No, it’s not a late-model Corvette. Thanks to the chassis wizards at Detroit Speed & Engin
Aluminum is some peculiar stuff. On one hand, it's the most abundant metal on the earth's surface, and the third most abundant element on the planet. When cast into engine blocks or cylinder heads, however, it suddenly becomes a very exotic material that commands a premium price. This may seem out of whack, but despite its abundance, extracting aluminum from ore is an extremely labor intensive and costly process. Not surprisingly, with the exception of a few common engine and driveline components, aluminum is used very sparingly at the OE level and just about never in the aftermarket. That's why the hot rodding world gasped in shock last summer when Detroit Speed & Engineering pulled the wraps off its all-new aluminum front suspension system for '64-70 Ford Mustangs. With all the buzz this hot new setup has generated in recent months, the big question is whether or not the new Aluma-Frame lives up to the hype.
Early indications suggest a resounding "hell yes!" but you don't have to take our word for it. On its maiden trip through the Goodguys autocross at the 2012 Nashville Nationals, DSE's Aluma-Frame–equipped '66 Mustang took the win in the Pro Class. Likewise, the DSE Mustang won PHR's inaugural Muscle Car of the Year competition, posting the quickest autocross times of the event while beating down some of the meanest Pro Touring rides in the country. As track results prove, when the road starts winding, the Aluma-Frame flat out gets the job done. The slick setup replaces the factory steel front suspension cradle with an all-aluminum unit matched with tubular control arms, aluminum spindles, coilovers, a heavy-duty splined sway bar, and a rack-and-pinion steering rack. Furthermore, by building the suspension from scratch instead of modifying stock hardware, Detroit Speed was able to revise the suspension geometry to optimize the camber curve, ride height, suspension travel, Ackerman angle, and static camber and caster.
The brainchild of two former GM engineers—Kyle and Stacy Tucker—Detroit Speed has established a reputation for building track-honed suspension hardware for the General's most popular muscle cars. While the company has a stable full of Camaro and Chevelle development vehicles in-house, the Aluma-Frame represents its first foray into the Ford market. Nevertheless, the Detroit Speed crew are hot rodders first, and brand loyalists second, so they approached the R&D process of the Mustang no differently than any other engineering challenge. After assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the Mustang chassis, they concluded that the factory front suspension offered few redeeming qualities and required a complete clean-sheet redesign. "The '64-70 Mustangs have very little structure to them. With a very poor foundation like this that flexes around a lot, the suspension can't do its job and you end up with poor ride quality and handling," Stacy explains.
Realizing from the get-go that they had their work cut out for them, DSE combined their engineering and racing know-how to tackle the problem. "The first thing you need when designing a suspension is a solid structure and good geometry, and these Mustangs have neither. Since we didn't want to make any compromises in suspension geometry or maximum tire size, it made the most sense to design an all-new suspension," Stacy says. "A big advantage of this approach is that you're not limited by the stock suspension architecture. With a clean-sheet design, you can set goals for camber gain, caster, geometry, suspension pickup points, and steering independently of the factory suspension packaging constraints."
Interestingly, some of the Mustang's fundamental chassis flaws are what inspired the DSE team to come up with such a creative and exotic solution. "Since Mustangs don't have a full subframe, hitting our strength targets required adding lots of structure, which would have also added lots of weight. Consequently, we tapped into our OEM engineering experience to design a cast-aluminum suspension cradle that substantially increased strength without a weight penalty," Stacy says. Furthermore, an outstanding strength-to-weight ratio wasn't the only advantage to opting for aluminum. "By nature, the casting process is more precise and repeatable than bending suspension components from steel. We machine the Aluma-Frame cradles in-house using very precise CNC equipment to ensure the mount locations and bolt holes are exactly where they need to be. Why rely on old technology when you can take advantage of the latest technology at your disposal?"
With the staggering improvements in suspension geometry and handling that the Aluma-Frame offers, those with sharp inferential skills have probably already figured out that it isn't your typical bolt-in-and-go suspension system. Truth be told, installing it does require a moderate amount of fabrication skill to cut out the factory shock towers and trim bits and pieces of the framerails. Nevertheless, any DIYer with basic welding ability should be able to pull off the install over a weekend, and considering the performance payoff that awaits, we're sure many hot rodders will decide that it's well worth the effort. To give you a better idea of what's involved, we followed along as Detroit Speed installed the very first Aluma-Frame in their '66 Mustang test car. If an aluminum front suspension isn't exciting enough for you, four-links, mini-tub kits, and subframe connectors are also on the way, so Mustang fans have plenty of reasons to celebrate.