the worst thing, but not biggest concern. But I have been trying to haveing a stable argument with my family weather I want to stick with stock engine or swap. First, I live in NY and we have strict laws on everything. I have to run 02 sensors and cats, so no carburetors. I think a cam and head swap would be the best. I have heard my best option is to go with a 01 to 03 pi mustang heads. I Have searched for new heads and trick flow seems to be the only ones that work with a 1996. So my big question why is all new cylinder heads on performance sights saying they only fit a 1999 to 2004 mustang. But, some advice would be great with how many difference are in the 1995 to 1999 engines. And what works after market and not.
 

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The performance improved, or PI heads were introduced on the Mustang in 99, and were phased into use on all 2v 4.6 and 5.4 engines by 01. There are several differences between the early non-PI engines, and the PI ones, including not just the different heads, but different intake manifold, different cams, different coolant tubes, and different pistons. Swapping to PI heads requires also changing all those other components, except the pistons. However keep in mind that the PI heads have a smaller combustion chamber than the NPI heads, so the head swap will result in a higher compression ratio. If you swap all those other components though, you can run the PI or the aftermarket heads no problem, but trying to explain all that in a small blurb at the bottom of the description is bound to confuse people, who will then be upset when they realize all the other things they need, so it’s easier to just market it for 99+ engines and not have to deal with confused/upset customers.
 

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I agree with you that being in NY we do have strict laws on everything. The car inspection is not very strict for modifying your car. As long as a shop tech can plug into the OBD port on the car and see no codes or non ready monitors, it's pretty much an easy pass. Shops make no money or even lose out on inspections; they either try and overcharge you on a repair you may not need, or get you in and out as fast as possible
 
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