Jim Smart
November 17, 2006

Handle It
Off the assembly line, classic Mustangs didn't handle worth a flip. This was due to soft springs, wimpy dampening, and not enough tire contact patch. The aftermarket industry has brought us all kinds of suspension systems and parts designed to improve handling. The tire and wheel industry has brought us even more. Each is designed to make our lives safer and driving a whole lot more fun

Before your Mustang can handle, it must have solid tire contact patch, or all the heavy-duty suspension in the world won't keep you on course. Tire contact patch can be had with 70-series radial tires, which are available in a variety of sidewall types. Adding tire width, such as 60- or 50-series radial tires on a Mach 1, makes things better. The new Firestone Firehawk radial tire is available for Mach 1 and Boss Mustangs, yielding the same raised-white-letter look we remember from 1970, plus great handling to boot.

Once you have tire selection resolved, your next course of action is the mechanics of handling; springs, shocks, and bushings. Choosing springs and shocks isn't always easy because it involves handling, ride quality, and vehicle height. To get handling, you may have to give up ride quality; to get ride quality, you might have to sacrifice handling. With the right suspension tuning, you can achieve a nice combination of the three.

Shock and spring combinations affect ride quality and handling. Five-leaf mid-eye springs in back give you proper ride height and better handling. Which shock you use greatly affects ride quality. KYB gas shocks, for example, will give you a stiff ride. So will Koni adjustables, depending on the setting. So shock selection is everything when it comes to ride quality. Using regular gas shocks with five-leaf mid-eye springs and 620-pound coils in front will give you a smooth ride as well as better handling.

Ride height affects handling, too. The lower the ride, the lower your Mustang's center of gravity, which improves handling. The important thing to remember about ride height is driving logistics. Can you get over speed bumps? Can you roll through a dip in the road without smashing headers or whacking the valance panel?

The sway bar, as its name implies, reduces body roll in the corners. The 1-inch front sway bar is a terrific handling improvement over the stock spaghetti string. Hand-in-hand with sway bars are bushings. Urethane bushings improve handling dramatically, but there are compromises. Urethane bushings create noise and a stiffer ride. Rubber bushings take up more road shock and absorb noise. We recommend polyurethane bushings for a nice compromise between brick-hard urethane and soft rubber. Total Control and Global West offer articulating ball/socket strut rods, which afford you the best of all worlds: handling and smooth operation. Rear sway bars are rarely necessary for street use. Although they do improve body roll, they get in the way of exhaust system installation. If that doesn't bother you, install a rear sway bar. Some rear sway bars are more user-friendly than others.