Anyone that has ever tried to stuff a tall deck engine into a first generation Mustang knows it can be painful. Even trying to fit a nice set of long tube headers on a 289 or 302 can make accessing spark plugs a pain, thanks to those pesky shock towers. While a 351 Windsor motor will fit with a little massaging, changing spark plugs can turn into an all-day process. Want a Cleveland? Have fun with that.
On top of the pains of fitting anything taller than a 8.200 deck height block in a first generation Mustang, the suspension design is less than desirable. Don’t get us wrong: the Mustang has proven itself in both drag racing and road racing with the conventional suspension design, though technology advancements over the 45+ years has made that design all but obsolete. Thanks to help from Total Cost Involved, Wilwood, ididit, and Grant – we are going to add some 21st century spark to our freshman-class Mustang.
The stock Mustang suspension system starts with the classic steering box and idler arm design. The stock steering arms are far from durable and steering box suspensions typically come with a lot of steering wheel play, which can be dangerous when driving the car over bumps. Connected to the wheels is a pair of drum brakes, though a V8 version came with front disc brakes. The shock and spring are mounted above the upper control arm and the lower control arm is stabilized by a tension rod.
Our project “Biting the Bullitt” 1965 Mustang will be receiving a 1030 HP 427 CI Windsor-based small block Ford. We wanted to switch to a modern suspension design for a safety and handling perspective while freeing up the engine bay so it would be much easier to service the tall deck, small block Ford. “One nice feature about our kit is that the engine mounts are already placed, which allows the engine to bolt directly in place with the included engine mounts,” said TCI’s sales Manager Evan Dalley.
Freeing up engine bay space and converting to a conventional suspension design with Total Cost Involved
Total Cost Involved Mustang Custom IFS Front Suspension Conversion PN 230-2200-00
• Urethane bushed tubular A-arms
• Manual or power rack and pinion
• Custom 2-inch drop spindles
• 1-inch performance anti-roll bar
• Inner fender panels
• Single adjustable coil-over shocks (double adjustable by option)
• 11-inch drilled and slotted rotors with big bore GM calipers standard – other options available
• 1-1/8-inch lower and 1-inch upper control arms
• Comes standard with small block mounts with big block and Modular available
• Chrome/polished show option available
Wilwood Dynalite Brake Kit PN 140-10502
• Black Electro Coat drilled, slotted, and vented 12.19-inch Rotors
• Forged billet 4-piston calipers
• High performance Wilwood brake pads
• Lug studs, hub assembly, and rotor adapter
• New bearings, seals, bolts, and bearing lube included
One of the extra steps that TCI Engineering takes to make their customer’s lives easier is by installing the brake kit onto the spindles before they ship. TCI offers a basic GM-based brake kit and they stock many popular Wilwood brake sizes. For us, we went with Wilwood’s black Electro Coat 12-inch cross drilled/slotted rotors. The Electro Coat helps the rotors fight corrosion while staying cleaner longer. The calipers are Wilwood’s Dynalite four piston stoppers that are designed to clear our 15-inch skinnies and provide a stealthy look. The Dynalite calipers are made from forged billet aluminum and support a 3.96-inch width pad. Additionally, the kit comes complete with the mounting hub, lug studs, brake pads and assembly bolts. When you order a set of Wilwood’s with TCI Engineering ‘s kit, they also include a super thick polished backing plate that adds yet another nice touch.
There are a few major manufacturers that produce a Mustang II front suspension conversion for the first generation Mustang and one of those highly regarded companies is Total Cost Involved. Based in Ontario, California, TCI Engineering manufactures a wide range of suspension components for classic muscle cars. All their parts, even the metal they use, are built in their southern California facility.
We took a trip up to TCI Engineering to watch our Mustang Custom IFS suspension kit get built. All of TCI Engineering’s parts are built a large quantities at one time. They have jigs built for all their suspension parts and a team of TIG welders spend their day assembling everything from control arms, shocks, subframes, to hot rod car frames. “We build a tubular 1 -1/8th diameter DOM seamless tubing lower control arm that eliminates the stock strut rod,” said Dalley. “The kit is specifically designed for a coilover and not a separate spring and shock combination like a conventional Mustang II suspension has. This keeps you from having to cut a section out of the rail to clear the coil spring.”
Installation First Starts at Removal
With our kit done and back in our shop, it was now my turn to get the Mustang from the storage yard a few blocks over. This poor inline six knew it was going to get killed and struggled with me the whole way over to the shop. It had developed a massive water leak around two of the freeze plugs under the exhaust manifold, and the engine had virtually no water in it, but then the Mustang also wouldn’t want to run unless it was up to operating temperature. By the time I had made the two block trek over to the shop, the engine temperature gauge was nearly pegged at 240 degrees – thank god it made it.
Installing the TCI Engineering Mustang Custom IFS Front Suspension Kit
Final Braking and Components
Our Mustang came from the factory with four wheel drum brakes. With our Wilwood front kit, and a nearly identical kit for the rear to be installed on our Strange Engineering 9-inch later, we knew the stock master cylinder wasn’t going to be able to supply the additional fluid we would need. For our application we went with Wilwood’s black E-Coat 7/8-inch tandem master cylinder. “There is actual math to figuring out the sizing of a brake master cylinder, though a lot of the choice comes from R&D and testing,” said Wilwood’s Michael Hamrick. “This comes down to pedal feel, volume, and pressure needed for that application.”
Hamrick continued, “Even if you are a stronger guy, we will go a little larger. For smaller people that want a little easier pedal, we will go a little smaller. Still it’s the tires that stop the car, not the brakes – an all season tire isn’t going to stop the same as a hardcore racing tire with the same Wilwood brake package.”
Wilwood’s tandem chamber master cylinders are fully machined from a high-pressure die casting of a premium alloy. The master cylinder has full separation between the front and rear chambers.
But we didn’t want to use a pile of rusted, old brake lines and decided to run all fresh lines on the front of the car. To aid with the proper distribution, we opted for Wilwood’s combination proportioning valve. The valve substantially simplifies mounting, plumbing, wiring and brake proportioning adjustments. “You want to put the proportioning valve on the set of wheels that are going to lock up under hard braking,” explained Hamrick. “In a drag racing application, you have plenty of tire out back and not enough on the front, which will lead you to wanting more rear brake bias.”
The combination block maintains full isolation between front and rear fluid circuits and can be used in conjunction with any tandem outlet or dual mount master cylinder assemblies. The rear circuit has a single inlet and single outlet with the adjustable proportioning valve. The front circuit has a single inlet with two outlets. It can be run as a single outlet with one outlet plugged, or used to split the plumbing on its way to the front calipers.
ididit Column and Grant Steering Wheel
Part of the rack and pinion is that you are eliminating the factory steering linkage system. The steering linkage adapts onto the steering column differently. Companies do make adapters to convert to the rack and pinion steering, but we wanted a fresh column to go with our newly-installed front suspension. We turned to ididit and their black powder coated tilt column that is made specifically for first generation floor shift Mustangs. The column is a direct fit unit that utilizes a new lower collar that mounts through the factory firewall and accepts a conventional U-joint. The center mount is retained from the factory C-clip and secures under the dash with the pre-existing bolts. The steering wheel hub fits the stock Ford pattern and you can reuse the stock Mustang wheel on it.
Also for a fresh look steering wheel, we went with Grant’s stainless steel three spoke Classic Nostalgia Wheel. This 15-inch diameter wheel features a black foam cushion grip and a Ford-licensed Mustang horn cap. Grant includes a wide variety of adapters that will makes bolting on this wheel a breeze. They also include column caps for a seamless install and no wheel-to-column gap.
ididit 65-66 Column PN# 1120642051
• Tilt column that is a direct bolt in
• Pre-wired with factory colors
• Four-way flashers
• Factory Ford top spline bolt pattern
• Offered in paintable steel, chrome plated steel, and black powder coat
Grant Classic Nostalgia Wheel PN #968
• 15-inch Diameter, three spoke design
• Black foam cushion grip, brushed stainless steel spokes
• Ford Mustang horn cap
Better Handling and Braking with More Engine Bay Space on our Not-so-Modern Mustang
While the Mustang’s stock suspension has proven itself in competition, it is still an obsolete design. Utilizing a conventional upper and lower control arm combination, stability and expandability can be optimized, plus eliminating the stock-style steering box reduces slop and increases responsiveness through the steering wheel. Outside of the suspension enhancements, removing the stock shock towers from the Mustang allows you to install virtually any engine your heart desires, with the ability to easily work on it as well. But you cannot forget the safety of a quality braking system that’s supplied by Wilwood. TCI noted a 50+ foot stopping decrease from 60 MPH when compared to the stock drums. When trapping over 140 MPH in quarter mile, being able to stop before the end of the track is a necessity!