The inclusion of a chapter covering the vehicle interior may, at first blush, seem out of place in a book discussing performance upgrades. That is, of course, until you consider the single most important factor in the performance of the vehicle is the performance of the “nut behind the wheel,” otherwise known as the driver. No matter how optimized a vehicle may be due to the parts and pieces used to upgrade it, performance isn’t realized if the driver is not able to perform optimally and safely.
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In this chapter I discuss how keeping the driver safe, stable, comfortable, and informed can allow the driver to consistently perform at a higher level and thus realize more of the vehicle’s performance potential. I also include a few examples of things that, while not performance related in the speed/handling sense, can improve vehicle reliability, driver comfort/convenience, and/or provide a more unique performance and custom look.
Drivers do not perform at their best if they are concerned for their safety. I don’t discuss safety measures needed for a racer car because they vary by sanctioning body. I do, however, describe a few things that can be done to increase safety and possibly provide improved performance.
A roll bar must meet minimum requirements in terms of material, tube diameter, and wall thickness. There may be further requirements for the number and type of attachment points to the vehicle body and frame, the presence of specific bars and braces to better protect the driver (and/or provide for the proper mounting of safety harnesses), and whether or not padding is required on the bars adjacent to the driver.
Generally, the requirements are more stringent for the lower elapsed times (ET) of drag racing and other acceleration-based events. Similarly, this applies to higher speeds in other types of events.
One requirement you can be sure of, even at most of the lower-speed/ performance category events, is the need to have a fire extinguisher inside the vehicle. A racing-level, dedicated, halon-type fire system may be required for some highspeed/performance categories but in most every other instance a simple handheld unit usually suffices. There may, however, be restrictions on the specific size and/or ratings of the extinguisher, as well as requirements relating to the type and location of its mounting.
For example, the extinguisher may need to be mounted within easy reach of the driver plus the mounting material must be made of metal (versus the more common and less costly plastic) and be securely attached to a rigid surface. The latter requirement ensures the extinguisher does not come loose, or lost, or become a potentially dangerous projectile in the event of a serious impact. In many instances, the need to remove all loose items from the interior of the vehicle and to ensure all allowed items (gauges, displays, GPS, and/or datalogging units, etc.) in the interior are securely mounted is enforced at tech inspection and often just before you are released to run.
Another requirement for all but the lowest speeds (including most autocross events) and/or performance levels is the need to install safety harnesses. Factory three-point shoulder/lap belts may be good enough for local and federal authorities but they clearly are not adequate when speeds increase beyond those seen on public highways.
Safety harnesses that meet the requirements of sanctioning bodies and/or are certified to industry standards such as by SFI provide a substantially greater degree of protection than factory belts. They also help stabilize the driver by holding him or her in position under hard cornering, braking, etc. Safety harnesses distribute the forces more evenly over a larger area of the body, thus reducing the pressure at any given point, as well as the likelihood of injury.
Bottom line: Race drivers use safety harnesses to potentially help save their lives in an impact. Factory belts are designed more for convenience and low cost than for safety. Ironically, even though safety harnesses are far superior to factory belts when it comes to their level of protection they may not always be legal for street use; you need to check your local laws.
Drivers of older Mustangs are less likely to be cited for a belt infraction because there were less-stringent requirements at the time the vehicle was manufactured. Fully streetlegal, DOT-certified, four-point safety harnesses are available, though they generally don’t meet the requirements of most sanctioning bodies.
The criteria usually specified by the sanctioning bodies for safety harnesses are the width and number of the belts, the location of the mounting points, the type of release mechanism, and the level of certification. If you plan on running in specific events check to see what the requirements are before you buy. If you’re going to use them only on the street or in events with minimal requirements, criteria such as cost, convenience, and appearance may be higher priorities.
A common requirement for many events is a 3-inch-wide belt and at least four mounting points (two for the lap belts and two for the shoulder belts). In some situations, a three-point mounting system that uses a Y-shaped shoulder belt (shoulder belts have a common mounting point) may be allowed. This is convenient if you still plan on using your back seat but it usually results in a belt geometry that isn’t as safe as a proper, four-point mounting strategy.
Whenever safety harnesses are specified there is inevitably also a requirement for a single-point release mechanism. This can be a rotary or latch type, though the specific type is usually not specified.
The rotary type is generally more user-friendly for street-driven vehicles because the latch type requires some instruction prior to use. This is especially true when five- or sixpoint “anti-submarining” straps are specified.
These lower straps are generally not needed at lower speeds but when they are, they also require some form of pass-through provision in the seat to function properly. Just draping them over the lower seat cushion really doesn’t get the job done and is rarely accepted at tech. They can be inconvenient on the street so it’s best to remove the lower belt(s) for street use and reinstall it as needed.
Meeting the requirements for certification and/or legality is simply a matter of comparing the certification level of the safety harnesses to the requirements of the sanctioning bodies and/or your local vehicle codes. As speeds and performance increase so do the requirements for the belts. Most of these additional requirements are only relevant for track use, though they can provide additional protection in street use, when practical.
Beyond the criteria and specifications already discussed there may be additional requirements for fire resistance (the need for protective coverings, for example), longevity, and/or the use of additional equipment such as a HANS (head and neck system) restraint device. The latter works with the safety harnesses to prevent excessive movement of the head during an impact, thus reducing the likelihood of certain injuries.
Safety harnesses should be checked at specific intervals to ensure they’re still compliant with the applicable standards. The belt materials and stitching deteriorate over time so the harnesses may need to be recertified to remain compliant. Many sanctioning bodies require this.
If the harnesses are made in the United States (such as those from Autopower Industries) it’s simply a matter of sending them back to the manufacturer where they are disassembled and re-stitched to regain compliance. Tags sewn onto the harnesses indicate this status.
Seats and Pedals
The best roll bars and safety harnesses don’t do much to protect you if you’re not sitting in a good enough seat. One thing is abundantly clear: Original early Mustang seats are not good enough for any kind of hard driving, let alone racing. Nor were they ever intended to be. Let’s face it, they’re more about style and form than function. Even as a seat for a cruiser they leave much to be desired.
For the most part, OEMs are more-or-less flat and thus offer virtually no side support while cornering. They’re generally covered in shiny, slippery vinyl to match the rest of the interior, and in many cases, their seatbacks lack a sufficient latching mechanism to prevent the seat from moving forward in a collision. Furthermore, the matter of the structural integrity of the seat is an area where factory seats fall far short of what’s needed for safety.
The installation of an upgraded seat necessarily starts with the foundation it’s mounted on. The aftermarket and motorsports industries have generally settled on a universal mounting system for racing-style seats. Most seat manufacturers and others offer the appropriate brackets for installation.
Their construction is fairly simple yet they’re strong and able to accept many different types of seats.
Professional racers almost always use stationary fixed-back seats with integral custom aluminum mounting brackets that bolt directly to the floor. This setup is fine for racing but not comfortable in normal driving because it can’t accommodate heavier, reclining seats and/or those with fore/aft sliders.
Many owners want seats for use on the street that are also capable of meeting the requirements specified by the sanctioning bodies of most amateur-level events. These seats have movable and/or reclining backs as well as the ability to slide forward and back to help properly locate different-size drivers and passengers relative to the pedals, gauges, steering column, steering wheel, etc. There’s no shortage of options for this type of seat, especially for Mustangs.
Procar, for example, makes an extra effort to offer seats tailored to them. Some of their seats emphasize the characteristics needed for aggressive driving; others stress comfort and appearance for street and cruise use. All are built with a strong steel frame and have a positive seatback latching mechanism. These seats are lighter, stronger, and safer when compared to most stock seats.
Another option emphasizes function over form. It is the best type to use if you plan on doing a lot of aggressive driving and/or entering a lot of events. The Sportsman Pro, for example, is a modern-looking seat that does not exactly match the original interior of an early Mustang yet it is right at home in one that has been customized to some degree.
This seat has a very fine resolution reclining mechanism, which helps in finding the optimal seatback angle; it’s better than seats that have only a few discrete steps. The side and shoulder bolsters are aggressive for better driver stabilization yet not to the point of being uncomfortable on longer drives. The seat also has provisions for the pass-through of shoulder harnesses but not for the lower belt.
With its smooth fiberglass back this is one of the lighter options that still reclines. Numerous color and material combinations are available to suit virtually any need.
If you want more of a cruising seat and are willing to give up the classic look for greater functionality you should consider a cruising type of seat. The Procar Elite Lumbar, for example, is wider and has lessaggressive bolstering for greater comfort plus it has an adjustable headrest and a manual lumbar adjustment to provide additional support. A headrest is included, again mainly for comfort, but it also adds more safety relative to the low back seats many early Mustangs were originally equipped with. Shoulder harnesses can still be used because they generally straddle the head support and lay on the top of the seat.
These seats feature dual sliders and infinite recline with various color and material combinations including cloth and vinyl. They weigh 32 pounds each.
If you want a more classic look while still retaining somewhat aggressive bolstering you can opt for a seat similar to the Procar Rally series. These have a traditional look and are a bit wider than performance-oriented seats for greater comfort. These seats are available in high-back versions with headrest or low-backs in cloth, vinyl, or leather.
Or you may want a traditional type of seat that emphasizes appearance over function but still performs better than a stock seat due to its strength and reclining mechanism. Bolstering is a bit more aggressive than stock so there should be a slight improvement in driver stability. The positive latching seatback also adds stability and safety.
An example is the Procar Classic. Like the Procar Rally series this seat is available in various colors of vinyl and cloth plus black leather. There are also two seat-back configurations (high or low).
In order to provide a more coordinated appearance for some early Mustangs many manufacturers, such as Procar, offer custom rear seat covers. They are made from the same fabrics, patterns, and colors used in their Rally and Elite series of seats. These perfectly match the front seats and are custom tailored to be a direct fit.
Even with a stable, grippy seat and a tight set of safety harnesses there can still be a need for additional support when cornering or stopping hard. An excellent solution in these situations is to install a “dead pedal” to brace yourself against.
Many newer vehicles come with them from the factory, especially sporty cars with manual transmissions. They are normally custom fabricated for race cars and the same can be done for your pony car though it’s often easier to find a universal aftermarket product that works. One example is Lokar’s direct-fit throttle pedal in a finish that matches the other pedals.
The aluminum Lokar throttle is CNC machined to have a “billet” look to it. It’s also designed with Delrin bushings and other features to provide a very smooth response to pedal pressure, thus allowing better modulation of the engine’s speed and power.
When used with the Lokar Teflon-lined throttle cables to completely eliminate the hard, mechanical linkage from the factory you get a buttery-smooth movement that requires no maintenance and lasts indefinitely. The flexibility of a cable linkage is especially valuable when converting to EFI from carburetion.
A cable kit makes the installation of a late-model AOD transmission into your early Mustang quite a bit easier. The throttle-pedal kit also includes additional reinforcement for the pedal mount, further enhancing stability and precision. The Lokar kit parts have a cleaner appearance than the stock pedals. They also have grippy rubber inserts to help prevent your foot from sliding off under heavy pressure.
Tilt Steering Column and Steering Wheel
Performance gains can be realized through proper, stable placement of the driver and by ensuring optimal placement of controls relative to the driver. Pedal placement is not easily changed in an early Mustang so you must use seat travel to find a good position. This leaves the location of the steering wheel as a major issue. The best solution is an adjustable tilt-steering column and an upgraded steering wheel, which provide other benefits as well.
The 19641 ⁄2–1966 early cars used a single, solid steering shaft that arguably represents the worst-case scenario for this upgrade but many products are available to overcome the challenges.
For example, the Ididit column’s design is such that it doesn’t look out of place in a Mustang. It is offered in three finishes (bare/paintable steel, chrome, and black powdercoat) and in configurations for vehicles with stock steering or rack-and-pinion conversions. Ididt made the various knobs and handles on the column mimic the design of those found on the factory column. The column also has a Ford top shaft and turn-signal mechanism so original that Ford and aftermarket steering wheels can be used. There are also provisions for retaining the original factory wiring while adding a desirable four-way flasher capability for emergency use.
The Ididit column also uses the stock underdash coupler along with a special floor mount to simplify installation. The most difficult aspect of the installation usually ends up being the modifications that must be made to the stock steering shaft. Depending on your situation and intended use there are different couplings and U-joints that may be used. Those who have already converted to rack-and-pinion steering usually have the easiest time of it because Ididit offers kits designed to mate up directly to most popular systems. If you install one of these columns you benefit from eight possible tilt positions and self-canceling turn signals.
The factory steering wheels on early Mustangs were large in diameter, thin, hard, and slippery—not ideal characteristics for performance. Grant Products, for example, offers many different wheel styles, diameters, and materials. They also offer the ability to add your own personal touch with unique finishes, horn buttons, etc. Their higher-end Corsa GT wheel is a good upgrade choice. It is a 133 ⁄4-inch-diameter leather wheel that includes thumb notches and other features meant to maximize grip.
For a daily driver or street-performance car that only sees occasional track use, a bundled package such as the Sunpro Super Tach III Value Pack can be a good choice. It is classically styled to be right at home in your early Mustang. It includes a threegauge panel with a voltmeter, oil pressure gauge, and water/oil temperature gauge. It also has a 10,000-rpm tach with a programmable (and visible) shift light that can be mounted with a hose clamp on the steering column for a classic hot rod look.
In situations where the tach requires constant monitoring and/ or no shift light is used it is best to mount the tach as high as possible on the dash and in the driver’s line of sight. If you have a 19641 ⁄2–1966 model and don’t want to alter the dash pad an attractive solution is to use a Shelby-style center gauge pod. It can hold a tach and another gauge in a highly visible location, which requires minimal diversion of the driver’s eyes. There’s also room for a toggle switch or two.
The pod can be attached with Velcro (or similar) or by a more permanent means, which, though invisible, may harm the dash.
Common mounting positions for less-critical gauges that do not require frequent monitoring are under the dash or on the transmission tunnel. How you mount them is more a matter of aesthetics than anything else. A simple screw-on or bolt-on, three-hole, mounting panel is generally sufficient.
Custom Gauge Pods
If you want something more stylish you can turn to custom gauge pods designed for particular vehicles. The most common of these mount to the driver-side A-pillar and have up to four mounting holes. They’re usually made of black plastic, which can be painted or covered to match the interior. Another option is to mount the gauges in the location of deleted components (such as the radio or vents) for a less-cluttered appearance while providing capacity for more gauges.
Such options are available from gauge manufacturers and others (such as Mustangs Plus) that specialize in performance parts for early Mustangs. Several manufacturers offer complete dash kits that replace the factory gauges. This provides the additional accuracy, precision, and visibility inherent to most aftermarket gauges plus it provides greater flexibility in the choice of gauges. Many displays feature brighter LED turn signal and highbeam indicators, which last much longer. Some use different colors and/or digital gauges.
As you go to more and more track events it becomes appropriate to consider using a system to provide data on various vehicle parameters and assist with tuning for the best performance. Just about any vehicle parameter (RPM, boost, steering angle, throttle percent, wheel travel, etc.) can be sensed, especially when you use newer powertrains with their own electronic controllers. These parameters can also be synchronized with video and GPS inputs to allow subsequent evaluation on a computer to help identify potential areas for improvement. A dataacquisition system can be permanently installed or, in most cases, be largely removable to allow for daily street use of the vehicle.
The best systems allow you to replay, lap by lap, an event by watching a video showing the view of the track (and whatever else you may want to monitor) while also having the data and a graphic showing track position displayed in real time. This provides invaluable data for changing vehicle setups and/or driver style. The data can also be archived for subsequent viewing.
You can compare individual laps by laying them over each other to see where time is gained or lost. Segments of laps can be examined in detail to determine where improvements may be possible. Specific parameters (such as speed and acceleration) can be monitored to see if a given change has had an effect. The data can be synched with video so you can compare subjective observations with objective data. There really is almost no limit to how such datalogging capability can be used to gain a benefit.
Even when used to collect data for relatively simple tests (such as 0-60 acceleration, 60-0 braking, etc.), the improvement in the accuracy, precision, and repeatability of the data can easily justify the cost. Such systems continue to come down in price as features, memory, and the ability to interface with other devices such as video cameras and smartphones rapidly improves. Logging valid, accurate, repeatable data keeps getting easier, less expensive, and more valuable.
Written by Frank Bohanan and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks
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