Selecting and Installing the Right Front Sway Bar for Your Ford Racer

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars
We take a look at how to improve the handling of your Ford, old or new, with a new sway bar. Image courtesy Motor Trend.

Installing a new sway bar is a quick and easy way to greatly improve the handling of your Ford racer. It’s also quite a bit less expensive than some of the other things you can do. However, it’s not as easy as just picking the biggest one out there and slapping it in; you’ve got to choose the right one for your car and suspension. In this installment, we’re going to explain what a sway bar is and why you can’t just install the biggest monster bar out there. After that, we’ll walk through the installation process for both older and newer Fords.

What A Sway Bar Is and Does

As you enter a corner, the g-forces acting on your car want to make your car lean over away from the turn. Depending on your suspension, this can introduce either under-steer (push, causing more steering input to be required) or over-steer (where the rear end of your car wants to come around).

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

Your car’s sway bar connects to both lower control arms and the front crossmember. As the side of your car on the outside starts this lean, the sway bar countermands it because of the actions of the suspension geometry. G-forces cause the suspension on the inside to squat which induces a twisting motion in the sway bar in the opposite direction. This twist pushes down on the lower control arm on the outside of the turn and counteracts the induced body lean.

Choosing the Right Sway Bar

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars
This image perfectly illustrates what can happen when you have too much sway bar installed. Notice the inside wheel is lifted off the pavement. Image courtesy Multimaticmotorsports.com.

I’ve had people tell me they thought that choosing the right sway bar for their car was just a matter of picking the biggest one that would fit. However, that’s not the case. A sway bar that’s too big can actually work against you as you try to improve your Ford’s handling. This is because if you hit a corner spectacularly hard, an oversized bar can actually cause one of the front wheels to lift off the road surface, which can cause you to start losing control. Your best bet is to contact someone at a speed shop or one of the companies that manufacture sway bars to help you pick the perfect bar for your application.

Two Kinds of Sway Bars Are Available

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars
“Back in the day” we only had access to one type of sway bar when we wanted to improve our Ford’s handling. Nowadays companies like Eibach make two kinds: fixed and adjustable. The fixed type of sway bar has a single hole on each end to attach it to the link while the adjustable has three. This allows you some leeway in how much dampening the sway bar will give you.

Tools and Equipment You’ll Need to Install a New Front Sway Bar

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

If you’ve got ramps, use them, it’ll make this job a little easier. Otherwise, you’ll need a jack and two jack stands as well as two blocks of wood to block a rear wheel. You’ll also need a set of wrenches and sockets and a ratchet. With the older cars, I usually like to use a cutoff wheel during the removal process because it makes the job go faster. You’ll also need the new sway bar, frame bushings, and, with older Fords, link kits. I recommend urethane bushings. You’ll also need a pair of safety glasses.

Get the Front End Up In the Air

Unless you have absolutely no other option, only do this repair job on a flat and level surface, such as your garage or at the curb in front of your house. If you’ve got ramps, run the car up on them and block the front and rear of one rear wheel. Otherwise, put the jack under the front crossmember and lift the front end enough to get underneath comfortably. Place the jack stands under the frame behind the front wheels and carefully lower the car onto them. Pull the jack out. Make sure the transmission is in park or gear (for manual transmissions) and the parking brake is set securely.

Remove the Old Sway Bar

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

If you’ve got one, use your die grinder and cutoff wheel to cut the sway bar links and remove the links on your older Ford. If not, get out your ½ socket and ratchet and wrench and remove the nut at the top of the links. Pull the bolt out from the bottom and grab the washers and bushings.

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

On newer Mustangs, you’ll need a 15 mm wrench and a seven mm wrench. Slide the 15 onto the nut on the link and use the seven on the link stud to keep it from turning. Remove the link nut and slide the stud out of the end of the bar.

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

Follow the sway bar to the center of the car where you’ll find the two sway bar frame mounts and their bushings. These are usually either 9/16 nuts on the older cars or 15 mm on the newer ones. Remove these nuts and sway bar is loose. On older cars, the sway bar will now be able to come out by pulling it down and out. On newer Mustangs, you’ll need to pass it out one side of the car.

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

Install the New Sway Bar

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

Your sway bar kit should have come with some silicone grease. Squirt some into both frame bushings then slide the bushings onto the sway bar by opining the slit and sliding the bar into it. It’ll take some force. Next, slide the mounts over the bushings.
Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

Now, remember how that old sway bar came out? Slide the new one in place in the opposite way. The instructions usually tell you to attach the links first, but I prefer to attach the frame mounts and bushings first. Just don’t tighten them all the way yet.
Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

On older Fords, slide a washer over the sway bar link bolt followed by a bushing. Slide the bolt up through the hole in the lower control arm. Now slide a bushing down onto the lower control arm, followed by the washer and the spacer.

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

This is followed by another washer and bushing. Next, push up on the sway bar and slide the center hole (on adjustable bars) over the bolt. This is followed by the last bushing, washer, and the nut. Repeat this on the other side. Now you can go ahead and tighten all the nuts and bolts.

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

On the newer cars, you need to manhandle the sway bar onto the link stud. Again, with adjustable bars, use the center hole, to begin with; you can always choose the outer hole after your test drive. If the kit came with any bushings, slide the new bushing and washer onto the stud, then thread the nut on. Repeat this on the other side. Grab the two wrenches (or wrench and ratchet/socket) and tighten all the nuts and bolts.

Tech, Suspension, Mike Aguilar, How to Install Sway Bars

Test Drive and Pay Attention

Get the wheels back on the ground and take the car out for a test drive. Pay attention to how it feels as you rip into corners at speed. If you experience too much over-steer, jack the front end up again and use the third hole in the bar. If you experience too much under-steer, use the first hole. Now, drive it like ya stole it friends and I’ll see you out on the track!

About Mike Aguilar 200 Articles
Mike's love of cars began in the early 1970's when his father started taking him to his Chevron service station. He's done pretty much everything in the automotive aftermarket from gas station island attendant, parts counter, mechanic, and new and used sales. Mike also has experience in the amateur ranks of many of racing's sanctioning bodies.
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