Your basic alignment consists...
Your basic alignment consists of toe, caster, and camber settings. The toe setting is perhaps the easiest to visualize (think pigeon-toed), and it's measured in degrees or fractions of an inch in or out from straight ahead-toe in (blue arrows) or toe out (red arrows), respectively.
Horse Sense: To find an alignment shop that's comfortable working with adjustable caster/camber plates, start with your local Mustang club. The members should be able to tell you where they've had good luck in the past.
You can't just throw a pile of high-priced engine parts together and expect to safely make big power-you definitely shouldn't expect to win races. Even amateur racers know that fine-tuning the engine combo correctly with the right injectors, fuel pressure, and timing is just as important. The same is true for steering and suspension. Lowering springs, upgraded struts, and even tubular A-arms can be added, but without the right alignment, the job is only half-done. Factory alignment is great for everyday street driving, but more is needed for aggressive street driving, road racing, and drag racing.
The inside treads on our car's front tires were worn to the cords because of a terrible alignment. Before heading to the alignment shop to get it fixed and back on the road, we interviewed Chuck Schwynoch, CEO of Maximum Motorsports. He gave us his recommendations based on the racing and product development the staff at Maximum has done throughout the years.
Keep reading to find out how the conversation went.
5.0&SF: We're going to install Maximum Motorsports' caster/camber plates on one of our project Mustangs. What alignment settings do you recommend?
Chuck Schwynoch: On a stock Mustang, only camber and toe are adjustable. With Maximum Motorsports' caster/camber plates, caster becomes adjustable, and a much wider range of camber adjustment is possible. The OEM alignment specifications were determined by studying the driving habits of the average vehicle owner. They almost never meet the needs of the performance-minded Mustang owner.
Caster is harder to see with...
Caster is harder to see with the naked eye. Imagine a line running perpendicular from the ground up through the top strut mount (red arrow). Now imagine a second line running from the lower ball joint up through the top strut mount. If the second line is tilted forward toward the front of the car, you have positive caster (yellow arrow). If it tilts toward the rear, you have negative caster (blue arrow), which you should never have.
5.0&SF: Do the different cars (Fox, SN-95, New Edge, S197) benefit from different settings?
CS: Yes. Fox chassis Mustangs should have as much positive caster as possible. For the '94-'04s, C/C plates make it possible to adjust in enough positive caster that bumpsteer should be altered. Unless you're going to deal with the resulting bumpsteer issues, stick with 4.5 degrees of caster, which is about the halfway point of available adjustment on the Maximum Motorsports caster/camber plates.
The S197 chassis that debuted in 2005 is completely different. The camber and toe advice detailed previously for the different situations is about the same for the newest Mustang. One difference is the S197 chassis has a lot of caster already, so it's not really necessary to add more. At Maximum Motorsports, we've nearly finished the design for our caster/camber plates for the S197.
5.0&SF: What about the Mustang's suspension makes these settings necessary?
CS: The basic Fox/SN-95 Mustang chassis was designed in the '70s. It was never intended to be a high-performance sports car chassis with an emphasis on good handling. The extreme alignment settings are essentially a Band-Aid for the car having too little camber gain during body roll, not enough Ackerman steering geometry, or positive caster, and too much front weight bias. The faults are part of the package; the car has a modified MacPherson strut suspension designed for a family car. The Mustang frontend lacks grip, and so it tends to understeer. The rear suspension design is another story.
Our project car had a terrible...
Our project car had a terrible alignment because of a worn tie-rod end, which may have caused a toe problem. The previous owner didn't realign the car after an aftermarket K-member was installed, giving it quite a bit of negative camber. The insides of the front tires were worn to the cords after fewer than 10,000 miles.
Now for the how-to. This is...
Now for the how-to. This is the stock upper-strut mount. There are three nuts and bolts that hold the two plates together, and one nut securing the top of the strut. The downfall of this setup is its small range of adjustability. If your Mustang is lowered, measure the distance down to the tops of the struts. You'll use this measurement later on.
Our project car has too much...
Our project car has too much negative camber. Camber is the measurement of how far the tire is tilted relative to straight up and down. It's measured in degrees positive or negative if the top of the tire is tilted away or toward the vehicle, respectively. In this photo, the angle of the yellow arrow relative to the vertical red arrow illustrates the front wheel's negative camber.