Steering precision and reduced lateral body motions over bumps were the main gain from the Panhard bar and stiffening the shocks. This is more difficult to feel or single out in your mind compared to the springs or rear sway bar, but are important in reducing lap times or building driver enjoyment on the street. Furthermore, our experience with the Panhard bar may have been a fluke of our test; Maximum Motorsports says they almost always detect an immediate sense of confidence and fewer mid-corner corrections from fitting the Panhard bar and we certainly felt it was an important part of the suspension on our now-retired '96 open-track car.
Shock tuning is always a subtle thing, and we opted to set the Tokicos on their softest settings until late in the day. With all the hardware we were going to get on the car installed we turned the front shocks from full soft to full hard (from 1 to 5) and that helped calm the front end a little bit, gaining our fastest time of day. Turning the rear shocks from soft to hard in the same fashion was our final test, and it was the only one that didn't return better feel or a faster lap time. Both the feel and lap times were nearly identical to the previous setting, and we'd have to say such a small difference is within our margin of error, both in feel and driving consistency. Likely the shock settings would vary from track to track depending on how bumpy they are. Previously on the street we've found the Tokicos best at medium to soft settings.
If anything, constant media...
If anything, constant media exposure to pro racing has taught enthusiasts that motorsports requires a semi-truck and a uniformed crew to do any good. Hardly. Here is Ricardo checking ride height of his daily driver, along with his tool boxes, which you can see don’t quite have ball-bearing drawers. As a pro, Ricardo has all the nice stuff back at the shop, but as a pro he also knows that a quick day of testing at an autocross is easiest with just the basics.
The non-concentric shock and...
The non-concentric shock and spring layout of Fox and SN-95/New Edge Mustangs makes spring changes straightforward if you know what you're doing. Here Ricardo pops a stock front spring out of its recess in the lower control arm using an Excalibur-sized pry bar. This is a tricky operation best left to someone who at least apprenticed with a pro at some point. There's a ton of energy in a coil spring and it will fly dangerously if popped loose incorrectly.
Installing the front Maximum...
Installing the front Maximum Motorsports Street Performance spring was easy because it is shorter than stock. This lowered the ride height just over an inch and gained 1 degree of negative camber. Both proved major improvements, allowing much more aggressive driving while simultaneously building precision. These progressive front springs are rated at 680-800 in-lb. That gives a firmer, not harsher ride.
We felt badly about not getting to the front sway bar and especially the rear lower control arms. Previous experience and talking with Maximum Motorsports indicates the front sway bar would have increased understeer at the autocross, and thus slowed us down. But on the street where it's impossible to corner as aggressively, the larger front bar would sharpen steering turn-in, which feels great. The rear lower control arms aid precision and would likely show up mainly as steadier mid-cornering action. Our previous experience indicates the lower control arms are beneficial for any handling duty while a larger front sway bar is usually too much roll stiffness.
At the end of our autocrossing day we were certainly smarter about how suspension parts interact. A simple test, it reinforced our belief that far too many enthusiasts concentrate on underhood improvements when there are just as great gains to be had in the wheelwells. 5.0
By installing the Panhard...
By installing the Panhard bar brackets in the shop, then simply slipping the bar itself into place at the track Ricardo was able to provide a quick before-and-after Panhard bar comparison. The bar certainly helped—it mainly keeps the rear axle centered left-to-right—but in the frantic autocross action the improvement was a bit nuanced. Long sweepers is where it was felt the most, although the stopwatch seems to like the Panhard bar everywhere.
Once disconnected from its...
Once disconnected from its shocks, sway bar, and such the rear axle easily swings down far enough to allow easy spring changes. If you’re duplicating our trackside development program we suggest fitting the lowering springs before going to the track. They make such a big difference there’s no need to test them—save the track time for shock and sway bar tuning. The Maximum rear Street Performance springs give 230-290 in-lb, which shows just how soft the rear of a Mustang needs to be compared to the front.
Swapping the rear sway bar...
Swapping the rear sway bar was easy enough as its hardware is easily accessed along the rear axle and lower control arms. You couldn’t miss the improvement the rear bar made; it greatly reduced understeer—most easily felt in sweepers—and let the car whip around (“rotate,” in road-racer speak) tight corners. The rear bar is also great bang for the buck.
Horse Sense: While changing springs Ricardo pointed out that the Tokico shocks we were looking at were the exact same set that we photographed for a suspension story on this car back in 2001. Can a decade really go by that fast?
Maximum Motorsports has always done a great job of bundling its various suspension bits into sensible kits or boxes as they call them. The most popular of these is the Road & Track; pretty much what we tested in this story. The Road & Track box is a spring, sway bar, and shock group, along with some chassis stiffeners. It re-tunes the stock Mustang suspension design for more responsive handling and is both affordable and effective as our results show. To fit Ricardo's New Edge the R&T box lists for $2,446.72 and we recommend it for anyone looking for a nice gain in daily driving street handling or light open track duty.
But there is another step up from re-tuning the stock suspension and that's Maximum Motorsports' Maximum Grip box which is more of a suspension replacement. Here the main player is a torque arm rear suspension that replaces the '04 and earlier Mustangs schizophrenic four-link rear suspension, plus a geometry-restoring K-member for the front suspension. Much more involved than the R&T box, the Maximum Grip box lists for $4,664.84 and must be strongly considered by anyone serious about handling either on the street, strip or especially a road course. It will transform your Mustang.