Selecting and Installing the Right Sway Bar for Your Chevy Strip Burner
The sway bar(s) on your Chev strip burner keeps your car from feeling like a small boat tossed in a storm while turning. Without them, you’re likely to get seasick on a windy mountain road. Your car’s body is going to flop (sway) from side to side as you drive and corner. This is called body roll and your car’s sway bar is designed to minimize it. Let’s see how this works and then how to figure out which one you should install for your driving style. We’ll then walk through the simple process of installing sway bars.
What Is a Sway Bar and How Does It Work?
Your car’s sway bar’s technical name is an anti-sway bar. We just shorten it because we’re lazy when we talk about them. They are a type of torsion bar; however they’re mounted transversely instead of longitudinally like on Mopars. That’s just big words that mean it’s mounted side to side instead of front to rear.
The sway bar has four points of contact where it mounts or is attached, to your car. Two of these are on the front frame rails slightly in front of and below the engine. The other two are on the lower control arms. As your car enters a corner, one side of the car wants to rise while the other side wants to bottom out.
However, these forces are counteracted by the sway bar being connected to the lower control arms. These forces attempt to twist the sway bar (torsional forces), which the sway bar and lower control arms resist and counteract. This keeps your car’s body on a relatively even keel as you take corners at speed.
Selecting the Right Sway Bar for Your Ride
Years ago, a friend of mine had me rebuild the suspension on his second generation Camaro for autocross. Autocross is a type of road course racing where the race course is setup in a large parking lot or maybe on the runways and taxiways of an old airport using rubber traffic cones or some other form of temporary markings. This form of racing tests both the cornering and acceleration ability of a car, but it especially tests the cornering/handling of a car.
I had already installed drop spindles, lowered increased rate coil springs, racing shock absorbers from Bilstein, bigger brakes all around, and polyurethane control arm bushings. I’d also put in a multi-link rear with coil-overs and new leaf springs. I’d even switched him over to a rack and pinion steering system. My friend came to me wanting me to install a sway bar for him and he had a huge monster of a sway bar in his trunk. His thinking was “bigger is better, right?”
No. Not necessarily. You see, we’d already done a huge amount to his suspension that had seriously improved everything about how his suspension worked. What this means is that Dave really needed a sway bar that was in the middle of those available as far as thickness, instead of a massive one he bought. If I’d installed that one, sure, he wouldn’t have had much body roll.
However, he’d have swapped body roll for far more understeer than is desirable. Understeer is the tendency of the car to want to continue moving forward even when there is steering wheel input from the driver. If you’ve already done significant upgrades to your suspension, I highly recommend an adjustable sway bar. Hellwig , Eibach, and Hotchkiss make some of the best in my opinion, although Hellwig offers a wider selection of adjustable sway bars.
Tools and Equipment You’ll Need
Exactly what tools and equipment you’ll need will depend on what year, make, and model car you’re working on. On most of the older cars, the sway bar mounts to the underside of the front frame, while on many of the newer muscle cars, it mounts above the frame. If the sway bar mounts above the frame, you’ll need to remove the passenger side front wheel, so you won’t be able to use ramps. I’m going to write this up using a jack and stands. The rest of the tools and materials you’ll need are:
• Set of wrenches
• Sockets and ratchet
• New sway bar (Should come with frame bushings)
• New end links (where applicable)
• Threadlocker Red
Sway Bar Installation Step 1: Get the Car in the Air
Raise the car and place jack stands under the frame behind the front wheels, carefully lowering the car onto the stands. Make sure you raise the car enough for you to slide under. If your sway bar mounts above the frame, be sure to loosen the passenger side wheel’s lug nuts a bit before lifting the car.
Step 2: Remove the Old Sway Bar End Links
These attach the sway bar to the lower control arms. The nuts and bolts are either ½-inch or 9/16-inch-two on either side on older cars. On most newer cars, the end link doesn’t come out and is more like a tie rod end. The sway bar attaches to it with a stud and nut. You’ll probably need to hold the stud with a seven or eight mm wrench while removing the lock nut-usually either 9/16- or 5/8-inch.
Step 3: Remove the Frame Mounts and Bushings
These attach the sway bar to the two sides of the front subframe. On older cars, they’ll most likely be under the frame while on newer cars they’re usually on top of the frame. The nuts (and bolts where applicable) are also either ½- or 9/16-inch. Again, there are two per side.
Front Step 4: Remove the Old Sway bar
If you’ve got an older GM F-body, you probably have your sway bar in your hands or on the ground. However, with other cars, now you need to work it out from the passenger side, twisting and pulling so it avoids the belts and hoses.
Step 5: Install the New Sway Bar
Where applicable, apply grease to the inside of the sway bar frame bushings and slide them over the sway bar. You’ll want to rotate them around the bar a couple of times to spread the grease around evenly. Next, slide the mount brackets over the bushings and loosely attach the nuts.
On those cars where the bar is on top of the frame, work it in from the passenger side, again twisting it around to avoid the obstructions while carefully pushing it towards the driver side. Slide the brackets over the bushings and studs and loosely thread the nuts onto the studs.
Step 6: Attach the Frame Mounts and Bushings
With the sway bar in position, place the sway bar frame mount brackets over the bushings and loosely install the nuts. Leave these loose to make the next step easier to complete.
Attach the End Links
Adjustable sway bars will have two or three holes for you to choose from when attaching to the end links. More towards the end of the bar will give you more oversteer, while more towards the center of the bar will give you more control.
On older cars, place the sleeve on the end link bolt, then a cup on either side, followed by a bushing. Then slide this assembly into the desired hole on the sway bar and the sway bar link hole in the lower control arm. Next, slide another bushing over either end of the end link, followed by the remaining cups, and the nuts. Once you’ve got both sides attached, tighten the end links and sway bar frame mount nuts/bolts.