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