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Shelby Drop, Roller Spring Perches, a Monte Carlo Bar and other Oddly Named things that Prep a Falcon for Road Rallying

Tim Odell January 3, 2012 Project Cars, Tech

Ford Falcon Suspension Upgrades

A little while ago, I filled you in on the experience of roughly 10,000 miles of commuting in my ’64 Falcon. The Falcon proved itself to be a worthy commuter, but phase two of the operation was to transform it from a highway cruiser to a proper(ish) sporting car that might just hold its own on a windy country back road.

As it turns out, the modifications to do so are relatively cheap and straightforward. Hit the jump to see what it took to turn an economy car on a 61 year old chassis into a halfway decent canyon carver.

Since that last update I landed a new job in a new town, which meant I had to take care of all of my lingering car fixes before moving. Specifically, the manual steering box on the Falcon, which had deteriorated to about 90 degrees of on-center dead spot. In typical old-car fashion, transforming the steering from a mushy suggestion box to a decently useful system requires a cheap (~$40), simple rebuild kit and a hojillion hours of labor. I won’t go into the details, but the worst part is getting the steering box, with attached two foot steering shaft, into and out of the engine bay. Other than that, it’s a matter of pressing a couple of bearings in and out. Wear gloves, it gets greasy.

I have a lot of pictures like this

As a general rule, whenever you fool around with steering parts it’s a good idea to get an alignment afterwards. As another general rule, if you’re going to pay to have an alignment done, you should do as many “get an alignment afterwards” upgrades as you can beforehand. Thus, the Shelby Drop.

Another example of an upgrade you’d never get away with (or, in fairness need) on a newer car, the Shelby drop entails re-drilling the mounting points for the upper control arm to improve suspension geometry. Falcons (and thus, Mustangs) came with a front suspension that actually loses camber as it compresses. In stock form, the Falcon’s suspension does the opposite of what it’s supposed to: the top of the tire leans outward as the suspension compresses. If you can imagine running in a circle while leaning out instead of in, you can imagine how bad it felt to take a hard corner.

A certain chili-loving Texan noticed this “feature” on the Mustang and realized a minor tweak in geometry would get things moving properly. Plus one for platform sharing. The process for a Shelby drop is hilariously simple: remove the upper A-arms and re-mount in two new holes drilled 1″ down and 1/8″ back from the original mounting points. As an added bonus, it drops the suspension by about 1/2″, leveling out the stance nicely.

Shelby DropDrill BitsFord Falcon Shelby DropFord Falcon Suspension

 

Easily DIY-able, but most easily accomplished by buying a template from Opentracker Racing Products, which I did. While making my purchase for a princely sum of $15, I let Open Tracker boss-man John Dinkel know it was being used on my Falcon, which I’d be writing up for Hooniverse. To my surprise he included a pair of their roller spring perches with my order. Thanks and disclosure are in order.

WTF are roller spring perches you ask? On the Falcon (and Mustang, and lots of other classic cars), the front springs rest on spring perches mounted to the upper A-arm. The perch (mostly) lets the A-arm swing through its arc without forcing the spring to bend to match the angle. From the factory, spring perches have a vulcanized rubber bushing between the perch and A-arm; Opentracker’s perches replace this with a set of roller bearings: friction-free movement in the direction they’re supposed to go, infinite stiffness in the direction they’re not.

Ford Falcon Spring PerchRoller Perch

This isn’t Falcon Quarterly, so we figure you’re not interested in the gory model-specific details of the install. Basically you unbolt everything attached to the upper A arms, drill 2 holes, and re-install. It’s probably a 3 out of 5 on the Hooniverse Just Made Up Wrenching Scale, upgraded from 2 only because you need to use a spring compressor to get the springs out, and need to know how to stage your drill bits to work up to the big 23/32″ required.

While I was at it, I decided to ditch the original 6 cylinder Falcon springs for a pair of V8 Mustang springs cut one coil loop down. Despite nearly doubling my spring rate, the ride’s not anywhere near what I’d call stiff or jarring. The roller perches help with this by keeping the load along the axis of the coils, rather than trying to bend them like the factory units.

Ford Falcon Sway Bar

Rounding things out, I slapped in a 1″ front sway bar (up from the the factory 5/8″) and upper engine brace, aka Monte Carlo bar. Both bolt in to existing holes. The function of either should be obvious to anyone here, but to summarize the sway bar keeps things flatter in the corners and the engine compartment brace keeps the fenders from flexing in towards each other under load. Along with my previous 4-piston disc brake upgrade that bill of materials brings the front up to Shelby GT350 spec.

Paying full price for everything, these upgrades are somewhere around $700. Template was $15, a 23/32″ drill bit is about $25, the roller perches retail for $199, springs, the engine brace, and sway bar are all about $100 each, but I picked up all three used from a seller on the Ford Muscle forums for about 40% off. An alignment at a competent shop is about $100. Add good shocks (I replaced mine previously) or any other minor upgrades along the way and you might as well budget about a grand, along with a solid two weekends bridged by a few weeknights of work.

I’m not going to claim $1000 can turn a worn out stock Falcon into a Miata killer. What I will say is it transformed the car from a floppy mess to a well controlled sports tourer predictable enough to enjoyably flog down a mountain road. Not bad when you consider what the guy in the GT350 paid for the same privilege.

Currently there are "44 comments" on this Article:

  1. vwminispeedster says:

    "hojillion" I need to work that more into my everyday engineering vocabulary.

  2. muthalovin says:

    I used to do the Shelby Drop until I threw my back out.

    Nice work, Tim. How many hours would you say it took you total to accomplish this?

    • Alcology says:

      You wrote your name on anything and everything until you got really old?

    • Mad_Science says:

      Hmmm…it depends on how you calculate "how much time".

      Do we include the extra time it took trying to get the steering box out because it was my first time doing so? (seriously, it's like giving birth)
      Do we include the time to go to the store to buy a spring compressor after the rental unit was of no help?
      Do we include time screwing with my drill after the 1/2" bit broke while drilling the last hole?
      Do we include the fact that I had to install the Mustang coils twice b/c it was clear upon initial install that they needed to be cut down more?

      If you have all the parts in-hand, the right tools and enough experience I'd say everything described is 2 very full weekends bridged by a few week nights of work. Somewhere between 30 and 40 hours of work.

  3. dukeisduke says:

    The part I'd have the most trouble with would be the stepping-up process through the drill bits, to make sure I didn't end up with oval-shaped holes. What kind of drill do you have to use with a 23/32" bit anyway? That's bigger than a 1/2" drill. Did you just rent something from a box store, like Home Depot?

  4. HycoSpeed says:

    Your steering upgrades are relevant to my interests!

    I have a 71 Bronco whose steering is much as you describe. It is fairly entertaining on the drive to work when I hit a bump and the tires decide they would like to go left (or right, they aren't picky), and the steering box says "Sure! As far as I can tell no one is holding the wheel!" Then I get to twist the wheel madly in the opposite direction, with the first 20° or so of rotation having as little effect as possible, and once the steering box realizes I am indeed still back there it inevitably overcorrects, resulting in a dramatic churn back the other way.

    So I will certainly be investigating the $40 rebuild.

    • Mad_Science says:

      Power steering boxes are a bit trickier, but probably not out of reach if you're determined. You'll need a press, a really big hammer or two, and an assortment of pry bars/sacrificial deep sockets or extensions.

      Be sure to check all the other parts in the system, such as tie rod ends and wheel bearings.

      Also: I'm envious of your early Bronco.

      • HycoSpeed says:

        Oh! I should probably have mentioned that bit, the Bronco is manual steering. The only nod to the future it posseses is a front disk brake upgrade from a later 70's model. And since the individual who did that particular upgrade in the past neglected to also upgrade the brake selector valve with a proper portioning valve, they may not be doing a whole lot (the rears are prone to lock up under hard braking now that I replaced the master cylinder [unboosted] with one that doesn't leak like a sieve).

        And we should certainly say the envy is mutual.

        Your posts are serving to intensify my desire for a twisties-mobile. If I have two daily drivable old cars it should double my chances that at least one of the can get me to work right?

        • mdharrell says:

          Additional daily drivers will improve your odds, but it's definitely a case of diminishing returns. Trust me.

          • HycoSpeed says:

            It's so hard to firmly plant your tongue in your cheek on the internet. My own experiences lead me to the same conclusion, but I am practicing the explanation to my wife that this time will be different.

        • Tanshanomi says:

          No. I gave that theory an applied test once. In practice, having two vehicles multiplies both your opportunities for effective transport and your opportunities for being unexpectedly plunged money-pit repair hell at inopportune times. You're just squaring both sides of the equation, so it's a wash.

        • Mad_Science says:

          Well, the Falcon's still my DD with the Wagoneer as my backup, while my '00 Wrangler is mostly sitting (for no apparent reason…I need to drive it more).

          Since my new commute's so short, I'm pretty good at keeping the Falcon limping along if something's awry. The steering wheel's crooked, the steering box needs the preload adjusted, the horn doesn't work and something that rhymes with "cake fights" isn't working right now.

          These will all be addressed as soon as I move the furniture out of my garage, which will happen after I move the tools out of the family room, which will happen shortly, as I just finished installing hardwood floor in there.

          Back on topic…being successful with multiple slightly crappy vehicles is possible if you're really good at anticipating problems and knowing how to prioritize maintenance. Is that fluid under your car coolant, gas or oil? Where's it coming from? Is that noise and exhaust leak or valve tick?

          • mr. mzs zsm msz esq says:

            Congrats on the floor!

          • HycoSpeed says:

            That is actually an eerily similar description to the current configuration of the Bronco. Crooked steering wheel, check; no horn, check, and cake fights? I have 1/2. A couple of weeks ago I actually had 2 different people holler at me at stop lights to let me know my right cake wasn't fighting. But the turn signal works, and since the signal goes through the same wire I haven't quite tracked down the culprit.

            I also have a nice vented exhaust system. The headers and dual exhaust were installed with slip fittings, and I think every single one of them has at least a little blow out.

            When it comes to diagnosing fluid leaks, I have found it can be very helpful to have a friend there. I once bought a 1986 GMC 4×4 four door dually pickup, with the 454. It used prodigious amounts of fuel, so it of course had 2 tanks. As I was driving it home, I stopped and got a tank of gas. For whatever reason, I think because of pump availability at the station I picked, I filled up the driver's side tank. I got back in the truck, flipped the tank select switch, and hit the freeway for home. As I reached the summit of the long, sweeping on ramp, the truck began to sputter and die.

            Suspecting an undisclosed problem with that new tank, I promptly flipped the switch back to the other tank, but to no avail. I coasted to the side of the highway and decided to make a quick survey of the situation before proceeding. A close examination of the fuel line connections on top of the tank, which were slightly visible by squenching my head into the gap between the cab and the bed, revealed that the fuel lines were, in fact, absolutely not hooked up to the tank at all. And the gentleman seller had revealed no such information to me, despite my feeling that it would have been rather nice to know. This was a high class Auto Trader sales relationship too, back in the days before Craigslist. (In the long term, this means I drove around for the year or so that I owned the truck with an extra tank of fuel I could never use.)

            Since I knew the tank wasn't hooked up, and I had tried switching to the other side, I just figured that the right side tank was just lower than I thought, so I sent out a call on the bat phone for a friend with a gas can. After we put a couple of gallons in the good tank, we then proceeded to initiate a restart. In order to help the mechanical pump get going, we even put the occasional splash of gas into the carb. A couple of times I thought we were close doing this, the engine would fire, and…then sputter quickly out. There was the added bonus of the excitement of a backfire-ish phenomenon that lit the carb on fire twice. The second time one of my buddies put it out with a red Gatorade. Turns out, red Gatorade, while working surprisingly well to put out a carb fire, will remain on an engine block, burning off rather slowly over the course of months, providing a not at all unpleasant syrupy smell to freshen the cabin.

            So we haphazardly towed the truck to the mostly empty truck parking lot of a nearby run down truck stop using some way too small rope. Which, if you should ever find the need to do such a thing, will hold up surprisingly well as long as you maintain a smooth steady pressure and do not jerk it. The truck was parked way on the edge of the lot, parallel to a slight hill, with the right side higher than the left. (This may be important later.) My conclusion after this effort was that the fuel tank selector switch just happened to crap out at the very inopportune moment right after I switched to the wrong tank. So not I was unable to switch back. My plan was to pick up the switch the next day after work and return victorious to swap it out and drive home!

            The plan was going off without a hitch, I got off work early, had a buddy pick me up, the parts store was right by a Chicken Express, so I even grabbed a giant iced tea to drink on the 20 min drive out to the truck. Of course, being as that I had enjoyed my giant iced tea, the first thing I did upon arrival was to walk around to the far side of the truck and relieve a little bit of the tea pressure.

            The switch was off in a jiff, and the new one installed and switched to the right side tank. We were good to go. I gave the gas a few pumps and cranked her over. My buddy was standing off to the left side, and as the engine starts turning over he notices something, and yells out quick that he sees some kind of puddle under the truck. So I turn the ignition off and hop out, and sure enough, there is something under there. And it seems to be running down the little hill from the right side, which would be the fuel tank we are trying to use. So I say, "Hold on a second," and start to walk around the truck to figure out just what the deal is.

            Just as I round the front and and spy the cause of the trouble–my very own puddle, over on the far side of the truck and running down the little hill–I hear my buddy say, "It doesn't taste like gas!"

            • longrooffan says:

              Hyco…throw something such as this to the submissions link at the top of the page…no matter how sporatic, stories such as this deserve something more than the comments section!

              Your buddy's next comment, "Gas tastes better than this!"

    • dculberson says:

      I had a Bronco with the exact symptoms you describe. I never did fix it, but I'm sure the steering box is the trouble as i replaced everything else in the steering.

  5. Scandinavian Flick says:

    Oy… Steering rack work is one of those few things I would actually rather throw money at someone to make my problems go away. It's a short list, but after my last experience, brakes may be making that list soon as well… Rounding off that list are electrical gremlins and almost all cooling system work.

    But I digress. This is an awesome project. It makes me wish I had purchased something old and platform sharing so I could have easier and cheaper upgrades… A friend of mine has a 78 Ford Fairmont that has me feeling the same, being a Fox Body Mustang underneath a standard 70s box that nobody thinks twice about.

    I keep forgetting how local you are to me. I'll have to keep an eye out for a '64 Falcon sitting level with wheels that tilt the correct direction under load. Be sure to keep an eye out for a GTO on lightweight Japanese wheels. ;)

    • Mad_Science says:

      Be sure to roll out to Hanzel's Seconds Saturdays when they get those going again.

      • Scandinavian Flick says:

        For sure! I heard about them for the first time about a week after the final one of the season. I love this area for the fact that when car show/meet season is in full swing, I actually have my choice of show/meet almost every weekend, sometimes resulting in me showing up at more than one in a day…

  6. buzzboy7 says:

    I'm glad to see yours is getting work and driven. After mine tried to clean out my wallet I've put her up for sale.

  7. SSurfer321 says:

    Glad to see I'm not the only one that keeps a fire extinguisher in the garage. My only suggestion is to hang it on the wall so you don't have to worry about clearing clutter should it ever need to be used. Also get it tested once per year. Between tests, just "thump" the bottom of it to keep the extinguishing material loose.

    /OSHA 40hr Cert. Nerd

    • SSurfer321 says:

      and remember P.A.S.S.
      Pull (pin)
      Aim (at base of blaze)
      Squeeze (trigger)
      Sweep (back and forth)

      also, always back away from an extinguished fire as it may reignite.

  8. Pixel says:

    I have been enjoying your falcon posts from the get-go, but they just got more relevant as I bought a '64 wagon this weekend. It is nowhere near as nice as yours having been sitting under a tree in new england for almost a year, but also only cost me $1000. In addition to the big stuff it needs(head rebuild or new motor, roof rail rust repair, brakes) I'm sure everything is going to need a go through. I'm thinking the steering box might be a good winter project since I can pull that the box then do the major work inside.

    • Mad_Science says:

      I'm quite pleased with my disc brake kit from Chocostang (google 'em).

      Need a motor?

      Dig a hole in your backyard; you might find a 302/5.0 in it. Just remember that if yours is a V8 car currently, you'll need to find a 6-bolt bellhousing, as the earlier 221/260/289s had blocks with 5 bolts on the back.

  9. Armand4 says:

    Have you really gotten this far in a road rally project without adding rally lights? My Sunbeam got its fat Lucas lights before I bothered to rebuild the worn-out lever shocks.

  10. Chas says:

    I've got a very similar Falcon in my garage ('65 rather than a '64) and solved the mushy steering with a used Flaming River fast-ratio steering box I scored on Craigslist. It's manual steering, so parallel parking can be a workout, but ocean-liner steering response is a thing of the past. I also had the same problem with Mustang front springs. Even supposedly 1" drop springs needed a coil cut to get the car to sit level. The similarity of the Falcon platform to first-generation Mustangs means there's all kinds of aftermarket parts available and a huge repair/modification knowledge base, and the Falcon is just different enough to keep things interesting when you do start digging into it.

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