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]