How to Align Your Classic Mustang
If you’ve successfully installed your new MMI suspension parts, you’re probably wondering how to align your classic Mustang. Fortunately our parts are designed to give you a ton of adjustment to precisely align your Mustang with minimal hassle. Even better, our suspension allows for adjustment in areas the stock suspension did not.
The first thing to understand is that simply taking your car to a standard alignment will not work. Increasingly these shops want nothing to do with aligning classic cars. Few even know how to do it properly. If they accept your car, they are likely to put it up on the alignment rack, take a few measurements, and try to align it to the stock settings from the 1960s. We’ve come a long way since then and as a result, alignments specs ARE NOT the same.
Instead, we recommend following these instructions to get you in the ballpark, then finding the local guy who “gets it” in your area to dial it in. They may work at a race shop, an old school restoration shop, or other establishment. These folks will understand we’re not trying to align the car to outdated specs, but rather to something that will work for your type of driving. If you are uncomfortable following these instructions, we recommend letting your favorite shop complete the install and alignment (or installing, then having the car towed to an appropriate shop). These are your steering and suspension parts, don’t take shortcuts in this area.
Aligning the Front Suspension
Set Everything to Equal Lengths
We need to start with a good base, which typically is the frame. Assuming the car has not been in any accidents, the frame should still be straight and true, which means our suspension pickup points will be as well.
- Set your strut rods to equal lengths side to side.
- Set your lower control arms to equal lengths side to side
- Set the number of shims (if used) behind your upper control arms to an equal number side to side.
This will achieve a “base” setup, where in both sides should be equal.
Set the Steering Wheel
Though not essential every time you do an alignment, this is a good starting point, especially if your car pulls to one side or the steering wheel is always cocked a weird way.
- In order to align the suspension, we need the steering wheel as straight as possible. Before beginning, pull the pitman arm off the steering box. Then, set the steering box in the middle of its stroke. To do this, turn the steering wheel all the way to the left, then turn it all the way to the right, counting the number of turns it takes from lock to lock. You might put a small piece of tape on the top of the wheel to make this easier. If it takes 3 1/8 turns lock to lock, then center your wheel at roughly 1 and a fat half. That’s the center of your steering box. Do not do this based on the orientation of the steering wheel itself. Steering wheels are often incorrectly installed and clocked one way or another. Instead, align your steering, pop the wheel off, and properly recenter it once your alignment is complete.
- Equalize your tie rod lengths. Measure to the zerk fitting on both sides, ensuring they are the same length.
- With the tie rods equal and the steering box in the middle of its stroke, slide on the pitman arm. Use the centerlink as a reference and sanity check. It should be centered between the frame rails.
Temporarily Set the Toe
- In order to measure the toe, we’d recommend picking up a set of inexpensive toe plates available from any of the large auto parts warehouses.
- Once in place, adjust both tie rod ends an equal amount until the toe is set to 0*.
Set the Camber
- To adjust the camber, insert shims on the upper control arm to move the mounting points in or out.
- Place a straight edge vertically on your wheel (NOT your tire) and set the measurement to roughly -0.5* to -1.25* on each side. The top of the wheel should be closer to the centerline of the car than the bottom of the wheel.
- You want these measurements as close side-to-side as possible.
Set the Caster
Setting the caster is kind of a pain. There’s no easy way to do it, especially without purchasing something like this Longacre Caster/Camber Gauge. See if you can borrow one, or consider buying one. They’re a good purchase and a good tool to have in the garage. If you can’t be bothered to do either, roughly measure the angle of your shock. This will get you on the same planet as the right measurement, but do this only to get the car to the alignment shop.
- Attach the caster/camber gauge with tripod to your wheel. Following the procedure outlined by Longacre, your goal is to set your caster from +4.5* to +8* max.
- Remember to take your measurement with the car on the ground and rolled back and forth a few times to settle the suspension. One trick we like: pick up four sheets of 24×24″ aluminum sheetmetal from your local home improvement store. Set one on the floor, spray it with WD40, then set the other on top of it. Roll your car onto these two plates. Now you have an inexpensive set of wheel plates that will make turning the steering wheel significantly easier. An even cheaper solution? Contractor garbage bags placed on the floor. Often these will give you enough slip to work as well.
- Use shims to adjust the upper control arm fore or aft 1/8″ at a time. This will get you in the rough area.
- To dial it in, adjust the strut rods in or out. We like a minimum of 3/4″ engagement on the strut rod.
- At this time, double check your camber, using the lower control arm adjustment to dial it in.
- Double check your steering wheel is still centered.
Set the Toe
- Setup and attach your toe plates.
- Adjusting both tie rods equally, dial in 1/8″ of toe in. (Front of tires closer than back of tires)
Double Check Your Work
At this time, make sure all bolts are tightened and everything is properly connected. These are your steering components, don’t take shortcuts here.
Goal Alignment Specs
- 1/8″ toe in (total)
- -0.5* to -1.25* of camber
- +4.5* to +8* of caster
Keep in mind, these are a good base alignment for your classic Mustang. But small changes in these areas can make a big difference in how the car rides and handles. In a future article we will cover how adjustments affect how the car performs, giving you the ability to set your car up to your preferred driving style.