With a variety of Mustang clutches tailored for everything from ordinary street driving to drag strip runs and endurance racing, it can be overwhelming when it’s time to replace the factory system.
There are many options for how to set-up your clutch kit, including disc shape, number of discs, and disc material. The most important factor in making a purchasing decision is understanding what you want your Mustang to do. Are you restoring a 1965 Mustang as a weekend cruiser, or looking to get a clutch for your Coyote to turn it into a seriously powerful machine that’s ready for the drag strip?
Whether you are simply looking to replace a worn-out OEM factory clutch or upgrading your car to be race-ready, start here to get a handle on the basics when it comes to finding the best clutch for your specific Mustang.
What Do I Need My Clutch to Do?
In short, your clutch needs to connect your engine to your transmission, and therefore your drivetrain and wheels. In a manual transmission car, it allows the operator to change gears without having to shut off the motor entirely, which would not be a practical process. Comprised of a pressure plate, throwout bearing, and the clutch disc itself, the clutch system must be able to correctly engage while handling the amount of torque that is output from the engine.
With that said, one might think that spending a high amount of money to get a top-of-the-line clutch would be the easiest solution for all drivers. Unfortunately, the reality is not so simple. Although run-of-the-mill clutches (like the OEM factory clutch) are unable to handle a massive increase in engine HP, a high-performance racing clutch has attributes that would actually make it ill-suited for lower-output, daily-driver Mustangs. It’s important to match your clutch to the type of car that you have, whether that’s a stock Mustang GT that you enjoy driving to work or a super-charged monster GT500 that is at home on the drag strip.
What Are My Options for Clutch Stages?
Not so long ago, the obsession with “stages” of performance tuning meant that everyone had hard and fast rules as to which parts you should add to your car...and they weren’t afraid to tell you their opinion. Thankfully, most enthusiasts today understand that there are no legal or even industry-defined rules for what determines a stage of tuning. With no magic horsepower or torque formula to determine what stage a car is at, manufacturers are free to set their own marketing standards when it comes to categorization. Therefore, while clutch stages can provide a great jumping-off point for where to look, it’s important to take that information with a heavy grain of salt.
Full Disc or Puck Style Clutch?
The traditional clutch-style is a full disc; if you have an OEM clutch in your Mustang, this is what yours will look like.
Some aftermarket options are built in a puck style, which has a chunky star shape, sort of like those combination frisbee/ball toys.
While full disc clutches are perfectly-suited for everyday use, the puck style allows for less overall surface area, which means better heat dissipation. In terms of performance, this means that there is more pressure on the disc, with a quicker heat-up time. Although this is great for racing applications, it also leads to quicker wear and louder noise. As we’ll see, achieving top-level performance typically requires trade-offs in the areas of overall cost and daily driving livability. Clutches in a “segmented” format combine the full disc and puck styles, for a compromise between better heat dissipation and more smoothness.
Single Disc or Twin Disc/Multi Disc?
In the same vein as the puck style, twin disc clutches are designed for racing performance. They have more surface area than single disc clutches, which allows for more friction, and therefore a higher torque tolerance. Moreover, having two or more discs lets the clutches themselves be lighter, which grants quicker shift capabilities. This style provides numerous advantages but typically come at a much more expensive price tag than traditional single disc clutch kits.
What About the Torsion Damper?
The torsion damper in a clutch system typically consists of a circular piece with interior springs arranged around the middle. By moving in rotation with the clutch disc and pressure plate, the torsion damper’s springs help to greatly reduce the amount of engine vibration that is sent onwards into the transmission and drivetrain. For the driver, this results in a much smoother and quieter ride.
Many, if not most, clutch kits include a torsion damper, and for good reason. Going without one will lead to a much more unpleasant daily driving experience, not to mention an engine that is more easily impaired by vibrations over time.
Do I Have to Replace/Resurface My Flywheel?
When replacing your Mustang’s clutch, it is critical to also replace or resurface your flywheel as well. As these two parts will be in near-constant contact, ensuring that you are optimized for proper grip without warping is best for your performance and your wallet. Flywheels aren’t generally considered part of the clutch assembly, and rarely come as part of a clutch kit.
If you do opt for a new flywheel, the quality, price, and philosophy of use should match that of your new clutch. Some drivers prefer the torque of iron/steel for drag racing, while others see lightweight aluminum as better for post-launch acceleration due to it’s quicker spin. At the end of the day, the material of the clutch disc itself is typically regarded as much more significant.
Which Clutch Material is Best for My Mustang?
The material of your Mustang’s clutch is one of the greatest determining factors of its performance. Lower end clutches, like OEM, offer a long life, easy engagement, and quiet, easy operation. As you make your way up the scale to sintered iron clutches, which are designed only for endurance racing, you’ll find that the clutches have shorter lives, more noise, and a tough, heavy engagement, These symptoms are a factor of clutches that need to be able to handle the highest amounts of horsepower and torque.
Organic clutches are typically a blend of several materials, such as fiberglass or copper. They are usually very similar to OEM clutches and are best for daily driving. Their smooth operation, longevity, and quick break-in period make them ideal for drivers who won’t be hitting the track. Organic clutches are not suitable for racing conditions, as they have a propensity to overheat.
Seeing Kevlar clutches may surprise those used to seeing the branded material used in bullet-resistant vests. Though they aren’t ready for extreme heat and pressure uses such as drag racing, the added toughness compared to organic clutches means that Kevlar variants offer a good balance of daily driving and weekend racing application. Those who aren’t quite at this level but want something a little more performance-oriented than OEM can opt for a Kevlar-Carbon mix clutch.
Carbon fiber has lots of automotive applications due to its lightweight, strength, and resistance to heat. This means better racing performance. However, rougher engagement and quicker wear means that we are getting to the threshold where you would not want to daily drive a car with this type of clutch.
Ceramic clutches are another notch above carbon fiber in terms of performance, with higher heat resistance that results in more power. They cause flywheels to wear faster, and with more noise and vibration, are best suited to moderate racing applications.
Hybrid (Organic, Carbon Fiber, Ceramic Mix) clutch discs have become very popular, and allow users to find a combination of the aforementioned materials that best suits their needs.
Sintered clutches are the toughest type of material for mass-market clutches, able to withstand immense heat. Created from metals with high melting points (often iron), they even produce more fiction as temperature increases. This means that a high-durability flywheel is an absolute must. With rough, immediate engagement (like an on/off switch), this is a clutch for endurance races and high horsepower only; even drag races do not necessitate a sintered clutch.
Which Type of Clutch Should I Use for a Fox Body or Classic Mustang?
No matter whether your vintage Mustang is in stock form or heavily modified, all of the same principles will apply in terms of choosing the right clutch. You'll have to decide what material and style will work best for your driving applications and power level. A classic first-gen pony that spends most of its time at car shows won't need a performance clutch like a drag strip Fox Body would.
Fortunately, there are a lot of clutch kits that work for a vast range of model years. Since all of the operational fundamentals are the same, many (but not all) clutches designed for modern vehicles will also work in your Fox Body or an even older Mustang.
The wide variety of clutches available in the Mustang market can make the decision of buying a new kit a daunting one. It may not be the most expensive component of your car, but it’s definitely not a component that you want to skimp on when it comes to quality. Investing in a high-quality clutch kit that will perform smoothly is paramount for your driving experience.
- While looking at a clutch’s “stage level” can give you a general idea of its applications, this attribute is devised by marketers, not engineers, and has no industry-wide standard definition.
- The most important factor in determining which clutch is best for your Mustang is the types of driving or racing that you regularly engage in.
- The shape and material of a clutch vary greatly, and each variant offers pros and cons. There is no objectively “best” type because it’s really about balancing the attributes that work best for your particular situation. An ultra-strong clutch that’s meant for the drag strip may offer the best performance for that specific scenario but can be expensive and worse for daily driving due to harshness and quicker wear.
- Check out our clutch kits if you need to replace a worn clutch or just want to upgrade your car’s capability.
- Remember that you'll need to resurface or replace your flywheel when upgrading to a new clutch.
Taking the time to research the optimal clutch type and material will save you lots of headache down the road while ensuring that your Mustang is optimized for its intended purpose.