Building a Fox Body Mustang Drift Car

Building a Fox Body Mustang Drift Car

Last Updated March 23, 2020 | Meghan Drummond
Contents

Every driver should learn how to drift. These skills are part of a fun motorsport, as showcased in Formula Drift, but they're also useful if you lose traction. If you've tried drifting and love it, you may want to continue to build your drift skills. The next logical step is picking up a car you can turn into a sideways-driving beast.

Ford Mustangs are popular choices for drift builds. Each generation of Mustang is a little different, but the Fox Body has features that make it a good choice for drift.

A dark blue and gray Fox Body Mustang with smoking tires

The pros of creating a Fox Body drift car are pretty clear. Fox Body Mustangs are abundant, lightweight, and easy to work on. Mustangs are rear-wheel drive, and most of the ones sold between 1979 and 1993 had manual transmissions. If yours isn’t manual, automatic to manual swaps are an option.

Beyond that, they have all the aftermarket support that comes with being a Mustang. With a few modifications, Fox Bodys can have awesome appearance and performance.

Fox Body drift builds are a popular discussion point on Mustang and drifting forums. This means that there’s already a lot of great suggestions for what you’ll need on your build list.

For your Fox Body Mustang to be a great drift car, it will need modifications. Some of these build parts will be standard for any drift build you take on. Other modifications are particular to the drift Fox Body. Though the Fox Body is a great vehicle, it does have some weaknesses, especially when it comes to drifting.

Making a Drift Fox Body: Pros and Cons
Pros Cons
Lightweight Low-Powered
Abundant Open Differential
Easy to Modify Chassis Flex

Building a Drift Car

You don’t need to modify everything at once to build a great drift car. You also don’t need a powerful muscle car to drift. While power helps, there are a lot of factors that go into drift builds.

Modifying your engine and suspension will help you drift, drag, or even just cruise in your Ford Mustang. That means if you decide drift isn’t for you, you’ll still have a great car.

In general, the things you’ll want to do to make a Fox Body a drift car are:

  • Stiffen the Chassis
  • Support the Frame
  • Add a Roll Cage
  • Change the Differential
  • Add Harnesses and Improve Seats
  • Stiffen Suspension and Increase Steering Angle
  • Increase Horsepower

There are many ways to accomplish these goals. So, we’ve broken it down a little bit further.

Drift Suspension Modifications

Changing up the suspension is crucial for all drift builds. This is especially true for the Fox Body Mustang, which has a reputation for body roll issues. Some suspension upgrades, like coilovers, camber caster plates, and sway bars are great upgrades for any build. For drifting specifically there are some additional suspension components to consider.

An upgraded spring on a Fox Body

Coilovers

Coilovers are one of the best suspension upgrades you can make. Coilovers are stiffer than your stock suspension, which improves handling and responsiveness. They also let you adjust your ride height.

Lowering your Mustang will be crucial to your drifting success. A car with a lower center of gravity is more responsive and easier to control.

Camber Caster Plates

In addition to coilovers, you’ll want to invest in a good set of camber caster plates.

Camber caster plates allow you to adjust camber, caster, and toe. These three angles affect your handling. Camber, caster, and toe angles need to be adjusted after lowering your Mustang. Recalibrating them can also affect performance.

Camber

Caster

Toe

Bumpsteer Kit

Another modification that all lowered Mustangs should look at is a bumpsteer kit. Lowering your Fox Body improves its steering angle and handling, but alignment issues may occur when you hit a bump. Lowered cars that don’t have bumpsteer kits may feel unstable when you’re braking firmly or encountering uneven terrain.

Sway Bar

One suspension improvement you should make is installing a sway bar, sometimes called an anti-roll bar. While great for any performance build, sway bars are especially relevant for drift builds. Sway bars connect your suspension from side to side, reducing body roll. You can install sway bars on both the front and rear of your Mustang. You’ll see a major benefit from either, but installing a sway bar in both locations offers the most benefit.

Control Arms

Though they’re talked about much less, the front and rear control arms are how your steering interacts with the wheels of your vehicle. Improved control arms and upgraded spindles are the primary ingredients of Fox Body angle kits. Angle kits improve steering angle, one of the most important parts of drift.

Control arms are very important for drifting. Good control arms improve your steering angle and give you increased handling and control.

In the words of respected drift champion, Vaughn Gittin Jr: “Get rid of as many stock bushings in the suspension as possible. There are plenty of upgraded suspension arms out there for easy swap outs.” Stiffer bushings and control arms allow for tighter handling. And tight handling is key to drifting.

Tubular K-Member

For most aftermarket control arms, you’ll also want to upgrade your K-member. The K-member mounts the front control arms, steering rack, and engine. All three of which are crucial for performance drifting.

A tubular K-member is ideal for drift builds. Aftermarket K-members are stronger and more capable of holding up to drift’s torque. Tubular K-members make other modifications, like headers, easier by providing more clearance. You may even shave a few pounds off your build with a new K-member.

Drifting Engine Bay Mods

In its stock form, the Fox Body Mustang never excelled at horsepower. For the first few years, the stock Fox Body engines were some of the weakest in Mustang history. A 5.0L engine option wasn’t even offered until 1982 when the Mustang GT returned. Even then, it wasn’t able to break the 200 hp mark.

Fox body with hood open and fender grippers

Steering angle is an important part of drift builds, but so is raw power. Improving your engine will be necessary to get the power you’ll need.

There are ways to increase the horsepower of stock Fox Body engines. Mods like a cold air intake and cylinder head replacements can result in large horsepower improvements. Smaller modifications, like carburetor upgrades, will see smaller increases but are still great.

If you have a Mustang GT original 5.0L engine, moderate horsepower improvements should be enough to create a great drift build. But if you have one of the weaker 4.2L V8s, you may want to consider a full engine swap.

Cold Air Intake

It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of cold air intakes. They’ve been proven to work, and there aren’t many downsides to installing them. By supplying your engine with cool, dense air, you’re able to get more power from your engine.

Cylinder Head Replacement

The Fox Body’s E7 cylinder heads are notoriously bad. A cylinder head needs to breathe well in order to be effective. There are a lot of great cylinder head replacement options, but many stick with the GT40 or GT40P cylinder heads. These are era-appropriate and work well.

There are modern versions of GT40 cylinder heads that perform even better than the originals.

Carburetor Upgrades

Many engine modifications focus on improving the air supplied to the engine. Upgrading your carburetor helps ensure that you’re getting a good air/fuel mixture to your engine. Most of the Fox Body Mustangs had 2-barrel carburetors. Upgrading to a 4-barrel with a better airflow is an easy improvement.

Dark green 5.0L Foxbody with hood up

Engine Swaps

The Coyote engine is a popular pick, especially for those interested in drag racing their Fox. Unfortunately, its heft and size complicate the install. Installing a Coyote engine into a Fox Body can be done though. Check out our Fox Body Coyote Swap guide to find out what is involved.

If you want an easier engine swap, Edelbrock makes modern versions of Ford’s small block V8 engine. These crate engines are as easy as you could ask for an engine swap to be, and will improve your horsepower substantially.

Engine Cooling

Because your engine is going to be working hard, you’ll want to think of ways to keep it cool. An improved radiator, functional hood scoop, or a cold air intake are all solid investments. These modifications help with horsepower, but they also protect your engine from overheating.

Drifting Rear Axle Builds

The rear axle of a rear-wheel-drive car is a critical component of any performance build. Considering the importance of traction for drifting, it’s especially important for drift builds. The first area for consideration is your differential itself. The differential is what allows a vehicle to turn, so it’s important for drifting.

Open, Limited-Slip, and Welded Differentials

There are three primary styles of differential you’ll see talked about with regards to drifting. Open differentials, which most Fox Body Mustangs have, are notoriously challenging to drift with. Open differentials allow the rear wheels to spin independently of each other.

To understand the difference between an open and limited-slip differential, picture your Mustang jacked up in the air. Then imagine spinning one of the rear tires. If you have an open differential, the opposite rear tire will spin in the opposite direction. If you have a limited-slip differential, the rear tires will spin in the same direction.

Open differentials transfer power equally to the wheels regardless of traction. This means that if you’ve lost traction with one tire, a normal and important part of drifting, you’re going to lose a lot of your engine’s power. With a limited slip differential, the wheels won’t be able to spin at substantially different speeds.

A third type of differential is a welded differential. Welded differentials keep rear wheels spinning at exactly the same speed. This does make oversteer easy, which is great for drift.

But there are some disadvantages to having a welded differential. Welding your differential can be dangerous if you don’t do it correctly. It also makes daily driving difficult. Having your rear wheels locked together sounds like an awesome advantage for a drift course. It’s a lot less awesome when you’re just trying to back out of your driveway.

For most people, limited-slip differentials are the perfect middle ground. They’re much easier to drift with than an open differential but easier to daily drive than a welded differential. Though limited-slip differentials were optional for many of the Mustang’s years, they weren’t standard until after 2011.

Upgrading from an open differential to a limited slip differential is a good investment if you’re really interested in drifting.

Regearing for Drifting

While you’re working on your rear axle, consider regearing your Mustang.

Your Fox Body Mustang has a rear gear ratio of:

  • 2.26- 1978-1982 4.2L Automatics
  • 2.47-1979 5.0L Automatics
  • 2.73-1987-1993 Manuals
  • 3.08-1982-1985 V8 Automatics
  • 3.27-1987-1993 V8 Automatics
  • 3.45-Turbocharged Fox Body Mustangs

Low gear ratios offer a better top speed but sacrifice torque. If you’re interested in drifting, then torque is vital. While changing from your current gear ratio to a 4.30 would be extreme, a 3.7 gear ratio is a good compromise. With a 3.7 you won’t sacrifice your top speed by much.

Chart showing pros and cons of low and high gear ratios

Interior Drift Modifications

Safety improvements are the first major drift modifications you should install in your Mustang’s interior. The soft, cushy seats of the Fox Body Mustang aren’t supportive enough for spirited driving. Likewise, the safety belt isn’t designed for the kind of driving that you’ll be doing.

Finally, you’ll want to take a look at all of your driver controls. Your steering wheel, handbrake, and shifter are all crucial parts of your ability to control your Mustang. For drifting, you’ll need a lot of control.

Inside a white Fox Body Mustang a helmeted driver waits

Racing Seats

Serious racing seats may seem like a modification that’s more about appearance than performance. But ultimately, you are the most important component of a perfect drift car. To be a good drift driver, you need to be supported and secured. This will help you with your steering, your speed, and your control.

Safety Harness

Perhaps the most important benefit that racing seats offer is that it’s easy to install a safety harness. Though traditional seat belts are a good fit for most drivers, they aren’t built for drifters. A harness that keeps you steady will help keep you safe. It can also make sure your focus is where it should be by keeping your neck steady and eyes forward.

Roll Cage

If you plan to compete, then a roll cage will be a necessity. Most organizations require a roll cage for competition. Roll cages also provide chassis stiffening, making them doubly-beneficial.

Handbrake

Of course, the modification most associated with drift is the addition of a hydraulic handbrake. Though clutch kicks can upset your traction enough for a solid drift, most serious drifters also use a handbrake.

Short Throw Shifter

A short throw shifter makes your shifts tighter and quicker. Once again, this is a modification that’s great for many builds, but it gains additional use in drift cars. Having a car with clean shifts is crucial, especially since you’ll be otherwise occupied.

Steering Wheel

For steering wheels, look at ones that have a small diameter. Small steering wheels are easier to turn tightly. Many steering wheels designed for drifting have a small marker at the top. This makes it easy to glance down and appraise your steering angle. While this is a desirable feature, it shouldn’t be the decision-maker. You can always create your own marker.

One steering wheel feature that you may not have considered is the depth of the steering wheel. Many drifters prefer a “deep dish” design. This design keeps the spokes of the wheels clear of your fingers, even during spirited driving.

Other Drifting Modifications

Make Your Car Lighter

As with all performance builds, what you take out matters as much as what you put in. Lighter cars have an easier time moving quickly and nimbly. There are some ways to get your Fox Body even lighter than it already is.

If you’re not using your rear seat or passenger seat, those can be removed. Likewise, any comfort features like air conditioning can go if it's not your daily driver or you’re particularly resistant to heat.

Drift Tires

Drifting is famous for the rate at which it burns through tires. You’ll want to make sure you have a steady supply. Remember to keep a few spares in good shape so you can get home from wherever you’re drifting at.

Your best drifting tires are going to look almost bald by normal standards. Drift tires are made of durable vulcanized rubber to make them sturdier.

Your Drift Fox Body

Because drifting is so dependent on the driver’s feel, there are many build variations. The most important thing is to find what works for you while staying safe. Checking out other drifter’s builds is one way to find new things to try.

The more you drift, the more you’ll know what you need and what works for you. So, get out there, practice your donuts, and keep drifting on.

Building a Fox Body Mustang Drift Car

If you’re considering turning a Fox Body Mustang into a drift 'Stang then there are a few things to consider. While most of these are improvements you’d make to any performance build, there are a few drift-specific modifications. From how to stiffen your chassis to what your suspension should look like, we’ve collected some of our top tips for making a Fox go sideways.