Slow and Steady: Mustang Suspension

The 1966 Mustang suspension was relatively simple but surprisingly well-designed for its day, though it wasn’t without its problems.  When Carol Shelby set out to modify the Mustang to create the now infamous GT350, he only made a few (though very effective) modifications to the Mustang suspension.  The use of the export brace, adjustable shocks, and the relocation of a few suspension components pretty much sum up the differences between a GT350 and a standard Mustang.  So you know the stock Mustang suspension was pretty good, at least back in the day.

Obviously, with over 100,000 miles on the clock, and seeing as the car has been sitting since 1978, a completely new suspension is needed.  My plan, so far, has been to try and go with a stock+ system, i.e., I want to try and achieve to the highest level of suspension sophistication available in a stock-configured Mustang.  The GT and the HiPo cars are my template, I consider the GT350 to be a specialty configuration.  My biggest fear is that I’ll build something that will be un-driveable, and from all the reading I’ve done, that’s what a lot of folks end up with.  The listings on parts websites don’t help the cause either; they often list shocks that should be reserved for track use as “upgraded” or “heavy-duty,” rather than saying what they are.  So my guiding principle of stock+ has led me to basically stick with stock parts.

I’ve already ordered and received:

  • GT-style front springs
  • Upgraded 5-leaf rear springs
  • KYB Excel-G shocks (NOT the Gas-A-Just)
  • Scott Drake upper and lower control arms

Naturally, I’m a little ahead of myself because the first thing I need to do is to remove the old suspension.  And, let me tell you, from last night’s experience, that’s a tall order.  Videos like this excellent one from CJPonyParts fool you.  As good as they are, they often omit the issues that inevitably crop up when attempting to do the job.

Last night I spent nearly three hours trying to remove the old coil springs and then trying to separate the spindle from the control arms.  Coil spring removal is a bit of a dangerous game, even with the right tools.  First the coil spring compressor wouldn’t fit down the shock tower hole, at least not in the orientation necessary to get it to function.  Could I remove the top of the shock tower?  No, the bolts just spun at the bottom, so the nuts wouldn’t come off.  Could I angle the spring compressor so the top arms would fit down?  Nope.  Could I put one of the top arms down and then pull it back up once the compressor was down the hole?  No, but that didn’t stop me from trying for 20 minutes.  In the end I disassembled the spring compressor and dropped the three pieces down the hole separately…an hour and a half after I started.

The next order of business was removing the spindles.  Sounds easy: just remove the nuts attaching it to the upper and lower control arms, then remove the nut attaching it to the tie rod end.  First problem: I couldn’t get the cotter pin out that holds the first castle nut on…it was rusted tight.  45 minutes and several new curse words later, I got it free.  The second and third nuts came off without a hitch.  That brought me to that moment in the video that looks so deceptively easy: use a pry bar to separate everything and pull the spindle free.  Fat chance!  I pounded, pry’d, banged, swore, pounded some more, and couldn’t get the spindle to break free of either upper or lower control arm…and that’s just on the driver’s side.  I haven’t even begun to touch the other spindle…

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