Tom Wilson
August 1, 2002
Photos By: Dale Amy

In case you missed earlier installments on our open-track project, the '96 Mustang has been getting the treatment at Maximum Motorsports. Our plan is to transform what was a bolt-on-level street car into a nearly dedicated open-track machine-that is, a car heavily modified for track duty so it's at home on a road-racing track, but one still wearing license plates that can do at least minimal street duty.

Dual-purpose cars are tough to execute. Luckily, road-course work and street driving are fairly close to each other. What makes a car go around corners at the track isn't far removed from going around corners in town. Mainly it's how much spring and shock rate your bum can take on the street.

That said, Mustangs are cursed with a primitive chassis and blessed with excellent tuners who can fix nearly any problem. To make a corner carver out of our 4.6 GT, we've teamed with Maximum Motorsports for its complete chassis package-torque arm, tubular K-member, and everything in between. Having previously detailed installation of both front and rear suspensions, this month we're headed inside the cockpit for the necessary safety items.

The safety essentials include a rollbar and a seat/harness system. Actually, all of these are interlinked and should be thought of as an integrated safety system. But to begin, the rollbar is an obvious help when the world flips upside down, and it is typically mandated for open-track cars with V-8-speed potential. Unlike a full road-race car, a cage is not required for open-tracking because with wheel-to-wheel combat reduced by restricted passing areas, rollovers are rare and less violent.

Maximum's rollbar in our car is a new part. Having done land-office business in NHRA-legal, drag-style rollbars and SCCA-legal cages for years, Maximum is well acquainted with what's needed. For our car, the company took the back half of its road-racing cage, deleted the front hoop, and added low-lying forward braces. The result is stout rear and diagonal bracing, along with some forward bracing, minimally improved side-impact protection, and excellent ingress and egress for the front seats. Considering the open-track environment, the trade-offs between safety and utility make sense to us. Maximum is also adding this rollbar to its catalog-look for it this fall with a price likely just north of $400.

With 1 1/2-inch-diameter, mild-steel tubing, Maximum's open-track rollbar could be SCCA race-legal in cars up to 3,500 pounds. Our heavy, street-oriented Mustang is actually a bit more than that limit right now, but if put on a road-racing program, the resulting weight reduction would bring the car within the 1 3/4-ton limit. Thus, should we eventually want to go road racing, we could gut the interior and doors, fit lighter wheels and so on, then add the front hoop and heavier door bracing of Maximum's racing cage to arrive at an SCCA-legal road racer.

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