By on January 3, 2009

There’s nothing like matching wits with the sweepers in a car that normally fears a bend in the road. Unless you own the well engineered underpinnings of a Porsche, Corvette, BMW or a handful of less obvious winners sporting a bona fide performance suspension from the factory, that is. For the rest of us, there are after market alternatives that allow loyalists to keep their current rides (and monthly payment) and let the inner Pistonhead shine in all its glory. With this in mind, start with better tires, and then take a look at your sway bars.

Most cars come with a Pistonhead-averse, lawsuit-friendly pair of bars. Even worse, many rear bars are deleted entirely to please the merciless will of corporate beancounters. So Addco Manufacturing, one of the few suspension suppliers with the flexibility and knowledge to create sway bar upgrades for most any ride, feeds the need for flat cornering.

Disclaimer: while some vehicles have sway bar alternatives from their high(er) performance counterparts (a la Ford SVT or BMW M-series), buying used sway bars may not give the desired bang-for-the-buck when you consider metal fatigue, worn bushings and unrealistic pricing due to a limited supply.

Right. So TTAC’s test vehicle for Addco’s bars is my daily driver: a Lincoln Mark VIII LSC with a fully refreshed air suspension. Obviously this Lincoln is not the logical choice, but as a cousin of the Ford Thunderbird, Addco’s engineers worked with the road racing T-bird faithful (who knew?) to create three options for my wannabe GT. So I had a dilemma not unlike a trip to the hot sauce counter at Taco Bell: will it be “Mild”, “Hot” or “Fire”?

Moderation and parts matching is paramount. I chose Addco’s “Hot” offering: a pair of bars measuring a stout 1 ¼” in diameter. This is a serious upgrade from the puny stock bars, both measuring less than one inch. Considering the Lincoln’s overall mission (Boss Hogg worthy cruiser) and the relative softness of its air-filled spring bladders, going to bigger bars minimized the pain of a firmer suspension but maximized the cornering prowess. And if Addco stocks the parts to make a 3800lb pimpmobile turn tricks, odds are they got your whip covered.

Installation times vary by vehicle. I was on the losing end of that promise. For the front bar, I needed a hand and a (hydraulic) lift to get the K-member out of the way. Mercifully, the rear bar was a 20-minute job in my driveway with basic hand tools. If your favorite model-specific forum didn’t already document the swap, Addco provides stellar instructions in the box, new hardware and excellent customer support for when I had a few questions. While Addco normally includes the “red” polyurethane bushings for maximum impact, I asked for the OEM-spec “black” bushings for Lincoln levels of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) control. Addco gladly capitulated.

The end result? No longer the victim of wallow and massive understeer, the Mark VIII cuts corners like an old school AMG Benz. Now the link-intensive suspension and the “Rich Man’s Mustang” independent rear axle have a voice. And a calling: tenaciously holding its Z-rated gumballs to the pavement. The matched, oversized sway bars made corner carving a breeze with minimal body roll: what took 50 mph now demands speeds of 60 or 70 for the same kick. I betcha this is what Ford’s engineering team had in mind for this platform from day one.

The flip side to flat cornering is the resulting tendency to oversteer. The key is to build rear steer progressively with modest levels of throttle input, not popping out like a creepy mechanical mannequin in a haunted house. Addco’s package did it right: only foolish levels of throttle (or the ill-timed downshift) make the RWD Mark change its course, provided you disengage the traction control. The extra mid-corner speed generated by these sway bars demands more respect from the driver, and little else.

No sway bar discussion is done without mentioning ride quality: the Lincoln is obviously firmer than stock, but acceptable from the first mile. As the bushings lightened up over the course of 500 miles, the ride lost its jiggle and regained composure. Its quite amazing: enjoying the insolated freedom of air suspended bliss one moment, then confidently clipping the apex another. While the Addco-fettled Lincoln cannot beat the laws of physics, it can pull a Warren Sapp and dance with a 3-series.

Though prices vary with application and dimensions, many of Addco’s bars sell for around $160 each, including bushings and hardware. In my case, I had Addco’s bars shipped and (halfway) professionally installed for under $600. Even better, Addco is one company known for offering group purchases to motivated forum junkies with loyal followers. Its an epic win for all.

[Addco Manufacturing provided these parts for this review]

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37 Comments on “Product Review: Addco Manufacturing Sway Bars...”


  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Thanks for that Sajeev. I once made the fatal error of asking about Sway Bars at a Porsche club meeting. The entire room erupted. I even recall someone mumbling the words, “dumbass Canadian” in my direction. I was told in no uncertain terms that the correct word is Anti-Sway Bar. I’ll never forget those pricks.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Yup, sounds like Porsche club guys. The fact that everyone knows that a sway bar is an anti-sway bar escapes their tiny little minds.

  • avatar

    So the old saying about Porsches and Porcupines is true then? I always wondered.

    If you ever want to experience something magical, find yourself some wheel time in an old E-type Jaguar. While the legendary looks and wonderful sounds are to be expected, the thing that amazes anyone unfamiliar is the suspension (and therefore, handling.) This car can take on 2-lane sweepers at triple digit speeds… with aplomb and not the tiniest tire squeal. This from an era when even Ferraris (and virtually all American cars) still had leaf springs and wobbly butts. To this day the Jaguar rear end is highly coveted by hot rodders and Cobra replica builders (to improve the truck-like handling of the original Shelby creation.)

    Those guys in Coventry were way ahead of the curve. The IRS in the E-type was one of the first available in a mass-produced car. They had developed it to improve the D-type racer, but when Jaguar exited the racing scene it found it’s way into their production cars of the early 60s, notably the E-type and Mk1 & 2 saloons. I suggest a drive in the former however if you’re a real gearhead. Has to be done before you die.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    @Johnny Canada

    I always thought “Anti-Roll Bars” were the more accurate nomenclature.

  • avatar

    So the old saying about Porsches and Porcupines is true then? I always wondered.

    I resemble that remark!

  • avatar
    Usta Bee

    I need to get a pair of stiffer sway bars for my 2002 Chevy Prizm, this thing is the worst handling car I’ve ever driven. The factory bars aren’t stiff enough and with the independent rear suspension it rides worse than every previous car I’ve had with a non-independent or beam axle in the rear. It rolls from side-to-side with every wave, bump and ripple in the road, and crosswinds cause the front end to float and roll. It doesn’t even feel like the car is connected to the ground, it feels more like trying to land an airplane a few feet off the runway on a gusty day.

    As bad as this car is I can’t believe Toyota actually left the bars off for a few years until they were forced to put them on after complaints about emergency handling. With only 60,000 miles on it this car rides like a an old 1990′s Buick Century with 200,000 miles on it and worn out shocks….no, it rides worse.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I know from experience that nothing improves the handling of a Volvo 240 like upgrading the sway, or anti-sway :), bars.

    Addco has been at this forever and does a great job. They do, however, need to upgrade their website to include basic things like “what fits my car” and “where I can I buy them” functions!

  • avatar

    You are what you is Robert. ;)

    I’ve almost bought Porsches on two occasions**, but something deep inside me prevented it from happening. Go figure. I will admit that the Cayman, which I have driven now three separate times, is the best handling car EVER. Amazing car, so I do applaud your choice.

    **A 914, and an old 70s 911 Targa. In the case of the latter I’ve always loved those old targas with the “flower-wheels” of my childhood. As for the former I can hear all the “pocupines” saying “That’s not a REAL Porsche!” .(you heard that too!)..sigh

    –chuck

  • avatar

    I will vouch for the Addco Anti-Sway Bar products too! I installed a pair on my 1991 Dodge Stealth ES. What a tranformation. Once you pull the originals off the car, you wonder why the mfg even bothered. The Addco’s are impressively large compared to OEM. And, as the editor encountered, the rear bar was a breeze to install but the front was more than I was willing to deal with. The other added expense that I thought was excessive was the links and the bushings. They cost MORE than the bars put together!!!! I think this is where they make their money.

    I will also caution, as does Addco, do not install just one or the other. They work in unison as a system.

    I took my car (and a new set of Goodyear F1 GS-D3′s) into the hill country of west Texas along with a friend of mine’s new Corvette. He had me outhorsepowered but in the tight turns up the country side, he could not shake me. We were both impressed. (Admittedly, 17+ years of seat time gave me far more confidence as we repeatedly approached 100+ foot drop offs)

    All in all, a great product and a great upgrade for most vehicles.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I have experience with Addco anti sway bars. I had put a 7/8″ diameter rear bar on my Probe GT and a set of adjustable end links that forgo resilient material for ball and socket flexible fittings. This replaces the skimpy lawyer inspired 3/8″ factory bar. The difference is like night and day. The car already was pretty good; this raised the bar (no pun intended)and corner carving is a blast.

    A word of warning: Boosting the size of the rear bar in FWD cars (conversely, big front bars in RWD) can cause your vehicle to oversteer when you rip through a tight curve. While it is fun when expected – or invoked – when unexpected it can be dangerous. That’s why carmakers tend to use skimpy bars on the “oversteer” end of the car, despite the great performance beefy bars offer. They have to anticipate ham-fisted drivers may be driving their products. Good thing we have an active aftermarket!! Very few things are more fun than a controlled arc with the tail hanging out 2 feet…can’t wait to get to the G35…

  • avatar
    skor

    Sajeev, thanks for the review. It’s good to know that Addco is still in biz, and still getting it right — I bought my first set of bars from them back in 1981.

    Here is some advice for GM’s board of bystanders: Fire the current mismanagement team, and put the Addco guys in charge, they are some of the few people in the auto biz that actually seem to know what they’re doing.

  • avatar
    richard612

    I have three experiences here. The first is when I made the discovery that I could add a second stock sway-bar to the rear of a 75 Monte Carlo with only longer bolts and some shims between the two bars. Tail-happy fun!

    The second is when I learned that a 70-81 F-body front sway-bar is a direct bolt-on for the 73-77 G-body. That same Monte Carlo got itself a front bar liberated from a broken-down Smokey and the Bandit T/A up on blocks in my buddy’s backyard. Good times!

    The third is the Progress rear bar I added to my Fit. It dialed out most of the understeer and transformed the car from zippy little runabout to sh!t-eating grin-inducing go-kart. Best $140 I ever spent on a modern car. This thing will be terror on wheels after I cook the OEM Dunlops and get some sticky rubber on there.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    So, has anyone suffered from metal fatigue in an undamaged, unmodified, second hand swaybar?

    Just askin.

  • avatar
    richard612

    I have seen only one snapped bar in my life. It was a stock bar on the rear of a Jeep TJ which had a substantially modified suspension (more travel than that which was designed).

  • avatar
    Alcibiades

    Sajeev, I put the bigger front and rear OEM bars on my Grand Marquis, and am happy with the results. How much better would the Addco bars be, if any? I think the bars I got were for the Police Interceptor.

  • avatar
    DrBiggly

    Ah, the arguments of (anti)sway bars. I’ve had no less than 5 different swaybar configurations (don’t even ask about the spring rates, I’ve had too many to count) on my two WRXs. I also did a cheap-man’s upgrade to my 1995 S10: Upgraded the front bar from an old Blazer out of a junk yard for $40; best thing I ever did for it.

    I’ll only add a couple of small notes to Sanjeev’s notes about handling differences:
    1) The stiffer the bars, the less that the car can be hamfisted on the inputs without repercussions. I literally watched (from 2 cars back) a guy with a brand new rear bar upgrade wreck less than 2 miles from having put it on. Car actually ended up rolling after it hit the dirt, including taking out a fence and some other things. Of course all cars vary, but as the bars go from ‘Mild’ to ‘Fire!’, I’d say that is exactly how badly one would get burned were they to just bolt ‘em up and take it for a spin. Treat it like a new car to learn; in some ways it is. (That aforementioned car was a WRX…986 miles on the clock. 2001.)

    2) Understeer/oversteer arguments. Textbooks say that larger front bars make the car understeer more and larger rear bars make the car oversteer more. That is true…for a race car. Larger front bars tend to both reduce and create understeer. How/why? Most cars have terrible amounts of body roll and thus some of the understeer is caused by the tire just folding under itself or nearly so. Contact patch is only on the verymost edge or beyond. Needless to say, sidewalls don’t have much grip. Add a larger front bar and the textbook says that the car is supposed to understeer more, yet now you’re smoking that onramp/favorite turn/road/etc at quite a bit quicker clip. The reason is that it improved the camber curve of the front suspension through elimination of some of the body roll, thus the limit of grip is higher because the tire is staying flatter for longer. But the textbook isn’t entirely wrong; the car will understeer a bit more (often not much at all), but this only occurs past the limit of grip. The limits of grip are just notably higher now, thus eliminating the feeling of understeer so soon. So the argument of larger front bars (yes, I’m looking at you FWD cars) causing more understeer is born of folks not differentiating between balance of the vehicle and the vehicle’s grip in respect to the word understeer.

    Thusly I never recommend a single rear bar upgrade (makes for twitchier handling and near guaranteed snap oversteer at the wrong times just as mentioned and cautioned above) and only recommend upgrading bars in pairs. :)

    -Biggly

  • avatar
    Terry

    Hello!
    A tip from work, courtesy of a Mazda Technical Service Bulletin:
    Before installing a stabilizer bar or saddle bushing, apply a coating of lithium grease to the inside of the saddle bushings.
    This allows the bar to rotate inside the bushing and do its job without binding.
    The bushings also last longer as the friction is eliminated.
    Terry

  • avatar

    Thank you all for reading.

    —————————
    Johnny Canada: I was told in no uncertain terms that the correct word is Anti-Sway Bar.

    I know the feeling. I used to say “anti-roll bar” and shortened it to “roll bar” which was a big mistake. And since this review has an 800 word lmiit, I’m not gonna be picky.

    —————————
    chuckgoolsbee : If you ever want to experience something magical, find yourself some wheel time in an old E-type Jaguar.

    My email is sajeev.mehta@thetruthabout…and I’m waiting with bated breath to experience your car. ;)

    —————————
    John Horner : include basic things like “what fits my car” and “where I can I buy them” functions!

    Their clickable catalog is pretty good for the first, and I wonder if they don’t want to piss off vendors by being selective on their site. I am pretty sure Summit Racing won’t be too happy if you give people alternatives.

    —————————
    westcott : The other added expense that I thought was excessive was the links and the bushings.

    Depending on the application, the links are pretty complicated, maybe your Stealth is that way. Not too many cars have the old style rod with four bushings…even my old Mark VIII has the newer balljoint design on the front.

    —————————
    westcott : I will also caution, as does Addco, do not install just one or the other. They work in unison as a system.

    Depends on the model. The “mild” setup I discussed in the review was a rear bar upgrade, which would be decent if I had a Tbird Super Coupe front bar…or said Thunderbird in the first place.

    —————————
    golden2husky : A word of warning: Boosting the size of the rear bar in FWD cars (conversely, big front bars in RWD) can cause your vehicle to oversteer when you rip through a tight curve.

    Putting a big front bar in a RWD car causes more understeer just like a FWD car. The only difference is that massive amounts of throttle can overcome the big front bar. Large American cars are notorious for big front bars and nothing out back, and we all know how badly they understeer.

    —————————
    skor : Here is some advice for GM’s board of bystanders: Fire the current mismanagement team, and put the Addco guys in charge, they are some of the few people in the auto biz that actually seem to know what they’re doing.

    After dealing with these folks on several occasions and seeing how others got quick resolution on their problems, I second that!

    —————————
    Greg Locock : So, has anyone suffered from metal fatigue in an undamaged, unmodified, second hand swaybar?

    How can anyone tell? Fatigue happens slowly over the course of years, and you’re not gonna notice it unless you replace your stock bars with stock replacements after 15+ years of service. And who would do that?

    —————————
    richard612 : I have seen only one snapped bar in my life. It was a stock bar on the rear of a Jeep TJ which had a substantially modified suspension

    I’ve seen plenty of hollow bars snap, especially up north. My Mark’s original (hollow) bar was replaced with a (solid) Thunderbird SC bar before this, mostly because I saw the writing on the wall.

    —————————

    Alcibiades : Sajeev, I put the bigger front and rear OEM bars on my Grand Marquis, and am happy with the results. How much better would the Addco bars be, if any? I think the bars I got were for the Police Interceptor.

    I *think* the Addco bars are larger still than the CVPI bars. But given the numbers of CVPI bars in the junkyard (@ $20 or less each) I don’t know if I’d upgrade. But in my book, the bigger the car, the bigger the bar.

    —————————
    Terry : A tip from work, courtesy of a Mazda Technical Service Bulletin: Before installing a stabilizer bar or saddle bushing, apply a coating of lithium grease to the inside of the saddle bushings.

    Even the ones impregnated with graphite? Just curious, since I thought I heard those need nothing.

  • avatar
    Terry

    Sajeev, I havent dealt with graphite-impregnated sway bar bushings, and I would think they do not need to be further lubricated. But the bare rubber bushings benefit from the lithium grease.
    The point of the Technical Service Bulletin was to lubricate the saddle bushings to prevent noise and wear.
    I have applied the service bulletin instructions to my own ’07 Mazda5 and my ’93 Ford Probe GT.

  • avatar

    Terry: agreed. I think the box I got from Addco had a couple ketchup packets with grease for that reason.

  • avatar

    Just a note or two about swaybars to follow up on what’s already been said:

    I don’t think anybody in the world completely understands how a swaybar works, particularly since the effects are completely different based on the car you’re discussing.

    Until the past decade, people often saw a tangible grip improvement when going to bigger bars. Supposedly this was because the frames were flexy enough that the swaybar prevented more tuck-under. Third-gen F-bodies are good examples of this: I suspect Sajeev’s Mark VIII is similar.

    On a modern car, or on a seam-welded race car, the more bar, the less grip. This assumes you have your geometry correct to begin with.

    FWD racers do some crazy stuff to get the car to rotate. For my Neon, we have the biggest rear bar money can buy (and some of our comp fabricates bars from 45mm hollow stock or uses circle-track bars), 650-pound rear springs, and stiff-valved Konis set to full. This creates a car that actively oversteers in steady-state cornering, but under no circumstances would I run that setup on the street, or recommend than anybody do anything close to it, because you gonna get kilt.

    Lee Noble, he of Ultima kit car and eponymous crapwagon fame, argues that a proper suspension has no need for a swaybar.

    My theory on the whole mess: Street-car drivers have a mental limit beyond which they won’t let the car roll. Adding a swaybar may reduce the ultimate traction but it also allows that driver to experience more of the traction without having their alarm bells go off.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    In the world of sway bars there is only one name: Herb Adams

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Sajeev- Oh I think you’d notice the clunking noise from a fatigued bar, as it drags along the road behind you. Fatigue means bits BREAK. They don’t go soft except for a few cycles as they crack through.

  • avatar

    Greg: Looks like I shouldn’t have used the word fatigue. But I’ve heard of second hand, hollow bars breaking…but only in the rust belt.

  • avatar

    The thing to remember about anti-roll bar tuning is that a modest increase in the diameter of the bar makes for a significant increase in roll stiffness. The stiffness of the bar (which is a torsion-bar spring, remember) rises with the fourth power of the diameter. Going from a 19mm (0.75 in) bar to a 25mm (1.00) bar will more than triple its stiffness, even if you keep the lever arm the same length.

    Increasing roll stiffness increases the load on the outside tire, increasing its slip angle. If the front end has more roll stiffness than the rear, for example, at the limits of adhesion, the outer front tire will run out of grip first, and you’ll get terminal understeer. If the rear has more roll stiffness, the rear end will run out of grip first, and you get terminal oversteer.

    The flip side is that reducing body roll also decreases camber loss as the body leans. As a car leans into a turn, the lean of the body will cause the wheel camber to move towards the positive (i.e., tilted outward at the top), which reduces the total amount of grip the tire has available.

    If the car’s front suspension design has very little roll stiffness to start with, or allows a lot of camber loss (like most MacPherson strut suspensions), a stiffer front anti-roll bar will reduce understeer somewhat by reducing the amount of camber loss. The outside front tire is still going to run out of grip first, but because the tire tread will stay more firmly on the ground, its limits will be higher.

    You can improve handling a lot with appropriate anti-roll bars, but you can also make it treacherous if you’re not careful. I think a lot of just slap fat anti-roll bars in place and assume it will help, which ain’t necessarily so.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the review, Sajeev! And thanks to the rest of you for your comments. I’ve been eyeing these up for my own Mark VIII (’97, non-LSC) for a couple years now. it’s good to see that they work “as advertised.” I might just have to order up a pair when I get it out of storage in the spring. (Welcome to Wisconsin – land of rusty cars)

  • avatar

    I’d like to add that everyone’s theoretical input is an excellent measuring stick, but some of the best information for your specific needs will come from the real-world practice of members of a model-specific forum.

    Case in point: the three setups for my Mark VIII were created by Thunderbird/Cougar racers who figured out what size bars gave them faster lap times on road courses. Sure, there was a leap of faith in believing people you’ve never met, but the logic was sound and the proof is in the pudding.

  • avatar

    Mike: I never thought another Mark VIII owner would post on this. But since you’re here, make sure to stick with the guidelines that the Thunderbird guys wrote when they picked the bars. I was surprised that the same diameter bar front and rear worked out so well, but the Mark’s suspension composure and ease of mid corner acceleration proved it to me.

    You’re gonna notice an even bigger change than I did, mostly because of your non-LSC rear bar and the somewhat softer dampeners on the 97-98 models.

  • avatar
    trk2

    Sajeev,

    I’m curious if you’ve replaced either the upper A arms or lower links in your Mark. I’ve been considering doing a suspension overhaul on my ’97 Mark VIII (non LSC, shout out to Mike!) but I’ve read forum comments that the ball joints in the Mark VIII often need replacing after only 60k miles. Like Mike, my Mark VIII is garaged all winter here in Maine so now is the perfect time to consider such a project.

    I would never consider replacing the air bags with a coil spring kit, to me the air ride is one of the features that make the Mark VIII unique. Anyway, thank you for the great article and keep enjoying your Mark VIII!

  • avatar

    You crazy Mark VIII freaks are coming out of the woodwork!!! :)

    Upper and lower arms were replaced, ditto the rear shock mounts and front strut rod bushings. All were done after 100k of use, but not all went loosey goosey at the same time. Those are the common fail points at this age, regardless of mileage. MOOG and TRW make mild-urethane rod bushings that I recommend too.

    You should really get the car on a lift and grab parts to check for play. Tie rod ends, front swaybar endlinks, diff carrier bushings, two-piece driveshafts (1994 and newer) and the parts listed above can go bad and you’ll never notice it until you check them. I forgot how a fully revitalized Mark drives…way more controlled than you’d expect for a Lincoln, even with stock bars.

    It may sound complicated and pricey by American car standards, but the Mark’s rubber and metal suspension bits are still far less complicated than most German luxo tanks.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Would this void your new car warranty?

  • avatar
    Alcibiades

    It is my understanding of the law that a modification does not void a new car warranty unless the subsequent problem is related to the modification. Thus, if you put in an Addco sway bar and your seat heater stops working the next week, the manufacturer has to honor the warranty and fix the seat heater. If you install a sway bar and a connected suspension component then fails, you’re probably out of luck.

  • avatar

    It can, but it’s not likely. Besides the installation being pretty difficult to screw up, how many service techs at the dealer will actually notice the bar is bigger than stock?

  • avatar

    Sajeev: Sounds like it might be time for a “Capsule Review” or “Lincoln Reality Check” eh? Trk2: Cheers!

  • avatar

    LOL, no need to review my own car. I’d tear it to bits in many places (and Ford gave us plenty of ammo!) but still give it five stars.

    Maybe I’ll get Bill Montgomery to drive it one of these days.

  • avatar
    Car Workshop

    This just made my day that much brighter. Thanks a million. Something else I stumbled across was this http://www.driveafrica.co.za .Take a look!Keep up the great work!


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