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
On top of our Wilwood brake kit, we will be installing a 7/8ths Wilwood master cylinder and combination proportioning valve, but we will get into that later in the installation
Our Wilwood front brake kit comes with four piston calipers and 12-inch vented rotors. All hardware for installation is included with the kit, though TCI will assemble the brakes onto the spindles prior to shipping a customer's kit. This is a big help from an installation perspective.
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.
TCI manufactures all the compoents for their IFS kits in their So Cal facility. They even build their own coilovers that come available in single or double adjustable configuration. Additionally, TCI offers spring rates from 160 to 500 pounds, depending on your application. We selected 375 pounds for our application.
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.
There isn’t a whole lot going on in the engine bay of a 1965 Mustang and Sean made quick work of getting the engine out in a hurry... that is after it cooled off over night.
The next task was to get the stock suspension out of the car. TCI Engineering recommends cutting the springs (that is if you don’t plan to sell them) to quicken up the disassembly process. Steering and all, the whole suspension plopped out the bottom of the car and the steering box/shaft was removed.
It was time to cut out the problem child of the engine bay - the shock towers. It was like a hot knife through butter, thanks to our Cornwell plasma cutter.
The most time consuming part of the install is all the cutting and grinding. The tension rod brackets must be hacked off along with the engine mount brackets, then those spot welds need to be drilled out to get the excess metal off the frame, as the frame rails need be be completely clean of brackets.
Additionally there is a stepped ledge from the frame rail to where the shock tower was located that must be smoothed out for the reinforcement plates. It took us the better part of the day to get to this point. And yes we had to throw some weight in the front of the car and strap it to the lift to keep it from falling off the back of it
Installing the TCI Engineering Mustang Custom IFS Front Suspension Kit
The reinforcement plates come in three pieces per side to strengthen the new subframe that will be supporting the suspension as well as the engine. The L-shaped plate fits from the inner frame rail to the top side, the other flat plate on the outside of the frame rail and the curved piece fits on the bottom.
To make installation easier, TCI Engineering uses a one of the old idler bolt holes to locate the L-bracket to the outside bracket. The bottom plate uses a threaded bolt hole to locate itself. The brackets are lined up, clamped in place and spot welded. We double checked the brackets once more and then finish-welded them.
With both sides of the frame rail reinforced, it was time to get the subframe in place. TCI Engineering does note that the subrame should fit snug in place, though if you need to trim it to fit your frame rails, to make sure you remove material from both sides of the subframe evenly so it mounts in the center. "The cross member is tucked up higher than a conventional Mustang II front cross member, which gives better ground clearance over a junkyard piece," explained Dalley.
Included locator tabs bolt to the frame rail on the front side, though you still need to check to make sure that the subframe is mounted at a 90 degree angle to the frame rails. From there, Sean tack welded the subframe in place. This is where we called it a night.
Day two started with a little welding clean up and straight into the upper control arm mounting plates. Again, TCI Engineering utilizes a temporary locating bolt to place the control arm in the correct location and a backing plate that sits flat to the frame, which we checked with a level before finishing up the welding.
With the spot welding done, the locating bolt can be cut off and the inner mounting point completely welded. We are getting close to being done with the welding portion of the install.
The last bit of welding was the sway bar mounting brackets. Locate the center between the two lower mounting holes and then measure 12-inches from the front of the subframe for its final resting spot.
A few quick coats of semi gloss black paint on the control arms (TCI Engineering offers a black powder coat or show polish finish) and freshly welded pieces and we started assembling the suspension. First was the lower control arms and then we moved to the double adjustable coilovers. The double adjustable shock is an option from TCI Engineering (and the only option we took) as this will help us dial the suspension in between street and track driving. "The upper control arm are 1-inch in diameter and both arms use a massive Chrysler screw-in ball joint that is very heavy duty and are easy to replace," said Dalley.
With the lower shock mount placed into the lower control arm and the upper shock mount installed into the fixed mount, it was time to install our Wilwood brake and spindle assembly. From this picture you can see exactly how thick that backing plate really is.
The manual rack bolted right into place with two bolts and secured to the spindle with castle nuts. The sway bar is mounted with the included bushings and brackets and secured on the end with adjustable endlinks.
The completed Wilwood brakes look great on the TCI Custom IFS suspension. At this point we are done with the TCI portion and now we will move to the column and final braking components.
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.
Bench bleeding your master cylinder before hand will drastically reduce brake problems. "When you mount a pedal to a vehicle, you start creating limiting factors, like how far a pedal will stroke the master cylinder before it bottoms out on the floor board," explained Hamrick. "It is important to bench bleed the FULL stroke of the master cylinder to alleviate all the air inside it."
The Wilwood brake master will bolt directly up to the Mustang's firewall and we used the stock push rod and fabricated an adjustable sleeve.
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
The wiring on the ididit column is identical to the stock wiring. We even swapped over our stock wiring plug for a true OEM fitment.
The column includes a new mount for the firewall but retains the stock C-clip for under the dash. Everything bolts up into the stock location, including the harness.
The Grant steering wheel was a super easy install that includes all the hardware needed to get this wheel to fit properly. Plus it looks great in our '65 Mustang's interior!
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!