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The steering system on a base model 1980 Ford Mustang is not exactly track ready. Light and numb, it offers little road feel and an overly wide lock-to-lock ratio. Increasing the size and width of the original 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 Anson Slot 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 streetable 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 system originally 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 “restmods,” those cars that are both restored and modified as the owner prefers.
My 1980 base model is among the least collectible Mustangs 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-frame connectors and a road and track suspension package to make the little pony handle like a Mustang really should. Stay tuned!
Driver, FIA EPCS sports car championship & Super Cup Stock Car Series
Co-host, Mecum Auctions on NBCSN