How to Mod Your Mustang for Autocross

How to Mod Your Mustang for Autocross

Last Updated October 13, 2020 | C.J. Tragakis
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Have you considered taking your Mustang out for autocross, or even buying one specifically for it? If so, it’s worth modifying your car to get the best times on the course.

The Mustang is known for being a powerful RWD muscle car that does best in straight lines. That’s not to say that it can’t corner well in its stock form. But it will need some improvements to compete with nimble, rally-style vehicles like the Focus RS.

On the autocross course, a lightweight car and good handling are the most important characteristics. The best mods are going to be those that reduce body lean and increase steering sharpness. Speed and raw power aren’t nearly as important on the autocross course as they are on the track or drag strip. That’s why drivers primarily look at mods that increase grip, cornering, and lightness.

Keep in mind that the mods you add will change your SCCA vehicle class, so think carefully about which segment you want to compete in.

Which Mustang Is Best for Autocross?

If you don’t yet have a Mustang and are specifically looking for an autocross car, the Fox Body and SN95 are the most popular choices. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, and have good power. Mods for these generations are also plentiful and easy to install. The S197 generation is another candidate but can be a bit more expensive than older models.

S550s also do well at autocross. They’re heavier, especially with the Coyote V8 motor, but have modern suspension design that makes them the best-handling Mustangs out of the box. They’re also the newest, meaning that they’ll be the most expensive option. If you don’t want to do your own mods, the new High Performance Package for the EcoBoost gives you autocross upgrades right from the factory.

Autocross Mods for Any Mustang

Autocross mods will be more focused on handling than your general Mustang mods. No matter which model you have, there are some mods that make sense for all autocross Mustangs.

Ford Performance specifically recommends lowering springs, a strut tower brace, and improved braking capability. These are great to start with. Your wishlist might change depending on your budget and comfort level with a wrench. Check out our lists below, which are sorted by level of difficulty. The more advanced mods will usually be more expensive.

Beginner Mods

These are mods anyone can do. They’re affordable and easy to install, even for beginner wrenchers. If you want to take your Mustang one notch above stock level, these upgrades will help give you an edge in handling.

Lowering Springs

Lowering springs, as the name implies, reduce your car’s ride height. They’ll give your Mustang a lower center of gravity, as well as better cornering and overall handling. They’re affordable and relatively easy to install. Apart from basic tools, you’ll need a jack, jack stands, a torque wrench, and spring compressor.

Brake Pads

Instead of going all-out with an expensive set of new rotors, consider getting performance brake pads. We recommend doing all four at one time, but you can start with just the front wheels if needed.

Shocks/Struts

Though shocks and struts are different, they perform the same job. Most Mustangs have front struts and rear shocks. Replacing the factory ones will give you a better ride, center of gravity, and overall cornering ability.

Intermediate Mods

These mods will be a bit more expensive. They’ll also require more skill and time to install. However, for those looking to maximize handling on the autocross course, they’re well worth it.

Tires

Stickier tires will give you a massive edge when it comes to handling. Don’t underestimate how much of a difference performance-focused tires will make for your Mustang. Higher performance tires won’t last as long, and can also mean a rougher ride on regular streets. If you have the space and money, you can keep a separate set of tires just for autocross (and track days).

Coilovers

Coilover kits are usually pricier than regular struts. However, the adjustable ones add more performance capability by letting you change the height or damping. By selecting and fine-tuning your rebound rate and compression, you can customize your Mustang for autocross. Enjoy a more relaxed ride during daily driving, while increasing stiffness when it’s time for a weekend race.

Sway Bar (Front and Rear)

A set of performance sway bars, also called anti-roll bars, will prevent excess side-to-side motion for your Mustang. This gives you sharper handling by reducing roll. Many sway bars also have adjustable settings to help you find the perfect set-up.

Advanced Mods

These mods are for serious autocrossers who are looking to shave hundredths of seconds off their lap times. If you want to compete at a regional or national level, these upgrades are worth the time and money.

Rear Seat Delete and Lighter Wheels

Dropping some weight from your Mustang can improve your autocross times by a small amount. Rear seat deletes are one of the easier ways to drop 30 lbs or more. You can also purchase lighter wheels to shed a few pounds.

Differential

Mustangs didn’t come with a standard factory rear differential until 2010. It’s a tough install and not the most necessary, but giving your pre-2010 Mustang an aftermarket differential will greatly improve handling.

Roll Bar

A roll bar is a safety feature that’s often required by drag racing organizations. Since the speeds and risks of autocross are much lower, you don’t need a roll bar or roll cage to compete. However, they also provide more structural rigidity. They’re tough to install and not especially cheap, but the added stiffness to your chassis will make your Mustang handle like a real track machine.

Brake Rotors

If you don’t just want to swap your pads, you can upgrade your brake rotors. Some will argue that this is only necessary for cars that will be tracked. However, there’s no denying that increased stopping power gives you better autocross times. Your Mustang probably won’t have issues with brake fade after a few autocross runs, but performance rotors will help you get even better pedal feel.

Fox Body Autocross Mods (1979-1993 Mustangs)

Fox Body Mustang at Autocross Course

The Fox Body Mustangs are now pretty inexpensive, making them a top choice for a weekend autocross car. Plus, they’re lightweight and easy to modify.

Since it’s an older model, you’ll want to tighten up the suspension for better handling. Subframe connectors are critical for reducing body roll, increasing stiffness, and giving your car a sharper feel. However, the best connectors are weld-on, not bolt-on, so have a professional do it if you aren’t experienced.

A K-member is a potential addition as well. Though it’s often used for drag racing applications, serious racers who want to shed weight and stiffen their chassis may opt for one.

SN95 and New Edge Autocross Mods (1994-2004 Mustangs)

SN95 Mustang at Autocross Course

The SN95 and New Edge models are inexpensive, leaving more money to be spent on modifications. Torsional stiffness was also improved, so they’ll handle better in stock form than Fox Bodies. The front suspension was completely redesigned, with new lower control arms and anti-roll bars.

Still, there are lots of mods that will improve handling. An adjustable Panhard bar will stiffen up the rear suspension. This is especially useful when you’re coming out of corners. If you’ve already added lowering springs, you’ll need an adjustable Panhard bar to keep the rear axle aligned.

S197 Autocross Mods (2005-2014 Mustangs)

S197 Mustang at Autocross Course

The S197 used similar engines to the SN95, but it has a bit more power. It exhibits better ride and handling qualities, but still doesn’t have an independent rear suspension. If the retromodern styling is up your alley, the S197 makes a lot of sense as a cruiser that’s also fun on the autocross course.

S197 mods can be more expensive than the previous generations, but not as much as S550 ones. The S197 is much stiffer than the SN95, meaning that mods like subframe connectors and a roll bar aren’t as necessary.

For mods, you can add a differential to the 2005-2009 model years if you’d like. Starting in 2010, the Mustang added a standard limited-slip differential, negating the need for an aftermarket one. For additional handling improvements, consider getting stickier tires, front and rear sway bars, and lowering springs. The added weight compared to the SN95 and Fox Body could also nudge hardcore racers to install a rear seat delete.

S550 Mustang Autocross Mods (2015-2021+ Mustangs)

S550 Mustang at Autocross Course

With tons of modern tech and the optional Magneride suspension, the S550 Mustang is more autocross-ready than its predecessors. That means there are fewer mods you should have to make, especially if you have the HPP EcoBoost.

The S550’s brakes and suspension are great right out of the box, though performance brake pads can reduce fade and give you better stopping power. If there’s one downside to the newer Mustangs, it’s that the GT trim can be front-end heavy, which makes the car feel heavier through corners.

A strut tower brace and lowering springs are easy to install and cost-effective. Together, they’ll give you better stiffness, a lower center of gravity, and overall improved handling. If you want a great suspension kit all in one box, check out the Ford Performance Track Handling Suspension Package. It comes with front struts, rear shocks, lowering springs, front and rear sway bars, and hardware.

For those who want to squeeze out the best times, try new brake rotors, a rear seat delete, and lightweight wheels.

Selecting Your Mustang Autocross Mods

The lower barrier to entry and affordable cost of autocross means you don’t have to spend lots of cash on mods to compete. Plenty of racers decide to keep their vehicle 100% stock and still autocross on weekends.

However, upgrading your car with aftermarket parts is part of the fun of being an enthusiast. By modding your Mustang for autocross, you’ll also enjoy better on-road handling. Whether you stick to basic and inexpensive upgrades or overhaul your entire suspension, your Mustang is going to be a lot of fun on the autocross course.

Sources: Ford

How to Mod Your Mustang for Autocross

The Mustang is known for going fast in a straight line. But it doesn’t just excel on the drag strip and track. Learn what mods you can install to increase your performance on the autocross course.