Tom Wilson
May 2, 2014

S197 Install

Later Mustangs have four upper strut bolts, package the spring concentrically with the strut and put the caster/camber plate under the strut tower. Thus, the nitty gritty of an S197 caster/camber plate install occurs on the workbench as you build the plate atop the spring/strut assembly. You must disassemble the spring, requiring a specialized spring compressor, or nerves of steel, a healthy respect for the power contained in the partially compressed spring, a signed note to all the lawyers in the world saying your mom said you could do it this way and the will to gun off the big nut atop the strut and let the strut shoot across the garage floor and into the box of Christmas decorations under the bench. If you don't keep your smokes rolled up in the left sleeve of your T, better you take the strut to a local tire/front end shop and let them handle the spring on/off part.

As with all caster/camber plate installs, this one is typically in conjunction with lowering springs. Typically this makes it possible to hand-compress the spring while reassembling the strut assembly because the lowering springs are shorter than stock. A big friend standing by is a major aid for this step.

1. Sometimes tall enough to work with the floorjack under the car means too tall to easily reach the top strut bolts. In that case, this is how the pros do it. On S197s the only time spent on the four upper strut nuts is during strut removal and install.

2. On all Mustangs, it’s necessary to remove the two large bolts holding the lower strut to the spindle. These will come out by hand, but an air gun is a big help. It’s also necessary to unclip the brake line bracket (don’t open the brake line hydraulics), and support the brake/spindle assembly with a zip-tie or wire so it doesn’t hang by the brake hose. Ford has upgraded these bolts on S197s to fine-threaded versions, which Maximum can supply.

3. This is the big moment in S197 caster/camber plate installation: removing the big nut from the top of the strut assembly, which releases the energy in the coil spring. This floor shot method is not the school solution, but pros in a hurry accept the strut shooting five feet when the large nut comes free. You should carry your struts to the local front end shop and their spring compressor.

4. Maximum’s S197 caster/camber plate assembles atop the strut, making installation mainly a bench job. Here the upper spring mount is being removed so its rubber isolator can be pried off and re-used.

5. Maximum supplies a series of tapered and straight spacers for use around the spherical bearing. The two tapered bushings fit into the spherical bearing while the straight bushings go on the strut shaft. Like everything else, Maximum’s instructions provide clear step-by-step details.

6. S197 camber/caster plates are loosely assembled with their spacers and stud plates, then held together with rubber bands. It’s an elegantly simple way of holding the plates together before slipping them over the strut shaft.

7. The disc at left is the upper spring perch assembly and it goes atop the spring so the caster-camber plate assembly can ride on it. Maximum uses sliding plastic discs in the perch (which allows the steering rotational movement) since finding the stock-type ball bearings died rapidly from dirt.

8. With the spring perch and caster/camber plate assembly sitting atop the spring and strut, the fun part is compressing the spring enough to get the big strut nut started. This is a non-issue with a spring compressor, of course. Pros in a hurry have found they can just barely compress the spring enough by hand if they are big enough and the spring short enough (stock springs are too tall for this trick).

9. With the nut started, it can be gunned down. The spring, strut, and caster/camber plate assembly is ready to go back in the car’s wheelwell. Don’t over-torque; Ford and Tokico struts take but 45 lb-ft on this nut. Bilstein or H&R struts need 54 lb-ft.

10. Before sliding the strut assembly into its pocket in the strut tower, make sure there are no dirt or metal scars on the bottom of the strut tower to impede caster/camber plate movement. A quick shot with a mini disc sander does the job. Finally, atop the strut tower goes the little kidney-shaped piece of advertising Maximum calls a support bracket. Now it’s time for an alignment.


Get It On

Caster/camber plates from Maximum Motorsports are one of the most popular Mustang bolt-ons and while often pro-installed, are a reasonable do-it-yourself job for enthusiasts with basic wrenching skills and air tools.

Fox and SN-95 installations ('79-‘04) are nearly identical, while S197s ('05-'13) differ somewhat. Most caster/camber plate installs are done in conjunction with lowering spring installs because the spring installation provides full access to the caster/camber plate, and typically lowering springs require caster/camber plates to regain tire-saving alignment specs.

All Mustang caster/camber installs require lifting the car high enough so the front suspension can reach full droop, plus room for a floor jack under the lower control arm. A sturdy set of tall jackstands is sufficient. A shop's hoist is maybe more convenient, but it is hardly a requirement.

While it's possible to install caster/camber plates without fully removing the strut from the chassis, practically speaking all Mustang caster/camber installs also require removing the front strut from the car. This means wrestling with the two large bolts securing the lower strut to the steering knuckle (spindle), along with handling the spring. It is possible to wrench the two strut bolts by hand, but they are torqued to 140-166 lb-ft depending on the application and are definitely less of a drag with an air gun.

Protecting your head from a partially unrestrained coil spring is a definite safety item, and if you are not well-versed in keeping a Mustang coil spring from flying around the shop either get help from someone who does or turn the job over to a pro.

In this story are installation highlights to give you a basic idea of what's involved, but they are by no means complete. Maximum Motorsports provides excellent caster/camber installation instruction booklets with each kit. These range from eight to 13 pages long, and can be downloaded as pdf's at www.maximummotorsports.com if you want to take a look ahead of time. Use these instructions! Maximum spends considerable time publishing detailed instructions, yet finds their number one problem is customers don't read or won't follow them.

Finally, the alignment must be properly set after caster/camber plate installation. Typically this means a short drive to a pro alignment rack, but Maximum offers an alignment gauge for track or home use. It makes sense for open-track drivers and racers.