Project "Road Warrior" gets Stage II suspension upgrade
Owning such a complicated beast as project RW, as you may have read in our first installment of the suspension upgrades, we left this one to the experts. If you haven't checked out our stage I build, it started with the basics. For anyone with a near stock fox body, or even someone with less than quality parts, this can be the perfect template to getting you car pointed in the right direction.
Most fox body owners, myself included are not experienced race drivers, or engineers. So we throw parts at our cars, usually based on price instead of quality, and never take into account that all of these parts should work together. When a manufacturer builds a car, everything is designed to work in harmony, for a specific goal. Upgrades should be treated with the same forethought. The reason cars that are lowered tend to ride so badly is that the springs and dampers were not designed to play well with one another. Throwing on a cheap set of control arms have the same effect. The same way you match heads, cam, and intake; so too your suspension should be matched.
For stage II, the crew at MM put together their three link panhard bar, and custom valved Koni "yellow" shocks/struts. Let it be known that the shock/struts on project RW only had about 10k miles on them, and were far from worn out. What they were not, was matched to the springs on the car, or the weight of the car. The new Koni shocks are. The second part of stage II is the MM PHB. I will be honest and say I had never considered running one of these until I spoke with the crew at MM. I must say, I am glad I did.
Beginning with the PHB, and what in the world is it? The PHB is actually a common part, that can be found factory installed on many different models of car. Sadly, the 79-04 Mustang was not so fortunate. The PHB controls the lateral (side to side) movement of the rear axle. Without that lateral support, and soft rubber bushings (and probably worn out) the rear is free to move around under turning, and torque load. The cars also tend to "rear steer" making them unpredictable. In a nutshell, if the rear end is not positively located square in the car, the car tends to go places it isn't pointed.
When the parts arrived, they were in typical MM form. High quality powdercoat finish, Grade 8 hardware, and ridiculously detailed instructions. The project can seem a little daunting as the instructions are about ten pages long, but don't let that get you down. There are many detailed pictures and notes added in, to make sure the install goes smoothly. The other note is that while a lift is nice, it simply isn't needed to do this project. The instructions have you support the vehicle at six different locations (jack stands), so garage warriors take heart; this one is for you.
With the instructions being so in depth, we aren't going to rewrite them here. If you are planning this job, there are a few things you will need, aside from simple hand tools. A drill, large assortment of metal bits, tape measure, punch, and a friend. The most difficult part of the install (which only took about five hours, with pictures and bench racing) is getting the body bar measured, drilled, and mounted. Both rear control arms will have to be unbolted at the axle, to remove the springs, and this job is always nice with a friend handy to work the floor jack.
This job can be done by yourself, being handy with tools, and a tape measure. A plumb bob is needed to align the PHB mounts from side to side, but a string and heavy nut will suffice in a pinch. This is probably the most important part of the job, making certain everything is lined up is critical to the PHB doing its job, and not binding up the rear end. Once all the holes were drilled, and crush sleeves installed, we hoisted the body bar into place. I was very impressed how well it fit into the chassis. Having to snake around a multitude of objects like the gas tank, wheels, exhaust, and sway bars; the fit was perfect.
It is important to note here that project RW wears ten inch wide wheels in the rear, and has 2.5 tailpipes. There is plenty of mis-information online saying that the PHB will not work with big wheels and tail pipes. Obviously this is not the case. We had zero clearance issues anywhere, regardless of the suspension being fully compressed, or extended.
Once the body bar and brackets were installed, the instructions say to drive the car around the block to settle the suspension, before installing the PHB. With Jeremy Dover at the helm of the wrenching, he suggested we go ahead with the shock/strut install, before the test drive. Installing shocks and struts is a straightforward job, with only two mounting mounts on each end. Being my first time running the Konis, I set them to full soft for the initial ride. Ah yes, the ride! Without the PHB even being on the car, the difference was instantly noticeable. The car now had a much more solid feel, and took the road imperfections like a much newer, and more expensive car. Yes, it really was that good.
After the test drive, we set project RW up on four old wheels, so it was sitting at ride height, but elevated so we had room to work. The final piece is the PHB itself. The instructions state clearly that the bar should be installed level, with the car having half a tank of fuel, and the driver in the driver seat. As luck would have it, we had just that, and installing the PHB was a snap. After that, final checks were made on all of the bolts, and we lowered the old girl back to the ground.
Heading back to FCM command central, I was in total awe of how the car felt. One thing I was not expecting was how much more solid the car felt. The body bar ties the rear frame rails together, along with giving the rear end that lateral support. The MM subframe connectors we installed last time made a huge difference, the PHB helped even more. Just punching it in first the car squatted and went straight, oh yes! Taking curves was also eye opening, the car now went where I pointed it, and much less overcorrecting was needed. Riding on the bumpy back roads was very telling of just how good the Konis were also, no more bottoming out, no more jarring out your dental fillings. I was totally stoked, and took the long way back, just to put it through her paces.
In a nutshell, the MM PHB works. Other than subframe connectors, this should be the second mod done to your fox body. I am also now a firm believer in running springs and dampers tailored to your car. There is a lot of engineering and racing experience that go into these products, and the results are amazing. I am hoping to play with the adjustment on the Konis at some point, but in the mean time this install was a major win. Stay tuned for Stage III. CR