5.0 Mustang & Super FordsHow To Chassis Suspension
ConTex Ultra Sport Suspension System
Is This The Ultimate Mustang Suspension?
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We normally think of a suspension system as coil springs, struts, shocks, and control arms. When these parts are selected to perfectly complement each other for a specific handling purpose, they can be considered a system. But in reality, they are just a selection of parts built from Ford's original design.
Innovation, in this case, is not in the design, but rather in the selection of parts. A true suspension system is designed from a clean sheet of paper, to optimize handling and eliminate as many compromises as possible. The ConTex Ultra Sport suspension system you see here was created in this manner.
Cory Shaw is the man behind the ConTex suspension. He designed it as a no-compromise, adjustable front and rear suspension system for hard-core handling applications. Normally, that would mean that the ride would be buckboard-harsh, but the ConTex system is surprisingly soft. It's not as soft as a stock Mustang, but it's softer than most other suspensions that approach this level of cornering capacity. Crawl under either end of a ConTex car and your eyes will be greeted by something they've never seen before. Let's start first at the rear suspension.
The secret to the ConTex rear suspension is the Shaw Link, a bizarre combination of bars and coil-overs that serves two purposes. The first function is to locate the rearend and control its side-to-side movement, much like a panhard bar or Watts link. The other function of the Shaw Link is to relocate the roll center up or down, and left or right. It works by loading the inside tire on a turn. It does this with a cantilever effect, induced by bodyroll.
Explaining how it works is difficult. We had to stare at it for about two hours to understand what was happening, and we still don't fully understand it. Basically, with a stock-type suspension, when the car makes a hard right-hand turn, the body rolls to the left, planting the left tire and unloading the right tire. This usually makes the inside (right) tire spin, and overloads the outside (left) tire, making it deform and lose traction. The Shaw Link uses body roll to push down on the inside tire. It doesn't limit body roll like a sway bar does; rather it uses the force of the body roll to more effectively plant both rear tires. Study the photo of the bars and arrows, and it'll sink in.
In addition to the Shaw Link, the ConTex rear suspension replaces the stock control arms with tubular pieces, and moves the location of the upper arms outboard--parallel to, and directly above the lower arms. The factory installed the stock upper arms angled outward to locate the rearend without an expensive panhard bar. For a stock production car, it works fine, but the design actually puts the rear suspension in a bind. That's why a Mustang is such an easy car to spin when trying to hustle through a corner. Ideally, all the trailing arms should point directly forward and a panhard bar (or some other axle locating device) should be used. ConTex's kit relocates the upper arms in this manner, and uses a new bolt-in forward mount for the upper arms. Installed, it looks like a full-race four-link. Also, the stock coil springs are replaced with high-quality Carrera coil-overs that are adjustable for damping, ride height, and spring rate.
The ConTex Ultra Sport High Arm SLA front suspension is just as trick. The biggest weakness of the Mustang, from a handling perspective, is the strut front suspension. The geometry of the stock suspension sucks when you're trying to go around corners fast, because it allows the tires to go into positive camber--the direct opposite of what you need. Caster/camber plates help tremendously by allowing you to set a ton of static negative camber, so that in a hard corner the tire still has some negative camber. But you can't drive around on the street like that or you'll be buying new tires every few months.
The ConTex system does away with the struts and converts the Mustang to a true double-wishbone setup with fantastic geometry and full adjustability. It starts with a lightweight (but incredibly rigid) K-member, and includes new motor mounts, upper and lower control arms, an extension for the stock spindle, camber plates, a swaybar, and adjustable Carrera coil-overs.
How does it work? According to ConTex's literature, "The high arm geometry incorporates an aggressive roll-camber coefficient that provides a proportional body-leveling effect, while at the same time maintaining the optimum tire contact patch. Body roll and nose tuck are effectively countered, even under the most severe conditions." In layman's terms, it provides a much improved camber curve, resulting in more grip in the corners without horrendous tire wear.
Shaw designed the front and rear suspensions to work together, but they'll work independently as well, if you can't afford the whole deal all at once. When combined, the ConTex front and rear suspensions create an amazing car, but one that requires learning a new way to drive. We had a chance to drive a ConTex car that GRC had put together, and we're here to tell ya', it flat gets with the program. This thing sticks like gangbusters, yet it doesn't knock your molars out when rolling over potholes. But like we said, you've gotta learn how to drive again.
Normally, when you go hot into a corner and the car starts to understeer, you lift off the throttle very gently until the nose tucks back in. With the ConTex car, we found that actually giving it more throttle made the front tires plant harder. It's the same with oversteer: When the back end comes around, you can roll into the throttle harder than you could with a stock Mustang. With a stock car, hit the throttle too hard in an oversteer situation (or jump off of it completely) and you'll be looking at where you just were. With the ConTex car, mat the throttle and the tires hook and shoot you out of the corner. We didn't have a chance to get any lap times in the car, but it's obvious that corner exit speeds are dramatically higher in this car than in any other Mustang we've ever driven. And it was more forgiving, too, doing away with the Mustang's tendency to snap away without warning. Anyone from your grandmother to Mark Martin can feel comfortable in a ConTex Mustang.
But now the bad news. All this high-tech hardware comes with a hefty price tag, and you probably won't be able to install it yourself. GRC sells the rear package for $2,000 and the front costs $3,395. GRC charges $800 per end for installation ($1,600 for front & rear). ConTex will only sell the kits to approved dealers, because it's a very involved installation, and they don't want the liability of someone screwing up the process. Of course, what we're showing here is the full-boogie ConTex Ultra Sport kit. There are different levels if you can't pop for the whole shebang. You can buy pretty much everything separately, including the K-member, or the four-link kit, a rear coil-over conversion kit, and a less-expensive front kit that uses the stock lower control arms and K-member. Getting Cory Shaw of ConTex on the phone is not an easy task, so for any questions, give GRC a call.
Is the ConTex Ultra Sport suspension the trickest of the lot for Mustangs? We'd have to say, yes. Does it work? Yes again. Is it expensive? One more time, yes. But if you're looking for a no-compromise solution to the problem of extreme handling versus comfy ride quality, look no further. This is the real deal.