Modernizing a First Gen Mustang Front Suspension With TCP

A lot can happen in fifty-years. The rapid automotive technological advances from 1965 to now are mind-blowing when you stop and think about it. From lighter weight and stronger materials to better tire compounds. Modern technology has totally changed the way automobiles behave on the road. We wanted to take our 1965 Fastback Mustang and use modern technology to make the car handle and drive better without permanently changing the chassis.

We found a bolt-on system from Total Control Products (TCP), one of the premier brands in the Chris Alston Chassisworks family of product lines. TCP’s line of suspension products include multiple styles of bolt-on suspension systems, each designed to work with the existing mounting points. For this installation we have chosen their bolt-on front coilover and control arm package. This is TCP’s mid-range system from which we expect to see dramatic improvements in ride quality and performance.

Why

Our approach to suspension is to engineer systems and options that best match the build style and performance application.- Lino Chestang

The early Mustang chassis were not unusual for the time. They featured the normal Detroit independent front suspension and a beam axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs in the rear. Basically, the Mustang’s suspension was almost identical to every other car of the era. These cars were sold with a basic list price around $2,400, which was a low price tag even in those days.

A price in this range simply could not be achieved without some economy considerations during construction. Some of those economy considerations in component selection contributed to the soft and sloppy suspension. Considering that it was marketed as a sport vehicle, the first generation Mustangs handled more like a sedan.

Rubber and polyurethane bushings are flexible to begin with and over time continue to deteriorate and wear. As they wear, the vehicle’s handling declines at a greater rate.

Early Mustang fans all say the same thing, “I love the car but wish it would handle better.” The value of these classic Mustangs have become high enough that making any radical changes to the chassis is undesirable. There’s not much that can be done with the 56/44 weight distribution (with a full tank of gas) without major and extensive re-work. The original suspension is not suitable for strenuous long-range driving, leaving us wanting modern-type steering and a better road feel. Even for routine street use, the Mustang’s front end could use some shoring up and the rearend could be redesigned with modern components.

The OEM front suspension has a tendency for the car to float when being driven at touring speeds. The soft suspension also results in transference of weight from side to side and wheel to wheel to cause the car to be a handful to drive on the open highway because of the tension causing steering corrections that must be made almost constantly except on mirror-smooth roads.

Along with all the improvements in suspension technology over the past 50-years, other factors like tire compounds have improved. The older suspensions simply cannot take advantage of the improved traction from modern tires. These days, there is little excuse for a sloppy suspension on any car, especially one with the sporting characteristics which have been claimed for the Mustang. It has been well documented over the years that a car does not have to have marshmallow suspension to have a good and comfortable ride. A bolt-on suspension that provides a safe and tighter steering feel is exactly what we were looking for.

We removed the stock OEM suspension components in preparation for the bolt-on coilover conversion.

“I consider suspension and steering systems on classic cars to be an essential upgrade. We are used to the way modern cars handle, so switching from driving your current vehicle to one that’s 50-years old can be a very uncomfortable experience,” explained Lino Chestang of Total Control Products. “The bolt-on coilover package is a very good upgrade for a comfortable ride in a street car with the added benefit of sharper, more responsive handling. The biggest change, as far as what the driver feels, comes from replacing any soft suspension bushings with low-friction spherical pivots. The suspension geometry is significantly more accurate with a much more direct, sports car like feel.”

List of Front Suspension Parts

  • TCP Lower Control Arms #TCP LCA-04
  • TCP Adjsutable Strut Rods #TCP STRD-05
  • TCP 1-inch Offset Shock Tower Adapter #TCP COLVF-14
  • TCP Coil Spring Upper Control Arm with Dropped Pivot Shaft #TCP UCA-06
  • TCP Polished Stainless Tower Adapter Cap #TCP COLVF-12
  • TCP 1-Inch Diameter Front Anti-Roll Bar #TCP ARFM1-16
  • TCP Tower Export Brace #TCP TWRB-01
  • VariShock Quickset 2 Bolt-in Shocks #VAS 86M11F2
  • VariShock Thrust Bearings #VAS 513-101
About Total Control Products

Total Control Products (TCP) is one of the Chris Alston Chassisworks Brands along with VariShock, Chassisworks and KP Components. TCP offers system packages that are designed to work together as a complete bolt-on solution for front and rear suspensions, steering systems, and chassis stiffening systems. To expand upon their various system packages, TCP offers multiple upgrades and options to custom-tailor the performance level of each kit. Practically any handling application can be accommodated.

TCP’s Bolt-In Front Coilover Conversion Suspension Kit

The best reason to buy a quality kit from a manufacturer with a good reputation is that suspensions are a complete system. The parts work together, and many times throwing a hodgepodge of components together results in the parts fighting each other or making the problem worse.

“In designing each component as part of a cohesive system, we ensure that parts are complimentary to each other. The misalignment ranges of all pivot points have been verified and you can be confident that the suspension bump stop will limit travel, not create unexpected binding. More specifically the strut rod pivot, upper arm ball joint, and top shock pivot,” explained Chestang.

Well designed and manufactured parts are easy to identify. To begin with, well made components just look well built. That’s a great place to start.

Some poorly designed parts may reduce handling rather than improve it. Keep in mind that a suspension system must have parts that work together to make a chassis handle better. Some aftermarket suspension kits attempt to keep the suspension geometry as the OEM produced it originally.

According to Chestang, “Some chassis, especially the early Mustang, can greatly benefit from carefully calculated geometry changes, such as the one-inch upper control arm drop or by simply lowering the ride height. We were very calculated in our intentions to improve the performance of the system without making changes to the chassis.”

He went on to point out, “The upper arm pivot shaft and our unique strut rod pivot are great examples of this. Most aftermarket strut rods relocate the pivot position in order to use easier-to-manufacture components at the frame mount, but with the unwanted result of altering the strut rod length and lower arm pivot axis. Our solution uses a more sophisticated mount mechanism to maintain the correct pivot center, so as not to affect the geometry negatively. TCP/Chassisworks has the design and manufacturing capability to develop optimal solutions and package them for the customer’s benefit at an affordable price.”

With all the old parts removed, we could finally get started on making a positive improvement to the suspension.

What Parts Are We Talking About?

Total Control Product’s Quick Set 2 front coilover suspension conversion (part #VAS 86M11F2), which provides all the suspension upgrade components for enthusiasts like us that don’t want to cut up the chassis on our mostly original ’65 fastback Mustang. This bolt-on system enhances the existing by chassis tightening up suspension control and accuracy with coil-spring upper control arms (part #TCP UCA-06), tubular lower control arms (part #TCP LCA-04), and adjustable strut rods (part #TCP STRD-05). Tower export brace (part #TCP TWRB-01) reduces chassis flex between the firewall and shock towers.

To help get body roll under control we selected the dropped pivot shaft upper control arm option and the one-inch diameter front anti-roll bar (part #TCP ARFM1-16). For ride comfort and handling improvement, we chose a VariShock and spring coilover kit. We added a polished stainless tower adapter cap kit (part #7909-055) to complete the under-hood look.

The parts in a suspension system must work together to improve the handling of the vehicle. That's the best value you get with a TCP suspension kit. The parts, like these upper and lower control arms, are designed and tested to work with each other.

The coilover kit allows for more precise suspension travel and you can easily adjust ride height, spring rate, shock bounce, and rebound to dial the car in for the best handling no matter the vehicle weight, engine output, tire width, or traction. We don’t want to get too fixated on the adjustability part of this conversion but it is important to note that  adjustability is an important feature for fine tuning the suspension system to the driver or performance application. There is no “one-size-fits-all” system.

These components were hand picked for a performance street car providing realistic goals to the vehicle and the application.

“There are obvious differences between the cars over the years as they change, but our approach to suspension is to engineer systems and options that best match the build style and performance application,” explains Chestang. “Our suspension systems are going to be different between cars that are destined for the street or those autocrossing or drag racing. Each has different shock absorbers and different spring rates for that same style of suspension.”

The components that we are installing on our Mustang have been selected for a performance street car. “It’s important to have realistic performance goals,” said Chestang. “The kit that you are installing as a bolt-on upgrade lies somewhere between a comfortable street ride and a performance upgrade.” This is a great reminder to anyone that is looking to make a change to their suspension. Each kit is designed for a specific purpose, and the best use of that suspension is within the application that the kit was designed for.

The Coilover System

The foundation of the suspension upgrade is the bolt-on coilover kit. This  modular shock-tower-adapter system makes converting the stock front suspension on early Mustangs into a simple bolt-on procedure. The assembly offers the option of keeping the stock height or a lowered ride height. As mentioned earlier, billet aluminum VariShock coilovers are available in 16-position single-adjustable or 256-combination double-adjustable versions, both of which provide seven-and-a-half inches of suspension travel.

We opted to use VariShock Thrust Bearings before installing the spring, spring hats, and adjusters.

“We offer two levels of shock absorber adjustment with this suspension. A single-adjustable model with 16 settings for overall shock stiffness and a double-adjustable model with dual 16-position knobs for independent adjustment of bump and rebound. The added adjustment range allows finer control of ride quality and greater flexibility when tuning for performance applications,” he clarified.

Chestang also pointed out the spherical stem mount on the top of the shocks. “Our free-pivoting, mount allows precise suspension tuning by eliminating compliant rubber or urethane bushings. The VariShock spherical-stem assembly attaches the coilover shock to the chassis at the factory mounting location. The swedged-steel mount base effectively captures and houses the spherical bearing of the stem. The stem mounts directly to the shock-tower adapter and is secured by a 5/8-inch locknut. An integral hex at the top of the stem enables the stem to be securely held as the locknut is tightened during installation.”

VariShock’s spherical stem mount on the shock’s top helps eliminate any side loading.

In addition to the deflection free advantage in the pivot stud shock mount utilized by VariShock, Chestang explained, “You can’t mount a coilover shock using a standard stem bushing arrangement, because the mount is carrying the weight of the vehicle. There are some ‘coilover’ kits that seat the coil spring against the shock tower with the ill effect of side loading the shock while others use a short coilover with a traditional clevis mount to fit between the upper arm and shock tower, but these fall short on available travel.”

He went on to explain that the Pivot stem design utilized by TCP avoids those issues. “With this design, the shock is contained on the shock body as a traditional coilover and therefore remains perfectly in line throughout travel. The spherical pivot stud allows free misalignment of the shock in relation to the chassis mount without side loading the shock. The domed top mount allows use of a longer 4.25-inch travel shock required for adequate suspension travel on street driven vehicles where ride quality is important. Shorter travel suspensions must be sprung stiffer,” he stated.

We finished building up the coilover system by installing the heavy duty urethane bushings and the lower crossbar.

There are several other options available with this kit. A choice of spring rates range from 400 to 750 lb/in. which is suitable for street-friendly ride quality to a stiffer vehicle handling performance range. Chestang reminded us, “a second set of different rate springs can also be selected as an option for tuning purposes.  You can have a set for your normal street ride and a second set of springs for track performance.” Installation instructions for the shocks can be viewed here. Installation instructions for the mounts can be viewed here.

Features:

  • Bolt-on installation with TCP or OEM upper control arms
  • Year/model specific modular shock-tower adapters with choice of stock or lowered ride height
  • Greaseable spherical-stem upper shock mount
  • Heavy-duty urethane-bushed lower crossbar
  • Available in 16-position single-adjustable or 256-combination double-adjustable versions
  • Works with TCP shock tower brace

We also added the optional 1-inch offset upper mount. The installation of the mount was simple with only three bolts and self locking nuts. This piece helps by keeping the shock absorber within its intended operating range of travel.

We opted to add on the one-inch offset shock mount adapter (part #TCP COLVF-14) which lowers the stock 1965-1966 Mustang ride height approximately 0.75-inch. This offset adapter, when combined with the one-inch lowered upper control arm mount, work to improve the stock roll center of the first generation Mustangs. The one-inch “Shelby-drop” in the upper control arm mounting has become very popular within Mustang circles due to the enhanced handling characteristics.

Upper and Lower Control Arms

We also added Total Control Product’s coil-spring style upper control arm with dropped pivot shaft (part #TCP UCA-06) for the improved suspension geometry and added adjustment features. The A-arm’s double adjustment couplers allow for length adjustment, which opens up the caster range to 6.0-degrees of adjustment and camber to 5.50- degrees. Adjustments made linear at the A-arm adjustment couplers do not affect the spring rate. The A-arms are designed with an improved camber geometry and reduced vehicle roll rate. The bottom line to all of this is greater stability.

The upper control arm is manufactured with a one-inch drop but still bolts into the stock shock tower mounting holes.

The tubular A-arms feature alloy-steel rod ends with low-friction, polymer-bearing races that eliminate deflection and the resistance that is inherent in the rubber or polyurethane bushings commonly found in A-arms. The dropped pivot shaft is designed specifically to lower the mounting by one-inch to obtain the advantages of higher camber gain yet mount to the shock tower in the stock mounting holes.

The fully adjustable upper control arm allows for caster, camber and toe adjustments as well as some built corrections to stock OE setup.

Chestang explained the higher camber gain advantages by explaining what camber gain is, and what it does. “Higher camber gain leans the top of the tire inward when cornering to keep more of the tire tread in contact with the road,” he stated.

“The affect compensates for the body rolling over and for the tire rolling over. More camber gain generally equates to better front end traction especially during demanding steering inputs such as obstacle avoidance or performance driving.”

According to Chestang, “The other benefit of the dropped pivot shaft is increased roll center height. When cornering vehicle weight is transferred to the outside wheel. As a result the spring compresses under the weight and the body rolls to the outside.

Raising the roll center essentially directs more of the transferred weight into the suspension links instead of onto the spring. Less weight on the spring equates to less body roll which helps to keep more of the tire in contact with the road.” Ultimately this means better front end cornering traction.

There is no need to drill into the shock tower to get the one-inch “Shelby-Drop.” Installation instructions can be viewed here.

Once the upper control arms are in place, the coilover assembly can be installed into the shock tower.

Features of the Upper Control Arm:

  • Each arm is constructed of one-inch steel tubing with direct threads to the adjustment coupler
  • Crimped end is robotic-spray-arc-welded to a ¼-inch steel ball joint mounting plate
  • The 4-bolt ball joint relocates the Zerk fitting for easier access
  • Lower-profile bump cap provides a ¼-inch increase in suspension travel
  • New dropped style upper control arm
  • Arms are shipped fully assembled

The lower control arms also bolt into the stock mounting point but the arms are built to minimize deflection.

 The lower control arms (part #TCP LCA-04) are designed to improve the suspension geometry with a precise travel arc controlled by a low friction, spherical bearing at the pivot point. The spherical bearing creates a deflection free pivot point that is capable of handling caster settings beyond the ability of rubber or polyurethane bushings. The bearing preload is maintained with a threaded retaining ring and can be adjusted as needed during the life of the bearing. “Part of the feel that the driver’s perceive with this kit is the elimination of the flexible pivot points created by rubber and polyurethane bushings. Our spherical pivot joints are extremely accurate,” said Chestang. “Handling is noticeably more responsive and precise.”

Installation instructions can be viewed here.

After the lower control arm is bolted in place, the spindle is re-installed. The additional hardware on the bent steering stop provides an adjustment feature to varying the turning degrees of the steering system. This simple feature helps to prevent the tires from rubbing when using aftermarket wheels and tires.

Features of the Lower Control Arm:

  • TrueCenter pivot socket maintains accurate ball joint travel arch
  • Low friction polymer bearing races provide linear resistance, leaving spring rate unaffected for improved suspension tuning
  • High strength arm structure eliminates deflection at ball joint and anti-roll bar mounts
  • Direct bolt-on installation to frame and factory or aftermarket strut rod
  • Completely serviceable for lubrication and free-play within the pivot assembly

Eliminating Deflection With Strut Rods and Tower Brace

The primary function of the strut rods are to limit fore and aft movement of the lower control arm and to provide a means of fine tuning the amount of caster in the alignment. The stock system in these vintage Mustangs did the job well for the era that the car was made for, but that is no longer true.

“A good example is the strut rod bushings. Under hard braking, such as a panic stop, rubber bushings compress,” said Chestang. “When this happens, the lower arms shift rearward making the handling a bit erratic at the absolute worst time. We put in a spherical pivot point at the frame which keeps the lower arms completely stable so it’s a lot more predictable and accurate. There’s just more confidence when you are driving the car.” Total Control Product’s strut rod (part #TCP STRD-05) was added to our bolt-on suspension system for that extra level of control.

The strut rod installation is pretty straightforward and simple.

 Features of the Strut Rod:

  • Pivot socket maintains correct axis and length of lower arm assembly
  • Low friction polymer bearing races provide linear resistance, leaving spring rate unaffected for improved suspension tuning
  • Adds 3.0-4.0-degrees of caster adjustment
  • Direct bolt-on installation to frame and factory or aftermarket lower control arm
  • Completely serviceable for lubrication and free-play within the pivot assembly

We also added TCP’s shock tower export brace (part #TCP TWRB-01) to help with handling performance by reducing chassis flex forward of the firewall. Utilizing aluminum wherever possible, TCP is able to achieve a great strength-to-weight ratio. The mounting brackets are machined from 0.25-inch thick 6061-T6 aluminum, then clear anodized to resist oxidization. All bracing rods are also 6061-T6 tubular aluminum. Tubing ends are swedged to increase wall thickness and strength at the threaded ends. The lightweight mild-steel rod ends provide an adjustable attachment method and ensure a custom fit for every installation. Installation instructions can be viewed here.

Adding a bracket to the firewall and another one to the upper shock mount before connecting the brace links is all that is required to install the shock tower export brace. The car owner did not want to remove the factory extension from the factory export brace so the tab on the TCP mounting plate was modified for clearance. Normally the welded extension of the shock tower would be removed. Only the early first generation Mustangs have this welded extension.

Features of the Shock Tower Export Brace:

  • Reduces chassis deflection throughout firewall-inner-fender area
  • Lightweight, tubular aluminum construction
  • Primarily uses existing factory mounting locations
  • Easily removable bracing rods allow engine compartment access
  • Adjustable length rods for individualized fit

1-inch Anti-Roll Bar, That’s How We Anti-Roll

Anti-Roll bars have proven their worth in handling and cornering. Despite their very plain looking design, the anti-roll bar performs a consistent service to the rest of the suspension system. It’s the construction and size of the anti-roll bars that set them apart as far as performance goes. TCP uses urethane bushings with grease channels with billet aluminum bushing housings to mount the roll bar. “The billet mount provides a more stable base and better support for the bushing than stamped steel versions,” said Chestang.

We selected the 1-inch version of TCP’s anti-roll bar (part #TCP ARFM1-16).

The anti-roll bar and billet mounting blocks add to the looks as well as the performance upgrade.

TCP manufactures these anti-roll bars from heat-treated alloy steel then powder coats the bar with silver and black vein powder coating for a long lasting finish. The alloy steel construction minimizes body roll in cornering. This kit works with standard ride height or lowered suspensions with a substitute hardware kit. TCP recommends an increase to 1.125-inch bar for competition driving or high performance street use with a big-block engine. Upgrade to the 1.250-inch bar for road courses or auto crossing only. Supporting rear suspension upgrades are required to maintain cornering balance.

The kit includes billet-aluminum, grease Zerk equipped, chassis mounts with black polyurethane pivot bushings and end links. Complete hardware is included for a bolt-on installation. Installation instructions can be viewed here.

The polished stainless steel adapter caps provided that finished professional look.

Finishing it Off

Before we starting working on the rear suspension and got the ‘Stang ready for the streets, we finished off the front suspension installation with Total Control Product’s polished stainless tower adapter cap (part #TCP COLVF-12) to dress up the install under the hood. These caps are highly polished stainless steel caps that bolt on to the shock tower adapter mounts for a clean and finished look. They utilize cap screws that thread into the grease ports of the shock’s spherical stem mount and are sold as an option.

The result was a safer and more confident feeling ride along with an aggressive stance and look.

The car’s ride height was very close to the stock height as evident in this photo.

We were very pleased with the ease of installation for the entire coilover conversion and options that we selected. It is an extremely simple to install kit that anyone with basic mechanical skills can complete in less than a weekend. We were tempted to take it out on the street but fought back the urge knowing that we still needed to upgrade the rear suspension and then take the car to our local alignment shop to have a laser alignment performed. The 1964-1966 Ford Mustang front bolt-on, coilover, double adjustable, conversion kit we installed can be purchased at Chassisworks.com. Stay tuned as we trick out the rear suspension with Total Control Products’ bolt-on street package for our fastback Mustang. We’ll get our test driver’s impressions of the upgrade in the rear suspension article.

After the rear suspension was installed and the car was taken to the alignment shop, we gave it a good test drive. The overall drivability of the Mustang was greatly improved by a more confident and street-hugging feel from the driver’s seat.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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