Vintage Mustang suspension upgrades abound. You can flip through this very magazine and find all manner of suspension upgrades from stock replacement to trick weld-in systems. While welding in multi-arm/multi-link suspensions or grafting in suspension designs from other vehicles (or from newer Mustangs) often leads to a car with great track-like handling, sometimes you just want better handling that only requires basic hand tools and keeps the stock suspension configuration. Let's face it, coilover struts, four-bar rear ends, and the like aren't for everyone and for the typical weekend cruiser who just wants to be able to take a highway on-ramp at speed and feel some g-forces once in a while it is most likely overkill and a waste of budget dollars.
Keeping with the "bolt-on" theme means you can upgrade your first gen Mustang's suspension yourself in your home garage using hand tools, some jack stands, and a free weekend. At worst you'll have to fab up, buy, rent, or borrow a coil spring compressor, but otherwise the work is a typical nut and bolt affair. Using a stock-type suspension system also means there's no fabrication or drastic changes to your Mustang's chassis that are required, keeping the stock look of the car but with better handling in a true bolt-on scenario. The questions that usually follow include "whose springs to use?" and "what shocks work with said springs?" and so forth. However, the folks at Hotchkis Sport Suspension have done the homework for you and have devised a complete suspension package that will improve handling and create a safer driving environment with more control and predictability.
Hotchkis is known for its performance enhancing suspension offerings for newer vehicles, including the '79-'13 Mustang. Hotchkiss has now taken their Total Vehicle System (TVS) approach to '65-'66 Mustangs (and '67-'73 by the time you read this); giving the owner a suspension upgrade that will have your Mustang at home on your favorite winding road or at an autocross/track day event. Hours of track testing has ensured that the TVS package will improve your Mustang's handling measurably. The TVS package (PN 80040-1, $1,461.95) includes Sport coil springs with a 700 lb/in spring rate and Sport leaf springs with a 180 lb/in spring rate. The springs lower the Mustang for better handling by lowering the center of gravity without affecting ride quality. A larger 1¼-inch front sway bar and a 7⁄8-inch adjustable rear bar (both tubular steel) are included to help control body roll. Pairing a new suspension with upgraded shocks is a smart idea and Hotchkis-tuned SPS shocks by Fox Racing are available (PN 79020016, $550.95) to keep the suspension and tires planted. The SPS shocks feature aluminum mono-tube bodies, large ½-inch diameter shafts, and specially formulated oil and nitrogen gas for a great ride. All Hotchkis parts are made in the USA. The installation is designed to upgrade your Mustang in a single afternoon (it took us about five hours with photography) and, except for drilling two holes in your rear frame rails for the sway bar end link mounting, the system is a complete bolt-on and includes all new fasteners except for the front shock upper mounting bolts and the rear leaf spring front eye bolts.
1 With the Mustang on jack stands and ready to go, use a floor jack under the lower control arms to take the pressure off of the front shocks and unbolt and remove the shock mounting bolts and then the shock mounting bracket.
2 Remove the front tires to access the lower shock retaining nuts. The outboard nut, shown, usually will require an open end wrench to free, while the inboard nut can usually be removed with a socket and long extension. Raising or lowering the jack a bit can often help with access.
3 Remove the shock tower reinforcement panel (the steel plate with the bump stop attached) for access to the spring. Since this in-progress Mustang project already had lowering springs in place, they pulled right out, but stock springs will require a spring compressor and utmost care to remove.
4 The new front springs from Hotchkis are powder coated for long life and great looks, and include new urethane upper spring seats. A quick loop of electrical tape around the seat and spring will hold it in place during installation.
5 Place the new Hotchkis spring into the shock tower, ensuring it is centered over the spring locator at the top of the shock tower. Raise the suspension back up with the floor jack to seat the lower portion of the spring into the spring seat on the upper control arm. Before you put too much pressure on the spring, check to verify the spring’s “tail” is up against the spring stop in the seat, as can be seen here.
6 The optional SPS aluminum shocks are designed in concert with the TVS suspension system and we opted to use them in this suspension upgrade. You can see in this comparison shot of the typical front shock how much beefier the mounting base is, reducing flex and helping the shock do its job.
7 The Hotchkis/Fox shocks are real works of art with ½-inch diameter shock shafts, aluminum bodies, and heavy-duty mounting ends, yet they are direct drop-in replacements.
8 After lining up the lower mounting and securing with the included hardware, the upper shock mounting bracket is returned to its original location and the upper shock mount attached with the original hardware.
9 Moving on to the front sway bar installation, the included urethane sway bar bushings are greased with the provided tube of marine-grade lubricant to prevent squeaks and slipped over the sway bar.
10 Position the sway bar mounting brackets over the bushings and loosely attach them to the sway bar mounting tabs on the front frame rails as shown using the provided new hardware.
11 The sway bar end links are installed next. We found it best to assemble one side, compressing it slightly with a pry bar (between the frame and the top of the end link bolt), then start the retaining nut a few turns before doing the same for the other end link. Finally, center the sway bar and tighten the mounting brackets followed by the end links until the end link bushings have seated and compressed slightly.
12 The completed sway bar installation finishes the front suspension upgrade. Go over all of your fasteners one more time, reinstall the shock tower reinforcements, and put the front wheels back on.
13 Moving on to the rear, we have the chassis supported on jack stands, a floor jack under the axle housing, and the rear tires removed for access to the frame rails. The rear shocks are unbolted from the shock plate to get us underway.
14 With the bottom shock hardware removed and the rear axle assembly supported with a floor jack, the shock plates and U-bolts are removed from the axle and leaf springs. Severely corroded hardware may need to be cut off. New U-bolts are provided in the kit.
15 The rear shackle assemblies are added to the old parts pile next. Remove the shackle attaching hardware and pull/pry the shackle free from the leaf spring eye and the frame rail. Again, severely corroded suspension hardware may require cutting and/or heat to extricate.