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Cage Match - Installing a Rollcage in Our T-Top Fox Mustang
Chris Alston's Chassisworks installs its eight-point, Pro-Street rollcage with an H-brace for T-tops on our Drag Week 1986 Fox Body Mustang Coupe
In last month's introduction of our Project T-top coupe, we mentioned that one of the performance goals we hope to achieve is for the car to run consistently in the 10s throughout the five days of Hot Rod magazine's Drag Week. A 10-second e.t. might be a bit conservative and off the pace this year in Drag Week's Power Adder Small Block class we'll enter, but if the stars align properly and we do get the car finished in time for Drag Week, hitting our target shouldn't be a problem. Our car will have plenty of Keith Craft and Paxton Novi power to carry it well into the fairly quick e.t. range if we dare to go there with it.
With the 10s in mind, and because we're working with a car that leaves quite a bit to be desired when it comes to chassis soundness, we decided it would be best to tie the coupe together with an eight-point rollcage, as opposed to an eight-point rollbar (see Roll Rules sidebar). It's important to make any Mustang's overall structure as strong as possible if you plan to subject it to more than occasional 'strip action. In addition to strength enhancement, rollcages also provide safety for the driver and passenger, as the placement and size of the bars help protect a Mustang's occupants in the event of a side-impact, rear-impact, or rollover accident-on the street as well as at the track.
T-top cars are, well, different. The two glass roof panels let the sun shine in, but they also represent a pretty big compromise in an already-suspect chassis structure. The potential for unibody flex/twist is much greater with a T-top car, especially when heavy doses of horsepower and torque are added to the mix. While preparing our project car for the Chris Alston's Chassisworks eight-point, Pro-Street rollcage featured in this report, we saw signs of chassis flex in the floorpan and driveshaft-tunnel area, just below the rear seat bottom. Despite not knowing our car's complete history, we don't believe it ever ran with anything more than a stock 5.0, so this is proof positive that it doesn't take a lot to get a T-top 'Stang's subframes crossed up.
We presented our project concept to Chris Alston Sr., who owns and operates the Sacramento, California-based chassis-components empire that bears his name. Chassisworks is widely known as a one-stop-shopping outlet for hardcore race-car components, including bolt-in, FAB9 rearend housings and direct-fit, double-adjustable VariShock rear shocks and front struts for Fox Mustangs. And, like all the other participants in this project, Chris was immediately interested in getting involved and suggested several good ideas for making our coupe's frame a bit more solid.
We've all probably seen hundreds of street Mustangs with rollcages. What stands out about the 'cages in the first-generation Fox cars ('79-'86), however, is that most of them feature 'cage sides (the side tubes that run from the main hoop and alongside the top of the door frames, then down to the floorpan) that fall in front of the dashboard. These rollcages also do not include any bracing in the center area of T-top 'Stangs. We also wanted the 'cage sides to have enough clearance for access to the T-top latches. After explaining to Chris our interest in incorporating these elements into a rollcage for our project car, he suggested we go with an eight-point, Pro-Street rollcage (starting at $396) with optional through-the-dash 'cage sides for easier driver/passenger entry and exit. 'Cage sides that land in front of the dash and swing-out side bars are standard with the Pro-Street cage. It also includes an H-brace between the windshield brace and the main hoop, which supports the centersection of the roof.
We also expressed our interest in maintaining a rear seat in the Drag Week coupe. Sure, the rear seat is usually a deleted item on street/strip Mustangs, but we want to retain the seat, for a true, street-car look, and in the event we have to help out a fellow Drag Week participant with a ride at some point during the tour. The bent rear struts that are included with a Pro-Street cage kit do not impede the rear seat area, so even though the standard back brace (that runs across the width of the main hoop) will be welded in to comply with NHRA rules, there still will be enough room for a passenger in the back of our car.
It's important to point out that some sacrifices usually must be made when dealing with anything that has even a small element of "custom" involved, such as our rollcage. In our case, by going with the optional 'cage sides that run through the dash, we'll probably have to make a few alterations to, or completely do away with, the HVAC ducts in order to achieve the clean look that we want. We've noticed that our 'Stang's heating system and blower fan look pretty sickly anyway, so the entire unit might be scrapped. Editor Turner better remember to bring a coat for the nighttime cruising. Going with this option might also compromise the fuse box. Through-the-dash 'cage sides are popular on '87-'93 Mustangs, with tubes falling through the area where the front speakers normally would be.
The accompanying photos and captions provide an inside look at the overall effort that goes into developing a Mustang rollcage, from concept to actual product. As we learned during our three days at Chassisworks, it isn't as easy as one would think. Critical measurements, trial-fitting and refitting tubes, and even more measuring are all a huge part of this process. With trial-and-error and repetition, the finished product is something that's perfect for ours or any other 'Stangbanger's Fox. Chassisworks rollcages are available in mild-steel or chrome-moly.
Read on and see how Sales and Project Manager Jim Wright, Production Supervisor Steve Collins, and Shop Supervisor Scott Wilkins collaborate on this mission to fortify our four-eye with a super-solid rollcage.