Ford produced the Mustang back in 1964 and it kicked off the era of the pony car. Soon Chevy had the Camaro and Pontiac had a Firebird, followed by Mopar’s Barracuda.
Carol Shelby was tapped to produce a performance version that burned up the race tracks and led to the TransAm series. Then in 1968 the movie Bullitt came to the big screen and car chase scenes and Mustangs were never looked at the same way again. Steve McQueen insisted on realism and that desire was reflected in the filming of the street pursuit that pitted Steve’s Mustang against a black Dodge Charger. No under-cranking of the cameras to simulate high speeds, it was all real and the drivers were really driving.
So began the stuff of legends. While Steve tried twice to buy the surviving Mustang for his own collection (there were two used in the film) it remains hidden in storage.
While some have done an impressive job in duplicating the Mustang used in the film, Ford went ahead in 2001 and produced its own version based on that year’s production Mustang. While it was a pretty good try it was eclipsed by the version they came out with in 2008. That was based on the new retro-look style Mustang that was de-badged and painted to look the part as well as tuned to sound the part.
Only about 6500 of these 2008-9 Bullitt Mustangs were produced and a few have been through a local shop for suspension upgrades. The one we will look at today is the second one purchased by the owner. His first one was also modified and taken to track days, but he traded it in only to regret the decision and found a new one with even less miles.
With the experiences gained from the many Bullitt Mustangs modified through the past few years the shop was able to work to determine the best modifications that would enhance the street performance and still allow the car to remain civilized enough to drive around town.
The car arrived at the shop with its factory exhaust tuned to replicate the sound of the McQueen original from the 1968 movie. No sense in altering that, but the stance and wheel to fender gap left a lot to be desired.
A set of Steeda ultra-lite springs and some new Koni shocks were ready and waiting to be installed.
To top off the front struts were Steeda mounts that would allow for custom camber settings.
Having the ability to add or adjust camber can increase the grip that you would normally be able to get out of your tires. So the adjustability that this piece provides is a real plus.
The owner already had the brakes upgraded with a set of braided brake lines and some excellent Hawk pads, but increasing the performance of the brakes also meant that the driver now felt more nose dive when applying force to the pedal. Something else to address. Never forget that a car is a collection of parts that make a complex system of interactions and when you change one of the parts the others are dragged along. Sometimes for the better and sometimes with results that are detrimental.
For the Bullitt Mustang (and most Mustangs) one of the best sources for parts that will enhance the handling and grip is the Whiteline company out of Australia. They have been engineering solutions for many years and continue to improve on their selection of modifications.
Soon it was time to take the front suspension apart. That meant unbolting the top of the strut and then unbolting it from the steering knuckle that is connected to the control arm. Then removing the control arm itself.
All the suspension bolts on the Ford come with treated threads so that vibration won’t loosen them.
The control arm was going to have a lot of modifications done to it. It would get a new ball joint from the folks at Whiteline that allows for correction of the roll center after the springs change the ride height. Whiteline also provides tie rod ends that allow for the removal of bump steer that occurs with lowering ride height. If the angle of the tie rod is not optimized it will actually cause the tires to turn in and out as the suspension moves up and down. The replacement tie rod ends can adjust for that.
The control arm has the inner pivot pressed out. This is a messy job since the stock pivot is fluid filled.
The Whiteline kit has new bushings as well as an offset spacer that allows you to increase the caster or inclined angle of the control arm.
Caster controls several aspects of how the car’s front suspension works. For one caster helps the steering to come back to center after you have executed a turn. Increased caster also adds camber to the outside tire as you turn into a corner. One more thing is that the angle, when it is steepened, will act as a ramp that reduces the dive you feel when you get on the brakes. Properly used, the Whiteline parts can translate into far better handling, along with good behavior that results in increased grip as you ask the car to do more than it was originally set up for.
With all the new components installed the control arms are ready to be installed.
The new springs required that the bump stops be shortened.
With the front end all buttoned up it was time to focus on the rear suspension…
The rear would receive a set of Steeda Ultra-Lite’s too.
To get to the rear shocks required the removal of the sub-woofer assembly in the trunk.
The amps behind the speaker get removed, too.
With the new Koni shocks in place things were set in the rear and it was time to return to the front suspension. Yes, there is more to be done to give this Mustang the handling it deserves.
Whiteline makes an adjustable front sway bar (aka: anti-roll bar) along with a brace that tightens up the front frame. This customer also got the optional adjustable end links for the new sway bar.
After removing the factory front bar, end links, and the bushing clamps a pair of brackets were put in place using the stock studs.
The new bar bushings were lubricated and installed on the new front bar along with the original clamps and then put in place.
The bar was centered and the clamps bolted down so that the new end links could be installed.
The bar has four locations with the end one being the softest setting. The second from the end was chosen as the best starting point. For street use it will probably be the ideal setting.
The sway bar locks above clamp on to the front bar, just a few millimeters away from the bushings to limit the bar’s side-to-side movement that naturally occurs.
Then the brace was bolted in place.
The fitment was excellent. It required only a slight adjustment so that the power steering cooling pipe would not chafe on the brace.
Then it was time to get back to the rear. A lot of changes were in store for the rear.
At the top of the differential is a third link that keeps its rotation under control and also sets the pinion angle. Whiteline has a replacement bushing that allows for the pinion angle to be adjusted as it changes when the suspension height is changed with the Steeda springs.
First thing is to remove the rear seat bottom to gain access to the third bolt that connects the link to the car.
Two more bolts were accessed from underneath as well as the cross bolt for the bushing on the differential. Then the third link was removed and the bushing pressed out.
First the rim on the factory bushing was first cut off so that the bushing could be put in the press. The rubber center section was ripped out with the press and then the steel ring was cut with a slit so that it could be removed from the arm in preparation for the new yellow bushing and steel offset inner bushing that is the key to being able to adjust the pinion angle.
These bolts and washers work with the new bushings to lock in any adjustment.
There is still more to do on the rear end suspension. First there is the removal of the rear sway bar so that there is access to the frame brace above the panhard rod and the panhard rod itself.
The old bar is hung from two links to the chassis and the ends connect just under the shock mounts. The new bar will be pretty much the reverse with the bar mounted to the rear axle and the end links connected to the chassis with new adjustable end links.
The new panhard rod is adjustable so that the rear end can be centered under the chassis. The new brace above the panhard rod adds structure that ensures that the panhard rod does what it should.
With the panhard rod out of the way the rear control arms were unbolted.
Before the new control arms go in place a set of new brackets were bolted in to lower the axle mounts for the new control arms. First the axle weights were unbolted.
Then the new brackets were slipped into place. With supplied bushings and bolts they were aligned so that the new control arms could be bolted up.
The new ones are adjustable for length so that the rear axle can be adjusted for even toe.
Then it was time to put the new rear sway bar in place. First the large hoops went over the axles followed by the brackets that the bushing clamp would mount to. Putting the bar in place is a two-person job. The good news is that Whiteline has a new lubrication technology that they use in the bar bushings that eliminate the need to grease them up. It’s a fuzzy application of PTFE (Teflon) on the inside of the bushing.
Just like the front bar, the end links were set to the second hole from the end of the adjustable rear bar. The hole closest to the end will provide the least roll resistance and the one farthest away provides the greatest stiffness.
With that it was time for a test drive to settle the suspension in preparation for a complete alignment.
This is the enjoyable part of the project. No, you can’t and should not take the car to the limit, but you can get close enough to discover that the car now has a lot more grip than it had prior, and you can look forward to the perfection of a precision alignment that will allow it all to work in concert.
This car has a fantastic look and a suspension that matches its personality. All it needs it a set of genuine American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels to complete the look.