5.0 Mustang & Super FordsHow To Chassis Suspension
Grip In A Box
Maximum Motorsports Offers A Mail-Order “Vette-Killing” Street Suspension For $2,000
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Many companies offer basic chassis-stiffening and add-on suspension devices. With such a wide selection of suspension parts available today, choosing the right combination of parts can be a frustrating task, but one company has made the job easier for you. Maximum Motorsports of San Luis Obispo, California, has engineered all of their suspension and chassis components to work together to maximize your Mustangs grip while providing the pieces in an affordable handling package.
A friend of the 5.0 Mustang staff recently purchased a slightly-rough 90 LX. Not surprisingly, with 180,000 miles, it was badly in need of a make-over. This LX hatch was completely bone stock, down to well-worn struts, springs, and bushings. Although it was a tall order, we challenged Maximum to set us up with an affordable street-oriented suspension package that could turn this ill-handling Fox-body around. What we got, when we were finished installing this $2,000-package, was a Vette-killer.
Maximum has been designing, building, and racing their own line of suspension and chassis components since 1992. Chuck Schwynoch, Maximums owner, used his experience from IMSA and SCCA racing to produce some of the finest parts in the Mustang industry. According to Schwynoch, when it comes to engineering suspension products, Maximums design philosophy is that form should follow function.
Maximum Motorsports considers the strength and rigidity of the chassis foremost when creating a solid foundation for any Mustangstreet, drag, or otherwise. The Mustang unibody chassis is not the Rock of Gibraltar. Its more like the loose gravel around the Rock!
Quality, well-built subframe connectors are the first step in firming up your Stang. These pieces effectively tie the front and rear portions of the unibody together, preventing your car from doing the twist-and-bend as you drive it. Maximum offers two basic styles of subframe connectors: standard and full-length. Both are constructed from tubular steel with welded end caps and CNC-bent seat-mount reinforcements.
Maximums standard subframe connectors are available for all years of Mustangs from 79 to the present, including the Cobra. Maximum also offers a more hard-core stiffening setup called the full-length subframe connector. These are constructed of a larger tubing which makes them more resistant to twisting and bending than the standard version.
The full-length connectors are welded to the frame rails, like any connector, but these begin back from the torque boxes and extend forward the entire length of the floorpan, up to the firewall. Included with the connectors are special inserts to reinforce the torque boxes and seat mounting points. While it takes a bit longer to install these pieces, Maximum says these connectors are the way to go for any serious street or race application. We elected to install the full-length connectors in the LX.
The next item in the Maximum Motorsports Suspension Kit is the lower chassis brace. The purpose behind the lower chassis brace is to keep the ends of the K-member from flexing while the car is in a corner. Maximums brace uses existing holes in the K-member and chassis to ease installation, and for increased strength. The entire brace is constructed of two separate steel tubes that are attached together by a welded steel plate. This allows the cornering force to go into the strongest points of the K-member and chassis, keeping the assembly from flexing.
Maximum also redesigned the classic strut-tower brace. The reason for a strut brace is the same as the lower chassis brace, to keep the suspension points from flexing and moving under load. The mounting locations of the Maximum brace is where it differsthe rear of the brace bolts to the existing factory pinch weld along the firewall. This pinch weld is where the upper and lower portion of the firewall meet with the sheet metal from the dash area creating a mounting location with superior strength.
The meat and potatoes of the Maximum suspension system is the H&R Race springs and Bilstein shocks. These two components were carefully matched together with good performance and ride in mind. According to Schwynoch, most people tend to install high-rate springs without keeping in mind the strut/shock package. With a higher rate spring you need a strut that properly damps out the increased spring energy. High-performance struts can withstand the higher forces of the increased spring rate and they can control the release of the springs energy, thus producing a smoother ride.
Maximum recommends Bilstein struts and shocks for both street and race use. Put them in and forget about them, is Maximums philosophy regarding these well-build dampers. With the Bilstein self-adjusting valving, there is no need for external adjustment. They produce an excellent feel for the road with the H&R springs. We have found H & R to be the finest spring on the market. They have several different rates available. They are very consistent on the amount they lower your car, and they do not sag over time, said Schwynoch.
H&R has several levels of springs available, from their Sport setup, to the all-out Super Race springs. For our LX, Maximum chose the race springs, which they feel offer the best spring rates for both street & track duty. They gave our LX a great ride to compliment the awesome handling.
The contact patch of the front tire is greatly influenced by the caster and camber settings of the front wheels a problem because the stock Mustang has very little camber adjustment, and no caster adjustment at all. Fortunately for us, Maximum has been building caster/camber plates for years.
Maximums plates allow independent adjustment of caster and camber for precise control of the front-end geometry. The camber plates are an easy bolt-in, and include new bump stops that reuse the factory strut dust-boots. Although some of the plates on the market are made from aluminum, Maximum uses steel exclusively because of the increased strength.
The next item in the front end of the package is CNC-machined aluminum rack bushings. These replace your factory rubber bushings that allow the rack to move side to side as much as half an inch. Maximum feels that aluminum rack bushings are the best approach for controlling the movement of your steering rack.
Other suspension parts installed in the Maximum package include poly-urethane sway bar and lower control arm bushings.
The rear suspension also plays an important role in the handling of the 5.0. It is responsible for applying all of your horsepower and torque to the ground. Maximum addresses that with their new, tubular lower-control arms. These control arms are built from high-strength tubular steel and with the option of ride-height adjustability. The benefits of Maximum control arms are their increased strengththree times greater than stockand the proper configuration of bushings in the control arms.
In designing the Maximum arms, Schwynoch has a full-scale mock-up of the Fox-body rear suspension and studied it to determine exactly what was being asked of the lower control arms. He discovered that the axle end of the control arms required quite a bit of freedom of movement to prevent a bind situation, while the chassis end required only a slight bit. This led Maximum to design their control arm with a spherical bearing at the axle end and a special three-piece urethane bushing at the chassis end. The ride height adjustability option adds a NASCAR-style weight jacker that is welded into the control armsallowing you to simply use a ½-inch drive ratchet to raise or lower the car as you wish.
How many times have you been real committed to carving a high-speed corner, only to have your Stang do the side-step? This is a common problem with Mustangs and is a result of their poor control of lateral movement of the rear axle, in relation to the chassis. Ford suspension engineers placed the upper control arms at an angle to limit the lateral movement of the axle, but its insufficient for performance handling or high-horsepower.
Maximums well engineered panhard bar goes a long way toward curing this problem. The panhard bar creates a solid link between the chassis and rear-end and eliminates uncontrolled lateral movement. Before, the rear wanted to squirm out from beneath the car during a hard curving turn. With the panhard bar youll have a well-located, solidly planted axle throughout the entire radius of the turn.
The principle design consideration of a panhard bar is the strength of its brackets and the length of the locating bar. The brackets (both on the chassis and the rear axle side) must be strong enough to resist the cornering forces that try to rip them from the car. Maximums tubular chassis-mount attaches to both the rear framerails and can be bolted in. Maximum supplies a unique framerail capture system for the bolt-in bars that provides a solid mounting platform.
The total end-to-end length of the panhard bar is critical because the bar moves in an arc defined by the mounting points on the brackets. The longer the bar is, the less lateral movement of the rear axle as it moves up and down. Maximum engineered their panhard bar to have the greatest possible length at 38 inches, and offers both steel and aluminum construction.
Another important aspect of the suspension system is tire choice. Since tires are your Mustangs only link to the earth, choosing good ones will help you get the most out of your great new suspension. Super-high-performance tires are available from a variety of manufactures and are usually worth their weight in gold. For racing or serious street driving, Maximum recommends the BFGoodrich g-Force R1 tires. These are DOT-legal, but provide tremendous amounts of grip due to a soft, sticky rubber compound and generous tread design. Theyre the same tires used by a lot of autocrossers. Be forewarned, though. While these tires have amazing grip, if they are driven on the street, they will only last around 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
Installation of the Maximum suspension was performed by Powertrain Dynamics in about seven hours. Everything went as planned. We began by installing the chassis bracing, then followed with the front and rear suspensions. The toughest part of the installation (still pretty easy) was the full-length subframe connectors, and the panhard bar. The frame connectors required an experienced welder and an attention to detail, but they were a fantastic improvement over a standard connector. The panhard bar itself wasnt difficult to put in, but the process of marking and drilling the mounting holes and brackets took about an hour.
Slamming the throttle down pulling out of the Powertrain shop brought a quick smile to our facesit hooked like a demon! The testdrive not only showed us much greater road feel, but we quickly developed some brazen confidence in the suspension. It was firm, without being bone-jarring. Turn-in was extremely quick and the steering felt precise. However, these were all subjective evaluationsit was time to beat on this LX at the track.
Thanks to test driver, Mac DeMere, we got an opportunity to really put the Maximum Motorsports suspension through the paces. One bright and balmy Southern California morning, we drove our LX to our secret test facility with two sets of tires and wheels. Daily, the LX rolls on a set of HRE custom alloy wheels with BFG Comp T/A tires, 255/40 front and 275/40 rear. In the trunk (and back seat) was our secret weaponR1 stickies.
On the Comp T/As, Mac ripped a best slalom of 68.7-mphabout 2-mph faster than Motor Trends test results on the 98 Corvette!
Bolting on the R1s and really allowing the Maximum suspension to flex its muscles resulted in an astounding 72.5-mph clocking on the 600-foot slalom! Putting the LX through the skid pad testing was a jobtry .97 Gs on for size. Still, the feel of the LX is the best indication, so read the sidebar on Macs comments. The real beauty of Maximum Motorsports suspension and chassis components is that they can be installed separately and still deliver outstanding performance. Maximum recommends the chassis braces first, followed by the shocks and springs, but eventually you should work your way through the entire suspension system. Whichever route you take, the guys at Maximum have the experience and desire to help your Stang rip every street corner, and put a hurting on that Vette on the twisty road on the way to work.