I have a '73 Cougar XR7 with original front end. I'd like to upgrade to make the steering less mushy. Any advice would be much appreciated. Are there kits out there? Should I also go to wider tires for added stability? Jim Foreman
What do you mean by mushy? Does it wander from side to side? Have a floaty feeling? Front end nose diving when you apply the brakes?
Generally, wider tires will exaggerate any looseness in the front end, so by themselves that's unlikely to solve your problem.
First thing to look at is the general condition of the front end. Ball joints, tie rod ends and control arm bushings all wear over time, and can lead to a general loose, sloppy feeling through the steering. Likewise, the steering gearbox itself can wear internally, contributing to the problem. Only solution there is to have a competent mechanic look over the front suspension and replace any excessively worn components.
Second, radial tires were just becoming widely available in the early seventies. Stock alignment specs are optimized for bias plies, not radials. Since you probably don't have bias ply tires on your car, have an alignment shop adjust the front end to specs closer to what modern cars use, rather than the "by the book" specs for a '73 Cougar.
Third, shocks can have a big impact. If the current shocks are old or worn, a fresh set will make a noticeable difference. KYBs are a popular choice for early Mustangs & Cougars, as they seem to strike a good compromise between performance and cost, but any quality heavy-duty shock will do.
Fourth, coil springs can wear out just like the rear leaves, so if you're seeing any sag in the front end, or the ride height varies from one side of the car to the other, new coils may be in order. Either stock spec or stiffer, more performance oriented replacements are available, depending on your preference.
Finally, problems with the rear suspension can affect the steering as well. If a leaf spring U-bolt is loose, or the rubber spring bushings have deteriorated, it could be letting the rear axle squirm around a bit. That introduces unwanted steering inputs into the suspension, which can show up as a loose, wandering sensation in the steering.
I just finished replacing all the front end suspension on my car. It doesn't feel mushy at all. I didn't do the gearbox, so there is that noticeable play before reaction, but it sure isn't mushy. I read in another post that the camber should be -4.0 I think. When I took my car to do an alignment, the computer told the guy my car needed -3.9. I apologize if I missed a decimal somewhere, I don't have the paper in front of me. The leaf springs in the back can make it mushy if they are worn. I have air shocks, so when they need air it feels mushy since I haven't replaced the leaf springs yet. when they are full of air, my steering is solid. Other than that, if you want a new car feeling in the steering, go spend $1000+ and get some performance parts. But I replaced with all stock style parts and it feels just fine.
My advice is to stay away from the "computer alignment" places. I haven't had a satisfactory alignment on either my Cougar or my Fusion from these sort of places. I am fortunate to have a really good "old-school" alignment guy I can trust to do the job right, although these days he is about 50 miles from my house. He has an old Bear alignment rack and many years of experience doing alignments and brake and suspension work.
When I have had "computer" "alignments" done, the result was a lot of wandering and looseness that my "traditional" guy has been able to correct. He will measure and adjust, test drive then readjust and test until it feels right. "Computer" shops set up all their crap then adjust to whatever the machine tells them. No test drive to see if it feels OK.
Last "computer" alignment I had done on my Fusion, the steering wheel was not straight up when driving straight ahead and the car would pull to one side. Shop did not road test the car and woudn't correct it. They said their machine told the tech it was right and so it was right. It took my "old-school" guy a few minutes to correct it and it has been fine since.
When I went to Firestone last, and maybe they have them at other big name places, they had a new computer system called hawks eye or eagle eye. It was very specific and showed the alignment guy exactly what to adjust. The other computer told them what adjustment to make, but not how or where to make them. I always watch my mechanics and what he had on the screen in front of him would have walked me through a perfect alignment without any experience. Might not hurt for you to swing by and take a look.