Restoring a vintage Mustang takes time, patience, and cash. There are no two ways about it; you have to have all three. You can always go the cheap route, but sometimes that is just not safe. Worn out suspension components are not only unsightly, but also dangerous. A busted tie-rod end, or popping a ball joint will, send you out of control in a hurry, if not flip you over. Replacement is the only real option here, as these parts are considered consumables anyway.
We have a 1965 coupe project that has spent the last 10-15 years in a shed, rotting away. When we bought it, the interior had been replaced and restored, some not-so-great patch work done on the floorpans, and it ran (6-cylinder), but the only nice part of the car was the interior. The suspension was seriously rotted out with sagging springs, locked-up drum brakes, and sloppy steering. We set out to make this a clean driver, and that starts with the suspension.
Instead of just replacing the connection joints, we opted for a little upgrade. A quick call to Mustang Depot in Las Vegas and we had what we needed. The Ultra Street Performance kit we ordered comes with 1” drop front springs, 1” drop 5-leaf rear springs and shackles, polyurethane coil spring insulators, KYB shocks, 1” front sway bar, and polyurethane hardware. We also picked up new lower control arms, strut rod bushings, upper ball joints, and tie rods. The springs we picked up are V8 springs, which means the car will sit a little higher until the 302 actually gets dropped in.
The entire process took us about 30 hours (over the course of a week) to complete. The rear suspension is super easy, the front is the tricky part. The lower arms are simple; all the tension is on the upper arms. Getting the stock springs out requires a spring compressor, but the spring aprons make it tough to get enough compression on the springs. Since we had new springs, we carefully cut a few coils (one at a time) until we could get the old sagging springs out. If you want to save the springs, you need to remove spring aprons.
Though we have not been able to drive the car, the new suspension looks great and feels pretty good sitting still. The new front springs sit a touch high, but that is to be expected with new springs, it takes a few hundred miles for everything to settle, that, and the lightweight 6-cylinder is still between the fenders. Getting to this point makes the car safe to drive and once everything settles, it won’t have that 4×4 look anymore.
01. The ’65 was set up on jackstands and RaceRamps. It is critical that the vehicle is safely suspended off the ground. We set the front end on jack stands with the suspension unloaded. We worked from front to back. We will unload the rear suspension when the front is completed.
02. The first thing we did was soak everything with JB80 penetrant. Many of these bolts have been in place since the car was new, so you need a little help breaking them loose. This is the best penetrant you can get.
03. The tie rods were separated with a pickle fork. We removed the entire steering linkage to replace all of the joints.
04. The sway bar to frame mounts were removed along with the sway bar end links. The cobwebs may give you an idea of how “barn fresh” this project really is.
05. The strut rods bushings were shot. We needed to use the impact gun to get the heavily corroded nuts loose. This needs to be done before the strut rod is removed from the lower arm. Trust us on that one.
06. With all the joints removed, we separated the spindle and lower arm from the car. Don’t worry about the upper arm and spring, that is a self-contained unit.
07. Since we had new springs, we used the plasma torch to cut off three coils. You have to be careful doing this, but as long as the shock is still in place, the spring isn’t going anywhere. If you want to save your springs, you need to remove the spring apron that covers the upper half of the coil spring to get enough room to compress the spring.
08. Once the spring was loose, we removed the shock. The shocks come out the top of the shock towers.
09. The original ball joints are riveted to the upper control arm. Using an air hammer and a chisel, the rivets were an easy target. You can grind these off too, but that takes much longer. Once the heads were knocked off, we used the air hammer and a punch tip to knock the rest of the rivet out of the arm.
10. We cleaned up the dirt and grime, then sprayed some Eastwood Extreme Chassis Black paint on the inner fender area. The ball joint was installed with the supplied bolts and torqued to 15 ft pounds.
11. The kit came with brand new lower arms with the ball joint installed. This piece is very clean, with a nice black and silver powder coating. The lower arm mounting bolt should not be torqued until the weight of the car is on the suspension.
12. We put our spring compressor on the new spring and slid it in place. You can do this with the apron in place, but it is not easy. It would be easier to pull the apron. These are V8 springs with a 1” drop.
13. The new KYB shocks were dropped into the shock towers. Don’t forget to install the isolator bushing.
14. We are doing a 5-lug conversion, so we replaced the drum spindles with new V8 spindles. To get the strut rod bolted to the lower arm, the suspension was jacked up to ride height.
15. Once the strut rod was bolted down to the arm, the new bushings were installed and the strut rod was torqued to 25 ft lbs.
16. The new 1” sway bar was bolted to the frame using new hardware we supplied. Make sure not to lose any of the original nuts and bolts, you will need them.
17. The sway bar end links are a little tricky. You may be tempted to tighten these down till the bushings squish, but in reality, assembly should be tightened until the spacer in the center just stops rotating.
18. We torqued the upper and lower ball joints to 70 ft lbs. Don’t forget to install the cotter pins. We used a jack to lift the suspension to put the car’s weight on the bushings and springs. This is critical for getting maximum life out of the rubber bushings.
19. At this point, we put the rear of the Mustang on jackstands with the tires just above the shop floor. The upper shock mounts were first, they are hidden behind the back seat under a rubber plug.
20. The front leaf bolts were really tight, the impact gun was having trouble, so we had to use the breaker bar. We pulled the springs out of the pocket and let the rear rest on the ground.
21. Next the rear shackles were removed. There is very little room to get the shackles out. We needed a hammer and a prybar. In the end, we cut the old shackle in half with a sawzall.
22. With the rear assembly out of the car, we removed the mounting plates. This is the lower plate that the U-bolts mount to. We are replacing the rear end with an 8” 5-lug unit, so we pulled everything out. You could replace the leaf packs one at a time, with the rear still under the car, if you are keeping the original rear in place.
23. Before installing the new bushings, the metal sleeves in the subframe (which are not replaced) were cleaned up with a bottle brush. You don’t want to use any spray lube here, as they can eat into the new rubber.
24. The new shackles were installed to the frame then the leaf pack was installed onto the shackle. The shackle end link was installed, but not torque yet.
25. The front side was then swung up to the mount. We smacked the outer flange of the mount with a hammer to open it up a little. This makes it much easier to get the new bushings in place. Once in position, the bolts were inserted and the nuts threaded.
26. Next up we bolted the new U-bolts to the hold the rear end to the leaves. The key here is to thread the nuts an equal amount on both sides. This keeps the U-bolt square to the plate. We torqued the bolts to 35 ft lbs.
27. With the weight still off the suspension, the new KYB shocks were installed. Make sure you use the new rubber bushings.
28. The last step is bolting on the wheels and setting the car on the ground. Before we dropped the car though, we jacked up the rear so that the suspension was supporting the body, then we torqued the front and rear leaf spring bushings to 35 ft lbs. Doing this with the weight of the car on the bushings, keeps them from twisting under the weight of the car, and thus, last longer.
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).