Mustang Chassis UpgradeHow to whip your old pony car into shape
Owners of late-'60s and early-'70s Mustangs know all too well both the bright spots and blemishes of these highly popular sports cars. They're strong on styling, speed and affordability. However, their suspension, steering and braking weren't particularly noteworthy. Engineering has come a long way in the last few decades, and the automotive aftermarket has developed a wide range of upgrades and retrofits for the Mustang's antiquated chassis design. If you own or are thinking of buying a vintage Mustang (or other related Ford models such as the Cougar, Comet, Fairlane, Falcon, Maverick, and so forth), here's a brief rundown of suspension changes you can make to modernize your pony car. Many of these are from Total Control Products, a company that built the stunt cars for the movie "Gone in 60 Seconds" (particularly Eleanor, the flying Shelby GT500).
In order to build a house, you start with a firm foundation, right? The same is true of upgrading a car. A stiff chassis is essential for all those performance parts to do their jobs correctly. If the frame flexes too much, you'll be wasting your money on any suspension upgrades.
For a more rigid Mustang platform, start with some subframe connectors that bolt to the underside of the chassis. These can dramatically reduce chassis twist by linking the car's subframes together, creating a unified structure. In addition, a tower brace kit that ties together the top portions of the front suspension in the engine bay can add rigidity as well. A high-quality system typically incorporates lightweight aluminum rods, spherical rod ends and stainless-steel hardware.
In the steering department, early Mustang systems are known for excessive play, but a new rack-and-pinion unit that reduces the number of turns lock-to-lock from four to, say, three turns can markedly improve your car's handling. While you're at it, a power steering pump with variable sizes of nozzles can allow you to tune the feel of the steering system.
With the chassis stiffened up and the steering improved, the next stage is to address the suspension. One of the major shortcomings of classic Mustangs is their overly soft suspension, due to the stamped-steel parts and rubber bushings. These components allow unwanted deflection, causing erratic handling in hard cornering.
To correct that, you can replace the factory stamped-steel upper control arms with stiffer tubular units. These should be mounted about one inch lower than the factory mounting holes for an improved negative camber curve, which helps to maintain the proper tire angle for a larger contact patch.
In addition, the box-welded lower control arms should be replaced with stronger tubular arms as well. New strut rods with either urethane or Kevlar-impregnated Teflon bushings will virtually eliminate the deflection and binding commonly found in typical rubber strut rods.
While you're wrenching on the front end, consider upgrading the brakes, too. A variety of conversion kits are available from the aftermarket, and older systems with a single-reservoir master cylinder should at a minimum be updated to a dual-reservoir unit for safety's sake.
For the rearend, Total Control offers a Watts Link setup for improved road-course handling. It's designed to minimize body roll in relation to the axle during cornering or when the axle travels vertically. The system keeps the axle more horizontal under heavy loads by linking together both the right and left rear sides with transverse rods that attach to a rotating bell crank welded to the bottom of the differential. In addition, dual trailing arms keep the axle positioned front to rear. Also, to keep the axle from rotating, a torque arm runs parallel with the driveshaft and connects the axle with a forward mounting point on the subframe crossmember. The addition of coil-over shocks as well provides an improved ride and adjustability for a variety of road surfaces.
With all those changes, don't forget the wheel and tire combination. First determine which general category of tire suits your needs. Daily-driver vehicles should have tires that provide longer treadwear and possibly a smoother ride. Street cars that see occasional track time would be better fitted with a lower-profile, better-handling tire, possibly with upsized wheels. For all-out performance, racing tires are essential, but keep in mind that they may not be the best or legal choice for a street-driven vehicle. If you live in a very wet or snowy area, you will definitely want to take weather conditions into consideration.
Increasing the size of the wheel while decreasing the height of the tire is a simple and effective way of improving handling performance. A low-profile tire decreases sidewall deflection and enables a faster turn-in and improved cornering stability. This increase in handling responsiveness may be less noticeable if your car retains the factory suspension components. Also, you'll probably notice a tradeoff in ride comfort for performance. Low-profile tires give better handling but at the cost of increased road noise and vibration transferred to the suspension.
When changing wheel and tire sizes, keep in mind that in order to keep your speedometer and odometer fairly accurate, you'll have to stay within three percent or roughly 3/4 inches of the original overall diameter of the wheel and tire combination. Any increase in size above this range will require recalibrating your speedometer. For instance, a 15-inch wheel with a 60 series tire could be upgraded to a 17-inch wheel matched to a 40 series tire.
Should all these chassis upgrades not be enough for your ponycar, you can go even further by adding Total Control's body conversion pieces used on Eleanor in the movie "Gone in 60 Seconds." Then your Mustang will not only handle like a star, but look like one, too.
Total Control Products, www.totalcontrolproducts.com
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