COLLECTORCARS: Rebuilding My Totally-Not-Collectible Mustang, Part 4

StephenCox Blog is Presented by SopwithMotorsports Television Productions

The steering system on a base model 1980 Ford Mustang is not exactlytrack ready. Light and numb, it offers little road feel and an overlywide lock-to-lock ratio. Increasing the size and width of theoriginal 13-inch tires actually makes the steering worse, not better.Honestly, driving this combination just isn’t much fun.

The installation of a 400 horsepower Windsor small block, 15-inch AnsonSlot wheels and a new Dynomax Super Turbo dual exhaust tempts the driver to push the car beyond the reasonable safety limits of its original equipment. So the next step in making my Mustang street able and fun was to improve the steering.

After a bit of research we decided to pull the original steering rack, inner and outer tie rods, pump lines and most everything else associated with the steering system and replace it with a 15:1 quick ratio kit from a 1983 Mustang GT. We chose this option because the parts are available, affordable and bolt right in with virtually no adjustments. The work was just finished this week and the results are mixed.

After being tested on a winding road at 45-60 mph, the feel of the steering has definitely improved. A power steering system will never truly allow a driver to feel the road like a manual steering rack, but the new 1983 GT unit is clearly better than the stock 1980 systemoriginally intended for a base model four cylinder car.

Particularly noticeable is the steering performance in the center of a corner. The initial turn-in is virtually indistinguishable from the original unit, but once you’re in the center of a corner the system comes alive. The rotation of the front wheels is transmitted to the driver’s hands by feel. The 15:1 rack responds quicker to driver input with greater precision.

At the same time, it leaves no doubt in the driver’s mind that you are still driving a 1980’s automobile. The steering is still lighter than I prefer. Modern cars have a heavier fluidity to the steering wheel that provides constant resistance and gives the driver confidence. This is severely lacking from the 1983 Mustang GT steering rack, which is best described as a vastly improved version of the feedback offered from a domestic 1970’s automobile.

For 1983, this was a quantum leap forward. But this is 2018. And I am a racing driver which probably makes me more finicky than the average motorist. Automotive purists will sometimes claim that to make a car better than the manufacturer intended is to betray its original era and the fundamental purpose of restoring the car in the first place.

I see their point and in most cases I don’t disagree. But I remain a fan of “rest mods,” those cars that are both restored and modified as the owner prefers.

My 1980 base model is among the least collectible Mustang ever built. Thankfully, mine is a coupe (the far more desirable Fox body “notchback”) rather than a hatchback, but that’s about the only factor in its favor.

Since the car has little value in its original configuration, I might as well make it into what I want it to be. We will likely try another more modern steering rack in the near future that offers more feedback and a heavier feel, but in the meantime, we have achieved some success. The car is far more drivable and responsive. Clearly, the 1983 GT gave a better road feel and more precision to its driver than the base four-cylinder Mustangs built just three years before.

While we ponder our future steering rack options, we also begin preparations for the next stage of the restoration – sub-frameconnectors and a road and track suspension package to make the littlepony handle like a Mustang really should. Stay tuned!

Stephen Cox

Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions

Driver, FIA EPCS sports car championship & Super Cup Stock Car Series

Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN

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Stephen Cox is a racing driver in the Electric GT Championship, the Super Cup Stock Car Series and the World Racing League endurance sports car series. He is also a television host and CEO of Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions. He is currently in his 10th season as a co-host on NBCSN’s Mecum Auto Auction. Stephen also serves as producer for the Super Cup Stock Car Series telecasts on MavTV and other programming on Fox, Outdoor Channel, Velocity and more. His past television work includes hosting: Champ Car World Series Indianapolis 500 NASCAR Winston West Barber Dodge Pro Series Paris-Dakar Rally USAR Hooters ProCup Stock Car Series Mid-American Stock Car Series ARCA Truck Series Stephen Cox is among America’s most versatile professional racing drivers. Few drivers have competed on both asphalt and dirt. Fewer still on both road courses and ovals. Fewer still in both open wheel and stock cars. And virtually none can add the elite division of off road desert racing to their resume. Stephen has not simply raced in each of these divisions – he has scored championships, wins, poles or top ten finishes in every single category, and in 2017 he adds the international Electric GT Championship sports car series to the list. From ARCA ovals to SCCA road courses, endurance racing to Rolex GT sports cars, from Tecate SCORE Baja Trophy Trucks in desert sands to the Hooters Pro Cup Series and Super Cup Stock Car Series on America’s famous southern ovals… Cox has driven them all, and won. Track record holder at Midvale Speedway (OH USA) Track record holder at Gingerman Raceway (MI USA) 18 career wins 17 career poles Mitsubishi factory test driver 2004 GT Challenge Series champion 2004 Championship Motorsports Association Rookie of the Year As a writer, Cox has authored: L&M PORSCHE; the story Penske’s 1972 Can-Am championship SHELBY LEGEND, TRANS-AM WINNER; the 1966 Ford Mustang Group 2 SCCA Racer AGAINST ALL ODDS; the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona Cox also authored the Small Team Sponsorship Guide for beginning sponsor-hunters, the classic book and seminar that redefined the way entry level teams attack corporate sponsorship.

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