Frank H. Cicerale
August 23, 2007
There's a new horse in the MM&FF stable, and its name is Project MILF. The Legend-Lime GT is currently bone stock, carries an automatic behind the 4.6L Three-Valve, and is a dual-purpose butt-whooper and grocery getter. For our introductory installment, we set out to improve the stance and handling of the S197 by bolting on Ford Racing Performance Parts' Handling Pack.

Your right foot is planted to the wood, but the end of the straightaway is coming fast. With your hands poised at the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions on the steering wheel, you roll out of the throttle and drive your foot into the brakes. The action causes weight to transfer forward, thus dropping the nose and slowing your Mustang in preparation for the approaching corner. While under heavy braking, you confidently turn left, roll off the brake pedal, and the Mustang cuts in with authority. At apex, your right foot rolls onto the loud pedal, and your Pony straightens up and accelerates to the next corner. There is no drama, just control.

Everyone with a late-model Mustang wishes the scenario would play out that way, but the truth is, while the new Mustangs handle quite well, there's more left in them in terms of handling. They are fairly pushy from the factory, meaning the front tires tend to push or plow under hard cornering. When run at its limit, an S197 Stang will push quite hard, skidding the front tires instead of them gripping and guiding the car in the desired direction. So, for those looking to improve handling characteristics, improved suspension components are a must.

Enter our new project car, aptly named Project MILF. Now, before you get your shorts in a knot, we actually have an acceptable explanation for the acronym. Instead of thinking of it in American Pie terms, we'll think of it as the "Mustang I'd Like to Flog." Catchy, isn't it? Of course, it could also be "Mommy Is Lightning Fast."

The chosen steed is an '06 Legend-Lime Mustang GT owned by Old Bridge Township Raceway Park's Michael Napp. Well, Michael and his wife, Dee, that is. The Stang is creature-friendly with all the amenities and a 5R55S automatic transmission. Even better, it has a mere 1,800 miles on the odometer, and Napp said we can do whatever we want-as long as Dee can get in and drive it worry-free. Can you imagine someone saying that to the MM&FF staff?

Consider it the perfect canvas on which to create a masterpiece. With that, we've devised a plan. Using simple bolt-on parts, we'll improve all aspects of the Mustang's performance while keeping it streetable enough for anyone to take to the mall.

The first part we mocked up and installed was the strut tower brace. This stylish item adds strength and rigidity to the strut towers and can be installed with basic handtools.

The first edition of this project lies in the installation of the FRPP Handling Pack. Tag along as we show you how easy it is to improve the handling on an S197.

The Handling Pack comes with everything an S197 owner needs to spruce up the cornering ability of his or her ride (see sidebar for the kit's components) while maintaining everyday street-ability. While the kit is extremely easy to install, we wanted to not only show you how to get the job done, but also explain why you would want to in the first place. The Pack comes with lowering springs that drop the front and rearend up to 1-1/2 inches; the new stance lowers the car's center of gravity, which reduces body roll when cornering. In addition, the sway bars are stiffer than the factory items, and the shocks are tuned to the springs.

"The whole kit is stiffer than the factory parts," says FRPP's Jesse Kershaw. "The sway bars are marginally larger in diameter, but the real increase is the springs, which are 60 percent stiffer than stock, manual-transmission-equipped Mustang GT springs. In addition, we tune the dampers [shocks] to work best with those [stiffer] springs." Lowering your Mustang will also increase the negative camber (the angle the front wheels are tilted inward when looking at the car from the front), and this helps the vehicle turn in quicker and reduces the push.

Before the struts made their way into the car, Winter had to install the springs on the struts. The springs are short enough to slide on the strut, and the top of the stock strut can be bolted on without having to compress the springs. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

With a stiffer spring, body roll is also reduced. "The object is to keep the tires on the ground," Kershaw says. Also helping are the sway bars. Both bars are stiffer, and the front sway bar has three different settings from which to choose. These settings range from full race, street/strip, to street only. "The softest setting, the hole the furthest inward on the front sway bar, will give you more oversteer and adds to the fun factor," Kershaw says. "A more experienced driver will probably appreciate this on dry twisties. In wet conditions, or for a less experienced driver, a little understeer can be dialed in by using the outer holes." By increasing oversteer, you are reducing understeer, or push, thus allowing you to drive into the corner deeper and harder without fear of washing up the track. In other words, it makes the car more neutral.

Two questions that we wanted answered were, what kind of clearance issues would we run into, both with the ground and with the wheel and tire combination, and what will the kit do in regard to overall feel?

"We were lucky to have learned much about the Mustang suspension via the FR500C program as well as the development of the GT500," Kershaw says. "Ford Racing Performance Parts and SVT were doing track days together to dial-in our kit and the GT500. We tested with 245/50-18 tires on stock 18-inch rims, and we had no issues as to clearance. We've run the kits on GTs with GT500 rims as well as FR500 rims without any difficulty. However, if you want to run a stud girdle on the rearend, you will have interference with the Panhard bar. We redesigned our stud girdle to accommodate this and have given it a new part number [M-4033-G2].

"Overall, the Handling Pack should make the car a little more dynamic feeling. It would be one step closer to a go-kart, but not so much that it rattles your fillings loose. It's very satisfying to whip a Mustang through a turnaround and let the rearend hang out with our Handling and Drag Packs installed."

Once the struts were assembled, they were installed in the car from the bottom up. With the struts in place, we linked the spindles back up, along with the brake line mounts. We didn't hook the sway bar back up, as we were swapping it out for the one that came with the kit. Once everything was buttoned up below, we went back up top and tightened the four mounting bolts along with (finally) the strut tower brace.

Also of note is the strut tower brace. This item was a true bolt-and-go part on this '06 GT. Keep in mind, though, that if you have a V-6, a supercharged GT (think GT500), or a GT with an '07 intake shroud (plastic engine cover), the strut tower brace will not fit without modification to components under the hood. As of press time, FRPP has not developed a brace that would fit the V-6 cars or those with the intake shroud.

"You only run into a problem when you use the brace with the intake shroud or on the V-6, which oddly enough, has a taller intake," Kershaw explains. "You can add a couple of washers to raise [the brace] up a bit, but it will then interfere with the hood insulator a bit. Basically, it's the owner's call as to what gets done to make it fit."

For those of you with a blower, help is on the way. "We are finalizing our '07 Cobra brace and Handling Pack," Kershaw says. "Both should be available soon."

One thing we found out about installing the brace is this: If you are replacing the front struts at the same time as you plan on installing the strut tower brace, leave the brace last; you'll only have to take it back off to swap the struts.

Pack of Parts
We visited the FRPP Web site to get a better idea of what comes in its Handling Pack (PN M-2005-FR3). While each part contained within the kit has its own part number and can be purchased separately, doing it all in one shot with the Handling Pack would be the way to go to ease headaches and installation time. Check out what comes in the kit.

Damper Kit (PN M018000-A)
Mustang GT Lowering Spring Kit (PN M-5300-K)
Mustang GT Antiroll Bar Kit (PN M-5490-A)
Mustang Strut Tower Brace (PN M-20201-S197)

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