Drag Race 101: The Right Way to Lower Your Strip Burner’s Front End
Lowering your car helps the handling at speed. It does this by decreasing the amount of airflow under the vehicle which causes lift. Lowering the front end, when coupled with certain body parts can re-route the airflow around and over the car, helping provide traction. Let’s face it, it also looks much better than stock ride height. Looking online you can find words written by not-so-knowledgeable people on how to lower your car. I’m here to teach you the right way to do it so you don’t mess things up.
The Wrong Way to Lower Your Front End
When I was in high school, I was an aide for the auto shop teacher. One of our students decided he wanted to lower the front end on his ’67 Mustang. I laid out the steps and parts he would need to do it correctly. However, John had told Bryan that the easiest way to accomplish this was to just cut the springs with a torch. Since Bryan and John (names NOT changed to protect the not innocent) had known each other longer than I knew them, he went with what John told him. Long story short, we ended up buying him new coil springs because he messed the old ones up. The lesson here? Taking a torch or welder to your vehicle is rarely the answer unless you really know what you’re doing.
Things to Remember When Lowering Your Strip Burner’s Front End
Car suspensions are very carefully designed by automotive engineers. Because of the interaction of the suspension components, when you change one thing, you need to ensure that nothing else has been affected. When lowering your vehicle you need to keep this in mind.
One of the most important things to understand is suspension angles. No matter which lowering method you use, you’re going to change suspension alignment angles when you change the ride height, especially camber.
You’ve got a few methods available to you when lowering the front end of your car. These include:
• Cutting the coil springs
• Ordering and installing custom springs
• Ordering and installing drop spindles
• Installing airbags
Lowering the Front End by Cutting the Coil Springs
In the story above, my buddy Bryan cut his springs using a torch. He didn’t use a cutting wheel or hack saw, he used a regular oxygen-acetylene torch. He decided he wanted to lower the front end by an inch and just started guessing about how much to cut. However, the first cut didn’t lower it enough, so he pulled them out and cut them again, with the torch. The problem with using the torch is that heating the springs like that weakens the metal significantly. Bryan’s car ended up with his front wheels scrubbing against the top of the wheel well because they were weakened so much by heating.
IF you are going to lower your strip burner’s front end by cutting springs, which I don’t recommend, you need to use a good high-speed cutting wheel and water to keep the coil spring cool so it doesn’t lose its temper, or strength, and sag. The problem with cutting, besides weakening of the springs, is that it’s very difficult to get it right the first time and each time you start cutting, you run the risk of weakening the spring. There are ways to cut springs safely, but it really isn’t something I recommend.
Install Custom Coil Springs to Lower Your Ride
Once the parts makers, both OEM and aftermarket, pinged to the fact that we hot rodders want our cars lower than stock, they started coming out with products to help us properly lower our cars. This was a godsend for the shade tree mechanic because it took the guesswork out of the process.
If you choose to lower your front end by installing custom springs, you’ve got quite a few options as to where to buy the parts: your local auto parts store, the dealership, a catalog store such as Jeg’s or Summit Racing, or, if you’re lucky like I was growing up, the speed shop a few miles from the shop. My friends and I only had a few brands to choose from back then. Nowadays we have several, with my favorites being Detroit Eaton Springs, Eibach Suspension, and Hotchkiss Performance.
When ordering these, you will need to know a few things about your car. Obviously, they’ll need to know year, make, and model, along with any sub-model info (ie; 1967 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS.). They’ll also need to know the size engine you have installed as the weight of the engine does affect ride height.
Install a Set of Custom Drop Spindles
You can typically lower your car by about two to three inches at the outside by manipulating the coil springs. For some of us, this isn’t enough; we want to practically scrape the ground. The automotive aftermarket has heard us and come out with a replacement spindle that can lower your car’s front end significantly. When coupled with lowered springs, you can drop it by five inches or more. One of the best things about using only drop spindles is that this method doesn’t affect the suspension alignment angles as much as changing springs does.
A Couple Words about Safety
Coil springs are under a huge amount of tension when installed. I personally know a few people that ended up spending significant amounts of time in the hospital because they were careless when doing the work. If you don’t treat them like the deadly projectile they can become, it will end up hurting you.
Always, always use a good quality spring compressor when doing this type of work. Always. Also, be sure to wear safety glasses as you’re going to be pounding on metal pieces with a hammer. To be exact, you’ll be beating a tool known as a pickle fork with a hammer which can cause splintering.
The Process of Removing the Coil Springs
The process of removing coil springs is pretty straightforward. There are some minor differences between brands and models, but the basic process is the same.
1. Jack the front end up and support it using jack stands.
2. Remove both front wheels.
3. Remove the brake caliper on one side if equipped with disc brakes.
4. Remove the shock absorber.
5. Install the coil spring compressor and take up the slack.
6. Place the jack under the lower ball joint and take up the slack without lifting the vehicle.
7. Remove the cotter pin from the castellated nut on the upper ball joint.
8. Remove the castellated nut.
9. Check the tension and installation of the coil spring compressor.
10. Insert the split end of the pickle fork/tie rod separator between the control arm and the spindle.
11. Firmly strike the pickle fork with a heavy hammer until the ball joint is loosened from the spindle assembly.
12. While supporting the spindle assembly, slowly lower the jack until the spindle and control arm separate allowing the ball joint stud to clear the spindle/king pin assembly.
13. Carefully lift out the coil spring and slowly and carefully remove the coil compressor.
The process of installing the new coil spring is the reverse of removal, beginning with compressing the new spring enough to install it. Once everything is properly reassembled, hang the tire again and move to the other side of the car.
Again, I must stress, go slowly and be careful if you’re going to perform this work yourself. I highly recommend either a Chilton or Haynes Motor Manual for the exact steps needed for your car. One other thing, most mechanics I know, myself included, will add a small quarter inch thick chain with either a nut and bolt or a lock just in case the compressor slips at any time during the process.
Although airbag systems are too heavy for a true strip burner, I’ve included them here because they are one way you can lower your car. Personally, the best thing that can be said about airbags is that I can use them to adjust the height of the car for rough roads and parking lots with speed bumps.
Airbag systems require a heavy compressor in order to work properly. They also require air lines going to and from the four corners of your car. They require the complete removal of the shock absorbers and coil springs and the installation of mounts for the bags and clamps for the air lines. As I mentioned above, I don’t recommend them if you want your car to go fast quickly.
You Can’t Be Too Safe Doing This Work
I’ve got to come back to the safety discussion again because this is a project that is dangerous, even for someone like me with 40 years of practical experience performing this repair/upgrade. I will still, to this day, review the whole procedure in my motor manual. I will also, to this day, use a safety chain on the coil. Although they look really stupid, I also use safety glasses.
Torsion Bar Front Ends
There are a number of cars, especially older Mopar products that don’t have coil spring front suspensions. These cars use what’s known as a torsion bar instead of a coil spring. Ride height can be adjusted a little using the torsion bar adjuster bolt, but usually no more than an inch or two. The only way to get more height adjustment is with a drop spindle in these cars.
Following any of these techniques will help you lower the front end of your vehicle SAFELY to get the kind of performance you’re after.
Questions? Drop us a line or comment here or on our Facebook page!