Suspension Upgrade Transforms A Classic Mustang Into A Corner Carver

As he slogged through the Southern California traffic back in January 2016, Michael Bechtel was pondering a vehicle. Passing through miles of new car dealers nothing along his route struck his fancy. He longed to make the dreams of his youth come true. He wanted a classic Mustang, but not just any Mustang. He had to have a 1967 fastback.

The car will absolutely handle better than any modern Mustang offered by the factory and ride just as nice. — Dan Weishaar, Hotchkis

“It took the better part of 35 years, but the only car I truly ever wanted is now mine,” he said. “There has been much work done since the day Bertha rolled off of the flatbed and into her new garage. It took several months to even get her back on the road.”

Michael Bechtel chose Hotchkis Sport Suspension’s 1967-70 Ford Mustang Stage 2 TVS Suspension System (PN 80041-2; $3,280.99) to revamp his fastback’s handling. This kit includes .5-inch-drop front coil springs, 1.5-inch-drop rear leaf springs, tubular upper control arms tubular lower control arms, adjustable strut rods, sway bars, and Hotchkis-tuned 1.5 Street Performance Series Shocks by Fox. (Photo Credit: Kelly Getz)

Since that time, Bertha has been a regular on the SoCal show circuit. It is no stationary stallion, however. Michael also loves whipping through the cones at local autocross events. Having taken on these courses with a piece-meal suspension, he was ready for a more comprehensive upgrade.

1967-70 Ford Mustang Stage 2 TVS Suspension System

• 700 in-lb front springs with 0.5-inch lower ride height

• Adjustable strut rods with increased positive caster and spherical heim joints

• Geometry-corrected upper tubular A-arms

• Heavy-duty multi-leaf rear leaf springs, 180 in-lb with 1.5-inch lower ride height

• Hotchkis 1.5 Street Performance Series front and rear shock absorbers by Fox

• Lightweight 32mm (1.25-inch) 4130 tubular steel front sway bar

• Lightweight 22mm (0.875-inch) DOM tubular steel three-way adjustable rear sway bar

• Tubular lower control arms with corrected ball joint angle for lowered ride heights

“My goal with this car has always been to have a safe and dependable performance car to drive hard and enjoy,” Michael said. “While I have been slowly changing out the suspension piece by piece with various upgrades for some time, the increased handling and performance needs were becoming evermore apparent for the autocross, track days and spirited cruises I regularly participate in.”

It was a connection with a local performance shop that led him to choose a complete upgrade from Hotchkis Sport Suspensions.

Michael’s Mustang hit the rack at the JBA Speed Shop for a complete suspension makeover. “Geometry is, hands down, the weakness of the factory suspension. When these cars were produced — be it a Mopar, Bowtie or Ford — the engineers had cost and comfort in mind and they had to build a car that operated with 1960s tire technology,” Dan Weishaar, of Hotchkis, explained. “Every aspect of our system is designed to optimize the movement and path of the suspension system as well as the height of the car. To get the most performance out of the stock-based suspension, be that with geometry corrected upper A-arms, adjustable strut rods or just stiffening the chassis with the subframe connectors.”

System Approach

“J. Bittle from JBA Speed Shop had contacted me when he heard I was running my car in the local autocross. I sat down with him and his son Austin and discussed what I had done to the car and what improvements could be made,” Michael said. “One of their recommendations was the Hotchkis Stage 2 TVS Suspension System. J. knows a thing or two about racing, and several cars running at the local autocross were using the Hotchkis kits down at the track, so I took a closer look at their setups, asked a lot of questions, and did some of my own research. I liked what I saw and heard, so I decided to jump in.”

“JBA has done its job of using comparisons of products and vendors for our customers’ best interest, like this for a long time. We call it hot rodding. We have a saying related to using, testing and liking groups of unique parts combined together in one application. Our JBA saying is ‘proven by real-world’ testing,” J. Bittle, of JBA Speed Shop, explained. “This refers to our labor efforts at upgrading cars by installing components that are not specifically designed to be packaged or even work together; there is an art to adjusting and tuning these unique combinations…”

The crew at JBA Speed Shop started by prepping the chassis and subframe connectors by sanding off the paint and cleaning the surface to prep it for welding. With these welded to the chassis it will provide a more stable platform for the new suspension to work from.

“When the boxes arrived and all of the pieces were unpacked and laid out, I knew right away I was headed in the right direction. The craftsmanship and quality of the materials was superb. With a 50-plus-year-old car, you expect fitment issues, but the Hotchkis kit installed cleanly and easily without incident,” he added. “I could tell that a lot of time and effort had been put into the research, development and testing of this kit. John Hotchkis was actually on site for the install at JBA Speed Shop, and without hesitation, he actually jumped right in and helped with the install. Talking with John, I couldn’t help but realize the passion, conviction, and confidence he has with his products. All for good reason, too.”

Bolt-On Installation

To make this suspension makeover happen, Michael turned to the professionals at the JBA Speed Shop to handle the installation. A pro install isn’t necessary if you have some experience spinning wrenches, but it definitely helped us snap some phones while the JBA crew did its thing.

“For a competent mechanic familiar with Ford suspension it should be no problem at all. The welding portion should be handled by a professional as the steel used for Mustangs is pretty good at resisting corrosion but it’s a bit tricky to weld,” Dan said. “With our included instructions, a hobbyist with a good set of tools and some adult supervision should be able to handle most of it and get the alignment good enough to have it towed or drive it to an alignment shop. In my opinion, the most difficult and dangerous part is the removal of the factory springs. They are a spring-loaded bear trap for sure.”

If you aren’t totally comfortable with the installation, it never hurts to turn to the experts to help get the job done.

“A complete suspension system on a new car is relatively straightforward because all the components — both those being removed and those being installed — are known. On a 50- or 40- or 30-year-old car, the chances of there being unplanned surprises are high,” J. Bittle explained. “At JBA Speed Shop service department, the biggest unknown is what the folks before the current owner or us did to the car that we need to identify and also work around. The tools required are, for the most part, basic but the expertise to properly use them often require some level of ‘expert.’”

Delivering that level of fitment and production quality is no accident. A stalwart in the suspension game for decades, Hotchkis takes its handling upgrades seriously.

Next they removed the stock suspension parts including the factory rear leaf springs, front brakes, front spindles, front coil springs, and its shocks.

Test Bred

“Our level of R&D/testing and commitment to quality fabrication is second to none. Not only do we develop and tune the systems at the track; we put thousands of road miles on the test cars. There are a lot of other manufacturers making great components for Mustangs right now, and there are even more that are making substandard products that just don’t improve much over stock,” Dan Weishaar, of Hotchkis, said. “We have developed and engineered the kit into a very balanced package that can deliver a phenomenal amount of performance without the over complication that some of the higher end systems can have and still be driven comfortably to and from the track as well as daily driven; even on California roads!”

As you can see by matching up the new Hotchkis parts versus the stock hardware, that the new stuff is built for performance and durability. Not just built from stouter stuff, the Hotchkis gear is also designed to improve suspension geometry and handling.

Michael selected the aforementioned Stage 2 upgrade for his car because it sees duty on the autocross and on the highway. As such, he needs a suspension that offers both handling and compliance.

“Ease of installation and instant gratification would be at the top of my list in a case like his. As you saw; it is a complete suspension system from front to rear that can be installed by a mechanically inclined individual with fantastic results,” Dan explained. “Without a lot of the over-complication of a lot of the other systems on the market, the Hotchkis TVS delivers in quality and bang for the buck. Mike’s results the following weekend at the SCCA Autocross showed the system pays immediate dividends.”

Perhaps the starkest difference between the factory hardware and the new Hotchkis parts is the control arms and strut rods. The stamped steel factory arms don’t even compare to the tubular arms, but the adjustable strut rods are designed to improve stability and control thanks to the positive caster they can dial in.

All-Around Upgrade

The reason Mike’s car excelled between the cones is the comprehensive nature of the Hotchkis upgrade, which is made to work for the majority of Mustang enthusiasts.

“By engineering a balanced system for the end user it takes a lot of the guesswork out of getting the most from it. Our system is a 95-percent solution for most folks that just want a nice-riding Mustang that handles confidently,” Dan said. “It also has enough adjustment for a driver that wants to really squeeze every last bit out of the car for autocross or track day duty; short of the one-percenters who should probably just save themselves some effort and build a racecar if they need that much more adjustment/coilovers/heim joints at all location, etc.”

The new heavy-duty rear leaf springs bolt-right on in place of the stock units. You just need to press in the new bushings and mount them up using the supplied new U-bolt hardware and mounting bolts. Once in place they deliver more spring rate and a lower ride height.

For a system that works on such a wide variety of vehicles, it delivered positive results across the board on Bertha.

“When I picked up the car, I was amazed at the visual appearance alone. Ride height was dropped about 1.5-inch overall and the car had a menacing, aggressive stance. When I took the car out the following day for autocross, I immediately noticed how much more predictable the car felt in turns,” Michael said. “There was much less chassis flex and body roll than I had previously, which allowed me to confidently dig in much harder and with less effort. I also noticed less dive when breaking and lift on acceleration which improved both the understeer and oversteer tendencies I had prior to installing the Hotchkis kit.”

Next the JBA team drills the required mounting hole for the rear sway bar and installs the new Hotchkis unit, which features a three-way adjustable mount. Move it toward the axle and increase the rate, while mounting it farther from the axle reduces its rate.

Real-World Results

Those results are no surprise to the company that built the system. They are impressive for a car that already featured minor upgrades, however. If your Mustang is in greater need of an upgrade you will see an even more substantial improvement.

…The look was good and the handling was night-and-day improved. — J. Bittle, JBA Speed Shop

“The difference is night and day. If the car was a worn-out, rubber-bushed, tired-sprung OE car the improvement is practically indescribable. The car will absolutely handle better than any modern Mustang offered by the factory and ride just as nice. The biggest limitation most drivers will notice after that will come down to tires, steering feel (if using an OE steering box) and driver talent,” Dan said. “And even in the case of a car like Mike’s, the mix and matching of components really hurts the car as none of them are really designed to work together, or in some cases the designs may just be a bit dated and not offer the geometry that we like to see for modern handling.”

Moving up front it’s time to bolt in the new Fox shocks and install the coil springs. Both offer more control and the springs lower the car by half an inch.

“Surprisingly, freeway and street driving with this kit is just as enjoyable as the track,” Michael added. “I expected a much rougher ride, resulting in funding the college tuition of my Dentist’s kid, but the ride is smooth and comfortable in the city with straight-line stability on the freeway.”

“As always, every JBA project has some included unknowns. In this case the customer’s existing brake package and wheel fitment to the fenders turned out to work well, so the look was good and the handling was night-and-day improved,” J. Bittle added.

Now that his car rides great and handles great, Michael is ready to make the most of a classic Mustang with Paxton-supercharged power.

Then the JBA team bolts in the new upper and lower control arms and installs the adjustable strut rods.

“In the short term, my plan is just to have some fun! That’s what it’s all about, right?” Michael added. “I’m still learning the nuances of the suspension and other changes I’ve made to the car, but down the road, I do plan on installing a few safety features, such as roll bar, seats and harness, so I can run it in the Silver State Challenge or Big Bend next year.”

Then it’s time to remount the spindle, reinstall the front brakes, torque all the fasteners, and reinstall the front wheels.

Finally, the JBA team installs the new Hotchkis front sway bar and the Hotchkis TVS Stage 2 suspension upgrade is complete. All that was left was to dial in the car’s alignment specs for autocrossing.

Bertha 1967 Mustang Mods

Brakes

• CNC Series 240 dual cylinder brake assembly

• Wilwood Classic Series Dynalite four-piston w/ 12-inch rotors

Exterior

• Eleanor-style Shelby fiberglass hood

• Mineral Grey Metallic paint

• Quarter Panel Ornaments, door and trunk locks shaved and flushed

• Rolled front and rear fenders

• Shelby GT350-style racing front valance

Interior

• Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges

• BlackVue DR650S-1CH dash cam

• Classic Instruments brushed aluminum dash

• RetroSound radio

Powertrain

• Ford 5.0 HO small-block (F1SE 88 BB)

• Paxton NOVI 1500

• MSD 6A Ignition Box w/ MSD Pro-Billet Distributor

• PWR radiator

• Edelbrock Performer intake

• Mighty Demon 650 blow-through carburetor w/mechanical secondaries

• JBA Shorties headers through 2 ½-inch exhaust w/ X-pipe

• Borg-Warner World Class T-5 five-speed manual transmission

• Quick Performance 9-inch rearend housing w/ 31-spline axles, a Yukon Nodular Third Member, Traction-Lok differentia and 3.50 gears

Suspension

• Hotchkis Sport Suspension Stage 2 TVS Suspension

Wheels & Tires

• American Racing Torq Thrust II wheels

• Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R tires, 17×8-inch front and 18×8.5-inch rear

Article Sources

About the author

Steve Turner

As Executive Editor of FordNXT and Ford Muscle, Steve Turner brings decades of passion and knowledge to Power Automedia. He has covered the world of Ford performance for over 20 years. From the swan song of the Fox Mustang to the birth of the Coyote, Steve had a front-row seat.
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