While they serve as a great platform for all types of racing and street performance, '79-'04 Mustangs are notorious for a meandering sense of direction. Blame their nose-heavy balance, crude suspension, and economy-car roots. Because of this, the words Mustang and precise steering haven't been used together since … ever.
The OEM rubber steering rack bushings and the OEM steering shaft's rag joint were designed to absorb unwanted vibrations from the steering wheel, but in reality they prevent feedback of what the front tires are doing from reaching the driver's hands. The result: numb and ambiguous steering.
Maximum Motorsports aims to change that. The company's steering shaft assembly and solid steering rack bushings allegedly improve feedback and response, by eliminating the rubber components from the Mustang's steering system.
As with most products from Maximum Motorsports, its steering shaft assembly and solid steering rack bushings are unique solutions based upon years of experience refining our beloved Pony car. The steering shaft utilizes welded construction and telescoping joints rather than a trim-to-fit installation with set screws. We found this is a welcome feature because steering shaft set screws often drag on header tubes and have a nasty habit of loosening, even when secured with lock nuts and thread-locking compound.
The latest evolution of Maximum rack bushings features spherical washers that accommodate the irregular mounting surface of the OEM K-member. If the rack is mounted with conventional solid bushings, the irregular surface can slightly bend and twist the rack housing, causing the steering rack to bind in the housing and chatter when steering. Maximum Motorsports' spherical washer design solidly mounts the steering rack without twisting the housing.
To see if Maximum Motorsports' parts succeed in improving steering feel, we tested them on an '03 Cobra. Rather than relying simply on subjective analysis, we hatched a plan to measure the steering response before and after installation by way of an angle finder, laser pointer, and trigonometry.
Installation was straightforward and without issue. Both the steering shaft and rack bushings could easily be installed in an hour or two. More importantly, the results were noticeable. On our test drive, the steering felt more connected to the road. Slight steering inputs became commands rather than mere suggestions. We felt little nibbles and tugs on the wheel that we never felt before.
Not only did the Cobra's steering feel more accurate and precise, but we also measured a significant improvement in on-center response from the steering wheel to the tires.
1. Before removing the OEM components, we measured the stock Cobra’s steering response using a laser level mounted to the wheel, with the pointer aimed at a sheet of paper.
2. With a digital angle finder on the steering wheel, we turned the wheel with the engine off to get more repeatable measurements.
3. We recorded the position of the laser pointer with the steering wheel turned 0, 5, 10, 15, and 20 degrees.
4. With our baseline measurements complete, we began installing the Maximum Motorsports parts by disconnecting the OEM steering shaft from the rack.
5. We removed the lower pinch bolt and pulled the OEM shaft from the steering rack input shaft.
6. Next, we removed the steering rack mounting bolts, pulled the rack free of the mounting sleeves, and pried the OEM rubber bushings from the rack housing.
7. After making sure the mounting sleeves were seated against the back mounting face of the K-member, we used a small screwdriver to scribe a mark on each rack mounting sleeve flush with the front face of the K-member.
8. To remove the rack mounting sleeves, large pliers helped us wiggle the mounting sleeves forward, and a large screwdriver finished the job.
9. To avoid mixing up the right- and left-side sleeves, we removed and trimmed one side at a time with a hacksaw.
10. After trimming each sleeve, we inserted them back into the K-member.
11. With each rack mounting bolt partially protruding from the sleeves we slipped the included flat and spherical washers over the rack mounting bolt and inserted the corresponding rear bushings into the steering rack housing.
12. Then we inserted the front rack bushings and slipped the rack mount bolt through the assembly.
13. Finally, we installed the last flat washer, OEM rack mounting nuts, and torqued the nuts to 45 ft-lb.
14. We began removing the OEM steering shaft by removing the pinch bolt from the steering column.
15. With the bolt removed, we pulled the shaft free from the column and out of the car.
16. Here you can compare both shafts. The OEM shaft (top) has a rubber rag joint. We primed and painted the Maximum Motorsports steering shaft assembly (bottom) to prevent corrosion. To speed up installation, we extended the telescoping portions of the Maximum Motorsports shaft to the approximate lengths of the OEM shaft.
17. To keep engine compartment fumes from entering the passenger compartment, we pulled the sealing sleeve from the OEM shaft.
18. Before we could slide the sleeve onto the Maximum Motorsports shaft, we pulled the slip joint sealing boot off the Maximum Motorsports shaft.
19. With the sleeve in place on the Maximum Motorsports shaft, we reinstalled the boot and sealed the sleeve with silicone.
20. After waiting for the silicone to cure, we installed the Maximum Motorsports shaft through the bushing in the firewall, into the steering column, and torqued the pinch bolt to 24 ft-lb.
21. Finally, we slid the shaft over the rack input shaft and installed the supplied pinch bolt to 24 ft-lb.
After installing Maximum Motorsports’ solid steering rack bushings and steering shaft assembly, we re-measured the steering response. As the graph shows, the results were significant. With no rubber parts to deflect, there is a more direct link between the steering wheel and the tires. The steering wheel felt more connected to the road, and the car felt more responsive.