5.0 Mustang & Super FordsHow To Chassis Suspension
How to Install Raceland's Coilover on a 1996 Mustang GT - Landing Gear
Trying a set of coilovers for less than a set of shocks
Raceland is an out-growth of a Belgian company. The U.S. company was based in Reno, Nevada, for a while, but now calls Salt Lake City, Utah, home.
Some might say the subjects of our tech stories are too expensive. In some cases, that might be accurate. But this time we have a story on a new suspension option that's definitely affordable, easy to install, and offers adjustable lowering for street profiling or a touch of performance.
The new kit is a set of four coilovers from Raceland, and to get the big news out of the way, it's only $469. That's a hoot and holler over half the price of a good set of adjustable shocks, or roughly one third the price of a typical coilover kit.
It's inexpensive. One might even call it low-buck. Granted, for such a canned-beer price you're not going to get champagne, but as you've often told us, there are plenty of times when you're looking just to prop-up your thrill ride, or you simply don't have the coin. We understand.
Obviously Raceland is saving money. One way is by only selling direct via their website (www.racelandus.com). This avoids wholesale and retail costs, which is savings the young company passes along to you.
The other is the specification of their shocks. They are not adjustable, for example, the shafts aren't oversized, and so on. You reuse some of the original washers and other installation tidbits, too. But at this price, the idea is to get the ride height adjustability, and considering many of the wasted stock shocks and struts this kit is going to replace, even a basic-but-new damper is a big improvement.
You, of course, get the fundamental benefits of a coilover suspension. And not to be too pedantic about it, but on the recipients, '79-'04 Mustangs, this means a true coilover in the front, plus an adjustable spring perch in the rear where it's difficult to fit an honest coilover without major chassis surgery. So, only the front is a true coilover (typical of most Mustang coilover kits, no matter the price), but the height adjustability is found at all four corners. And to be practical, the big advantage to the daily driver coilover buyer is adjustable ride height.
In other words, you can lower your Mustang below a snake's belly in a wagon rut for show day, up to stock ride height for rough-road commuting, and somewhere in between for a handling improvement. Raceland says the ride height ranges from stock to 3 inches lower.
To sample the Raceland gear, we gave it an appropriately quick-and-easy install and test thanks to GTR High Performance. Ricardo and Gonzalo Topete at GTR once again stepped up with just the right customer's car, performed the installation for our camera, and paved the way for us to wheel the new gear at a Speed Ventures Autocross at Fontana Speedway. The whole thing was done right there at the autocross in one day, so it's pretty straightforward stuff.
The details are in the photos and captions, but the installation is driveway simple for those with a fair amount of tools and some experience. If not, your local shop can handle this install in an easy half day. Keep reading and we'll show you how it's done.
01. Raceland’s affordable $469 coilover kit is inexpensive enough to compete with a simple shock replacement. The big attraction here, though, is the ability to raise or lower the car using the curved wrench at center.
02. A true coilover, the Raceland front strut packages the coil spring around the MacPherson strut, just like Ford should have done in the first place. Note the use of a main spring and the smaller helper spring. The latter’s job is strictly to keep the main spring under compression when the suspension hits full droop going through potholes, steep driveway approaches, on a hoist and so on. Otherwise the main spring rattles and springs alarmingly.
03. When installed on the car with the spring pressing down on it, the adjusting collar takes more than hand force to turn. That’s where the adjusting wrench comes in, as demonstrated here on the rear spring seat.
04. One addition you really want to consider is a set of adjustable caster/camber plates. Raceland uses the stock-style rubber bushing atop the front strut. This is a quiet, streetable configuration. One addition you really want to consider is a set of adjustable caster/camber plates. Raceland should have a plate compatible with their strut shortly to correct excessive negative camber gained from lowering.
05. The rear, lower spring seats are wedge-shaped to accommodate the angled lower control arm the springs seat on. These wedge spring perches are made from lightweight, inexpensive composite.
06. There’s nothing especially trick about the Raceland twin-tube rear shocks as the spring is not co-located around them. Raceland reports they aimed for a shock tune that gave a near stock ride but with a modest performance boost.
07. These adjustable spring perches mount atop the rear springs. Made from hard anodized aluminum, the perches mount into an existing hole in the rear frame rails.
08. Ricardo began installation by getting the car up on tallish jackstands, removing the wheels and tires, then at the front axle undoing the upper strut connection, sway bar end-link, brake caliper, brake hose bracket and as seen here, the two big nuts holding the strut bottom to the spindle. These are torqued to 140 lb-ft, so a big breaker bar, or preferably an impact gun are necessary. Working in the field as he was, Ricardo employed his trusty electric impact wrench. It’s powerful and more portable than a pneumatic gun and air compressor combination.
09. With the two large bolts removed from the strut/spindle interface (and the strut removed from the chassis) the lower control arm is free to slam down under spring pressure. Which is why it absolutely must be supported by a floorjack and carefully lowered. Then the coil spring can be popped out using a long lever. This is a tricky step because the spring is under tension and has considerable energy. If you’re not familiar with this, have a pro do the job.
10. There is a short list of spacers and washers that go atop the Raceland strut. You’ll reuse some of the heavier metal retainers and washers, along with all new rubber parts from Raceland. It’s all simple slip-on work in preparation for fitting the new coilover strut to the chassis.
11. With the top of the strut dressed and the coil spring adjuster backed off all the way, the strut can be inserted into the chassis. Install the upper end of the strut to the chassis first. A friend working from the engine compartment side while you hold the strut up is a big help.
(installation continued on next page)
Pedro Pazsoldan is associated with GTR and graciously provided the '96 Mustang GT test car. Pedro's car has a minimum of performance mods, but GTR returned his suspension to stock before our test so we could baseline the handling.
The Speed Ventures autocross course on our test day turned out to be one of the faster courses we've experienced there (but still all second gear), and we found it near-perfect for a handling test. It began with a short straight, then a long left sweeper exiting onto another short straight, then slowing into a jagged slalom section. Once done swinging back and forth the course then opened into a right sweeper, but not quite as big and fast as the earlier left sweeper. The final was another big, swinging slalom section and the race to the timing light. It was a near figure 8, with an emphasis on corner exits and entries similar to those on a tight, winding mountain road.
Pedro's Two-Valve GT was wearing stock gears and with its soft stock suspension it had a big advantage in a large pitching motion in and out of the slow corners. This doesn't feel reassuring at first, but does allow the car to either plant the rear tires for good acceleration on corner exit or roll the nose in and swing the tail out on tight corner entries.
The disadvantage to the stock suspenders was excessive roll in the slalom sections and elephantine understeer in the steady state sweepers. Another thing to note was we were able to make our runs relatively quickly (no long staging lines) so we could put heat into our excellent-as-always Nitto NT01 tires. Here are the results:
|1||36.976||just getting acquainted|
|2||36.512||better, but a little left everywhere|
|3||36.131||best lap, tires just starting past peak temperature|
|4||36.306||tires over optimum temperature|
With the lap times stabilized, we stopped a few hours for the installation. That finished, we asked Ricardo to set the car to its stock ride height for our first runs with the Raceland gear so we could sample whatever changes the shock and spring rates gave. He got the ride height within 3⁄16-inch—plenty close—and we gave it a go.
Honestly, the car felt a bit skatier, which was the accumulating grit on the track, but it was also much more confident through the slaloms and had less understeer in the big sweepers. Once again we were able to lap almost back-to-back giving us a good feel for tire temperatures. Our times were close to the baseline:
|5||36.742||easy run to get the feel and warm the tires|
|6||36.426||getting back to biz, wider line in the sweepers|
|7||-----||timing equipment failed on the best run|
|8||36.404||tires getting hotter, not optimum driving|
Losing the timing on Run 7 was critical (and so typical!), as it was definitely a good lap, likely a 36.0. But with the tires warmed, there was no second chance. It was also clear from the car's handling that it was easier to drive and a touch quicker, but not fundamentally so. Also, the track had slowed.
Ricardo and crew then lowered the car. We tried for the optimum handling point, which is 1.250-inch lower than stock, but got closer to a 1.5-inch. This is not bad for a first guess on using a new-to-us coilover kit, and with the day starting to run short we accepted the aggressive lowering and hit the track:
|9||36.382||not our best driving|
|10||36.258||better driving and tire temperatures|
|11||36.439||tires heating more, greater understeer|
From the driver's seat it was clear there was a lack of grip everywhere from the track and now definitely warmed up tires, but the chassis was faster. As expected, the response in the slalom was much improved, with the car more predictable and accurate in its pointing. Unlike before, we could confidently lightly slide the car in the slaloms, which, if nothing else, always feels like more fun. Braking stability and general, overall predictability was improved in and out of the corners.
Of course, the stopwatch wasn't giving us much love in the form of the much-wanted 35 run, but if you average the times, the car was faster on the Raceland coilovers, so we chalked that as a win. Had we been able to run the Raceland gear in the morning, as was the baseline, the cooler ambient temperatures and tires would easily have put the car deep into the 35-second range.
At this point the day was all but over, so we didn't have a chance to fine-fiddle with the ride height. Furthermore, we had the car so low the right front was getting into the inner fender liner, so we called it a day and set about raising the car for a more optimum street height—a nice option to have.
Finally, after the test we checked in with GTR. They report Pedro had run the car extensively since our test, with just a hair taller ride height for fender clearance. He finds the ride quality stock, with a plush feel. That jibes well with our track results, which point to the Raceland gear as a great value on street/hobby track cars.
12. Like all coilovers, the Raceland ride height adjustments are made by threading a collar (nut) up and down the threaded exterior of the damper. Because there is some spring pressure, the wrench is needed for leverage. When the adjustment is set, the lower collar is tightened against the upper collar to lock it in place.
13. Here Ricardo shows how the rear, upper spring perch is retained in the chassis. The flat plate—it has a threaded hole in center—fits inside the frame rail, while the perch itself is offered up from the bottom. A single bolt in the center of the spring perch then threads into the plate. The trick is holding the bolt in place while getting everything in position. Ricardo used a magnet on an extension to get the bolt up into the spring perch.
14. Installing the Raceland shock is nothing more than replacing the stock unit. You’ll need a friend working from the trunk to install the rubber cushions, washer and nut at the top of the shock. Thankfully Raceland provides a set of flats atop the shock to keep the shaft from turning while the nut is tightened.
15. If anything, the rear installation is easier than the front. With the sway bar (and sometimes the quad shocks) disconnected, it’s easy to push down on one side of the rear axle and simply lift out the rear spring.
16. With the upper spring perch in place and the adjuster turned all the way to the bottom, the new Raceland spring will be just captured during spring installation. Later, with the entire rear suspension connected the spring will stay in place with the ride height adjuster at lower settings.
17. Measure ride height from the ground to the edge of the fender lip. Optimum handling is usually found at 11⁄4 inches of lowering, but you might want to go lower just for looks at a car show, or higher for fender or header clearance on the street.
18. The bottom of the Raceland rear spring sits on the wedge-shaped lower spring perch. Installation is as easy as setting the pieces in position, with the thick part of the wedge to the rear of the car.
19. To transfer the desired lowering to the suspension, measure directly from the bottom of the spring to a consistent reference point. Ricardo lowers the locking collar to the bottom of the threads and measures from there. You’ll note the helper spring is almost totally coil bound, that’s normal at near stock ride heights.
Raceland's current coilover kit is their first venture into the domestic muscle market, but they have plans for more. Clearly needed is Raceland's upcoming Mustang caster/camber plate. Hitting the market about the time you read this, the plate is a necessity because lowered Mustangs typically need the plates to restore the proper alignment settings (remove the excessive negative camber lowering causes), but the industry standard Maximum Motorsport caster/camber plates don't fit the Raceland struts.
Another easy pick is a coilover kit for the '05-and-later S197 Mustang chassis. Raceland is working on this now and hopes to debut the new fitment after the caster/camber plates are released. Also, Raceland is developing an adjustable shock for its coilovers. This is a longer-term development that might be a year in the making.
With the cost of traditional road course testing so high these days we've found autocrossing a good substitute. When the parts being tested lend themselves to relatively quick, one day events (fast installation), an autocross can quickly tell you if progress has been made.
On top of that, the standing start at an autocross is excellent mental training for switching on when the green flag drops. The tight autocross courses also place a premium on driver precision and consistency, something we never get enough practice at.
In our Southern California neck of the sagebrush the outfit to autocross with is Speed Ventures (we also open-track with them). They offer well-organized, yet still low-key events using electronic timing light systems and short waits between runs. You'll find them at Fontana, Buttonwillow, and Willow Springs (plus other big name tracks outside of the immediate SoCal region), or at www.speedventures.com.