There's no denying that the stock Ford suspensions from the '60s and '70s are full of compromises. Budgetary constraints, packaging limitations, and so forth were considerations Ford had to contend with when building vehicles for the masses. Today, owners often attempt Band-Aid fixes while running modern sticky tires, and the end result is a car that doesn't handle, doesn't steer, and doesn't stop. Fixing these issues is entirely possible and one of the best ways to tackle the mediocre handling, steering, and braking of these cars is with a full bolt-on independent front suspension (IFS) upgrade package. An aftermarket IFS kit that addresses these concerns as a systems approach will net you a better handling and safer ride in a weekend of wrenching.
Fatman Fabrications has offered full chassis and Mustang II conversions for the street rod market for nearly three decades, and when the company's engineers first investigated the growing unibody Ford market (Mustang, Falcon, Fairlane, and so on), it was agreed upon that the typical Mustang II crossmember conversion was not the way to go. Instead, Fatman Fabrications devised a trick bolt-in IFS coilover strut suspension cradle that used all Ford parts for ease of servicing. Their reasoning? The Ford unibody design uses the shock towers to support the vehicle and transfer suspension loads to the firewall and cowl. Removing the shock towers means the vehicle's weight is now on the front frame rails exclusively—a weaker proposition by their reasoning.
The popular '94-'04 Mustang spindle and strut assembly was the key part of making the cradle work, and with the enormous late-model Mustang market, the customer would be able to choose from literally dozens of strut and brake options—from stone stock budget parts to trick adjustable struts and multi-piston disc brakes. Buyers can pick and choose their struts, brakes, and other hardware as their budget allows or project needs dictate. They can also purchase everything they'll need including rack-and-pinion, tilt steering column, and more directly from Fatman Fabrications for one-stop-shopping.
The first IFS cradle system from Fatman Fabrications hit the market for first generation Mustangs in 2005 and we were one of the lucky few to actually drive that '68 Mustang with Fatman's IFS system, coming away quite impressed at how the system worked. However, as time marches on, so does a successful company and its innovations and Fatman Fabrications does not sit idle. The company's strut IFS system is now offered for other Ford models, with a full lower cradle and a true A-arm design (previous designs retained the strut rods) that improves the car's handling.
1. First up to see the recycling pile is the Fairlane’s steering linkage. You should be able to simply unbolt the idler arm from the right framerail and separate the outer tie-rod ends from the spindles, finishing with the removal of the center link/control valve stud. While this two-post lift makes life easier, this whole project can be accomplished on jackstands.
2. The Fatman kit does not utilize any of the existing front suspension hardware except for the antisway bar. The antisway bar endlinks need to be disconnected from the original lower control arms, however, we’re removing the bar all together. Drag cars don’t need a front bar.
3. The most stubborn part of any early Ford front suspension is going to be the strut rods and their forward mounting points. Use generous amounts of penetrating oil and work the retaining nut back and forth to prevent galling during removal.
4. The lower control arms are next. You can remove them from the spindle and the chassis, or as in our case, we simply unbolted the lower arm from the chassis (shown here). We then separated the spindle from the upper control arm, ditching the spindle, brake hardware, and lower arm in one step.
5. Once you have the spindles/brakes/lower arm free, you’ll be left with the upper control arm, shock absorber, and coil spring on each side. A spring compressor can be used, but since we don’t need/care about any of these parts, Woody simply removed the upper shock mounts, upper control arm retaining nuts, and pried the whole assembly out. Fatman’s instructions even state this is a viable option for removal, just be sure to use a length of chain or cable to dampen the spring’s energy when it pops out.
6. If you couldn’t get the steering box out when removing the steering linkage earlier, now is the time to remove it from the car. The steering column will need to be upgraded or modified, too, so plan on removing the column now as well.
7. While by no means a photo of everything you get in the Fatman IFS kit, shown here is the majority of the hardware, including the custom IFS cradle, steering rack mounts, coilover springs with mounts, and upper strut mounts. The manual rack (owner’s choice) and spindles/struts are not included, but are shown here to demonstrate assembly. Not shown are the included lower control arms.
8. The IFS cradle mounts to the stock unibody stamping via the lower control arm mounting holes and this series of machined steel spacers. The spacers have to be installed in a specific order to fit and are shown here (from left to right) as they will be installed rear to front in the car.
9. A test fit of the steel spacers showed this rear lower engine mount bolt interfered and had to be unbolted and reversed in the hole to make room for the steel spacer in this spot. Since the engine mount brackets were modified (solid mounts created), we’re not sure if this will be an issue on all Fairlanes, but check your spacer fitment to be sure.
10. With the aid of a second set of hands or a floor jack, position the Fatman IFS cradle under the front structure and place the stepped steel spacers into the rear lower control arm holes as shown. Woody prefers to install the cradle with the rack-and-pinion unit already mounted, but you can install the IFS cradle bare if it makes it easier for you.
11. Carefully raise the IFS cradle into place while positioning the front spacers in the original lower control arm cam bolt brackets, followed by the long ½-inch mounting bolts. For ’66-’67 Fairlanes, you’ll use the inner mounting holes on the cradle. The outer holes are for ’68-’71 models. Place the remaining inboard spacers in their proper locations and work the mounting bolts through them to secure the cradle.
12. The bottom of the cradle is secured to the Fairlane’s front structure via a clamp plate and two countersunk bolts. We found this ’66 Fairlane’s lower structure to differ from the Fairlane Fatman used for its instructions, creating a ½-inch gap between the cradle and structure. Woody quickly cut a section of plate steel to use as a spacer and Fatman Fabrications tells us all future kits will come with the plate and longer bolts just in case the installation calls for it.
13. After the bottom of the cradle has been secured to the Fairlane’s structure, the ½-inch mounting bolts installed through the lower control arm mounting holes can now be tightened. Or you can just leave everything “snug” until you have all remaining parts/fasteners in place, just don’t forget to tighten these bolts later.
14. If you haven’t already removed the shock absorber upper mounts, do so now, and remove their retaining bolts also. The Fatman IFS kit includes these stout upper strut mounts with spherical bearings. They simply bolt to the upper shock towers with the included hardware, nylon spacers, and lower plates.
15. Fatman includes super strong, TIG-welded tubular steel lower control arms in its kit. The control arms come preassembled with new ball joints and bushings and simply bolt on to the cradle’s mounting points. Unlike rubber bushings, the control arm’s urethane bushings allow tightening of the mounting bolts with the arms in any position.