Muscle Mustangs & Fast FordsHow To Chassis Suspension
Stiffened & Slammed Part 2
We complete the job and get to the track to put Hot Handler through its paces
Step By StepView Photo Gallery
Project Hot Handler has over 165,000 miles on the odometer, but you'd never know it by driving it. Just weeks ago, the '87 LX was flexing like a wet noodle when it hit the smallest bumps but now with the HP Motorsport suspension firmly in place, the Stang rides better than new.
When we left off a month ago, we had the front suspension in place, but we didn't have time to complete the back of the car. Our new front suspension consists of Eibach springs from the Pro Kit, Eibach's front antiroll bar, Koni adjustable Sport struts, HP Motorsport's strut-tower brace and also its adjustable caster/camber plates. In addition, we replaced the ball joints (which were not included in the kit) because the stock joints were toasted. This month we'll wrap things up by completing the installation of the rear suspension, adding some chassis stiffening, and then it's off to the track to see how the car performs.
And, in case you're new to our Hot Handler project, you should know we've been in the process of taking our worn out '87 LX and injecting new life into the chassis and suspension. We're doing this with the addition of the HP Motorsport Touring Suspension package, Eibach's Pro Kit (springs and antiroll bars), and Koni Sport dampers.
The parts to be installed in the aft section included the rear coil springs and shocks, the antiroll bar, and the HP Panhard bar. We finished the job by adding HP Motorsport's K-member brace and cross-brace subframe connectors, and then we'll get the front end aligned. The fun part came when we tossed Hot Handler around the track to get some quantifiable results.
If you're the hands-on type you'll be glad to know that the HP components installed with ease. The instructions are not only precise, but they provide lots of information, so read them carefully before turning any wrenches. The entire installation took about two days, and that included waiting three hours for the right ball joints. We took our time, painted the subframe connectors, and double-checked all of our work.
Getting TractionI'm proud to tell you our efforts paid off. The rear suspension went in as easy as the front did, and when I got the car back on the ground, Chris Winter and I went for a spin. Within the first mile I knew the suspension and chassis stiffening worked, and I'd be able to push the LX without fear of it falling apart or twisting up. Double H's (Hot Handler) road manners are now excellent, with quicker steering response and much less body roll being the most noticeable traits. Best of all, the vehicle is not harsh, which is often a side effect commonly found after installing lowering springs and/or aftermarket suspension parts.
The real test, however, was on the track. We took Hot Handler to the road course at Raceway Park (Englishtown, New Jersey) to push the machine to the limit in a safe environment.
But before hitting the track, I did some basic safety checks. I torqued the lugs, set the tire pressure, and looked at the underhood fluids and the accessory belt. All the above looked good so I slipped on the helmet, clicked the seatbelt, and cut loose. If there was a down side it was the cold conditions (track and ambient temperature) that prevented an all-out assault. Cold tires and track make for a slippery ride, and I didn't want to fly off the track or worse. So, I went easy to build some heat into the tires, then, after three warm-up laps I was able to get up to speed and push hard.
The Mustang handled the course as we predicted, with virtually no body roll and excellent handling capabilities. I really liked the feedback and the feel of the suspension. It responded well on initial turn-in and through the corners. With the HP Motorsport setup I was able to turn in very aggressively, and the car maintained excellent bite and control. When I tried this earlier with the stock suspension, the result was a severe push, followed by a loose condition. The Stang is also much quicker on the course because once the suspension was planted or "set," I could carry this extra speed through the corner and really feel confident about the Mustang's abilities, and the car is extremely stable under hard braking.
We translated this into lap times of 1.30:37; 1.29:56 and 1.29:13, whereas earlier lap times were about 6 seconds slower per lap.
In addition to the cold conditions, I was hampered by the lack of a fully functional Traction-Lok differential. This was no fault of the suspension but caused the dreaded one-wheel peel that occurred when I tried to exit any of the turns under power. This was frustrating because I'd get through them quickly and spin coming off. The spin prevented me from gathering lots of straightaway speed and hurt my lap times a lot (a rebuilt Traction-Lok or other suitable differential will solve this problem).
Despite the minor hiccups, I was impressed with the handling of the LX, and I can't wait to fix the rear and take the Mustang to the next level. Once we get a new differential, I plan to return to the track and tune the suspension using the adjustable Koni shocks and the Panhard bar. In addition, we have some new Nitto 555R DOT road race tires, and, eventually, we'll go with bigger brakes. This will give the LX more grip and reduce laps times a bunch. We're also going to hop-up the little 302 with some aluminum heads and a full exhaust. So stay tuned because we're just getting hot.