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Ford Mustang - American Muscle

Part 1: The Mustang edition

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Mix and Match

The right combination of parts is the difference between a car that feels like an extension of your body and one that is barely driveable. Suspension parts are expensive, so you want to get the combination right the first time. To improve the ride of your Mustang, we suggest you go with one of these companies and stick with their products all the way through. You can’t go wrong with any of them. These guys have done all the research and testing; they know which parts work well together. Be aware that Maier and Global West specialize in classic Mustangs while Maximum Motorsports specializes in Fox-body and newer Mustangs.

We would also suggest resisting the temptation to buy the cool looking coilovers right away. Instead, your best initial investment is in subframe connectors and chassis-stiffening pieces. We have firsthand experience working on all generations of Mustangs, so believe it when we say there is not much material keeping the front and rear suspensions connected. Flimsy floorpans and rocker panel stampings let the chassis flex a lot. Remember, the original Mustang was built on a Falcon unibody, which was never intended to be a performance car. “Anything you can do to reinforce the body is good. You can’t have a stiff enough chassis,” says Maximum’s Schwynoch. He explained that when the chassis flexes over bumps or in a hard cornering situation, the rear axle can come out of its intended alignment with the centerline of the car, and when this happens the rear wheels essentially begin to steer the body into a different path than that of the front wheels, which should be the only wheels doing the steering. “You can feel it in steady curves like an onramp or a constant radius turn on a road course. You have the steering wheel pointed in the right direction to complete the turn, but you find yourself having to make steering corrections mid-corner because chassis flex causes the rear end to change directions.” Eliminating all the slop in the unibody will allow the stock suspension to work that much better. You will definitely feel a difference.

The next step should be a set of good wheels and tires, according to Mike Maier. “They should be at least 16-inch wheels and 18 at the most. Those have the widest variety of tires and sizes available.” Tire technology has improved radically since the original Boss 302 hit the streets, and we’ve proven it in countless performance tests: Good tires give you the biggest improvement in your car’s performance.

After tires, “springs and shocks offer the best bang for the buck,” says Maier. He likes Bilstein Sport or Penske re-buildable shocks, but be sure to consult the tech guys at whichever company you choose to buy from. They will recommend the best combination of spring rates and shock valving for whatever you want your car to do.

They will also recommend parts to buy in increments, if you are not able to afford all the suspension components you want at once. “We don’t want customers to backtrack. We will help develop a long-term plan, so customers can buy in stages without spending money on parts they won’t need in the future,” says Global West’s Norrdin.

After the basics, you can consider control arm and leaf spring upgrades, and even coilover shocks. Each of the companies we’ve mentioned has an array of hard-core suspension upgrades. We don’t intend to have this article read like a catalog, so we will mention some of the more interesting pieces. For more information, go to the respective company’s website.

Classic Mustangs

Maier Racing sells reinforced factory control arms with a relocated ball joint to offer better camber gain as the suspension is compressed. Global West offers Negative Roll tubular upper control arms with their patented Del-a-lum bushings. If you want coilovers, check out Global West’s tubular lower A-arms, which replace the factory control arm/strut rod combination.

Lots of options exist for the rear suspension as well. Global West offers its Cat 5 leaf springs with spherical bearings in reverse eyelets. The bearings allow the springs to pivot as the body rolls during cornering, preventing individual leaves from twisting and thereby increasing their spring rate. More exciting than that was Doug Norrdin’s news that Global is finalizing testing and development of a torque-arm rear suspension for early Mustangs. This is state-of-the art stuff that will replace the leaf springs with a better-handling combination of a torque arm, coilover shocks, and a Watt’s link. Those products should be available by the time you read this.

Fox-Body and newer Mustangs

Maximum Motorsports has the market covered for ’78 and newer Mustangs. You can buy a kit with a range of parts that simply lower the car or choose a full competition suspension kit, which includes a new front K-member with revised alignment geometry and a torque arm rear suspension. It’s basically the same stuff the company uses on its American Iron series race cars. And this is one scenario in which race car stuff really can be driven on the street. Your author had the opportunity to ride in Maximum’s ’96 Mustang GT autocross car, outfitted with its American Iron suspension package, and it was incredible: flat, stable, predictable, and drama-free handling. Need more proof? Maximum’s Mike Croutcher drove the car to California Speedway from the company’s headquarters in San Luis Obispo nearly four hours away. And by the way, this car posted the fastest time through the cones in that weekend’s competition.

Top Gears

So far we’ve focused on the Mustang’s suspension, but the powertrain also plays a crucial role in a car’s ride quality. So we’d also suggest upgrading to an overdrive transmission. We spoke with both Bruce Couture and Paul Coffey of Modern Driveline, a company specializing in five- and six-speed manual transmission conversions. Both guys emphasized the need to match the driveline components. If your transmission and ring-and-pinion are geared properly, that will keep the engine in its powerband at just about any road speed. As an added bonus, you will experience a gain in fuel economy—not a bad thing these days, either. Give Modern Driveline a call and have your cam specs, curb weight, and tire size available. The company will match a trans and recommend a rear axle ratio that will make your car a pleasure to drive.

Works In Progress

To drive these points home, here are a couple of examples of cars in various states of build.

Brian Anton’s 70 Mach 1

Classic Mustang fans will like Brian Anton’s ’70 Mach 1. He recently purchased it from Diversion Motors in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. A lifelong Mustang lover to the core, Brian has owned several, including a ’00 Cobra R and his current Whipple-supercharged ’03 Cobra. He’s just beginning the build on this car, but his goal is a Trans-Am look (see how neatly we tied that back into the original Boss 302?) with modern amenities, such as four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch wheels and wide tires, an overdrive transmission, and suspension upgrades as he can afford them. The 351 Cleveland still runs strong, so Brian will concentrate his efforts on the driveline and chassis for now.

Christian France’s 86 Coyote Fox

We first featured Christian’s ’86 Mustang in our May ’06 issue, when it still had pushrod power under the hood. He just completed a Coyote V8 swap, one of the first in the country, and we were there for its maiden dyno pull. On the Dynojet chassis dyno at Racers’ Edge Tuning in Downey, California, Christian’s car made 399.7 hp just on the crate engine’s base programming. With a little tweaking, RET owner Greg Monroe coaxed a few extra ponies out of the Coyote, ultimately making an impressive 407 hp and 388 lb-ft, in a car that is significantly lighter than our Boss 302 press car’s 3,600-pound curb weight. What’s more, he’s basically got the same suspension components that are on Maximum Motorsports’ ’96 Mustang GT mentioned earlier in this article. By the way, Maximum Motorsports offers the only Fox-body modular engine swap K-member that also fits the new Coyote engine. You can read about the swap in Christian’s blog on his company’s website ( Click on the Coyote Blog tab on the top of the page.

Ken Maisano’s 70 Boss 302

Yes, it is a real Boss—let’s get that clear from the start. Ken bought it on eBay from a seller in Atlanta. It needed a full restoration, but that was OK. He owns Mascar Paint and Body in Costa Mesa, California, and was planning on restoring the car all along. “Honestly, I hadn’t been interested in owning a Boss 302 before, but I was restoring one for a customer in Michigan and got the bug during that job,” Ken says. He treated his car to a full rotisserie restoration, managing to save all the original sheetmetal save for a small section of the floor aft of the firewall. He also rebuilt and blueprinted the engine. “I detuned the engine a little,” he quips. “I lowered the compression ratio to 9.0:1 so it would run on 91-octane, and I also went a little smaller on the cam.” The stock cam specs are 228 degrees of duration on a 114-degree lobe- separation angle, but Ken chose a cam ground with 224 degrees of duration on a 110-degree LSA. “It helps keep velocity up in those huge intake ports and improves overall driveability,” he says. Ken tells us he just ran the car at California Speedway and recorded a 14.0-second pass with a 103-mph trap speed. “It would have gone 13.50s if traction were better,” he admits. Still, that is an impressive number for a basically stock Boss 302 (a car intended for road racing, by the way). What’s even more impressive is that Ken isn’t afraid to run a car this valuable down the track in the first place.

Ford Racing Performance Parts
15021 Commerce Drive S
Suite 200
MI  48120
Modern Driveline
25308 Arroyo Ct
ID  83607
Maier Racing
Racers' Edge Tuning
8107 Phlox Street
CA  90241
Global West Suspension
655 S. Lincoln Ave.
San Bernardino
CA  92408
Diversion Motors
4312 Clipper Drive
WI  54220
Maximum Motorsports
3430 Sacramento Dr., Unit D
San Luis Obispo
CA  93401
High Flow Performance
152 Aero Camino Unit E
CA  93117
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