Tom Wilson
February 5, 2003

Followers of our open-track project car know we've previously detailed the installation of nearly the entire Maximum Motorsports catalog on our "stripe" car. Torque arm and Panhard bar; K-member and lower control arms; springs, shocks, and adjustable sway bars; subframe connectors and strut-tower brace; caster-camber plates--you name it, we've got it.

This month we're not bolting anything on the car; rather, we're doing the last bit of shop work associated with installing these hard-charging suspension bits--setting them up. That really boils down to aligning all the suspension parts and getting them square to each other so the car runs straight and the suspension moves in symmetrical arcs.

Nearly all this setup work is new to most Mustangers. In fact, it has basically been the domain of dedicated chassis specialists. But while the terms and procedures may seem foreign, they are absolutely required when installing a torque-arm-and-K-member-type suspension.

Level Ground

For chassis setup, a level working area is a must because a few key set-up steps use the ground as an assumed level starting point. By level, we mean truly level, an area where a bubble level will at least try to keep the bubble inside the target window. Typically a smooth concrete garage floor will do the job.Furthermore, besides having this level spot to work off, you'll also need some way of supporting the vehicle at an under-car working height, but still with the car sitting on its tires, and still level. It can be something of a trick unless you have four platform stands (typically custom made) or a dual ramp-type hoist as preferred by transmission shops. Chassis shops prefer the platforms, as hoists typically cover up too much under the car to be convenient.

What You're Doing

Chassis work is one of those abstract subjects that takes 10,000 words to describe but comes quickly once you have the parts in front of you. Having a limited number of words at our disposal, we can only touch on the brightest highlights of setting up the Maximum Motorsports gear here, but be advised their installation instructions are comprehensive, probably some of the best in the industry. To get started, here are the required jobs, in order, for chassis setup.

1) Configure the car as it will run (half tank of gas, empty trunk if a track car, and so on).
2) Square the K-member side-to-side.
3) Center the steering rack on the K-member.
4) Center the moving portion of the steering rack relative to the rack housing.
5) Set the ride height.
6) Square the rear axle to the rear control arm pivot bolts.
7) Square length-adjustable rear control arms in the second plane.
8) Set pinion angle.
9) Set camber, caster, and then toe.
10) Bumpsteer the front suspension.
11) Reset the toe.
12) Scale the car with driver.
13) Reset the camber with driver in the car.
14) Recheck the toe.
15) Adjust the sway bar end links so there is no preload (with driver in car).

Obviously, this is a considerable amount of work. Luckily, most of it need be done only once. For example, after the K-member, steering, and so on are square to each other, they won't move unless swatted heavily in an accident, so you won't have to worry about them as maintenance items. However, as with any car, setting the alignment (caster, camber, and toe) needs to be done occasionally. Furthermore, if yours is a track car, you may wish to fiddle with corner weights and alignment depending on track configuration. That's fodder for another article, so we'll cover that next time. Now that we've outlined the jobs, let's get to the details.