Tom Wilson
February 4, 2003

Yep, we're at it again. This time it isn't a Hot Street racer, nor a flashy street cruiser, nor a show car, but rather a nearly dedicated open-track corner carver. Starting with our modular- motivated '96 GT, our latest project is full of high-g cornering promise for those addicted to road-course thrills. That means a tight chassis, a supple yet well-mannered suspension, real brakes, and grippy tires are all part of the plan. In other words, stand by for nose-bleed cornering and eye-bulge braking.

While this adaptation to the track will be complete, we won't totally forsake the street. We'll ditch the back seat but keep the license plate, huff our way to fast times but stay smog legit, and jack up the spring rates but use a sophisticated suspension that does the job without beating us like rented mules. When the job requires ultimate handling, there's no point in making halfway efforts. Late-model Mustang suspensions are, well, frankly bad when it comes to handling, so the best advice for those craving sharp handling is to step up to a complete replacement suspension. Engineered to eliminate the rear-axle bind and the roll-center silliness of the stocker, a new performance suspension absolutely transforms a Mustang from white-knuckle terror to poised sprinter.

We've chosen Maximum Motorsports' suspension system for our project car. Having been in the Mustang suspension business for 10 years, Maximum has diligently focused on the Fox chassis and its SN-95 derivative, building a complete line of dedicated handling bits. All of them display the great workmanship and finish that Maximum's first parts--its remarkably popular caster camber plates--have shown since 1994.

Step one was to get our '96 to Maximum's shop in San Luis Obispo, California, where the staff could provide the all-important installation expertise we're highlighting in the photos. While many of us enjoy installing our own hot-rod parts, only the most senior enthusiast with a shop full of the heavier fabrication tools--such as a welder--and a brain full of experience should try something as major as installing a complete aftermarket suspension system. It's simply the nature of the beast--the job is part blacksmithery, part surgery, and all about doing it right. While Maximum has done a great job of providing parts that fit as well as possible, variations in individual chassis and existing hot-rod parts mean measuring and adjusting are occasionally necessary. And, as with all jobs this large, it helps if you've done it before. So, if you don't think you should tackle this one yourself, a local racing/tuning shop, a metal fabrication facility in farm country, or even an advanced exhaust shop can do the job for you.

This month we're taking the green flag by installing the subframe connectors and rear suspension. This includes welding in the subframes; replacing the lower control arms, shocks, and springs; removing the kicker shocks; welding in the Panhard bar end supports and bolting in the bar; fitting the torque arm and welding its crossmember to the subframe connectors; and then removing the upper control arms. It's a huge load of work to squeeze in just a few pages, so understand we're skipping over the backs of the crocodiles here. Maximum supplies all of its parts and kits with thorough, well-illustrated instruction manuals, so knowing what to do isn't a mystery after the UPS man leaves.

What is something of a mystery is how some customers will jump around the job, which inevitably paves the path to trouble toward the end of the installation. There are specific reasons why Maximum has ordered the job the way it has, so the wise stick to the instructions on a line-by-line basis. If you want a blow-by-blow preview, see Maximum's Web site.

Otherwise, we're doing the rear suspension this month, and we will have the front suspension with new K-member and A-arms as soon as possible.

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Maximum's subframe connectors use a small crossmember under the car that bolts to the floorpan using the front seat's rear mounting bolts. Therefore, installation starts by removing these bolts.
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Variation and deviation describe Mustang chassis the way they roll out of the assembly plant, so it is impossible to build complex subframe connectors that fit precisely. Therefore, the subframe connectors are supplied in several pieces, which are mocked up under the car, marked for precise fit, and then welded together. Other marks also show where paint and undercoating must be removed for welding. In addition, some grinding is necessary on the subframe connectors to remove the powder coating for the same reason.
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A small-diameter, air-powered sanding disc or other form of whiz wheel makes fairly short work of getting down to bare metal where welding is required.
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For maximum ground clearance, the subframe connectors should be jacked up against the floorpan when welding. Maximum supplies the main subframe connector beam with a bend already in it to help it contour against the floorpan, but jacking it tightly against the floor helps that much more.
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Ah, yes--welding jacket, protective hat, thick gloves, and earplugs are all part of the under-car blacksmith game. What's being beaten into submission here is the short, flat plate tacked to the bend in the main beam. This flat plate is tacked on, beaten into a bend to match the beam, and then welded completely in place. It does a huge job in strengthening the bend in the beam.