Dale Amy
October 1, 2007

Horse Sense: After agreeing to tackle such a challenging project, it's only fair that the crew at Paul's High Performance gets to have fun. When Editor Turner's '88 LX arrived on the transporter, the friendly bunch at PHP called to let the project's mastermind know the car had arrived-not before checking to make sure the brakes worked. As soon as Editor Turner said hello to Paul Svinicki, he was greeted with the revving engine and squealing tires-the unmistakable sounds of a burnout. Imagine what they'll do when they finish the project.

While my pal Editor Turner continues to mull over the final details of exactly how we're going to mutate his unassuming '88 T-top LX into something that will resoundingly whip Associate Editor Johnson's sorry butt, certain elements are now cast in stone. Such as the fact that the next time the old white LX moves under its own power, the thrust will come from nothing less than Ford Racing Performance Parts' '07 GT 500 crate motor (PN M-6007-C54). That hulking crate is already taking up space at Paul's High Performance, where the bulk of this audacious project will come together under the experienced minds and hands of Paul Svinicki and crew.

This 800-pound gorilla of an engine demands certain funda-mental requirements. Since the Condor's-the codename assigned to the Shelby GT 500 during its development-blown 5.4 produces roughly the same amount of torque as the average tornado, a stiff and grippy chassis is a must to resist the twist-no easy task with our Fox's loosey-goosey combination of hatchback body style and T-top. Otherwise those rare and no doubt expensive roof panels may find themselves rudely ejected the first time I-I mean Turner-drops the hammer.

As we take our first tentative steps down the road to project car glory, we've acquired a plethora of proven hardware from Maximum Motorsports to build that Gibraltar-solid foundation, with a shopping list that includes complete front and rear suspensions and a rollcage. We'll detail all this cool stuff as the months pass, but first things first: You can't stick a modular-any modular-into a Fox chassis without a K-member designed explicitly for the job. Maximum has just such a K-member in its catalog, one that's a relatively lightweight tubular construction but is beefy enough to handle the mass and torque of our upcoming 5.4 power-generating station.

This time, we'll deal with what's literally the supporting cast for the entire project: a front suspension that will contain the Condor. Let the games begin.

Here was our starting point: the stripped engine bay with a well-used 5.0 and T5 having already been yanked by the PHP gang. Note the mass of the stamped and welded factory K-member. Obviously not a Rust Belt car, our LX shows clear signs of wear, but virtually no corrosion. In other words, it's as solid as a factory Fox unibody ever was. We'll need all that solidity and much more in the coming months.

The basis of our engine swap: Maximum Motor-sports' K-member-with accompanying A-arms and a rear K-member brace-designed specifically for the installation of a modular V-8 in Fox and early SN-95 chassis. Did they have a GT 500 swap in mind when they designed it? No, but it should work. No flyweight drag-race K, this thing is engineered and fully triangulated for the rigors of street, track, or even Johnson use. At the same time, the tubular design provides increased clearance for engine and suspension service, and more than an inch greater header clearance in critical areas. Other important features are 2 degrees of increased caster and the provision of a 0.75-inch longer wheelbase for slightly improved front/rear weight distribution.

The A-arm design requires the use of coilovers, so the shipping crate also included Bilstein struts and Maximum's coilover conversion kit-only its major parts are shown here-along with 400-lb/in Hypercoil springs. As with all its products, Maximum has invested a lot of thought and money into this conversion kit. Case in point: Instead of simply anodizing critical aluminum components, these are instead hard anodized for maximum life. We'll show some details of the coilovers coming together in upcoming photos.

With any coilover, all front-end loads are focused through the upper strut mount points, so steel caster/camber plates and spherical bearings are recommended by Maximum Motorsports. Naturally, the company has such a kit. Ignore the urethane cones-they aren't part of the installation and snuck into the photo while our backs were turned.

Maximum shipped us a 1.125-inch antiroll bar of 31/416 wall thickness, along with the appropriate Prothane bushings and end links. The plates in front of the bar are for reinforcement of the factory sway-bar mount brackets, which, according to Maximum, are prone to flexing and cracking.

Another of Maximum Motorsports' front-end improvements is a steering shaft using universal joints at both ends instead of a rag joint at the steering rack junction. MM's shaft is unique in that, instead of using set screws said to cause header interference or back out under heat cycles, the universals are welded to the shaft. Although only the tie-rod ends are shown in this photo, Maximum's hardware also includes a bumpsteer kit, likely to come in handy as we'll be changing spindles in a future brake upgrade.

In case you've forgotten, this is how a stock-except for lowering springs-Fox front suspension looks. By the time we finish, all this gear will be on the way to the metal recycler. Note that with the separate spring and strut, the coil loads are ultimately borne by the subframe, whereas with our new coilover setup, the damper, and spring loads will bear on the upper strut mount, explaining why a rigid caster/camber arrangement is required.

And the disassembly began. At this point, Paul's High Performance tech, Mike Sears, is using a transmission jack to lower the A-arm and remove the coil. Had this been a longer factory coil, a compressor would've been advisable. You can see that the sway bar end links, the ball joint, and the two lower strut bolts have been detached. The caliper has been unbolted and supported, even though it will eventually go on the scrap heap along with the rest of the stock braking system. Another item that will not see re-use is the spindle/hub assembly. The brake rotor and four-bolt hub is next to come off.

Mike turns his attention to unbolting the sway bar from its subframe-mounted brackets. They'll soon get Maximum's reinforcement plates.

After disconnecting the steering shaft-it's amazing how simple all this is without an engine in the way-the steering rack is next to come off.

After unbolting the free-hanging A-arms, Mike turns his attention to the eight sturdy bolts that secure the K-member to the front subframe. Fellow PHP tech, Karl Roekle, stood in for a tranny jack to help Mike lower the hefty factory K. Notice how clean Karl's hands are.

This shows one of Maximum Motorsports' sway bar bracket reinforcement plates set in place, prior to welding. You can see how these triangulate the stock sway bar bracket, which is spot-welded to the subframe and subject to possible flex under heavy loading.

Mike set about unbolting the old struts and their factory mount plates and substituting the adjustable Maximum Motorsports caster/camber plates with their Teflon-lined spherical bearings. Notice how high these plates are spaced above the strut tower in order to maximize bump travel on lowered cars, as Fox 500 will certainly be.

On the left is a stock Bilstein Mustang strut, and on the right is one after Maximum's clever coilover adapter kit has been fitted. The design strives to maximize bump travel, strength, and longevity. The black threaded adjustment sleeve is dimensioned to fit snugly around the strut body, avoiding rattles and keeping the lower spring perch square to the strut so the spring won't arc and rub on the threaded sleeve.

Before the K-member was installed, Mike swapped the stock steering shaft for its much more precise, U-jointed, Maximum Motorsports replacement. We're anxious to sample its improved steering response.

This shot gives some idea of the utterly different engine mount positions on the small-block factory K, and its modular Maximum Motorsports replacement. Compare the fore/aft engine mount positioning to the location of the respective K-member mounting holes. Also evident is the increased working room provided by the tubular structure.

Here, the tubular K-member has been bolted in place, reusing the eight factory bolts. The coilovers are also hanging from their top mounts. Because all this stuff has to come off again in order to sandblast and paint the engine bay, everything is tightened only enough to temporarily make a rolling chassis. No attempt was made to precisely center the K, adjust the coilovers for proper height, and so on. If you're considering the Maximum hardware for your own project, the company provides excellent setup instructions.

Though barely visible here, Maximum's K-member provides two sets of mounting holes for the new A-arms so roll-center height and camber curves can be optimized for a given car's ride height. We're showing them installed in the upper set of holes, and will likely leave them there, but the final determination will be made at a later date.

Some of the Maximum hardware we haven't mentioned yet are these spherical steering rack bushings, specifically designed for the company's recent K-members. They provide the option of no less than five possible rack heights: stock and two positions above or below. Raising the rack can reduce the number of bumpsteer spacers used at the steering arms, while lowering it can allow for such things as oversized oil pans. At this early point in our project, we have yet to determine appropriate rack height, so the bushings are loosely hanging in place, clearly not properly installed in this shot. The importance of eventually performing a comprehensive bumpsteer adjustment can't be over emphasized.

With Maximum's new sway bar fitted, this is as finished as we can make the front suspension at the moment. Ignore the fact that we've reinstalled the old spindles. Again, this was just to temporarily return the car to roller status so it can be moved. Maximum recommends '96-and-up spindles for reasons of steering arm placement. We haven't specified new spindles yet, as it's still being debated which ones will work best with our planned massive front brake upgrade. That is a story for another issue, so stay tuned. These kinds of projects are unlikely to come without adversity, but that's what ultimately makes them worth doing.