We know what you’re thinking. “GrimmSpeed, you stand for detailed, meticulous engineering and high-end performance – what are you doing messing around with air ride stuff?” We know that’s what you’re thinking, because it’s what we were thinking, too. With that said, just as important to us as engineering and performance are experimentation, innovation and discovery. As those three things are what brought us to pursue the Mustang Ecoboost market, we thought it only fitting to continue on that theme and see what this air ride business was all about.
Our goals for the GrimmSpeed shop car were two fold. The first and most important is that it was to be used as a tool for the development of the GrimmSpeed product line. The second was to explore a new area for ourselves, learn more about the car and create something that’s interesting. We had no idea that the two would so easily mix.
At GrimmSpeed, whether it’s drag, track, drift, autox or show, we’re all car guys. We like to keep on top of major trends and form educated opinions – it’s part of what helps us communicate with our customers. In the Subaru world that we come from, internet broscience 101 clearly states that air suspension sucks because some other guy says so. Fortunately for you, we prefer to learn lessons the hard way. It was with this crazy idea that we got to work procuring an Air Lift Performance kit with their V2 management for our Mustang.
Our shipment was delayed a few days, as the Mustang kit has been already been very popular for Air Lift. Upon arrival, I could barely get a single photo taken before the team tore into the boxes.
The first thing that we took note of was the excellent packaging. As a manufacturer ourselves, we know that shipping heavy and valuable items safely can be a challenge and that the design process for those products isn’t over until we have packaging prepared as well. Air Lift clearly takes the same care in this area as we do, because everything arrived in excellent condition.
The first box that we opened contained the compressor, AutoPILOT V2 components, the necessary wiring harness and a generous length of nylon tubing. The fit and finish of the AutoPILOT hardware far exceeded our expectations, not because we didn’t believe that Air Lift made quality parts, but because electronics like this often feel junky, even if they work just fine. Not the case here. The manifold feels extremely well made, with a billet aluminum lower and an injection molded cover. The handheld controller feels similarly substantial, but a nice rubberized coating and buttons that click firmly when depressed.
The VIAIR compressor and all included fittings and tubing, while not quite as exciting, seem to be of the same quality. We really like that Air Lift includes a tubing cutter with the kit, to ensure that we get square cuts and don’t need to spend time troubleshooting that common issue after installation. We opened the rest of the boxes to ensure that the tank, front and rear assemblies were all present before we got started. The front and rear assemblies are exactly what we expected, having seen the quality of the V2 management hardware. The front struts look similar to most familiar coilover setups, but with a bag instead of a spring. The Air Lift S550 Mustang kit comes with integrated front camber plates that are beautifully machined with a red anodized finish. The rear back setup is a bit different, with a standalone bag assembly with features that capture the top and bottom once installed, to ensure that the bag stays in place. We gave each assembly, front and rear a quick inspection to make sure we didn’t see any obvious defects that would give us trouble down the road (we didn’t).
We’ll breeze through installation relatively quickly, as Air Lift has it very well documented in their manuals, which are printed in nice booklets and included with their products. The first thing that we did was get the tank mocked up under the parcel tray in the trunk and drill holes in the tank brackets and the tray in order to mount the tank exactly where we wanted it. There may be alternative mounting solutions that wouldn’t require drilling holes, but we’d prefer to spend the time and effort up front so that we can enjoy the finished product more later on. Retaining trunk space was important to us, so tucking the tank against the rear seats was an excellent solution.
Next up was mounting of the manifold, wiring and running air lines. We mounted the manifold in a convenient spot above the tank using the included self-tapping screws. One installation note here is that the screws will not slip through the holes in the V2 manifold – you’ll need to allow them to tap the machined holes while they pass through. We used a cordless impact to do this, which saves your wrist and goes very quickly. This ‘interference fit’ made perfect sense after we got everything in place, as once mounted, the manifold was mounted very securely and wouldn’t shift around.
We mounted the compressor in the spare tire area; since our Mustang didn’t come with a spare, it was a perfect fit. The lines off of the compressor are relatively short, so we made a harness that allowed us to easily extend the wiring to the AutoPILOT harness. We went a little overboard (as we do here at GrimmSpeed from time to time), but most DIYers would have no trouble crimping some connectors to do the same. Just be sure to use the proper gauge wire.
Now for the fun part. We ran the airlines to the front, first. With the back seats folded down, removing the plastic interior bits was actually quite easy. We tucked the front lines down each side of the car, just under the carpet with the rest of the factory wiring harness. In the front on both sides of the car, is a nice rubber grommet with a small nipple on it that’s unused (see photo). We clipped the end of that nipple off (from the wheel well) and then fished a piece of welding wire into the cabin, so that we could locate the grommet and pull the airline back through. It was a tight fit, but that’s how we know it’ll be sealed nicely from the elements here in Minnesota.
With the airlines up front, we went ahead and installed the front strut assemblies. One thing to note is that camber adjustment appears to be very difficult from the engine bay once the struts are in place, so make your best approximation before installation. This is also the time to set your ride height, so be sure to follow Air Lifts instructions in doing do. One thing that we noticed immediately while handling the front struts is how much lighter than the factory equipment they were. Our initial assumption was that the air ride would be heavier, but it seems that the lack of steel springs might more than compensate for the added compressor, tank and management.
The rear setup requires a little bit of basic assembly prior to installation. Here is where I was able to find one of only two very small issues during installation. The steel perches that are to be bolted to each bag have a plate welded inside of them that would block a socket from reaching the head of the bolt. Air Lift was kind enough to add clearance for a tool in this area, but because the plate is welded at an angle, I was still not able to get a socket onto the bolt without it getting stuck. Perhaps it was just my socket, but in any case, it was quite easy to just use a standard box wrench.
Bolting the bag into place was where I got stuck again, as the manual instructs you to align a feature on the bag assembly with a notch in the upper spring perch. Our car didn’t have that notch and although I was sure I’d be able to approximate its location, I called Air Lift’s support line anyway. I was very quickly directed to somebody that was able to answer my question and got right back to work – awesome customer support!
Booya! All struts, shocks and bags are in place, air lines are hooked up and secured such that they won’t be getting in anything’s way while we thrash on our Mustang and we’re ready to rock. I filled the tank using our shop air compressor to save time and let the auto calibration do its thing. After that, we swapped to our Velgen wheels and Mickey Thompson tires, which are a much more aggressive fit, and dialed in our presets.
The wheel setup currently on the car is a 20×10.5 in the rear and a 20×9 up front. Tires are Mickey Thompson Street Comps in a 305/35/20 and a 255/35-20. We’re able to air the car out completely without any modifications to the fenders or wheel wells and the fender liners are still in place.
Here’s the fun part – performance. The word ‘performance’ can have a number of different meanings and we’ll attempt to cover each of them here. First of all, the performance of the Air Lift Performance kit, with respect to how well it functions, is excellent. We’d never worked with an air ride setup before, but with a careful installation, we were up and running with zero issues. The AutoPILOT management is just sophisticated enough to offer multiple preset ride heights and other features, but is simple enough that it should be very reliable.
Having put a thousand miles or so on the car since the installation, our definition of performance, given our intend use for the car, is how well it performs all of the tasks that are required of it on a normal day. We have the preset bag pressures at a height that is perfect for driving around town, but if we find ourselves needed to drive into steep parking lots or onto a dyno, two button clicks are all that’s required to lift the car above stock height. Two more button clicks after you’ve parked at a local GTG and the car’s stance commands attention and curiosity from everybody around. Equipped with the Air Lift kit, our Mustang does absolutely everything that’s asked of it on a daily basis.
We had the opportunity to rent out a local test track and spend the day beating on the car. The purpose of this was primarily to test some of the product offerings that we’ve been developing, but the added bonus was a full day of putting the Air Lift system through its paces. It was only a couple of laps before I entirely forgot that there was anything ‘abnormal’ about the suspension on the car. It felt firm, handled beautifully and to an enthusiast racer like myself, the car didn’t seem any more or less prone to being upset by sudden changes in direction, bumps in the track, etc.
None of us are professional race car drivers and none of us are ‘bout dat static life’. We consider ourselves to be pretty normal, open-minded car guys. We approach evaluation of our products and others with the goal of providing constructive criticism in order to help improve. In the case of the Air Lift Performance kit on our 2015 Ford Mustang Ecoboost, for our purposes, it’s nearly perfect.